You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

The Buddha…Socrates…Christ…St. Augustine…Descartes…Hume…The Rolling Stones…some of the greatest philosophers of what it means to be spiritual and human. Yes, you read that correctly. The. Rolling. Stones.

It’s been a horrible last week here in Michigan. Apparently Mother Nature just decided to have her mid-life crisis and went batshit crazy! “Oh, you want actual spring while you are on lockdown, so you’re telling ME to suck it? Well, suck on this!” And for 7 days we had temps in the 30’s and 40’s with constant wind speeds of between 15-25mph with frequent gusts of 40mph or higher…snow…hail…rain…Mother Nature was sending the message that no, we CAN’T always get what we want. So for 9 out of 10 days I was stuck at home, riding only once for about 70 miles. After record setting months of March (1217 miles) and April (1161 miles), it appears that setting a new record for May (1183 miles) is not going to be in the cards. But that’s ok.

I got out the last two days, riding 58 and 51 miles each day. The wind picked up in the middle of each ride, but not to the point it had been. The weather was warmer, and I got what I needed. Those exercise endorphins kicked in and I started feeling better about everything again…well, almost everything.

Our state remains on a lockdown order. The number of our confirmed cases has risen to over 50000 and we have nearly 4800 deaths…a mortality rate that is much higher than the rate everyone was predicting earlier in the process. A mortality rate that flies in the face of those who scream that the virus is no worse than the flu. A mortality rate that if induced on the entire United States population by a foreign power (no, I’m NOT one of those conspiracy theorists who believe China has engaged in biological warfare!), we, as a nation, would waste no time in declaring a state of war. Well, we would have in the past. I’m not so sure about now. And if we did, given our inability to sacrifice for the common good…we’d get our asses kicked.

Anyone who has eyes can see that major segments of our society are throwing hissy fits as governors and legislatures attempt to navigate through this threat to the common good. Yes, I understand that the shelter in place orders threaten your economic well-being. We absolutely should have a discussion about that…perhaps along the lines of why Jeff Bezos is set to soon become the first trillionaire while still charging fees for Amazon Prime shipping that no longer guarantees two day shipping…or even one week shipping…or even free shipping…Perhaps about why banks and other financial sectors are getting bailouts – AGAIN – while so many are unemployed and can’t pay their bills. The knee jerk reaction of showing up with weapons to protest at a state capitol, to threaten the lives of politicians who are simply attempting to stem the viral tide and fulfill their constitutional duty to promote the common good, seems to remind me of Jack Handey’s “Deep Thoughts” videos on Saturday Night Live

“Sometimes I think you have to march right in and demand your rights, even if you don’t know what your rights are, or who the person is you’re talking to. Then on the way out, slam the door…”

Our roads are back to normal traffic and normal traffic patterns. I see most people are now even disregarding the order to wear masks in public. Yes, I understand that the mask does not prevent you from catching the disease. It is intended to slow down the transmission of the disease by eliminating the particulates that bond to the virus as they leave your nose and mouth. The mask you wear is a simple courtesy to ME, who is unaware of your status, your circle of friends, family, and colleagues, your shopping patterns, etc. It is a requirement for the safety of OTHERS…you know, that whole common good thing? You have NO idea of the fear caused by a simple cough until you have heard one sitting in a room waiting for your spouse to be taken back for chemo. THAT is fear….

The Stones were absolutely correct, and we USED to know that as a society. You CAN’T always get what you want. And maybe you shouldn’t. What I want as a cyclist is to be able to ride without being threatened by self-entitled, pissed off motorists who feel that the roads were built solely for them (they were actually built for carriages and cyclists, but sure, go ahead and think that. The interstates were built for motorists only.) What I want as a cyclist is to be able to depend on local bike shops to be open during hours when normal people can get to them – not shuttering their doors at 5pm – and caring enough about their frequent customers to reciprocate that loyalty. In fact, in general, I would like to see businesses truly care about their customers again…and each of us consider our fellow humans once again. Loyalty is a two-way street.

My generation didn’t begin adulthood this way…we began protesting, certainly, but it was for the common good. Civil rights, against an immoral war that was waged because President Truman turned down Ho Chi Minh’s request to assist Vietnam in acquiring independence from France post World War II. We established communes and made the Peace Corps a tour de force in the world. Somehow, somewhere along the way, many in my generation have turned their backs on our roots. We stopped chanting about the collective “us” and started chanting “me/my.” We became the most selfish and greedy generation of Americans…and the whiniest. That is how much of the world views us and it is the root cause of the divisiveness which is tearing our country apart.

Again, it doesn’t have to be that way. American ingenuity used to mean that we devised solutions for problems as they came forward, and then shared with others. More often than not in today’s world, American ingenuity now means someone has devised a financial scheme that will bankrupt the elderly and the poor…or immigrants. My generation has become the generation of blame….ESPECIALLY when it comes to blaming others! We went from the generation that meditated on love for all human kind to the biggest generation of xenophobes ever.

The truth is, you can’t have everything you want. More than a month ago I saw an advertisement for the Urban X mask on Facebook. I did a little bit of digging. I had grown weary of washing out the single neck gaiter I had been using every single day, and this looked promising. I placed my order. I received an email two days later confirming my order and stating that, due to demand, they were experiencing delays in processing and shipment. I was told I would receive another e-mail with five days at the latest with a tracking number, and that my mask would be in my hands within 15 days at the most. It didn’t happen. After another week, I emailed the company inquiring as to the status of my order. Several vague emails exchanged later and I began to feel it may have been a scam. Sure enough, there had been complaints filed with the Brooklyn Better Business Bureau. I contacted the company immediately and requested a refund, stating that I was feeling defrauded. A new customer service rep emailed me back and assured me it was not a scam, but they were “so backlogged with orders” they were unable to process them. She stated she had initiated a refund and it would show up in my bank within five days. A week later I contacted her again. No reply was forthcoming, so I filed a complaint with my State Attorney General’s office as well as the Brooklyn BBB. That same afternoon I received an email from her stating that, again, they were so busy that they were now no longer even able to respond to emails. She also stated that she had been unable to process my refund because company policy mandated that refund requests be initiated within six hours of the placement of any order! Oh, and, by the way, my order had not yet been shipped, she was unable to locate it, but I assure you that it will be in your hands soon.

So, I’m out $30. Lesson learned. Hopefully for you as well and you avoid this company. In the meantime, since I cannot sew as well as my late wife, I did some searching for a few other neck gaiters and other fabric that I could tie off as a mask. See? I didn’t get what I wanted, but I compromised.

My parents and grandparents…actually, every American generation before mine, recognized that liberty comes with a price to be paid toward the common good. My dad used to pull around his Radio Flyer wagon collecting newspapers, comic books, and pulp magazines for the war effort. He used to tell me it was pretty frustrating to put the latest Nick Carter, Doc Savage, Shadow, G-8, or Weird Tales pulps in the wagon to be processed, especially when he couldn’t always afford the 10 cents to buy them. But he had a duty to others. My paternal grandfather died in excruciating pain from colorectal cancer in 1943 while my uncles were off in the South Pacific. My grandmother used to tell me that she had been told by the local recruiter that they could be sent stateside for a short leave…but she knew her duty as well. Can you even imagine the riots and armed demonstrations we would be facing as a society if rationing coupons were instituted NOW? The funny thing is, you can still find old ration coupons for sale on eBay as memorabilia….memories of a time when we went without and sacrificed for others because we were all in it together.

One of my favorite memories of our time together was the last several Thanksgivings when we were teaching and our children had left the nest. My wife and I decided teaching in the inner city wasn’t enough. For several years we bought turkeys and groceries for at least one family in each of my classes, and one family in each of her grade levels, and asked a school counselor or administrator to get them to the families anonymously. At Christmas, we did the same…Why? We witnessed some of these kids on the free and reduced lunch program pocket some of their food to take home for their parents and younger siblings not in school. Rather than report it, we made a note of it for the holidays. It was simply the HUMAN thing for us to do. Before you start accusing me of being just another bleeding heart liberal, you should know that I have been a registered conservative since 1978! How liberal is it to recognize that looking the other way when a few food stuffs are carted away avoid the dumpster and waste? How liberal is it to realize those scraps of food may have prolonged the life of parents or siblings and avoided the cost to the state of housing orphans?

So today, the weather forecast called for rain and lightning in the morning, giving way to partly sunny skies and temps in the mid 60’s by 2pm. Right. Great biking weather, although a bit chilly, so I headed out about 2:30, after the rain had stopped and peeks of the sun could be seen. I took no water bottle, because I planned on a stop in a small town south and west of here to grab a nice cold soda from a convenience store. Planned route of about 55 miles. Remember, to achieve my 9500 mile goal for the year, I NEED to average of 25.96 miles every day. Of course, I don’t ride every single day like some of my friends do, so if I ride 51.92, it allows me the luxury of a day off if needed.

I wore my rain jacket just in case. Within six miles, I knew this was a bad idea. The humidity coming up from the pavement and the intermittent sunshine was making me sweat. So I took the jacket off, rolled it up, and put it into my top tube bag. Beautiful day! The gentle breeze was drying off my arms. The song of the Red Winged Blackbird was calling attention to a return to spring.

 And two miles later, the clouds thickened and it started to sprinkle. I opted to continue to pedal and see if it was going to worsen. It didn’t. Then it did. Then it stopped. Then it started again. Ugh! Unfortunately, at the 19 mile mark, and the turn-off to go to the small town, I heard a rumble of thunder and looked up to see dark and heavy clouds approaching from the due west. Fast. With flashes of lightning. Le sigh. Home it would be. I turned the bike north instead of south, and hauled ass to get home before I became a human shish kebob. In the end, I didn’t get what I wanted – the 50+ mile ride – but I did get 32 and some change. The best part, was that it was my highest average speed for the year! Not what I wanted…but what I needed.

Last week I mentioned how upset I was about the process of being pushed into early retirement. I would like to revisit that just a bit. I was upset at the time…and am still upset for my community that a once vibrant and strong program has been turned to ashes. But I really am not bitter. You see, I got to ride for more than a year. We did our first RAGBRAI together…we did a lap around Lake Ontario and spent an incredibly romantic evening camping on Association Island after spending the first day – 24 hours and 317 miles – in the saddle. At the end of that year, when she was diagnosed, I then had the opportunity to be her caretaker, the way she had for me and our children for so many years. I was uniquely positioned as a former nurse to do almost everything for her – IV’s, dressings, tube irrigation, drain insertion and removal… everything…. because as the disease progressed she couldn’t do it for herself, and calling in another nurse – or worse yet, admitting her to hospital or skilled nursing facility care – would have resulted in the loss of her dignity, quality of life, and, frankly, would have violated our wedding vows. In sickness and in health. For the common good.

I wanted her to get better, to recover and we could then enjoy retirement and our golden years together. I prayed for it every night. My entire being ached wishing it to be so. But you can’t always get what you want. Those final two years, because I tried hard, I got what I needed.

The Convergence

Five years ago…at this very moment as I write…I stepped from behind the curtain with my accompanist, and took the stage for the very last time as a music educator. It was 7:00 pm sharp. I NEVER began a performance late in my life. If people were good enough to show up, the least I could do would be to honor their presence by being on time. Concert etiquette was one of the most important lessons I felt I could teach my students over the years…especially for my inner city students who I felt needed to be drawn to their obligations to others….

May 8th, 2015. Or 2018. Or…..We all have those days that as we sit back and view our lives in retrospect, seem to have a prominent place in the patchwork quilt of our existence. I’m not talking about marital anniversaries – of course those are special and will always stand out – or birthdays either – for the same reason. I’m talking about the ordinary days of a calendar year that, for whatever reason, seem to converge frequently with significant events in our lives. For me, May 8th seems to be the date the cosmos has designated for embarkation in my life.

The first such leaping off point that I can remember was May 8th, 1967. I have written previously about the serious incident that nearly severed my leg as a child, the hours of surgery required to repair it, the long hospital stay with my mother reading me “The Little Engine That Could,” and its impact on my future relentless pursuit of goals (see “I am one with the Force”). The incident actually took place on April 21st, 1967…but I was sent home with a cast on May 8th, with a series of follow up appointments, physical therapy, etc. I will NEVER forget the elation I felt leaving that hospital…I truly thought as a 7 year old that I was going to die there…and over the next few weeks, I thought I would die as a result of the stench of that cast! I kept it as a reminder up until I was in my early 20’s when it finally crumbled to pieces.

Fifteen years later, I was an undergraduate music theatre performance major at Arizona State University. Exams and juries had just finished and I had prepared for a return trip home to surprise my mother for Mother’s day. On a whim, I had auditioned that week for a fledgling equity company that was producing “West Side Story” and “110 in the Shade” that summer. The day before I boarded the plane, Saturday, May 8th, I received a call informing me that I had been cast in the role of “File” in “110” and the alternate “Tony” in “West Side.” Rehearsals would begin on Monday. Shit! Great! Shit….my mom…my career…SHIT!

There was never really any doubt. I called my mom, who had seen every production I had ever appeared in until I went to ASU, including my professional debut as “Claude” in “Hair” just the summer previously. She understood, expressed how proud she was of me, and that this just made her a bit more proud because it proved to my dad that she was right in backing my career choice. So I remained in the Valley that summer…two rehearsals every day for six weeks, then a string of performances from mid-July to mid-August. What set these shows apart from others that I had appeared in was not the fact they were equity productions – again, I had been in others previously with large roles – nor that it kept me in the Valley year round for the first time. No, what set me on a new path was the principal trumpet player in the pit orchestra….a brilliant young musician whom I met, chatted with, and became friends with – albeit casually at first. This trumpet player went on to become a music educator in the Valley 10 years later…and, along with another friend, recommended me for my first music education job in the Arizona Public School system in 1992. The same musician who raised a family of three girls the same age as our oldest three girls that I wrote about in “Colors of the Wind.” The same music educator who would go on to compose several original works for my inner city ensembles, that in turn found their way onto the approved for festival required repertoire list for the Michigan School Vocal Music Association.

The collaboration and fellowship my family and I enjoyed with his family led to some fantastic professional achievements for all of us. After almost three decades in the classroom, however, I was forced into early retirement in 2015. This decision was forced upon me by an administration that had taken advantage of a change in the tenure law enacted by the Michigan legislature that called for 40% of each teacher’s annual evaluation to be based on student achievement in standardized test scores. Because there is no standardized test in music, the legislature allowed the individual districts to utilize whichever standardized test, or subsection(s) of standardized test(s) to evaluate special area teachers, such as music, PE, industrial arts, etc. In my case, the union informed me that my district specifically mined the previous year’s test data to determine which subsections of the reading and math tests my students scored poorest on to utilize for evaluation purposes. The result was a 25 point drop in my evaluation score, from 96% to 71%…despite all of my students’ successes in individual AND ensemble honors, the result was a rating of minimally effective. By contract, such a rating for two consecutive years would result in loss of tenure and termination. Never mind the 20 ensembles in 12 years that had received superior ratings at district, state, and national festivals – including every non-audition ensemble (something no other director in the history of the school district before or since has replicated). Never mind the more than 70 All State Honors choir students in those same 12 years – more All State recognition than the entire athletic department combined over the same period.

The new superintendent called me into his office in December of 2014 and pointedly informed me that I should announce my retirement before the annual round of standardized tests that spring. “You know those scores aren’t going to go up. If you don’t retire, we will have to take you before the tenure commission, revoke your license, and you’ll be leaving in disgrace.” We had been butting heads since his arrival in the district. The turning point came when I had scheduled a series of concerts at area nursing homes for the holiday season. He had implemented a new policy which barred students from non-essential field trips during the school day (in an effort to increase instructional time – an admirable goal really) and so I demurred by scheduling the concerts after school hours.

These concerts had been an integral part of my teaching career. Three years prior to this, I had commented at one spot after the residents joined my students in a carol sing, that they sang so well that we should form a community choir. Me and my big mouth. Within six weeks, my students and I helped that nursing home form a resident ensemble, which soon grew to include other nursing homes owned by the same company, and met every week for a two hour rehearsal that culminated in a performance of Vivaldi’s “Gloria” in D, alongside my own students. The residents were visibly moved that night as our audience gave them a standing ovation, and I presented each resident with an honorary choir varsity letter J.

 For Christmas of 2014, the nursing home choir had appeared on our winter concert singing an arrangement of “Do You Hear What I Hear” (which they all thought was very clever on my part) and the activity directors at each home had scheduled a dinner and concert for the residents’ families and my students the week after to thank us and culminate their holiday activities.

The superintendent, however, had a daughter in one of my select ensembles. He was very upset that she would be required to participate in these events that would necessitate him making some kind of transportation arrangements because he and his wife would be involved in meetings on two of those days, and wanted to schedule a family gathering on another one. I informed him that my boosters would provide transportation for any student that needed it, and I would obtain the necessary waiver signatures releasing the district from liability. He informed me that I obviously couldn’t read between the lines and he ordered me to cancel the events or he would suspend me immediately for insubordination. He further ordered me to not discuss the reasons behind the cancellations in order to not cause his daughter any embarrassment or difficulties. I really had no choice. I cancelled the concerts, but my high school students knew I would never do so willingly, and they had developed such an attachment to the residents that they in turn contacted the activity directors and showed up to perform anyway….contacting a local television station in the process and airing their grievances. It was two days later when I was forced into retirement.

So….May 8th, 2015. I grew up in the age of Coach Bear Bryant. I had always worn a suit jacket and tie to teach in because, again, I knew I was teaching my students more than music and theatre…my choices also taught them basic life skills I knew they were not getting at home, or were being steered away from. I had over 70 neck ties, varying from cartoon characters in musical themes, endangered species, music composers/instruments, etc. But that morning there could BE only one tie…a tie that every single student I had ever had would recognize…a tie that is waiting for a grandson to claim…a tie that had been given to me as a birthday present in 1977 by my sister. A tie that simply had Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck tilting their skimmers in the classic opening to the Looney Tunes cartoons of the 70’s as they sand “Overture…douse the lights…this is it, the night of nights…no more rehearsing or nursing a part…”

I had no idea what to expect, but was stunned when I stepped from behind those curtains to a standing ovation from former students that had travelled from everywhere I had taught to see me ring down the final curtain…My accompanist was in tears, as was I. But I was ready for embarkation.

Three years later…May 8th, 2018…my children had just finished fencing in my back yard near the river and installing a shed. This was ostensibly for my dogs. They knew I was using the dogs as an excuse to not ride (See “Death Changes Everything Carl”) after my wife passed. But that day they removed all excuses and pushed me onto my current path. I took my first real steps onto that path on May 9th, 2018…and in the now two years since have accumulated exactly 20,725 miles on the road. In doing so, I have entered the cycling vortex and begun a new stage in my development as a human being…using cycling not just to produce endorphins my body cannot produce in a traditional manner, but to meditate and contemplate on the meaning of my life and life here on this planet.

These are not the only significant events that happened to me on May 8th over the years, but they are the ones that marked a significant shift in my life’s arc. So, what are your “cosmic convergence dates” and why? Asking for a friend…..

Who let the dogs out – and other pet peeves

I love dogs. Truly. I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed by their loyalty and friendship for every one of my 60 years on this planet. Anyone who read “Now it begins” after the passing of my wife’s dog Ginger this past January knows how hard I took it…and still do. There is nothing like the peek of a wet nose resting on your knee as your dog looks to you for a nibble of whatever it is that you are eating at the moment. Anyone who says that animals do not have souls has never been blessed to feel the unadulterated joy of a dog’s welcome home after a few days absence…or longer.

Last week I wrote about the joy my wife and I have had in seeing the return of the wildlife along our rides together. This week, however, it is time for something different. You see, this past week I have been chased, threatened by, and bitten by several dogs as their owners largely looked on in amusement as I rode by. As I passed one house about a mile from home I saw a woman working in her yard wave to me and I waved back…a split second before her dog was on my back wheel. I never saw him coming. He was snarling, barking, and latched on to my cycling shoe. The woman yelled out “He’s a nice boy. He’s never bitten anyone.” I yelled out “Lady, he’s clamped onto my shoe!” At that moment, I unclipped and was able to shake the dog’s teeth for a brief second. He came at me again and I had to literally punt him to the side of the road. The woman screamed angrily at me and ran towards me as well while the dog charged yet again. At this point her husband came out of the house. I pulled my dirk out of my bag and yelled at the lady that if she did not get hold of her dog, I would be forced to kill him, then call animal control and the police. At that point she was able to reach the dog and did in fact get control of the dog before hurling obscenities at me as I clipped back in and sped away.

I was still shaking when I got back in the safety of my home a couple of minutes later…not so much out of fear, but out of anger. Anger that I had lost control of my temper enough to have to kick and threaten a dog. Anger that this woman refused initially to recognize the threat that her dog posed and so simply allowed it to run loose. And anger that she and her husband had the audacity to blame ME for the situation.

Again, this was not an isolated incident. As more pet owners and families are forced to remain home, they are able to enjoy time together in their yards. I understand this. I encourage this, because rebuilding quality family time is sorely needed in our society. However, my wife and I believed in using quality time as an opportunity to also teach our children about basic responsibilities as a decent human being. When we camped, for instance, we would never leave the site until we left it better than when we arrived. ANY form of trash…debris…or markings were picked up and raked up. Our children were never allowed to simply discard fast food wrappers out the window…if they did, the car was stopped and we picked up trash along the roadside for a bit. Above all, our dogs (and later cats) were NEVER allowed out of a fenced yard off leash. Yes, sometimes they escaped and led us on a merry chase, but we would never simply stand by and “watch what happens.”

Dogs are territorial by nature, I understand that. A stranger that enters their environment will trigger the “fight or flight” response, and most dogs will choose the fight – regardless of their size. Intelligent, decent human beings who have undertaken the responsibility of adopting a dog into their family must understand this. If they choose to not do so, there are legal ramifications in virtually every society. I have noted before (“Lights, Camera, Action”) that I ride with front and rear facing cameras, as many true cyclists do these days for our protection as well as the protection of our families. I have listed below the legal aspects of dog law in the State of Michigan. Please know, again, that I love dogs, but if you choose to stick your head in the sand and force me to take action it will not stop with the death of your dog…I may very well end up with your 401K, your home….. I am not, nor is any cyclist, aware of your dog’s history, but a loose dog that attacks a cyclist can at the least cause a crash with the possibility of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of damage to the bicycle. If the dog is successful at penetrating the cyclist’s shoes/kit, the bite could result in serious medical damages. I am not in a position to be able to withstand these financial burdens, nor the psychological damages sustained by the inability to ride while recovering from your refusal to accept responsibility for the animal under your legal domain.

287.279 Dogs pursuing livestock or poultry, attacking persons, or entering livestock or poultry producer’s field or enclosure; killing

Sec. 19. Any person including a law enforcement officer may kill any dog which he sees in the act of pursuing, worrying, or wounding any livestock or poultry or attacking persons, and there shall be no liability on such person in damages or otherwise, for such killing. Any dog that enters any field or enclosure which is owned by or leased by a person producing livestock or poultry, outside of a city, unaccompanied by his owner or his owner’s agent, shall constitute a trespass, and the owner shall be liable in damages. Except as provided in this section, it shall be unlawful for any person, other than a law enforcement officer, to kill or injure or attempt to kill or injure any dog which bears a license tag for the current year.

History: 1919, Act 339, Eff. Aug. 14, 1919;–CL 1929, 5263;–CL 1948, 287.279;–Am. 1959, Act 42, Eff. Mar. 19, 1960;–Am. 1973, Act 32, Imd. Eff. June 14, 1973.


(Act 426 of 1988)

287.321 Definitions.

Sec. 1. As used in this act:

(a) “Dangerous animal” means a dog or other animal that bites or attacks a person, or a dog that bites or attacks and causes serious injury or death to another dog while the other dog is on the property or under the control of its owner. However, a dangerous animal does not include any of the following:

(i) An animal that bites or attacks a person who is knowingly trespassing on the property of the animal’s owner.

(ii) An animal that bites or attacks a person who provokes or torments the animal.

(iii) An animal that is responding in a manner that an ordinary and reasonable person would conclude was designed to protect a person if that person is engaged in a lawful activity or is the subject of an assault.

(iv) Livestock.

(b) “Livestock” means animals used for human food and fiber or animals used for service to human beings. Livestock includes, but is not limited to, cattle, swine, sheep, llamas, goats, bison, equine, poultry, and rabbits.

Livestock does not include animals that are human companions, such as dogs and cats.

(c) “Owner” means a person who owns or harbors a dog or other animal.

(d) “Provoke” means to perform a willful act or omission that an ordinary and reasonable person would conclude is likely to precipitate the bite or attack by an ordinary dog or animal.

(e) “Serious injury” means permanent, serious disfigurement, serious impairment of health, or serious impairment of a bodily function of a person.

(f) “Torment” means an act or omission that causes unjustifiable pain, suffering, and distress to an animal, or causes mental and emotional anguish in the animal as evidenced by its altered behavior, for a purpose such as sadistic pleasure, coercion, or punishment that an ordinary and reasonable person would conclude is likely to precipitate the bite or attack.

History: 1988, Act 426, Eff. Mar. 30, 1989.

287.322 Complaints; Retention, Destruction of Animal; Court Orders to Protect Public.

Sec. 2. (1) Upon a sworn complaint that an animal is a dangerous animal and the animal has caused serious injury or death to a person or has caused serious injury or death to a dog, a district court magistrate, district court, or a municipal court shall issue a summons to the owner ordering him or her to appear to show cause why the animal should not be destroyed.

(2) Upon the filing of a sworn complaint as provided in subsection (1), the court or magistrate shall order the owner to immediately turn the animal over to a proper animal control authority, an incorporated humane society, a licensed veterinarian, or a boarding kennel, at the owner’s option, to be retained by them until a hearing is held and a decision is made for the disposition of the animal. The owner shall notify the person who retains the animal under this section of the complaint and order. The expense of the boarding and retention of the animal is to be borne by the owner. The animal shall not be returned to the owner until it has a current rabies vaccination and a license as required by law.

(3) After a hearing, the magistrate or court shall order the destruction of the animal, at the expense of the owner, if the animal is found to be a dangerous animal that caused serious injury or death to a person or a dog.

After a hearing, the court may order the destruction of the animal, at the expense of the owner, if the court finds that the animal is a dangerous animal that did not cause serious injury or death to a person but is likely in the future to cause serious injury or death to a person or in the past has been adjudicated a dangerous animal.

(4) If the court or magistrate finds that an animal is a dangerous animal but has not caused serious injury or death to a person, the court or magistrate shall notify the animal control authority for the county in which the complaint was filed of the finding of the court, the name of the owner of the dangerous animal, and the address at which the animal was kept at the time of the finding of the court. In addition, the court or magistrate shall order the owner of that animal to do 1 or more of the following:

(a) If the animal that has been found to be a dangerous animal is of the canis familiaris species, have an identification number tattooed upon the animal, at the owner’s expense, by or under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. The identification number shall be assigned to the animal by the Michigan department of agriculture and shall be noted in its records pursuant to Act No. 309 of the Public Acts of 1939, being sections 287.301 to 287.308 of the Michigan Compiled Laws. The identification number shall be tattooed on the upper inner left rear thigh of the animal by means of indelible or permanent ink.

(b) Take specific steps, such as escape proof fencing or enclosure, including a top or roof, to ensure that the animal cannot escape or nonauthorized individuals cannot enter the premises.

(c) Have the animal sterilized.

(d) Obtain and maintain liability insurance coverage sufficient to protect the public from any damage or harm caused by the animal.

(e) Take any other action appropriate to protect the public.

History: 1988, Act 426, Eff. Mar. 30, 1989.

287.323 Offenses and Penalties

Sec. 3. (1) The owner of an animal that meets the definition of a dangerous animal in section 1(a) that causes the death of a person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter, punishable under section 321 of the Michigan penal code, Act No. 328 of the Public Acts of 1931, being section 750.321 of the Michigan Compiled Laws.

(2) If an animal that meets the definition of a dangerous animal in section 1(a) attacks a person and causes serious injury other than death, the owner of the animal is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 4 years, a fine of not less than $2,000.00, or community service work for not less than 500 hours, or any combination of these penalties.

(3) If an animal previously adjudicated to be a dangerous animal attacks or bites a person and causes an injury that is not a serious injury, the owner of the animal is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 90 days, a fine of not less than $250.00 nor more than $500.00, or community service work for not less than 240 hours, or any combination of these penalties.

(4) If the owner of an animal that is previously adjudicated to be a dangerous animal allows the animal to run at large, the owner is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 90 days, a fine of not less than $250.00 nor more than $500.00, or community service work for not less than 240 hours, or any combination of these penalties.

(5) The court may order a person convicted under this section to pay the costs of the prosecution.

History: 1988, Act 426, Eff. Mar. 30, 1989.

Finally, one other pet peeve that has existed before, but is now once again rearing its ugly head is the abject refusal of my fellow citizens to follow the motor vehicle code regarding sharing the road with cyclists. I guess I should not be surprised, considering the absolute ignorance and bigotry displayed by so many in this state recently…open defiance of the shelter in place orders by protesting with firearms IN THE STATE CAPITOL building, of all places…open defiance of those orders increasing as people leave their homes without masks and congregate in large numbers without social distancing…the murder of a security guard yesterday whose only “Crime” was simply enforcing the order by refusing entrance to a store by a customer who attempted to enter without a mask. The customer’s husband and son returned 20 minutes later and shot the guard in the back of the head, execution style, instantly killing the father of 8 children.

This sense of self entitlement defies what these people claim as their constitutional right to liberty. Liberty has always been accompanied by a price to be paid for the common good – with such words imbedded in the Constitution. As this crisis lingers – in part because so many idiots refuse to believe in simple science and insist that their own “liberties” are superior to the rest of society – motorists have returned to the road in increasing numbers and are refusing to obey the slow down and yield a minimum of three feet to cyclist law passed by our state legislature over a year ago. Simple laws of physics should be able to tell you what will happen if you fail to observe this most basic protection to a fellow human being. The minimum distance stated by the law allows a certain mitigation of the “slipstream” or “drafting” effect created by a passing vehicle moving at a faster rate of speed and occupying a larger physical space. When such an object passes a cyclist, the lighter, and smaller vehicle and operator is literally “sucked” into the vacuum of air space created and can easily be thrown under the wheels of the vehicle, or blown off the road. Unfortunately, here in Michigan, I have witnessed our state police and county sheriff patrols refuse to enforce this order. Just over a month ago I was passed by four vehicles in a row, each giving me less than 18 inches of space (causing my wheels to begin to wobble), and tailing each other by less than two car lengths. The last vehicle in the line of four was a state police patrol car who did NOTHING to intercept the other three vehicles preceding him.

Additionally, the three foot law allows us both the opportunity to react to road conditions. While your 2000+ pound vehicle may be able to absorb potholes and debris in the roadside easily, mine will not. Given Michigan’s seriously deteriorating road infrastructure issues (we frankly have the worst roads in the country) I frequently have to swerve to avoid potholes, dangerous seams, etc., in the roads that would cause major issues to my equipment and person if taken head on. My tires cost at least $60 each, the tubes another 10, the wheels anywhere from $800 to $2000 a pair, and the frames from $300 to $5000 to replace if cracked. Aside from the damages to my bicycle, if I am forced to ride into a pothole, large seam, or debris, I am likely to crash and fall into your vehicle’s path. As a motorist, and frankly, as a decent human being, I know it is my responsibility to be aware of all road conditions and those I share it with at all times. When I see a cyclist, I look ahead to see possible impediments to their path as well as mine. Only when the road is clear, I slow down and move COMPLETELY into the other lane to pass at a slower rate of speed, and then retake the lane when I have allowed sufficient distance to insure the cyclist will not encounter my slipstream. If the path ahead is not clear, or the road is winding, I bide my time at a safe distance behind the cyclist and do not endanger them by honking my horn, creeping up on them, revving my engine, etc. Quite frankly, the 3 to 10 seconds you may “save” by waiting to pass me cannot be worth the lives you would ruin by causing me to crash or be sucked under your wheels. Remember, my cameras will capture the incident and will be used by my attorney – or my children’s – in civil and criminal proceedings against you.

I would like to think that all of my readers (all six or so of you!) are also decent human beings and already observe the practices I have mentioned. You also, are then, aware of my former occupation and so I call on you to educate your children, your neighbors, friends, and colleagues about these issues. For my sake. For your sake. For societies’ sake. For their 401K’s sake!

Colors of the Wind

We were living in the metropolitan Phoenix area in the summer of 1995. The girls were at that very tender age of loving all things Disney…and the recent releases of Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast were not helping our pocketbook! Normally we would spend the summer out of the heat of the Valley and in a county RV park in Show Low, AZ in our pop up camper. Literally out of the kiln and into a skillet on slow simmer! This summer, however, my wife was pushing to finish her teaching degree and we remained at home during the week…going north only on weekends and holidays. The year before we had discovered a drive-in movie theatre and watched The Lion King there. Yes, I know this sounds awful in the Phoenix heat, but remember that drive-ins wait until well after dark to run the film. And when you are a struggling beginning teacher, with a wife in school, and four very young girls, it was an obvious financial choice. Actually, the girls had a blast as we brought bags and bags of goodies from home and at show time the temperatures had cooled off to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit!

For the release of Pocahontas, we traveled to the drive in with our friends – my colleague, a brilliant musician and composer/arranger, his wife, and their three young girls who were the same age as our oldest three – and enjoyed a rare night out. The best thing about Disney, from a music educator’s perspective, is that Disney can be counted upon to generate a hit song from virtually every movie they make! Pocahontas was no different. As soon as I heard “Colors of the Wind” I knew it would be one of their biggest hits. And my wife and I liked it as well, which was a HUGE plus! I was on the phone for the better part of the next week contacting friends in the publishing business to see when I could get my hands on an arrangement for my students. We were one of the first to do so at the beginning of the next school year.

Our girls have never outgrown their love of Disney…and our grandsons are catching that virus! Of course, it didn’t help that the Christmas before my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we had managed to discover that Disney had released a box set of every movie, most animated shorts, and television specials they had ever done on DVD (except for “Song of the South”) – 172 discs in total – and we bought one for each family. Our third oldest, who I knew was going to be a great singer actress when I came home from work one day and she, in her proudest four year old voice, said “Daddy, look what I can do!” – and promptly proceeded to push herself up on our big bean bag chair and sing “Part of Your World” with perfect pitch and a healthy vibrato – had “You Got A Friend in Me” played for their first dance at their wedding reception in the Grand Hotel in Newcastle upon Tyne….I’ve never been able to get away from Disney!!!!

Rather than focus on the misery that has much of the country – indeed, the world – gripped right now, I have forced myself to take the time to focus on the good stuff. Videos of my grandsons in home school due to quarantine – and my children obviously experiencing thoughts (but nor verbalizing them) along the lines of “How the F@%* did mom and dad do this for over 20 years?” Reading and meditating start and end my days…I’ve recently finished JG Bennett’s “Sex” (no, not a how to manual, but rather a discussion of how spouses complement each other in a relationship), Solovyov’s “The Meaning of Love,” a couple of Winston Graham’s “Poldark” novels, Boehme’s “40’Questions of the Soul,” St. John of the Cross’ “The Dark Night of the Soul,” Tolstoy’s “Where Love Is, There God Is Also,” Alex Lukeman’s “The Lair of Anubis,” and I am still working my way through Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Donne. I try to avoid watching too much television because I don’t feel it engages my mind or my body. After my recent bout with vitamin deficiency (see the Flintstones post from earlier in April), I know that staying active helps avoid the coronavirus, helps keep me out of deep, dark places, and it gives me time to focus on becoming a better human being.

Besides, for one of my birthday surprises last week, our children convinced a very famous cyclist to video record a personal birthday greeting! This guy was one of our favorites at the Tour de France every year – no, not THAT guy! – and we always felt he embodied what it was like to be a true pro and good human being – a feat often aspired to, but almost never achieved in professional sports. Now, I kind of HAVE to ride! I’ve been inspired!

So what does it mean to be a pro? An amateur? An enthusiast? Does getting paid to do something make you a pro? Hell no! All one has to do is look at the Detroit Lions or Newcastle football club to realize that! Pretty sure that the Lions would be TROUNCED by a college all-star team these days. Before you laugh, you should know that there used to be a game every year between the NFL champs and major college all stars. The All Stars actually won the game nine times and tied twice between 1934 and 1976! Those wins included one over the 1958 World Champion Detroit Lions! Interestingly enough, the first AND last win in the series came over the NFL Champion Packers in the 30’s and the 60’s! Newcastle? They’d find a way to lose to an average club from the Scottish Champion’s League! Nope, pay doesn’t determine professionalism. Outside of sport, there are other examples…Bieber’s “singing”…Jennifer Love Hewitt’s “acting”… Earl Scheib’s “paint jobs”….

A true professional also cares for every aspect of their performance. In my quest for the medicinal Scotch Ale, I have discovered what I know to be very good amateur brewers. They may make a fine ale, but they branch into other areas and styles that perhaps they should not. In my opinion, the best brewery, top to bottom, that I have ever seen is Central Waters out of Amherst, Wisconsin. I believe I may have sampled their entire catalogue, and I have never yet had a brew that I wish I hadn’t. Their Brewer’s Reserve series (Scotch Ale, Stouts, etc) is the very best barrel aged samples I have ever consumed. They care not just about their flagship stuff, but really work hard to make every single beer/ale that leaves under their label the very best example of the style there is. Dedication to quality brewing over such a vast repertoire of styles is simply unheard of. Every brewery has their signature beer…for Founders it is All Day IPA…they also brew a Scotch Ale, but, curiously, they use the same yeast strain in every single one of their beers. This gives them an unmistakable flavor, but it doesn’t capture the style of the target brew as often as does Central Waters.

In undergrad, one of my professors – himself a very famous performer – told us to look around the hall. He said that for 9 out of 10 of us, we would never be more professional musicians than we were at that moment. His next words have remained with me, and I often drilled it into the heads of my students  – “You see, a dilettante musician practices until they can get it right. A very good amateur musician practices until they get it right most of the time. A true professional practices until he can’t possibly get it wrong.”

This pro cyclist that recorded a video for me had impeccable timing and cadence skills, as most true professional cyclists do. They know their body’s limits, know how to respond to each fluctuation in road surface and terrain, know when and how much to push, shift, and hydrate….the potential for errors is endless, and even a flawless performance by these phenomenal athletes could end in defeat in a sport frequently determined by hundredths of a second. As much as I have fantasized over the years about being a pro cyclist….no…not for me. And this last month that has been okay.

Watching videos of my grandsons on their bikes has reminded me that I am, after all, a grandfather, and there will never be a Credit Lyonnais bicycle babe waiting for me at the finish with a bouquet of flowers, little stuffed lion, and a yellow jersey. That simply isn’t why I ride. And besides, I would rather it be my wife at the finish line, but….. No, the reasons I ride I have laid out before (see We Can Never Go Back to Before, for example). The joy Rhett and Clark had on their first ride outside this spring…actually, watching Rhett mash away on his two wheeler pedals, and the accompanying look of awe and disappointment on his younger brother’s face as he tried so hard to keep up on his balance bike…priceless! My other grandson’s pre-school had a bike race just before quarantine….Theo’s little legs have all the explosive power that mine do! Pure joy of riding. That’s it.

We had what I hope will be our last snowstorm of the year a little more than a week ago. I wasn’t feeling a hundred percent just yet, but I clearly felt my wife telling me she wanted to go out for a ride. Really? She never liked the cold, and liked to watch the snow fall, but only thru the windows or bundled up on our deck while sipping a protein infused, chocolate heavy mocha! Three inches of snow had fallen – and more was still coming down – but it hadn’t really been sticking to the roads. So after getting all of my heavy winter gear on, I (we) went out on Spartacus.

I hadn’t pedaled more than a mile down the road before I felt her voice singing “Velvet Shoes,” a choral setting of Elinor Wylie’s beautiful text recalling two friends walking through a snow fall. This was one of my favorite texts to teach junior high girls’ choirs. (BTW, the link below is not one of my ensembles…I unfortunately don’t have one) There are several settings, but the one she was singing was one of the two I frequently used – Randall Thompson’s. She would stop singing every so often to call my attention to the sound of the falling snow. At this point, Michigan was still following the governor’s stay at home order and the rural roads were deserted. The sound of the snowfall was deafening for its softness!

About 15 miles farther down the road, I heard her say “Look!” into my right ear, and I turned my head just in time to see a herd of deer come out of the woods, look at me, and run along the roadside beside me for about a quarter mile before disappearing into another copse. How do I know it was her? Because my attention was drawn to their white tails and how they literally were prancing as they ran. I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of deer over the years as I ride. I never before was drawn to details like that. I knew she was delighted and wanted me to simply enjoy the ride without getting caught up in the stats. Before I turned down the final few miles to home, she started in with “The Colors of the Wind.” Really difficult to focus on the road when you have frozen tears coming down your face and your deceased wife’s voice ringing in your ears. And I loved every second of it.

I’m not a pro. My mileage is impressive to many this year, not a big deal to others. But after that ride, I have made a decided effort to not look down at my Garmin. I’ve allowed myself the luxury of taking new roads – even dirt roads on a carbon road racer with skinny tires – not for what it brings to me for points on the app, but for feeling that same joy that my grandsons do when they take their bikes out. So I can share with them as they get older and they can see that the joy never has to leave you…if you don’t let it.

A good amateur has the right equipment…has most of the knowledge…some of the skills…but doesn’t want to lose the thrill and wonder by making their past time into a job. I’ve had jobs. Several of them. Most of them I even liked. I’m old. I’m a grandfather. My job now is to keep that wonder and thrill going in my grandsons’ eyes so they too can imagine a wider world. One of the best things that has resulted from all of this quarantining is that nature has been able to catch a collective breath. I’ve seen more wildlife near the roads lately…in bigger flocks/herds. The air is purer…there is more quiet. You can hear things like your own heartbeat…and your own conscience…let’s not screw this up!

Ghost writer

According to the Weather Underground historical data, Friday, April 22nd, 1983 was a relatively mild day in Phoenix, AZ. The high for the day was a modest 78 degrees despite abundant sunshine. This was seven degrees cooler than the average. From my perspective, and in my memory, it was SIGNIFICANTLY hotter. This was the day I was to be married. I had finally found the girl of my dreams. We had celebrated my father’s birthday the night before in the RV resort they had reserved a spot in for their trip from Michigan. I had spoken with my best man that morning and he was ready to meet me at 1 pm for our trip to the Justice of the Peace in time for our 3:00 wedding appointment. My bride to be was still convinced I was THE guy. Her father had come around to accept me as an addition to the family, although he wasn’t initially thrilled that his 17 year old daughter had fallen in love with a 23 year old music theatre performance major. To my credit, I had no idea she was THAT young until after I had proposed….more details of our early relationship are in my posts in February.

As so often happened in our lives…life got in the way. I can’t remember the exact reason my best man was late, but he was. In 1983, Phoenix only had two freeways – I-10, and I-17. Everything else was a surface street. Traffic got heavy during rush hour…and stayed that way for three hours usually. I remember slamming my hands on my steering wheel as the car clock approached 3 pm…then passed it…I remember the temperature suddenly seemed like the middle of summer as I imagined my father in law fuming at the possibility of my not showing for a wedding we had both talked him into signing permission for. I was dead. I knew it. The Justice of the Peace office closed for the weekend at 4:00 pm. I finally squealed my tires into the parking lot at 3:45 pm. My future father in law’s face was a sunburnt scarlet, but not from the heat OR sun! My bride to be was in tears. Even my own parents – who were with me in the car – were upset.

Fortunately, Judge Howie (yes that was his name) was not. Indeed, he was very understanding, and stayed late to perform the ceremony. Fortunately, my father-in-law is one of the kindest men I have ever known and was quick enough to forgive me for my tardiness. Fortunately, my beloved bride remained with me through good times…through bad times…through thick and thin (see my last post)…and for 34 years I felt like a king every time we walked arm in arm in public.

I spoke in my “This Can’t Be Love” post for Valentine’s Day of a vocal trilogy I have been composing with my wife for the last several months. This trilogy utilizes several sources for the text, as well as original lyrics of our own. It begins with two Soprano-Tenor duets, and ends with a three-part women’s chorus. The work was finished in time for Valentine’s Day, and one or another of the songs was scheduled to be performed this year by a few school groups in AZ as well as MI, with the entire work to be premiered in AZ later this fall. Then the virus hit.

I know how many people get either creeped out by my discussing the communication I have learned to cultivate with my departed bride, or flat out think I have truly lost it. This isn’t as crazy as it all sounds. There have been several instances where the ability to interact with a beloved spouse has occurred well after death. And, remarkably, this ability appears to possibly be genetic. My paternal grandmother and grandfather were married in 1912…they raised 10 children together on a farm. My grandfather passed from cancer in 1943, not long after my Dad’s 10th birthday. At the time, my dad had a cousin nearly his own age, who had a sister just a couple of years younger. Their dad, unfortunately, was an alcoholic. My dad and grandmother told me of the number of times my grandfather would have to go over to their house and “straighten out” my uncle, who was a mean drunk and sometimes beat the kids and my aunt, who had adult onset polio and was confined to a wheelchair by this point. My grandmother used to tell me that she had experienced grandpa’s voice a few times after his passing, but that on the morning of August 4th, 1945, she awoke to find him at the foot of their bed and he said “I’ve had it Zula. I’m taking those kids away from him to be safe with me. And then he disappeared.

That night, my uncle was in rare form, celebrating the impending defeat of Japan, so my aunt decided to take the kids to a movie to get away from a potentially dangerous situation. It was an uncharacteristically gloomy night. The city sidewalks were in disrepair, so Jackie decided to push his mother’s wheelchair on the edge of the street. You can guess from there. Jackie was thrown high into the air by an inexperienced teenage driver traveling far too fast and he died almost instantly. His sister Wilma was dragged under the car for about a quarter mile, ripping off the back of her skull. She passed a few hours later. My aunt survived, but had PTSD and mourned those kids for another 48 years until she passed in 1993.

So my ability to experience my wife’s presence and voice didn’t surprise or scare me. Indeed, it gives quite a bit of comfort. No, I have never seen her…except in my dreams, of course. But I hear her voice frequently, and often can feel her presence and touch. What I would like to share with you is this trilogy, as well as her involvement in it, beyond what I shared in “This Can’t Be Love.”

The night after she passed, I finally had worn to the point I fell asleep. Within two hours, I felt her presence, heard her voice, detected her scent…and she lay beside me in the bed they had just carried her from eight hours before. What was said between us I will not relay here, but I knew that our time together was not yet finished. Just our walk together on earth. For months, she would pop up unexpectedly…I’d feel her voice inside my head…feel her laughter and cracking wise as I pedaled my way around, trying to keep those promises I made to her to get back to my mileage goals. I struggled with how to deal with this, and when mentioning it to family – hers, mine, and ours – they all looked at me like I had lost it. Finally, I stumbled across a book on grieving and loss that approached death between two beloveds that came from an esoterical point of view and postulated that it is indeed possible for two souls that were brought together and united by a love vow, to form one Abler Soul (see The Abler Soul, and This Isn’t Love posts). The theory justified itself in Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Sufi, and Buddhist teachings. The book is called “Love is Greater Than Death” and is written by Cynthia Bourgeault. Even if you are not grieving, it is a fantastic read and offers insights on inner spirituality.

When planning her memorial service – my wife explicitly did not want to be buried and insisted on cremation – our children and I opted to call for donations in lieu of flowers and decided we would use the proceeds to send an at-risk, inner city junior high student to a summer music camp free of charge. We decided this was the best way to keep her legacy alive. She loved her students (see Herding Cats post) and, again, our conscious decision to serve in inner city schools was what we wanted to do to change the world for our own children and grandchildren. The response was overwhelming, and we found we had more than enough to send not one, but FOUR students to camp that summer, with plenty left over. We formed a 501-c3 association, and host several fundraisers throughout the year to benefit this mission. Every dollar donated goes directly to scholarship awards.

Last October, we hosted our annual bicycle ride as a benefit. Despite the weather, the turnout was great. We had several riders in other states participating virtually as well. Friends of ours came up from Indiana to spend the weekend and ride with me. After the ride was finished, we went out for dinner. I expressed some frustration with the weather, as well as with the fact that some of our mutual friends could not be bothered to attend – even though we had ridden in charity events for them previously. One of them pointed out that her legacy was not in numbers, but in the fact that others were willing to go out into the world and do good works…inspired by her. Mind blown.

I had been revisiting the works of John Donne since Bourgeault’s work had discussed his poem “The Ecstasy,” which first used the term “abler soul” to describe the passion between Donne and his wife. My friend’s quote reminded me of other works I had stumbled across by this largely forgotten 16th’/17th century British poet that perfectly captured my experience with my beloved wife, from our marriage, through our last day on the planet together, to our continued journey together in a wider astral plain. That night, on the journey home, I began to talk with my angel about composing a vocal trilogy. The first task was to revisit that awful day in February two years previously and set aside some pain for each of us, as well as inspire others. Our last couple of years together, we had received several notes from students and friends that commented on our devotion to each other and how inspired they were by our work on a true marriage.

The first task was to select the lyrics. Although I may be an accomplished/published author, I am NOT a poet. All of my previous completely original vocal compositions were done as a pastoral musician, utilizing Psalms or biblical quotations – usually lifted exactly from the source or the liturgical handbook. My best work was actually as an arranger of instrumental accompaniment to existing songs by contemporary composers, or as choral arrangements of traditional hymns into untraditional settings, such as an SSA rendition of “In the Garden” for my father’s funeral in 2009.

My wife, on the other hand, lacked the fundamental music theory skills to generate melodies, harmonize, etc. What she was VERY good at, however, was writing original text to existing melodies, as well as generating an original libretto to craft a musical tying seemingly unrelated songs together for her elementary students.

As I contemplated how best to explain our relationship in a meaningful way, I felt her guiding me towards six texts from three authors. Bourgeault states that in an abler soul partnership, often the living partner is led into directions by the departed in ways that he/she would never have thought of on their own, and distinctly has the tincture of the departed beloved involved. Such was the case here.

For our texts, we together settled on the section of Bourgeault’s work that discusses the reason that the abler soul partnership extends the relationship beyond death…”Once the building is built, you no longer need the scaffolding.” This simply states that the two beloveds do not need to physically feel or see each other, but that the communication can and does extend beyond death.

Of course, accompanying this text had to be Donne’s “The Ecstasy” portion where the abler soul is first discussed. These two works HAD to be combined for the greatest impact and understanding. We decided this piece would be the first setting of the trilogy and would capture our last day together, as I alternatively sat and lay beside her, telling her constantly “I love you,” because I wanted those to be the last words she heard in this realm. How to go about it, however, was an issue. I felt this was the first piece that needed to be written. I contemplated making it an SATB (four part mixed chorus) work, but my wife’s voice insisted on an intimate Soprano-Tenor duet. As I revisited the source texts, I jotted down what I felt were the important sections, and after I was finished, reread what I had put down on paper. As I read, I felt her hand crossing out certain words, writing down substitutes where appropriate, and when finished, noted that approximately half of my original text was substantially changed! But the result was extremely satisfying and had her essence all over it!

The next step was to compose the melody, which I managed to generate in about two hours. There was little input from her on this, but I did feel her guide me to interweaving that melody in a give and take true duet between the voices. This made the harmonization much easier. The rest of the compositional process I have discussed in previous posts, so I will skip it here. Later in this post I will post the text and add the audio file generated by my software for what it sounds like (minus actual human voices singing the text).

The next piece, actually the first part of the trilogy, had to capture our wedding day and describe the vows we felt we were taking…the entire essence of our marriage. She made it known to me in the process that she wanted it to resolve some pain that I had felt in the last few days before her passing. I had watched as our girls, sons in law, grandchildren, and other family members and friends came to say their final goodbyes and make her promises to watch out after each other. I heard her struggle to tell each the final “I love you” before she slipped away into unresponsiveness…yet those were not the final words I had heard from her. That final “I love you” came a day or two after I had made the difficult, but necessary decision to enter hospice care two weeks before she passed and about a week before family started showing up. I never heard her say the words to me again. It hurt deeply.

My wife was a HUGE “Outlander” fan. I never understood this, and instead actually cringed at the brief explanation she gave of a woman who travelled back in time and married a Scot – despite being married in her own time in post-World War II England. I struggled with this concept because I felt it was adulterous behavior and couldn’t understand my wife’s interest in it. I did, however, watch the Starz presentation of the series with her. After her death I felt I HAD to read the books on her Kindle to try and resolve this issue. I knew television presentations do not often convey the essence of an original text (see Game of Thrones, for example). And so I worked my way through the books and quickly saw us reflected in the fiery, and loving, relationship between Claire and Jamie…which is, after all, what she saw…she told me several times that it wasn’t about the adultery, it was about Claire finding true love and partnership.

For the text of our first piece, The Vow, then the setting had to begin with our own wedding and the vows we would have taken in front of Judge Howie if that wedding had taken place the day she passed. The vows Claire and Jamie took are a traditional version of those spoken in the Highlands. “Blood of my blood, bone of my bone, I give ye my body that we might be one.” Later in the series…actually in “The Fiery Cross” (the book that is the source material for this season’s television series)…Jamie tells Claire “When the day shall come that we do part,” he said softly, and turned to look at me, “if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”

The remainder of the text of The Vow is original lyrics composed by ourselves and weaved together the story of our lives up to the day of her death. I have spoken before of her involvement in the instrumental portions of this piece, including the creation of the quadrille interlude and the wedding bell accompaniment that I had tried to compose at the ending of “The Abler Soul,” but had failed in capturing. Again, the melody, was a collaborative effort in weaving the relationship between the tenor and the soprano, and we selected which portions of the vow would be sung by which voice, which portions of the remainder of the piece would have the melody in which voice, etc. As I came to set the text from The Fiery Cross, however, I quite clearly felt her presence and smelled her perfume as my decision was overruled, and she set the harmony, melody, and rhythm to erase my pain as though she felt the words while drawing her final, halting breaths. I was given to know that she felt and heard my cry of anguish when I knew she had crossed over. She let me know that in spite of her inability to say those words to me in her final days, she knew this was important to me. I felt my jaw move in rhythm as we came to this segment of the piece. By the way, I still spray a bit of her perfume on the pillow that was underneath her head when she passed that day…every night before I go to sleep.

For the third, and final movement, “Death Be Not Proud,” we selected Donne’s Funeral Elegy, written for the funeral memorial for the 14 year old daughter of his patron – Elizabeth Druery – and Holy Sonnet #10. I wrote previously about her distinct input into changing the direction of this setting – from SATB to SSA – as well as the form – from vocal fugue to a traditional ode setting that captured the essence of the junior high select women’s choruses that had been such an integral portion of our lives, and best suited our daughters’ abilities. The adaptation of the texts and abbreviation was done to highlight the mission we still had before us…to continue her legacy of inspiring good, as our friend put so eloquently last October. The accompaniment was actually written by her, once I had harmonized the melody we collaborated on. The accompaniment was written in the same style she had done an arrangement of Silent Night for just weeks before her diagnosis and she wanted it to be reminiscent of a harp accompanying an angels’ chorus, out of respect for the young woman who I had been assigned to be mentor for in the Boston University doctoral program in music education. This phenomenal musician was a brilliant harpist who was also a part of the Boston Bruins’ Ice Girls! (Which, because of our joint interest in all things hockey, was why she was assigned to me…as well as her interest in identity formation and ideation among adolescents). My wife loved her because in one of our first online mentoring sessions, this young woman told me how much she appreciated my advice and input, and stated she thought I was very wise. I asked her to hold that thought, called my wife into the room, and asked her to repeat what she had just said to me…This was their first meeting. My mentee, in a nod to how intuitive and intelligent she clearly is, looked straight into her webcam and said “I told him to listen to EVERYTHING you had to say!” My wife laughed so hard and so long (because she knew this woman had just trolled me) her sides ached for much of the remainder of the evening!

So that’s it. The story of the compositional process. We have decided together that we will give the score of this piece to any organization/school that is interested in performing it. We would, of course, like to have any donation made to the scholarship fund that is deemed appropriate. We know, through years of service in inner city schools that administrations tend to look on choral programs as cheap alternatives to band and push back against any funding request. We always struggled to get our administrators to fund the cost of new music…usually between $60-90 per song title for a classroom set of 40 copies. Please note that it is a violation of federal copyright law to purchase one octavo and make photocopies for students. Such usage is not covered under the fair and educational usage provision of existing copyright law. Composers and arrangers are entitled to make a fair living. Regardless, our publishing company, SARABRIK, will provide enough student copies of the complete score, with duplication and performance rights to any organization. (It would make a nice gift to your local school’s choral program, BTW!) Additionally, I am willing to video conference with any conductor or group interested in performing the work, free of charge. The schools that had begun work on “The Abler Soul” and “The Vow” were visibly moved – well, the girls were in tears, anyway, as they learned of the grounds for, and meaning of, the lyrics. I had to fight back the urge to laugh out loud as I heard the atypical junior high girls’ chorus of a sobbing “Awwwwww!” Please message me here if you are interested and I can contact you to set up the details, or email me directly at

Below are the lyrics for the trilogy in performance order, as well as the audio files. Happy anniversary my love. Truly. You’re the BEST thing that ever happened to me!

The Vow

Stood they two, to speak one vow.

Swore they two, to love as long as soul’s life did allow.

Blood of my blood, bone of my bone,

I give ye my body that we might be one (that we might be one)

I give ye my spirit ‘til our life be done (‘til our life be done)

Each one was perfect, in the other’s eyes

And joyfully both surrendered to love (surrendered to love)

Thus love and time forgave each other’s flaws

As stars crossed the night skies above

When love and years had claimed their due

They smiled in silence, those two

He bent and kissed her, their faces lined

If my last words ae not “I love you” (I love you)

I  Love   You

You’ll know I didn’t have time, my love.

My love, it wasn’t enough time.

The Abler Soul

Sat we two, one another’s best.

Sat we two, as she prepared for body’s final rest

And whilst our souls negotiate there

We, like sepulchral statues lay

All day the same, our postures were

And we said nothing all the day (nothing all the day)

If only so by love refined

That he soul’s language understood,

And by good love were grown all mind

Within convenient distance stood

When love with one another so interinanimates two souls,

That abler soul which thence doth flow

Defects of loneliness controls

For once completed spire doth allow the bell to ring

The lovers need not the scaffolding!

Death Be Not Proud

She did no more than die

If after her any shall live

Which dare true good prefer (good prefer)

For ev’ry such soul is her delegate

To accomplish that which should have been her fate

For future virtuous deeds are legacies

Which from the gift of her example rise (her example rise)

And ‘tis in heav’n part of spir’tual mirth

To see how well the good play her on earth

The good play her on earth

Death be not proud

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not

Die not

She dies not!

BikeTrek III – The Search for Spartacus!

In November of 2011, I weighed 352 pounds. At 5’10” tall, that meant I was obese. Morbidly obese. I wore a size 54 waist dress slack – although they were tight – and a size 21 dress shirt. I was on 135 units of insulin a day, four Metformin, and two Actos tablets in an effort to beat back Type II diabetes. I was dying, and I knew it. So did my wife.

I hadn’t always been like that. As an athlete in high school, I wrestled in the 132 pound weight class in 9th grade. That winter, though, the Arab Oil Embargo struck home to many Americans…especially my parents. We struck back by swapping our fuel oil burning furnace for a wood burning furnace. We were one of only five houses in a four square mile area with lots of woodland, so Dad bought a chainsaw, a couple of axes, a maul, a wedge, and a splitting maul, and I spent that Fall and Winter with him every weekend in the woods, bulking up. Yes, it would make for some colder mornings in the dead of winter when just a few embers remained in the furnace, but it was a nice heat…and you couldn’t beat the price compared to fuel oil!

By the time I was a senior, I was about 210 pounds, with a 50 inch chest, 30 inch waist, and could bench press more than 300 pounds, squat 600, and deadlift…well, a bunch! Some of that was our trips to the woods, but some was the result of a change in our HS football coaching staff that emphasized weight training. I gladly bulked up. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize high school doesn’t last forever. Those who become slaves to their bodies early, tend to pay the price later when their activity level declines due to limited opportunity or, frankly, life. Such was my case.

When we were married, just five years after high school, I was down to 185 pounds. I still had a decent amount of muscle tone due to the physical demands of being a music theatre performance major (yes, demands…you take all of those dance and stage movement classes…I dare ya!), a stint in the Air Force, a delicate balance of performing for a living and working a real job as a nurse on the night shift….All of that was about to change when we decided to give up performance as a career and enter music education.

For the next 20 years I experienced roller coaster weight issues. My weight would go up during the school year, and go down in the summer. God bless her, she stuck by my side, literally through thick and thin, despite the fact that she never varied more than 10 pounds from the weight she was at when we were married…except during pregnancies, but she always lost it afterwards. Me? I would vary anywhere from the 185 up to 220, down to 190, up to 260….late in the cycle, we went back to grad school…after two Master’s and completing a PhD program, I found that I was a brittle diabetic and was unable any longer to lose the school year weight gain. My physician recommended bariatric bypass as a means of losing the weight and, as a result, gaining the ability to cut back on my meds.

Back then, counseling was mandatory before a surgeon would allow you to undergo the procedure. Counseling for both of us. We were informed of the risks…of the side effects…of the benefits, and, of the massive psychological changes that may result in a couple’s relationship. I underwent the procedure the day before Thanksgiving in 2011.

One of the things in counseling that was stressed is that the procedure is effective, but only remains so if you change your lifestyle. My wife and I decided that for me, my lifestyle change would involve cycling. Other than the one and two day invitationals I have posted about before, I had also used one of my summers to bike around the coastline of the Upper and Lower Peninsula of Michigan as a fundraiser for my choral program. She followed along, and set up camp in an agreed upon destination. We had the time of our lives! After the surgery, and after I had acquired some better bikes, we once again opted to participate in bike tours…in our first Pedal Across Lower Michigan (PALM) and RAGBRAI tours during the same summer. Again, we had a great deal of fun, although it was more work for her than me, she still enjoyed the alone time to read, shop, sample local cuisine, etc. In one RAGBRAI town she was flabbergasted, amused, and excited to find out that the local library – which she entered originally in a quest for WiFi, also had a stock of character cake pans that they checked out to patrons!

That was when we decided to go the extra step and make my exit from the field of education a grand experiment in bike touring. Knowing how I felt about challenges, and thinking of the opportunities for herself, we made the decision that the year I was due to retire (2020), we would take the plunge and I would pedal from Seattle, WA to Bar Harbor, ME – about 4000 miles. She would continue as she always had…riding ahead, setting up camp, shopping, reading, etc., but would keep tabs on me and ride out on her own bike to meet me on the road when I was about 20 miles out…well, she said she would START when I was about 20 miles out, and meet me halfway…I wanted to call BS, knowing full well she wasn’t that fast and we would actually meet with about 7 miles to go, but….somethings are better left unsaid! She was willing to support me in this, and I wasn’t going to blow it!

By the time we had made these plans – early 2014, I had already lost about 170 pounds and kept it off. She was announcing to everyone that she felt like she was cheating on me with me! I was up to 5000 miles cycling every year, and plans were made to increase the mileage goal so the summer trip would be possible.

Unfortunately, life happened. I was chased into early retirement, thanks to a bungling Michigan State legislature, a greedy administration that resented my salary and educational level, and, frankly, my unrepentant willingness to use actual research data against their calls to make changes in curriculum to obtain more grant funding. At the same time, as I mentioned earlier this year, my wife began to experience her own health crises.

Well, it’s 2020. As I stated in my last post, I made the reservation on Amtrak in February and started planning the ride she made me promise to fulfill. The rest of this post will discuss the steps I took, decisions that had to be made, etc.

Again, originally this trip was to be made TOGETHER. Without her, I would have to either make the trip with a group planning the excursion and that had SAG’s employed, or make the trip totally on my own. There are such groups available, but the costs start at over $6,000 per rider. Too rich for my blood! Next, I contemplated constructing my own route and finding places to stay en route, etc. This takes a great deal of patience, knowledge, and more guess work than I felt comfortable with. So I turned to one of the oldest long distance cycling organizations in the US – Adventure Cycling. This group has routes and tours throughout the United States, and sells maps if you want to organize a tour by yourself, or with friends. The maps are incredibly detailed, take the safest roads possible, and have turn by turn directions along with listings of bike shops, overnight lodgings, tourist information, etc. The group actually had a route that departs Anacortes, WA (80 miles or so north of Seattle) and ending in Bar Harbor, ME! No brainer. I joined the Association, bought the maps with a group member discount that basically covered the cost of my membership, and began to plan my ride.

As I was in the process of planning my itinerary, I took into account the mileage, what I felt I could reasonably be expected to sustain given a bit of training, the gear I would be required to take along to do a completely self-supported ride of this magnitude, and, of course, my bike capabilities. Following a trip around Lake Ontario in the summer of 2015, I had my cyclocross bike refitted. I had experienced some real problems climbing the Niagara escarpment with panniers…basically running out of gears! Originally, the bike had a dual chain ring upfront (46-34) and a standard 12-24 cassette. For those of you unfamiliar with bicycle gearing, the numbers refer to the number of teeth in a cog. If you remember basic history, Archimedes taught that a large gear turning a smaller gear could generate more speed/power. In bicycles, when you use your largest gear up front, and your smallest gear in back, you are at the maximum of your machine’s capabilities – without the added human power element. This is NOT how you want to climb a mountain, however…unless you are Jan Ullrich! When climbing, most cyclists go through their gears to alleviate the strain on their muscles and sustain the power needed to continue the battle against gravity! Ultimately, I lost that battle up the escarpment and had to – embarrassingly enough – dismount and walk my bike up the last tenth of a mile or so. My legs were not able to spin fast enough to keep the bicycle moving forward and upright. I needed a larger set of gears in back. Upon my return from that trip, I replaced the cassette with an 11-42 cassette with the required long cage derailleur (the gears are bigger so the derailleur also has to be to make the necessary shift). This gave me four gears in back that were larger than the 24 tooth gear originally there. This meant that my cyclocross could literally climb like a mountain goat!

Well, on its own anyway. My wife and children, in preparation for that trip in 2015, bought me a rear rack and set of panniers (bags) to carry my gear with. Unfortunately, the Crux – indeed, NONE of my bikes – didn’t have the eyelets in the dropouts for the rack to attach to. After a bit of research, they found an adapter that would allow the rack to attach to the skewer/quick release. Ahhhhh….sometimes, ignorance is bliss. I certainly didn’t know any better at the time, and neither did they. The problem with such an adapter is that it transfers the weight of the rack and the panniers down to the skewer, which passes through the hub/axle of your wheel. Think about that for a second. If the load is heavy enough, say 20 pounds per bag, that load will cause each end of the skewer to bend down slightly. This, in turn, causes the middle of the skewer to bend UP slightly inside the hub/axle, and acts almost like an emergency brake in a car. Ever try to drive with your emergency brake on? On a bicycle, if the load is light enough, it is not an issue. Unfortunately, I have powerful enough legs that I could compensate and just attributed it to the extra weight on the bike. Until last summer when my mechanic told me the rear wheel on the Crux needed to be replaced immediately. A long discussion followed and led to my discovery that my rack and panniers could no longer be used on the Crux (or any of my bikes) for this journey. Instead, I would need a trailer or bike packing bags (total projected cost of either option would be at least $300) and a new rear wheel (at least $500).

When making plans for the trip I went to revisit these discussions with my mechanic. He floored me by asking a question I hadn’t even considered. (see “Sometimes you just know” from February). He asked why I didn’t just buy a dedicated touring bike. I laughed at first and reminded him that I am a retired teacher, living on a pension, and not yet eligible for Social Security. He stated that there were several used touring bikes on the market because people buy them with the best intentions and never really follow through. The best two he could recommend were the Trek 520 and the Cannondale ST-1000. And so my search began.

The learning curve was steep. As I have learned, a dedicated touring bike not only has eyelets in the dropouts (a part of the frame that the wheels sit in) for attaching racks, but the gearing is vastly different, the brakes allow for wider tires – necessary because larger/high volume tires make it easier to carry the weight and give a “cushier” ride – and the front fork is usually equipped with attachments to allow for a front rack and panniers as well. In most cases, a truly dedicated touring bike will have a triple chain ring up front, and fewer gears in back, but a wider range in size. This allows for a much wider range of shifting capabilities to climb mountains with, as well as generating speed in the flatter portions of a route. Also, and importantly, most touring bikes come equipped with a full set of mud/splash guards to keep the cyclist as dry and comfortable as possible.

Despite my mechanics advice, in early March, there simply weren’t many Trek 520’s or Cannondale ST-1000’s out there. I expanded my search, and found a few different model touring bikes, but they were either the wrong size, or the wrong components. My sister got excited and she assisted me in the search, scouring eBay, Craig’s List, Facebook Marketplace. Finally, I found one. Relatively close to me.

A man had just inherited a 1989 Cannondale ST-1000 from a friend who had recently passed. He was located just 80 miles from my house, so we exchanged a few messages and I went to see the bike. No, Michigan was not yet under quarantine! Man, what a beauty! I could tell that it had been well cared for! The paint was nearly flawless. The components were in excellent condition and high quality. But how did it ride?

Truthfully, I couldn’t tell for sure. The bike had the wrong kind of pedals on it for me…SpeedPlay frogs. This meant my biking shoes could not clip in and felt very uncomfortable pushing the small little circles around. Additionally, the bike felt like it was small. I came back from a trip around the block and we adjusted the seat post up to see if it made any difference. It did, but I still felt like my torso was stretched out a bit and my knees were coming up too high. I really wanted to like this bike. I looked it over. Evaluated everything – how much would be needed to upgrade the saddle, replace the cables (the current ones were in good shape, but cables usually only last 2000 miles, and there was no way I was beginning a cross country trip with used cables!), replace the pedals, etc. The value was still there, but the question of fit was still on my mind. Again, refer to “Sometimes you just know.” I felt an adjustable stem might raise my torso up and make all the difference in the world. An adjustable stem allows you to change the height, reach, and angle of your handlebars in myriads of combinations. I’ve used them before on bikes purchased for my daughters with great success. However, having just written that blog post about fit a few weeks previously, I just didn’t feel comfortable handing over $250 cash for an unknown outcome – especially when I would need an extra $200-250 to make the changes. So I returned home, disappointed, and renewed the search.

After a week, I called my mechanic again and informed him. He agreed that he was certain the issue was the stem. The bike had been going through my mind somewhat similar to when I had first met my wife! Constantly thinking…imagining…

I finally pulled the trigger. My sister picked up the bike because she was visiting her grandchildren just a few miles away that day. Meantime, I purchased a new stem with a longer neck and shorter reach, as well as new pedals, bar tape, hoods, chain, and had my mechanic install them all along with new cables. Dropped the bike off on a Wednesday. On Friday, our governor announced a quarantine would take effect the following Monday. My mechanic labored all weekend to get the bike to me without violating the executive order.

By the way, as a former nurse, may I say that I have no problem with the social distancing, quarantining, etc., that states are adopting. We have taken similar measures as a society before. Here in MI, as of today, we now have 2800 deaths and 35000 cases. This is much higher than the 2% death rate our orangutan in chief is pushing on the masses as a justification for reopening businesses. However, in an economy where you are shutting down public transport, why would you classify local bike shops as non-essential? To me this is the most idiotic thing our governor has done!

Regardless, I have the bike in my possession. All of my other bikes were named after our dogs. I have enough bikes now that every dog we owned as a married couple has been accounted for. This bike, however, is different. It rides like a BMW SUV. It takes bumps and rough patches incredibly well. It has a drive train – 50-44-28 up front, and 13-15-18-21-25-30-34 in back – that allows me to attack climbs like a warrior! So I christened the newest addition to my stable for the warrior I always admired – as did my wife as she watched the Starz series loosely based on his (love) life – Spartacus!

Spartacus comes in at 28.6 pounds without my loaded panniers, Kaddy Racks, lights, and my fat butt! I have since taken him out on nearly 1000 miles of rides, the first 600 of which were with the panniers loaded with the tools, clothes, spare parts, tubes, tires, first aid kit, grooming accessories, charging equipment, etc., that I would be taking this summer. I placed my tent and gear shed on the top of the rack. All told, this added an extra 40 pounds to the bike, and made it more like a Sherman Tank than a bicycle. I have 700x32c tires on it and it took me awhile to find my optimum touring speed. I was never going to challenge the pro tour, but on my road bikes I could comfortably average 19-22 mph for a metric century (100k or 62 miles). Not on Spartacus. At best I was averaging 14.9 mph loaded, but was finishing these metric centuries breathless and worn out. I have settled on an average speed of about 13.8 mph, which allows me to enjoy the ride and still get a metric in comfortably in under five hours total time with rest stops, water breaks, food breaks, etc.

Why is a metric such a big deal? Because to make it on my route from June 1st to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean on her birthday, I have to AVERAGE just about a metric century every day. Obviously, there are days in the Great Plains where I have seen the elevation profile on these maps that reads like a table top, so I can crank out between 80 and 100 miles in the course of a day easily. I would like to be able to take at least one rest day every week. I turned 60 years old yesterday. I’m not young anymore! We won’t even discuss those 8000 feet climbs in Glacier National Park!

So, today, here I sit. Unable to do the tour this summer and thus am failing to keep that promise to her. I am, however, at 3100 miles for the year, I’ve completed 24 metric centuries so far this year – enough to extend that STRAVA challenge streak to 24 months, and have set PR’s for total mileage in a month for February, March, AND April (already).

Tomorrow would have been our 37th anniversary. I will apologize to her for letting her down (as if she doesn’t already know), but promise to make it up…next year. Spartacus will take the oath with me!

Flintstones…(Re)Meet the Flintstones…

I’ve mentioned before how much I loved ‘60’s television! The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, Bob’s Burgers….,.if it were not for the 60’s success of The Flintstones and The Jetsons in a highly competitive and burgeoning primetime television market, the former shows may never have existed.

Television’s role in marketing and product development is intrinsically embedded in sponsorship, of course. A bit more than 50 years ago, Flintstones chewable vitamins made their appearance, capitalizing on the success of the animated series, which had been cancelled, but was booming in the syndication market. The vitamins were a huge hit with parents who were interested in promoting and preserving the health of their children. Vitamins historically tasted and looked bad. These vitamins were colorful, shaped like the characters and other items from the show, and supposedly tasted a bit more like candy. My parents started buying them and we were expected to take them. I never liked the taste, but didn’t dare ignore the directive. Once I moved out of the house as a teenager, I experimented with other “adult” vitamins, but came to the conclusion that the only thing these vitamins did was create expensive and colored urine! So, I saved my money and just relied on a diet that provided the basic nutrients.

So why am I writing about all of this now? For the half dozen or so of you who actually read this blog, you may have noticed my last post was two months ago. This post is as a direct result of yet another life lesson learned in the absence of my beloved spouse that resulted in a serious medical issue which caused that gap.

When last I posted in late February, I had just purchased my ticket for a one-way Amtrak excursion to Seattle, WA for May 28th. I reserved a spot for myself and a bike, in order to fulfill yet another promise made to my love the week before she passed over two years ago. I have written before of our plans to complete a bike ride across the Northern Tier of the United States over the course of the summer they year I was supposed to retire from the classroom – supposed to be this year. My tickets were purchased, my maps had been purchased, my route and itinerary were completed, and our kids had purchased my tent for me as an early birthday present….I was ready to go! After my last post I began to make plans to update the bike I had wanted to take, and entered discussions with my mechanic. After some back and forth, it became clear that I was in need of a dedicated touring bike rather than an adaptation of my cyclo-cross bike. So I conducted some research and went on a hunt to procure a good used one. More on this in my next post, but I did indeed find one and in early March began to train for my summer ride.

The route I was going to take required a shade over 4300 miles. If I was going to complete it in time to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean on her birthday (that was our original plan), it was going to require me to pedal a metric century (62 miles) or longer six days a week from June 1st through August 12th. Now, I’ve done SEVERAL such rides over the years since my bariatric bypass. Going into this year I had completed 10 rides of 300k (186 miles) or more in a single day, 10 rides of between 200 and 300k in a single day, 55 rides of 100 to 125 miles in a single day, and over 200 rides of between 62 miles and 100 miles in a day. Very rarely, however, had I posted more than 10 metric centuries or better in a single month. So it was time to train and build my endurance.

My previous record for mileage in the month of February was 506 miles. In spite of Ginger’s death and my subsequent bout with depression which is always present around the anniversary of her passing, memorial service, and Valentine’s day, I still managed to set a new PR in February by grinding out 585 miles, so I felt my previous record for March (which was 580 miles) was not only going to be easily beatable if the weather held, but would be crushed if I was successful and persistent in my training program.

My routine was to go out every day…usually in the afternoons…with as much weight as I could carry. After I managed to procure my new (to me) touring bike and have it updated, I used it with full pack on every ride.

Of course, as everyone knows, the coronavirus began to cast a dark shadow all over the nation, and one of the hardest hit areas has been Michigan, where as of this morning, we have had over 29,000 confirmed cases and over 2900 deaths. For me, I was not concerned as 1. I live alone, B. I pedal alone, III. I buy my groceries a month at a time, d. I never travel anywhere or receive visitors. Since our governor issued very early on an executive order that placed us on an effective “lockdown,” my biggest fear was disruption in training and potential cancellation of my plans because, at the time, Seattle was the initial virus hotspot in the US. However, our governor did state that we are allowed to leave our homes for individual, and appropriately socially distanced exercise. So my riding was not interrupted.

To get to the heart of the matter, I logged over 1215 miles in the month of March, easily crushing my old record. No, I did not ride every day. There were some days that were simply too dangerous to be on even deserted roads due to very high winds, poor visibility conditions, etc. Those conditions would have also resulted in my not riding while on my trip. I simply do not pedal when sustained winds are 25mph or higher because bicycles act more like sails and can easily carry you into harm’s way. Similarly, despite all of my lights, poor visibility due to fog or misty rain makes it difficult for motorists (increasingly distracted these days) to see you with enough distance and lead time to do anything about it.

The biggest result of March was that I crossed 2000 miles for the year far earlier than I ever have. However, as the month and my riding wore on, some very dark and dramatic changes were taking place in my aging body. By mid-month, I was noticing that my exercise induced endorphins (see earlier posts) were simply not lasting as long. Whereas a metric century would produce enough endorphins to keep my mood stabilized for a few days in the past, by the end of March the exercise high would wear off within a few hours of when I climbed off my bike. I began to experience sleep issues, joint pain that was not explained by bike fit, pretty severe depression from events that would not have caused such a negative reaction in the past, exceptionally high amount of lethargy, etc. To further complicate matters, my diet was suffering because I ran out of my stockpile of Scotch Ale in early February and could not find an adequate resupply. The result of this, of course, was that I began to regurgitate my dinners….every night.

As a former nurse (health care professionals make the WORST patients, BTW) and a pretty educated person who has always prided himself on knowing his body fairly well, I attributed the joint pain and lethargy to the dramatic uptick in training. From April 1st of 2019 to March 31st of 2020, I had logged 11,101 miles, and more than doubled the amount of riding from February to March. The reduced efficacy of the exercise induced endorphins I attributed to social isolation, the tremendous jump in mileage (similar to increase in tolerance levels for addicts), etc. It was the sleep issues that were beginning to get to me…inability to fall asleep and remain asleep for more than five hours each night.

Fortunately, my sister is a licensed Nurse Practitioner. She works at a local hospital and spends her lunch hours at my house three days each week. This almost ended as a result of our governor’s orders, but she IS my health care provider as well as my sister, and she was able to make a case to come and see me based on her concerns for my health. She noticed a decline in my mental acuity, as well as a more haggard look. We discussed my thoughts and she made some suggestions, one of which was adding glucosamine to my morning medications to prevent gout attacks. This eventually all but alleviated the joint pain. My mental processes, however, continued to decline, as did my appetite when I could not replace my Scotch Ale.

Finally, at the beginning of April, she asked me how many, and what kind, of other vitamins I was taking besides the glucosamine. When I responded none, her jaw quite literally dropped…like Rosie’s from The Jetsons.

When I underwent bariatric bypass in 2011, it was explained to me that I would have to take multivitamins, especially high doses of Vitamin D, for the rest of my life due to my body’s new lack of the ability to absorb and process the nutrients I would be taking in. My wife had always been a believer in vitamins…she had a history of slight iron deficiency, and between pregnancies and wanting to set a good example for the girls – who were, by now, part of the “Flintstones kids…ten million strong and growing,” (you’re welcome for that ear worm!) – she had taken multivitamins for years. Again, I hadn’t since high school. Although I still believed that the vitamins were only resulting in expensive and colored urine, I took them out of deference to my surgeon and her. We took them at the same time each morning.

The last few months of her life, my focus was on her needs, deductibles, and copays. Her vitamins had been replaced by far more expensive meds and a pretty strict regimen. I ran out of my vitamins. She lost the ability to be responsible enough to remember to take her own meds, let alone mine. I didn’t replace my supply, and frankly forgot about them. Still, I may have been okay, except for the dramatic upturn in mileage over the last year. In just a few days I will begin my 61st trip around the sun….not replacing nutrients as they are depleted causes serious issues at any age, but they accelerate in the aging process. All of my symptoms…ALL OF THEM…were easily explained by a severe deficiency in Vitamins D, B6, and B12. So I began with a massive dose of these…and am just the last day or two starting to feel normal. The first symptom to clear was sleep…followed by lethargy….and now depression has begun to lift. How could I have not diagnosed it immediately? How could I have been so educated, and yet so stupid?

About mid-March, the virus had become a full grown pandemic and I received notice from Amtrak that they had suspended service to Seattle, the original hotspot. I called, wondering whether I should cancel my ticket and explained my plans. I was informed that the situation was under control and they hoped to be up and running again by the end of April. Sound familiar? Slowly as the virus took hold, not only here in Michigan, but elsewhere, I began to seriously doubt my ability to keep my promise…not just because of my own physical decline, but due to the rolling shutdowns around the country. State and national parks were closing. Churches were closing. Restaurants were closing for dine in purposes. Where would I camp? Where would I shower? Where would I eat? Would I be able to obtain bike service if a particular state decided bicycle services were “non-essential?” For the record, I believe this was our own governor’s most idiotic move. In a time when you are cancelling public transportation due to fear of spreading a contagion, often the only transport left to workers in cities is via bicycle. If that isn’t essential, I don’t know what is!

Regardless, the decision was taken out of my hands two weeks ago, as I received a full refund from Amtrak for my ticket. Today, Michigan has yet to hit its peak, while Washington has turned the curve. However, word is now being issued that several states along my proposed route that had resisted efforts to order isolation are seeing their cases take significant upward swings. Looks like I’ll be touring my state this summer on a variety of day trips, as the governor expects we won’t begin our downturn until late June.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite Scotch Ales finally went into barrels at the end of February. It is brewed by a restaurant in the tiny town of Lawton, MI, and is called Weirdo With A Beardo…a 9.75% ABV Wee Heavy. Restaurants here are allowed to issue take-out only, so a few weeks ago I stopped by for lunch and a half barrel to go! Digestion issues are now settled as well! Even better, the master brewer there tweaked his recipe a bit and now the beer has some serious malt presence – rich caramels – and a full, creamy feel to the palate. Ooooooo, so good!

It is snowing again here today…for the fifth day in a row. For the first time in almost two weeks, the wind is less than 10mph, but it is only 32 degrees. Tomorrow is projected warmer, but those 15-20mph winds return for a week long engagement. This will be a big week for me as I turn 60, and, of course, our 37th anniversary would have been this week as well….it will be our third since her passing. Fortunately, I am on the mend and I plan on crossing some milestones and catching my limited readership up on other developments of the last two months. I understand I was posting about once a week, but this week, I anticipate catching up with a few posts.

Be careful out there. Take the proper precautions like hand-washing. Take your masks. And take your vitamins. They are more important than you know!

Let it go….or Hold On…what were those lyrics?

Ahhhhhhh…..the 80’s…..the decade of drug culture, of greed, of the great divide of American television. On the one hand you had Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, Murder She Wrote, Family Ties, Cheers…on the other you had Mr. Smith, Small Wonder…and The Facts of Life….yes, I know the last series ran for several seasons…which only prolonged my suffering. God I hated that show. Still do. The wife loved it, though, so I found something else to keep me occupied while it was on. Not hard to do when carrying 20 credit hours, working three jobs…and responsible for three VERY young girls! What I didn’t realize until this week, however, was how philosophical and historical that damned theme song was/is! 

Take the good. Take the bad. Put them all together and you have the facts of life. Hmmmm…where have I heard that before? Very similar to the “moderation in all things” axiom attributed to Aristotle, but modern scholars have begun to assign credit to Hesiod (ca 700 BC) and Plautus (Roman) some 450 years later. Or, perhaps the TV show was deriving their inspiration from Rumi, who has said “life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” Or, albeit a stretch, perhaps even Hugh Lofton’s pushmi-pullyu beast in the Dr. Doolittle stories.

Well, regardless, this has been yet another week where I was forced to learn the wisdom of Rumi. The older we get, generally speaking, the more we tend to cling to people and things. As all else in life slips away – career, children, living spaces, physical and mental abilities, and even possessions – we feel a compelling urge to hold fast to that which surrounds us…especially those people, items, or concepts that have strong ties to our past. I covered a bit of this in my very first blog post, “Death Changes Everything, Carl,” but want to revisit that for a bit….not in terms of the death of my spouse, but in my evolution as a human being and as a cyclist.

Last week I was set to go over 1000 miles on the road for the year over the course of the next day or two. I was a bit excited as this was by far the earliest I would have ever crossed that mark. The weather, which has been consistently cold and gloomy, was predicted for near 50 degree temps and clear skies for the weekend! Astonishing for us! We are literally mired in the dead of winter! Although it hasn’t been particularly cold this season, it has been a VERY long season. The day of the annual fundraising ride and 5K run for my wife’s memorial scholarship association – October 13th – it turned bitterly cold (41 degree high temperature) with gale force winds at times (steady 20-25 mph, with gusts of 50 mph and higher). The weather never recovered after that. We’ve had occasional glimpses of the upper 40’s and low 50’s, but a steady diet of upper 20’s and low 30’s with gun metal gray skies. I got myself pumped for the riding last weekend! Then….life happened.

My wife and I were blessed to have some very dear friends. Our youngest children went to high school together. They assisted us in chaperoning field trips for our students – including making all students literally roll in the aisles as they danced to The Commodores’ “Brick House” in the aisles of a charter bus towards the end of a very long day with high schoolers intoning the infamous “Are we there yet?” Our friends were there for us throughout her illness and have truly kept the promise they made to her on her deathbed to keep watch over me….you know, something many promise with good intentions, but life gets in the way, and then they just drop it. These two have not. But we hadn’t seen each other since Christmas, and suddenly a window opened. I was thrilled to see them again. We did dinner and then took in a movie. They knew I had not been to a movie theatre since they joined my wife and me to see “The Greatest Showman” a few weeks before she passed. I refuse to go alone, and seriously the thought of going out to a movie without my wife just felt…well…sneaky or traitorous in some way. Yes, I know I’m being ridiculous, but I can’t deny the feeling.

So we saw “The Call of the Wild,” – EXCELLENT movie, by the way – and had a lovely afternoon and evening of chatting and catching up. A few years ago, the missed day on the bike would have irritated me. Perhaps you may have noticed I am a bit obsessive in some behaviors and traits? If I had been looking forward to anything, and something else pre-empted it, or life got in the way, my entire psyche would be hit…No, I wouldn’t fly off the handle, but my mood was definitely altered for the worse. This is when my wife’s wisdom would take over. Over the course of our marriage she taught me what I have crystallized into four basic lessons. I’ll expand on these in a bit. For now, let us just say that I have been working REALLY hard to grasp her lessons and those of Rumi as well. I knew that it was only February 22nd. Still plenty of time.

Sunday was also a beautiful day. For moving. Our oldest daughter and son in law had a new home built for them and their boys. Moving day was last Sunday. Best day of the winter. Record high temps (mid and upper 50’s) and the prettiest blue skies. But they REALLY needed help, and I was supposed to take some of their furniture home with me. The day was a great deal longer than any of us anticipated, and we ended up pulling the moving trailer into my driveway at 12:15 am on Monday. This meant, of course, that the furniture could not be unloaded at such an ungodly hour, and would have to be unloaded in the morning, reassembled, and the trailer returned to the rental facility. By the time this was all finished on Monday it was nearly 6 pm. Oh, did I fail to mention that Monday was also a nice day for riding? Upper 40’s…lighter winds…then we got smacked with a winter storm for three days….snow, very heavy winds and temps in the upper teens with wind chills below zero. Visibility very low due to blowing and drifting snow. So, no, I haven’t been out riding after all since my last post. But, tomorrow is still February!

Seriously, however, it has been…ok. I know my children were a bit worried I would be upset about missing the ride time. And, to be fair, in the past I would have been. Again, I forced myself to truly focus on those lessons this week, and I have not been affected by the loss of ride time at all. There were other things that surprisingly shook me in the interim.

Seven Christmases ago, I took my wife out furniture shopping for our living room. She had a blast. I think a part of her was considering a future as an interior decorator after she retired from teaching. God knows she watched enough HGTV to have a Master’s Degree in Home Improvement! I only wish I was kidding! Anyway…..guess which furniture went to make room for the new (to me) stuff this week. It was just furniture. It shouldn’t have hit me so hard. But it did. I got a lump in my throat as I helped a former student excitedly carry it out to his borrowed truck. I know it’s going to be appreciated and cared for, because he knew both of us. This would make her happy. But, again, Carl…one more thing of hers walked out the door of the house this week.

Finally, two days ago, my home theatre popcorn machine finally gave up the ghost and died. My wife and kids bought that machine for me on Father’s Day in 2003. I’ve replaced the kettle on it twice, the switches once. We are popcorn fanatics in this house! Fresh popcorn was made every day when the girls were home. It is still made at least four times a week. It was the first place our oldest grandson learned to walk to in our house! The dogs as well! With each batch, our dogs would gather at the feet of the cart, waiting for the first kernels to be expelled from the popper, beyond the opening, and onto the floor…boy, has THAT been a hard adjustment over the past month! Ginger had popcorn before going to bed her last night on earth!

We’ve had a true home theatre system since 1997 with Bose Surround, and the last 17 years a minimum of an 82 inch screen. Friends, family, the girls’ dates, neighbors, colleagues, and even students would come to enjoy the theatre experience at our house. Yes, students. We would hold rehearsals sometimes in our house on the river during the summer and breaks would include canoeing and paddle boating, volleyball in the side yard, etc. After rehearsal was over, we’d feed them and they would gather in our rec room to watch a movie and munch on popcorn. Don’t know that I would do it today, in this anti-teacher climate, or even if I’d be allowed to, but it meant the world to our inner city students. A lot of great memories in that machine. It was picked up by the trash company at the curb today.

As a cyclist, this entire last year has been a study of learning to let go and hold on. What events are important enough to me to hold on to as a participant? Are there any left? The truth of the matter is that, as I mentioned a few blog posts ago, the water has moved on. I don’t feel valued by most of the people in the clubs I belonged to for years anymore. Understandable. As a tree ages, younger shoots are always springing up, ready to take its place. What isn’t acceptable to an old hippie like me, is when I participate in so many fundraisers and events, but others that seemingly care about me do not reciprocate by taking part in the benefit for the Angela Dallaire Bruce Memorial Scholarship Association. I’ve never been very tolerant of selfishness. So I am frankly becoming a lone wolf, in a manner of speaking.

The same goes true for mileage goals, PRs, and the like. What I am learning here is to not allow myself to panic too early, to not get upset with others who simply want to avail themselves of my time. I am alone so much of the day/week/month, I truly need that human interaction! Summer is coming – so the rumor goes – and my days will be filled with extended hours in the saddle. I know now what kind of mileage I am capable of once the calendar turns to green and warm instead of white and frigid! Holding on to my overall mileage goal keeps me grounded to her…everything else is just noise.

Those lessons she taught me? Here they are in reverse order of when she tried to get them through my thick skull!

#1 – Don’t over react – Anger is a known root of disease. As I posted in “Sometimes You Just Know,” we were each other’s sounding board. However, my temper got the better of me far more often than hers got the better of her. Seriously, this particular lesson has been the hardest for a person of passion to learn. Especially a Scots Irish! We tend to carry grudges like they were the freaking Congressional Medal of Honor! Three years ago on April 1st, I discovered an app called Insight Timer. Her chemo wasn’t going well. I was raging against everyone and everything – except her. This included the divine. I used the app to meditate that day. Every time I felt stressed I found a corner and did a quick 10-15 minute guided meditation. It wasn’t an everyday thing, but when June 1st came and I almost had to make the decision to terminate care, I turned to the app for meditation to begin and end every single day. Two days ago, the app notified me that I was celebrating my 1000th consecutive day of meditation. Am I still angry at the surgeons who botched her care and their oath? Yes. Am I still angry at a health “care” system that is geared for profit instead of care? Yes. But I have learned as a cyclist and as a human that my anger and frustration does not affect just me. This is the essence of what she was trying to teach me. She was never frightened by my anger…but it affected her deeply none the less. My anger and her reaction to it may have caused her gall stones, which in turn caused her cancer, which in turn killed her. Similarly, my angry outbursts at ignorant motorists may not cause problems for me, but who knows how that motorist will react the next time he/she encounters a cyclist? Will that next cyclist pay the price for my screaming and accompanying one fingered salute? Sometimes, you have to breathe, go to your root, and let it go. And so, in order to let go, I hold tight to that app and my meditation practice.

#2 – Always be mindful and considerate of others. But expect nothing from anyone. Obviously this is one I am also still working on. I will also state that she admitted a few weeks before she died that she obviously had not truly bought into this lesson. She was forced into early retirement by her cancer. For years she had played the political game with our district administration…bowing to their every whim, doing the extra things with a smile…never questioning their judgement or authority. She noted that they had allowed her to run her program – unlike me – and felt that her demeanor had earned their respect. When the district did not recognize her as a retiree or invite her to the end of the year retiree dinner, she was hurt. Deeply. She cried for days. On the other hand, I frequently questioned administrator’s judgement when it flew in the face of research, or when it went against best practices and what was in the best interests of my students. This, of course, meant that I was frequently called to the principal’s office for meetings that consumed my travel and lunch time. I got angry, as I told her, primarily because my students were bringing honor and distinction to the district, that I was working far and above the expectations of the contract, and was not requesting large capital outlay – simply logistical and curricular support. When that wasn’t forthcoming, it exacerbated tensions even further. As a cyclist, this translates to every single ride. Whether it be on an invitational, where the Tour de France wannabes can’t be bothered to call out “On your left” as they pass in a pace line at 25 mph, or to the ignorant motorist who passes you with 250 feet left before the intersection and goes to make a right turn. Or to the club member that feels it’s ok to expect you to drop over $100/year for club dues, ride fees for the big club invitational, and t-shirt, etc., but obviously doesn’t care enough about you as a club member to attend an invitational (or participate as a virtual rider) for a deceased former club member that benefits at risk kids. But I’m not bitter or anything. I SAID I’M STILL WORKING ON IT!!!!!!

#3 – Live with grace, but don’t grow old gracefully. If I had $1 for every time she said this, we could have funded a cure for gall bladder cancer and saved her. She believed it. She lived it. This is why she was such a brilliant elementary music teacher…and would have been at the junior high level, given time. She WAS a kid, at heart. She told me once that I was an old soul…that I acted and carried on like I was a great deal older than my physical age in a lot of ways. She also noted the child in me…mostly childish stubbornness, but still… In her absence, I would like to feel that I have begun to live with grace far more frequently…my bouts with anger are far fewer…I am not as judgmental of others as I used to be…I am more conservative in my language and online footprint. However, it is far more difficult for a retiree on a fixed income, living totally on his own and at least 85 miles from grandchildren to act in a manner not consistent with his age. I have to settle for doing that on my bike. So some things I really do have to hold on to…like my plans to do a solo bike pack tour across the Northern Tier of the United States this summer. That’ll show ‘em! My grandkids anyway!

#4 – Happiness is a choice you HAVE to make every day. If she were buried, this would be on her tombstone. She said it to me from day one. I wasn’t happy about being farmed out to a junior college by my major university to sing in an opera because they didn’t have anyone capable of singing the title role. And I let her know it, because she played my daughter. She snapped back at me with that line. I kind of felt like Lou Grant listening to Mary Tyler Moore – “You’ve got spunk! I like spunk.”

I have this quote taped near the head of my bed. It is the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last thing at night…right next to her picture. Some days it is a relatively easy choice to make. Some days it isn’t. Some days it is easier to just wallow in self-pity and grief. But I have to remember that it is not just my soul that I am bargaining with. I truly believe that we forged an “Abler Soul” as John Donne put it (see Nov of 2019 Abler Soul post), and I am responsible STILL for her growth and happiness to an extent. So, when it is within my means to do so, I ride and release those endorphins! I hold on to that addiction. When weather, or life gets in the way, and riding becomes a pushmi-pullyu proposition, I let it go and live in the moment, looking for the happiness that I trust is hiding there.

The Winter of Our Discontent…. or…Climate change and the mighty wind!

“Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun (son) of York”

No, despite how it may sound, it is NOT a speech Donald Trump made in his last visit to the UK! Rather, it’s how Shakespeare begins one of his most brilliant histories Richard III.  Just proves that politicians have been utilizing hyperbole for hundreds of years to try and unify the masses behind the politician’s plans for the future. In this case, Richard was boasting of his brother, Edward IV, whom he hoped to depose on his way to the throne. The lies, hyperbole, plots, and invented charges of treason against all who were perceived to be in the way to his ascent to the throne, make Richard one of the most despised of all British sovereigns. Hmmmmm…..Nope…it has very seldom worked out well for those who do so. Especially in the case of Richard III.

I, however, am embroiled in my own winter of discontent…as are many across the US. And it has nothing to do with politics. Well, OK, maybe a little. Mostly it is the weather. In my particular case it is the wind. Several independent studies have been conducted on the average wind speeds around the world. Researchers are describing results that the average wind speed worldwide has increased from 7.0 mph in 2010, to over 7.4 mph in 2018, and is still climbing. Now, this trend is contrasting with the trends from 1970-2010 where scientists noted a downward shift in average wind speed worldwide and questioned what was causing “global stilling.” The early causes were believed to have been urban sprawl and development. I am inclined to blame the explosion of law schools, however, for all of this wind!

Any cyclist will tell you that while cycling in wide open areas you will encounter greater wind speeds than those posted in the city. Unless, of course, you are cycling in a very large urban area with skyscrapers and long streets that act like wind tunnels that focus the winds. I have cycled down 3rd Avenue in NYC against a head wind. It isn’t a lot of fun and is an incredible workout! The lack of tall buildings and trees in my area, however, allows for wind gusts that are more than 15-20 mph more than what is experienced in the cities nearby. In the summer, it is an annoyance that forces me to work harder, carry more fluids, etc. In the winter…..??????

Tomorrow (February 22nd) I will cross 1000 miles on the road for the year. I’ve never done that this early in the season before. Previously, the soonest I reached 1000 miles was on March 19th  of 2016. Great. Even better because, as you know, I keep records on everything, and the only two months of most miles covered in a single month of cycling that I have not posted records for since my wife’s death were February and March of 2016. I shattered the February record at the end of last week. It was 351, and I am over 570 miles as of today.

So what is my problem? The wind speed. There has not been a day in the last three weeks since Ginger passed when the wind speed has been below 10-15 mph….officially, which means in the city. Several of those days, local TV reporters have posted stats that wind gusts in the country have reached speeds of 30 mph or higher. That is a cyclist’s hell. When someone speaks of Hell freezing over (and, BTW, Hell literally is exactly 44 miles from my house…seriously…Hell, MI…look it up!), this is what a cyclist imagines.

As I said, the temps here this winter have not been bad. Very few days in single digits, only a couple of mornings with below 0 temperatures (all Fahrenheit, for those of my readers in the rest of the world). Most days have been in mid-20’s to mid-30’s.  Very mild for Michigan. Only last year, we had a two week period where the temperature never got above 5 degrees, with morning lows averaging about -15 degrees F. No, the problem, as I pointed out is the constant and stronger winds. And the lack of accuracy on the part of weathermen to get everything right in forecasts. If I were as inaccurate in my teaching as they seem to be in their job, my students would all now be either politicians or MD’s!

When taking wind chill into account for a cyclist, it is important to remember that, first of all, wind chill is the effect on exposed skin. I have almost no exposed skin in the winter. However, the lower the wind chill, the greater the heat loss in the body. For instance, if I were to simply sit out on my deck and admire the geese sliding all over the ice of the frozen river running through my back yard, at a temperature of 25 degrees F – typical mid-afternoon temp here – with a wind speed of 15 mph, the wind chill is 12.6 degrees F. However, if I am cycling at an average speed of 15 mph into that wind, the wind chill effect is doubled and I approach a temperature of 5 degrees F. Big deal, you say? Yes. It is a big deal. It’s a big deal in terms of clothing requirements. It’s a big deal then due to the added weight. It’s then a big deal due to the drag it places on your body headed into the wind.

Remember to add the speed you are traveling to the wind speed!

Well, don’t head into the wind, you say. Ha! This last week it snowed on Monday night/Tuesday morning. No big deal. I didn’t ride Tuesday when it was in the mid-30’s, but went out for a ride Wednesday. Wind speed was up. Drifts. High winds. Tried to pick my way around the drifts, but had to be careful because the snow that had melted in the sun and above freezing temps on Tuesday had turned to ice overnight. On my way back home, with a crosswind of a steady 25 mph and gusts of 35 or more, I was blown onto one of those icy patches. Down I went. Fortunately, nothing was wounded but my pride as a car passed while I was picking myself up and the inhabitants (teenage males) were laughing out loud.

So how do I deal with it? Riding in winter is all about your gear. The only way I can post this many miles is by having the right gear and kit. In the winter, I ride only my fat tire when I know there is snow and ice on the roads. Last Wednesday, the roads were clear here in town. I should have known there would be drifts in the country, but didn’t think of it. That could have been a fatal error and was rather stupid on my part. This winter, I equipped my fat tire with studded tires and have been VERY pleased with the traction on snow and ice…not so much with the speed, however, as my average speed on the fat tire has dropped 33% with the studs added. Most days, I ride my cyclocross bike with 700x35c knobby tires. On that bike, I can average between 14.5 and 15.5 mph. I always begin my ride into the wind, so I can have the wind at my back on the way home.

Of course, I ride with lots of lights (see “Lights, Camera, Action” from 2019), and keep the drive train cleaned and lubed at least every 150 miles. I also have Barr Mitts on each bike. Barr Mitts are made from neoprene (think wet suit) and fit around the entire bike handlebar. They are designed to stop the wind and keep your hands warm. Usually, you can get away with using regular full fingered cycling gloves. When wind chills drop into the single digits, however, I always use lobster mitts instead. Lobster mitts are designed to keep index and middle finger together, ring and pinkie together, and thumb separate. This works OK for shifting and braking, and keeps your hands very warm by conserving heat.

My hands and feet were always a problem due to my time spent as an insulin dependent diabetic. My circulation is not very good as a result. Diabetics have to be ESPECIALLY careful in winter cycling for this reason. The Barr Mitts came first, then I added 45NRTH Wolvhammer winter cycling boots two years ago. Best. Kit. Purchase. EVER! These boots are rated to keep your feet warm to temps of -25 degrees F. And that is accurate! Up until this winter, I have been able to wear these boots with normal cycling socks. This winter, however, I have had to go with heavier socks, but my feet are still toasty (almost sweaty!) at the end of a 52 mile ride in sub-freezing temps.

Next is my baselayer….for my shirts, I have three different types. Columbia Omni Heat Heavy Duty, Columbia Omni Heat Mid Weight, and Nooz. The Columbia baselayer utilizes reflective dots that return your generated body heat back to the core. It is incredibly reliable and warm. But it isn’t inexpensive. I use the mid weight only on days of 40 degrees F or higher, along with a jersey and thermal jacket. Anything under 40 calls for the heavy duty or the Nooz. The Nooz is relatively inexpensive, it is fleece lined and compression as well. It works very well most days, especially for the price difference! Anything with temps and wind chills under 30 calls for a heavier jacket and/or long sleeve thermal jersey. Anything with temps and wind chills under 15 calls for heavy weight, jersey, and heavy winter jacket.

My jackets are three different weights, obviously. I have a simple fleece lined outer jacket with a decent shell that holds for spring, fall and warmer winter riding. The jacket I use most in the winter I came across a year ago and dearly love. It is actually a motorcycle jacket made by Freeze Out. It is thermal, with a strong shell that keeps out much of the wind. It also has sleeves that attach by zipper, so the jacket can become a vest when it warms significantly. If you buy this, and you should, get it in at least one size larger than you think you need. Not because the size runs small, but because you want the extra air space to really insulate your body! Finally, I have a down filled, high vis construction worker’s winter jacket with reflective tape that I use on the very coldest of days!

For my legs, I have Columbia Omni Heat medium weight tights, and SUB Sports thermal compression tights. I only use the Columbia on days with temps above 45 degrees F. The SUB sports tights are fantastic, except for the fact that they run two sizes too small, and they take about two weeks or more to arrive – even using Amazon Prime. I can get away with regular bike shorts and the SUB Sports tights down to about 15 degrees F…after that, I add a pair of high vis sweat pants!

Finally, don’t forget your face! A good comboclava is absolutely essential. These cover your face, nose, and mouth, leaving open only a spot for your eyes. It may seem counter intuitive in winter, but it is absolutely essential that you use sunglasses as well…for protection against the chill as well as snow blindness…which is indeed a real thing! You want to have at least three comboclavas if you ride fairly often. Don’t use them on consecutive days. Very gross! See below!

Riding in winter is, naturally, more time consuming. It takes me between 35 and 50 minutes to get myself and my bike dressed to go out! That also means it is very expensive! Fortunately, my wife became very supportive of this. About four or five years ago I went out for a ride on a cold January day with my fat tire. I told her I’d be back in a few hours. The wind was stronger than I anticipated, however, and I lacked the Barr Mitts, the boots, and heavy jacket. I came back at least an hour early to find her in the living room doing yoga…stark naked! Hilarious, exciting…and she helped me pick through good winter gear that very night!

However, winter cycling is also, literally, more breathtaking! Today I saw a family of five deer in a cornfield, backlit by snow glistening in the light of the mid-day sun. Climbing hills with the added weight is a chore. I spend my time with mantras, or by contemplating the vagaries of the English language.

English, as everyone knows, is an amalgamation of German and Latin. So why everyone insists on speaking “our language” is a mystery to me. As Henry Higgins says in My Fair Lady, Americans haven’t spoken English in centuries! At any rate….SQUIRREL! Our oldest daughter started an amusing habit in junior high. She started making up words that should be words, but aren’t. She continued this all the way through high school, writing them down, and presented her favorite teacher with her lexicon as a gift upon graduation. This week I started doing the same. This is the winter of our discontent. Let us make it a glorious summer by adding to my burgeoning list! Seriously, leave your suggestions in the comments!

Halfast cyclist –          Typical club rider. Not a pro tour wannabe, but not a turtle either –

                                    Courtesy of WI

Fathlete –                    A waistline challenged cyclist who still cranks out the miles –

                                    Courtesy of TX

Sortheast –                 When you ride so far the wind changes 90 degrees on you

Sorthwest –

Northewst –

Southewst –

Shtorts –                     The bicycle apparel you get when descending a Cat 1 or HC climb and realize your brakes may need a tune-up

Shtibs –                       Same as shorts but with straps!

Beerycle –                   When your bike is utilized primarily as a transport for beer, or to get in between bars, taverns, or beer tents (See RAGBRAI)

Winycle –                    Same as above, but with wine, champagne, etc.

Coctycle –                   Yeah, this one doesn’t even look good on the optics…..

Potholoscopy –          A medical procedure performed by your saddle, which, unlike those performed by “MD’s” causes more concern for your bike than your butt!

Bikologist –                Every town has at least one. The cyclist who believes they are a leading expert on all things cycling – repair, training, routes, equipment, brands, etc. Unlike those in the medical profession, however, a bikologist isn’t afraid to testify that other bikologists are dead wrong, or may be committing fraud or malpractice. If you can’t think of who your bikologist is in your community, it is probably you.

Squirain/Shrain –       When it rains so hard or so long that it overwhelms your waterproof socks. The experience and/or sound determines the term…from a slight squishy feeling/sound to an all-out pumping of water from those socks as your foot puts pressure on the pedals.

Kyphone –                  What you have after dropping, and retrieving, your cell phone from a Kybo. Most often spotted in the hands of the inexperienced cyclists, first time tour (RAGBRAI, etc.) cyclists, etc. Always funny, and it is incumbent on friends to call that phone as many times as possible for the next 24 hours!

Snotcicle –                  This is what happens when a cyclist’s sinuses perform their usual drainage, but the cold and wind perform a science experiment – you know, turning liquids into solids!

Condencicle –            Same as above. Almost. Experienced cyclists turn to comboclavas when it is REALLY cold…but the condensation produced from your warm breath interacting through the fabric and with the cold and wind achieve the same result…sans color and mucus…..

This can’t be love…..

I don’t love my wife….and she didn’t love me.

Now, before my children and former students who might actually read this panic, and those of you who have been following along since I started this blog 13 posts ago start to cry “Bullshit!” or think I have truly gone off the deep end, let me elucidate. What I believe we had was far more than love. I don’t think the English language has one simple term that can encompass the relationship.

Did I love her? Of course I did! There was, and still is, nothing I wouldn’t do for her. Nothing. After her failed surgeries, primarily because the first surgeon was grossly incompetent, and the second was a coward who, IMHO, didn’t want to risk his precious stats, (The reason I will NEVER see a doctor again for the rest of my life…for any reason) I offered her oncologist any of my organs and tissues that might save her. Of course, it was a futile effort as she had a negative blood type, and I was positive, but I felt so helpless and needed to do something!

Love as we traditionally view it is a singular emotion. It produces endorphins. It creates that warm fuzzy feeling. It invokes images of passion and eroticism. Did we have that? Of course we did! You need only look at our four daughters to know this. It wouldn’t hurt to look at our emotional struggles, either. We each were able to unlock doors in the other’s psyche that held hidden monsters from our past (and present) that no other human (including ourselves) could, and either tame them, or slay them altogether. For her, she had abandonment fears stemming from her parent’s divorce. She had personal safety fears stemming from an incident I will not further discuss here. She had a huge problem with not feeling that she was ever good enough. Her biggest issue was an absolute refusal to “need” someone. There were others, of course, and over the years I was able to overcome most, if not all, of them. The issue with need, she confessed to me three weeks before she passed, was resolved in the past year as she realized how much she depended upon me as a caretaker, husband (in the truest sense of a husband being nurturer, etc.), friend, advocate…. Me? Well, my issues were legion. Still are…but she patiently and lovingly slayed those dragons of chauvinism, toxic masculinity, etc., and others she turned to my/our service…anger, the need to physically dissipate and displace that anger so I wouldn’t lash out at others…

Using the term love to describe our relationship just doesn’t suffice. We were companions and supported each other publicly at all times…but, if needed, would tell each other in private behind our door, that the other was either wrong or might want to consider the next step or alternatives. We reveled in each other’s accomplishments…degrees, roles on stage, professional successes from colleagues and community. We were there when the other needed and backed off when not needed, or when we felt by creating space the other would grow because of it. Up until the last two years of her life, she acted as my SAG constantly, but knew that, in addition to her feeling drained, I needed to gain independence as well – both for my involvement with RUSA as well as the cycling I was now doing during the day while she was at work. Neither of us actually suspected that I would need it now – that she would die first. We both expected me to be the one to go first, found on the side of the road somewhere as the result of an angry or distracted motorist.

We were each other’s refuge. There are countless disappointments, heartaches, and failures in the span of 35 years. Some personal. Some professional. Some marital. Some spiritual. When you find the one person that will comfort you, support you, help you get re-grounded and start forward again, you know you have the right one. This was established early on with the passing of our grandparents. I remember coming home one day after spending several hours in the practice room preparing for my upcoming senior recital – we wouldn’t own a cell phone for another 10 years – and my wife rushing out to greet me, holding one infant daughter in one arm and dragging the other behind her. She climbed in the car and told me that my mom had called and that my paternal grandmother was not expected to make it through the day. We hurried off and I am certain I sped the 100 miles to the nursing home – with her holding my hand the entire way. We got there just in time to see my grandmother being carried out on a gurney. I was crushed. She held me, and our daughters, while I shook and sobbed in grief and guilt. I did the same when her paternal grandmother had passed shortly after we were married, and again a few years later when her maternal grandmother passed and we were financially unable to return to Michigan for the funeral.

The important thing, however, is that being a refuge doesn’t mean that you simply provide a shoulder or a hug. When my father passed away ten years ago, it was a similar occurrence to my grandmother’s passing. No chance to say goodbye…we got the call late…we arrived far after he had been pronounced and the coroner called (he died at home). It was one of four deaths of close family members in 30 days. Yes I was shook. Yes she provided comfort. But later that fall my dog of 14 years developed inoperable cancer. We made the decision to put her to sleep and I was the one that did the injection….that was a huge mistake. It was also the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I felt as though God had placed a huge bull’s eye on my back and was using me as target practice. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. I knew I was slowly spiraling into a very dark place, but I couldn’t see the bottom and neither could I get hold of anything to stop the descent. Until she literally handed me a stick. Well, okay, she hit me over the head with a club.

She had observed me coaching and teaching for years and knew how I handled students and athletes in a similar situation. She grabbed hold of me one night just before Thanksgiving and spun me around to face her. She snapped that she hadn’t married a quitter. That our children still needed their father, not a wuss. In coaching parlance she ripped me a new one. And then she put her arms around me and told me that most importantly, she had to have her husband back…that she relied on MY strength because she was grieving the events of the last several months as well.

We were each other’s sounding board and editor. While neither of us were fond of the episodes of each other’s ranting and raving about work, school, the kids, the neighbors, our parents (let’s face it, I was far more the offender here)…we knew the other would listen and either say nothing, or would flat out tell the other they were wrong. We were, thankfully, honest with each other. If the ranter was in the wrong, a good bit of editing was proposed to correct the situation. She, of course, was far more diplomatic than I, and so I was the bigger beneficiary here!

We were each other’s muse. And we still are. As performers, the occurrences here were too numerous. As musicians, however, the most gratifying came just before her diagnosis. She had organized and written several arrangements for boom whackers, Orff instruments, etc., for her elementary students over the years. She had seen me compose and arrange for several years and admired the success I had working with composers and getting these things published. For her first concert directing a junior high choir, she decided to arrange a setting of “Silent Night” in English, German, and French. She didn’t have the training in theory or on the compositional software, however, so I tutored her and did a quick analysis of the chords so she could break things down. She based her work on an arrangement of “In the Garden” that I had done for our daughters to sing at my father’s funeral. Her setting is one of the best I have seen of this traditional work.

I know I am taking a risk by stating this, but late last fall I felt compelled to set John Donne’s “Abler Soul” segment from The Ecstasy for a duet. Over the next several weeks I felt my ideas gradually morph into a trilogy which incorporated parts of Diana Gabaldon’s “The Outlander” dialogue between Jamie and Claire, and Cynthia Bourgeault’s Love is Stronger Than Death. I realized she was working with me on this. I’ve always struggled with lyrics, which is why I specialized in arrangements. What I had originally written and set aside while I contemplated structure was rewritten within 24 hours….in a manner I had not considered, nor would have done on my own. Similarly, after I had finished the second piece, I was very dissatisfied with my accompaniment at the end – supposedly wedding bells. I attempted several different treatments and idioms, and none were better. I contacted friends who each then promised to give it some thought. I began the second piece (actually occurring first in the trilogy) and felt she wanted a couple of dance interludes inserted during the wedding ceremony. In my head, considering the text, I contemplated a recorder consort from the medieval period. When I came to that point, I literally felt her say “No. I want something from 18th century Scotland. A quadrille.” For crying out loud. I specialized in music history in undergrad and my first Master’s, but I had to look up the form to know what she was talking about. Yep, it was a popular dance form in the 18th century. BUT…it was an ABACABA form. I heard myself saying “Honey, you can’t do that in 8 measures. If we insert a 32 measure dance interlude twice in this piece, it will never be performed!” She responded quickly with “Who says each theme has to be 4 measures long? Why can’t you just do a one measure motive for each theme? You have three different melodic motives that are common to each piece.”

Damned if she wasn’t right. And so the piece is finished…with the shortest quadrille you will ever hear…but effective none the less. The best part was the opening church bell motive that I don’t remember writing, but sounded exactly like what I had in mind. It fixed the end of the second work and tied the two pieces together even more. I finished the trilogy today, and, once again, her role as the muse was present. I had originally planned on the final piece of the trilogy as being a fugue in the relative major key. Apparently, this is not what she had in mind. Lyrics were dropped, the key was indeed major, but only up a step, and rather than a fugue, it has more of a processional feel (think “Pomp and Circumstance”).The trilogy is complete and will be published under BOTH of our names, because it has elements of each of us. I have NEVER used some of the compositional devices used here…The piece will be premiered by a school in Phoenix, and will be performed by a professional ensemble in Scottsdale this Fall. I’m excited to offer this to schools in this area as well….with four exceptions!

We were each other’s stand-up comic. This will come as a shock to my children and her colleagues, but my wife could tell a fantastic dirty joke! For my part, I appreciated those, but more appreciated her laugh and snort. And the way her eyes twinkled when poking fun at someone. She, while verbally distancing herself from comments I would shout at the refs at a Red Wings game, for example, would always laugh out loud on the way home and rate my beratings. Her favorites were “Hey Ref, use some Preparation H! You’ll see better!” or “Hey Ref, that wasn’t hooking! Hooking is what your wife was doing on 8 mile a couple of hours ago!”

We belonged to each other. No, not in the possessive sense. In the sense that neither of us ever had to worry about the other straying. In the sense that neither of us ever really was going to quit. In the sense that we were comfortable with each other and were never ashamed of the other. In fact, I always felt like a king every single time we went out in public! Every. Single. Time. In that final interview a few weeks before she passed, she told me there were so many things that she had always been so proud of me for she couldn’t name them all. I can’t tell you what that means in months like this.

I know this post has not been about bikes, brews, or my grandchildren. I know these past few posts have focused on my grief. February is a hard month for widows and widowers. Even more complicated when the departed passed during February. Next post will be on bikes and brews, I promise!

This post is my Valentine for my wife. It’s the only Valentine I will give or get anymore. And I was a hopeless romantic! Saying merely “I loved her” doesn’t cut it. We were part of each other. We completed each other. The absence of her physically at my side has created an ache that goes to the very center of my being. Imagine a dull toothache that throbs with every heartbeat. Now imagine that never going away…no dentist can pull the tooth…no medicine removes the pain for more than an hour or two and no doctor can prescribe more of the medicine because doing so would kill you. The throbbing is there when you finally go to sleep at night…sometimes it wakes you up in the middle of the night…and it is there when you convince yourself you have to make it through another day. No. This isn’t love. It is something much deeper. And this Valentine’s Day I am so grateful for it. So grateful that she chose me.