Friday, August 27, 2010

I'm a lucky gal

I love baking and making appetizers but don't think of myself as much of a cook. I can make a cheesecake or a wonderful plate of brie onion tartlets but when it comes to feeding my family dinner...well, let's just say we eat a lot of plain pasta at my house and I feel pretty inept when it comes to cooking meals.

So when I found out that my favorite chef, Karl, was going to come over today and make me and my kids lunch I was especially thrilled.

Karl is my friend, Tom's, brother. He's a chef who has lived all over but is currently living in the Dominican Republic and working at a swanky resort. We originally connected because of a recipe he created for his nephew - Jordan Ett's State Fair Drunken Beef Stew. I posted a comment on his blog, Fusion on the Fly, and he didn't think I was real. My name, Myrna CG Mibus, sounded made up, he thought, so he figured his sister-in-law, Libby, posted the comment as a joke. Libby assured him that Myrna was, in fact, a real person and the next time Karl came into town Libby, I, and a bunch of our friends put on a brunch for Karl so we could all meet him in person.

This group of friends puts on a wonderful spread of food. We ate well and enjoyed great conversation. I made Karl a gooey chocolate torte for dessert.

We've been friends ever since.

The next time Karl visited we had a "fusion" party at my house. I invited some friends and everyone brought three or so ingredients that they happened to have at home. Karl then promised to use whatever people brought and create a meal from the ingredients.

My friend, Joy, has a good sense of humor.
She brought a can of SPAM.
Cured ham drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Fried squash blossoms stuffed with cream cheese and capers on the blue plate.
On the white plate - Fried squash blossoms stuffed with SPAM on a bed of sauteed SPAM. Plus a glass of lovely red wine.

We thought we had Karl stumped but we did not. Armed with SPAM, a packet of steaks, a can of peppers, a jar of capers, cream cheese, a bread starter, a few tomatoes, a few things out of my garden and me and my daughter Rose as helpers, Karl created one of the best meals ever. We had Spam stuffed squash blossoms, pizza, marinated steak with pepper sauce, fried zucchini appetizers, cucumber and tomato salad and some lovely cured ham drizzled with balsamic vinegar (a gift Karl brought all the way from New York where he was living at the time) and more! Rose felt so important working alongside a chef who took the time to teach her things as they prepped the food. She has since taken a great interest in cooking and often talks about the day she helped Karl.
Rose helping prep food for our Fusion Food Party

Karl travels to Minnesota each summer to visit his mother and his brother, Tom, and his family. Part of this visit involves taking his nephew and niece, Jordan and Linnea, to the Minnesota State Fair. Part of his visit, it now seems, involves visiting me and making a meal together.

I'm a lucky gal.

So this afternoon Karl, Libby, Jordan and Linea arrived with two Cantonese style roasted ducks that Karl picked up in Minneapolis and enough energy to prepare a meal for a couple dozen people. He popped the ducks, already prepared and cut up, into the oven to warm then started cutting up veggies for a stir fry. He created a sauce out of a whole bunch of stuff I had in my cupboards, cooked up a big pot of rice and stir fried the veggies. Before we knew it, Karl had a fabulous lunch ready for us.
Stir Fried Veggies

The duck was fabulous!! All of the food was wonderful. We laughed and ate and listened to Karl tell stories then ate some more. Ryan asked for seconds and thirds of duck, saying it was the best thing he's ever eaten which is pretty high praise from my somewhat finicky eight-year-old son.

We finished off our meal with dessert - Raspberry Chocolate French Macaroons that I made. I've never made macaroons but they were such a hit that I'm sure I'll make them again and again.
Raspberry Chocolate French Macaroons - Yum!
Here is the recipe (Thanks Ruth!)

Karl heads back to the Dominican Republic on Saturday. My kids head back to school in under two weeks and I will get back to my "normal" school year life as a writer and mom. Karl will be creating wonderful meals for the people who visit the resort and I'll be frantically trying to figure out what to make the family for dinner. 

Yep, life will be back to normal.
Or will it?

You see, I have a friend who spent almost a whole day of his vacation so he could come to my house and make lunch for me and my family.

That's really special.
Someone giving up a day of vacation time just for me.

Can life really go "back to normal" when someone gives you that kind of gift?
I don't think so.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Little Bike Schooling on the B Ride

I'll be honest with you, my two main motivations for riding my bike any distance are coffee and conversation. A good workout is also a motivator but going really fast is not. I'm more of a slow and steady - okay, really slow and not that steady - sort of bicyclist. But for months now I've wanted to join in on a group ride. From what I've heard people ride their bikes, chat away the miles and stop somewhere for a cup of coffee mid-way or at the end of the ride. Sounds like my kind of ride. Right? Maybe not.

Most of the group rides I've heard about promise average speeds of 18 to 20 miles per hour or more and go 40 or more miles. Some sound brutal and talk about hill climbs and sprints. Granted, these are the "A" rides, rides geared towards competitive riders, riders who want to push their limits. "B" rides are supposed to be slower, "C" rides even more so but I've seen some C rides that sound too fast for me, some B rides with lengths and speeds way outside my comfort range.

But The Northfield Bike Club offers a "B" ride every Saturday morning that promises a 13 to 15 mph average speed and "no drops," meaning that the group won't leave the slowest riders behind, and I've been wanting to go on one for quite some time. The length and difficulty of the ride varies from week to week and some of the routes seem reasonable. The pace fits in with what I think I can do. But I haven't gone because I've been too scared.

Scared of what? Oh, of a lot of stuff. Of falling behind. Of not having the endurance to finish the ride. Of falling off my bike. Of being the only woman. Of holding up the entire group so that no one ever wants to ride with me again. Of throwing up from heat exhaustion (like I nearly did a few weeks ago on a ride with Owen). Of being laughed at. Of having a mechanical. Of, well, just about everything.

My mind can get real busy visualizing the potential biking disasters I could have.

Sometimes I'm surprised I ride my bike at all.

But last Saturday I finally got up the guts to join in on a B ride. Owen's ridden with the group before and promised me that the group of guys (yes, always guys) would be nice and not leave me behind. He also told me that the ride would start at 7 a.m. sharp and we'd have to leave home by 6:30 to meet the group in time. Which means that I would have to wake up before 6:00 a.m. in order to go on said ride

Have I ever mentioned that I think waking up at 8:00 is early?

Somehow I woke up at 5:50, actually got out of bed, ate something and got dressed (thankfully, since I'd be wearing a bike helmet and sweating a lot I didn't need to wake earlier to shower, do my hair or put on make-up).

A group of about 20 riders was at Mike's Bikes that morning and I wasn't the only woman! There was one other, a woman who went on the A ride (I've heard this woman rides as fast, or faster, than the guys). They set off en masse and I joined the B group of seven, counting me. I got to know everyone's names - Roberto and Patrick are the group's leaders, Neil, Jeff, Dave (riding his first time with this group), Owen and me.

Our plan was to ride to Farmington for coffee and then back to Northfield. Farmington, if you follow the fairly flat, straight road out of town, is a mere 13 miles away but our route for the morning was a meandering trek through the countryside on "gently rolling" (just plain big to me) hills for a total of 37 miles. In my mind, the shortest distance to my skim vanilla latte would have been the best, but I was riding with a group so needed to follow along.

We set off at a brisk pace and I was happy to note that I was keeping up. At one point I looked down at my odometer and saw we were cruising at 19 mph and I wondered if I'd be able to keep up that pace. We were less than 2 miles into the ride and the next thing I knew I saw a big rock on the road, I think it was about 3" in diameter, heard a loud noise, saw Dave's bike fly one way and Dave the other.

Here is where I started learning things. I must note: a couple of my Twitter friends, Darryl (@lovingthebike) and Jim (@bikerly) along with another guy Mike (@egggman) have started something they call Bike School (#bikeschool). They are getting people to Tweet and Blog about what they have learned about bicyling and life while riding a bike.

And here is lesson number one - ride with nice people who will stop when you crash, pick up your bike, change your tire and make sure you are okay. Lesson two is to point out stuff on the road if you see it (the guys ahead of Dave didn't see the rock in time, I was behind Dave and couldn't say anything fast enough). Lesson three is carry a spare tube. Lesson four is that though those CO2 cartridges are nice for fixing a flat, not all of them have the same fitting. Some screw on and others don't. Make sure you have the right cartridge (Dave didn't so I gave him mine). Sometimes those cartridges overfill or underfill a tire so having a hand pump really is nice (another lesson). Wow, that's a lot of lessons in less than two miles of riding.

Dave was okay, a bit shaken and scraped up but fine enough to continue on the bike ride without a single complaint. I'm pretty sure that I would have cried and gone back home. The guy has guts. He rode at the front of the pack the rest of the ride. He's fast. He's amazing.

So off we went again. The scenery really was lovely but I was working too hard to notice it much. I wanted to draft behind the group but they were just a bit too fast for me to keep up. Owen stuck it out with me in the back and Roberto did, too. I struggled but I kept pedaling. I really wondered what I was doing on this crazy ride but I kept thinking about the cup of coffee waiting for me in Farmington so I kept going. (#bikeschool lesson - a skim vanilla latte may not be the healthiest bicycling beverage but if works as a motivational tool, use it!)

Long story short, I kept pedaling at the back of the pack. Roberto always made sure I wasn't "dropped" and left behind. The guys in the lead would stop and wait for me to catch up, would make sure I had a chance to rest a bit, and we'd head off again.  After 24 miles we stopped for coffee at Dunn Brothers - Yay! (great service, by the way.) Time for my two main reasons for bicycling - coffee and conversation! I decided I deserved a strawberry cream cheese croissant along with my latte but couldn't finish either - but I talked a lot. Then, too quickly (in my mind) we hopped on our bikes and headed for home.

The ride home felt easier, partially because I knew the ride was almost done and partially because we rode the 13 miles on a fairly flat stretch of County Road 3, right into Northfield.  I had more of a chance to talk to the other riders, especially Dave, Patrick and Roberto. I confessed to Roberto that I thought people would never want to ride with me again because I'm so slow and he said something like, "Rules are rules. This is a B ride, 13 to 15 mph and no drops. If someone doesn't  like that, they can ride with the A group." I like Roberto. (#bikeschool - find a good group leader like Roberto)

Patrick, too, was supportive, reminding me that we were riding to have fun, that we were not riding the Tour de France (#bikeschool - positive attitudes really help). He rode up hills with me and showed me that I could put my hands on the top of my handlebar and sit up straight so I could get a lot of oxygen to my body and I pedaled up the hills faster than I've pedaled before (another #bikeschool lesson on riding hills).

I was really enjoying myself more than ever before when I heard a funny noise. I stopped to check it out and discovered a bit of wire in my rear tire. No worries, I thought. It was such a thin wire. It wouldn't cause a flat. We rode on but soon my ride felt strange. Sure enough, my rear tire was flat so Owen and I pulled over to change my tire. Roberto, Patrick and Dave were a ways ahead but noticed we stopped so biked back to help us. Just like with Dave's flat, the group changed my tire for me which was awfully nice (especially since I've never changed a flat - I learned a lot watching and will have a better handle on tire changes next time). I joked with the guys that I was getting tired so got a flat on purpose so I could rest. I didn't. Really. But I did enjoy the break. Tire changed, we got back on our bikes and I'm glad to say the rest of the ride back to Northfield went well.

From what I've heard, this was the most eventful B ride of the season - the first crash, the first flat (and then the second), a slow rider (me).  Yet, through it all everyone kept working as a group, kept things positive, kept pressing on for all 37 miles (my longest ride ever). We averaged 14.2 miles per hour (right in the middle of the promised 13 to 15 mph pace so I'm not that slow after all!). We helped each other when we had trouble, talked like old friends while we rode, made sure the slower riders didn't get left behind.

I was exhausted when we got back into town but I was also feeling good that I finished the ride. Owen and I went to Goodbye Blue Monday, the coffee shop in town, and I had an iced coffee. We debriefed and talked to one of the other riders, Jeff, who was also there. More coffee and conversation :-)

Then Owen drove us home. We had lunch and I took a long, well-deserved, nap.

I learned a lot of lessons on my first B ride - support each other, be positive, look out for the people at the back of the pack. And then the lessons on riding technique, on practical things like how to change a tire.

And I suppose there's another lesson learned here, a lesson in riding as well as life. It's rather simple, really, yet sometimes it's the most difficult thing to do, especially when that skim vanilla latte is still twenty-some miles ahead - or when you're behind, or get a flat, or crash. And that lesson is this -  get on the bike and keep pedaling. Mile after mile. Just keep pedaling.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Riding the Tour de Nick

Today is a off to a great start! I rode the Tour de Nick this morning with some friends and am now about to shift gears, clean up and head to my 25th high school reunion. What a day this will be!

The Tour de Nick is a charity ride that takes place each year in Northfield, Minnesota. It's put on by the local bike club, the Northfield Bicycling Club, in memory of one of their riders, Nick Sansome, and benefits an organization called SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education).  Nick lost his life to suicide in the winter of 2003. I didn't know Nick but knew his mother - we were in a book club together for several years. I also sort of knew his father who was the doctor who checked Ryan out after he was born back in 2002. I think it's great that the Club has this ride every year (this is the 8th year) and am glad I got to be a part of this ride.

This morning it was raining when we arrived at Mike's Bikes for the Tour de Nick to begin. There was a bit of lightning and thunder but the radar showed that rain was going to be the worst of our worries so the ride went on as planned. Even with the rain a good number of riders showed up, maybe 30 or 40, and we all headed out a bit after 9:00 a.m. There were three ride options, a 10 mile family-friendly option plus a 20 or 50 mile ride. I opted for the 20 mile ride (as did most of the riders). Owen rode with me as  did my friend, Paul (who I will see again tonight at our 25th high school reunion), and another friend, Roxy, her husband, Mike, and their daughter, Molly.

Molly and Roxy pumping up tires to get ready for the ride.

The 20 mile route had some good hills and I found the ride a challenge but I did keep up with the group pretty well. It certainly helped to have some friends to ride with as we talked much of the way. Roberto, our group leader, made sure the slower riders (Me. Yep, I was at the way back) didn't get left behind and other riders from the club filtered to the back of the pack from time to time to make sure I had company. I never ended up riding alone - I'm glad for that!

Owen and Paul, just about ready to ride. Note the gentleman in the background wearing the very cool Tour de Nick jersey.
Guess what? You can buy one! Find the Tour de Nick Facebook page and get info on ordering jerseys there.

I must say that cycling in the rain isn't my favorite thing - but once I got soaked the rain didn't bother me much. The rain kept the ride cool. Cool is better than hot and humid any day.

Here are some highlights from the ride:

  • This ride was my first ever group ride and I sort of, kind of, kept up with the group
  • I got to ride with several friends which was really fun
  • My bike computer showed the magic number of 400 on this ride - that's 400 miles on my road bike since the end of March (500 total if you add my hybrid miles)
  • I only shifted down to the small ring once on this ride and that was on a big hill. This is a huge improvement over earlier this year and enormous improvement since I started riding last year. 
  • I learned, via Paul who has been very helpful with my riding, that I can think of hills as something to look forward to. I'm not sure I'm there yet but it's something to work towards
  • We had a nice, hot, latte at Goodbye Blue Monday after the ride
  • I feel good to have helped raise money for SAVE!
  • I had fun!
Thanks to all of the people who helped organize this ride - and to my friends who showed up to ride with me. I'm already looking forward to riding the Tour de Nick next year!

Here I am (the short one in the middle) with Molly on my left and Roxy on my right.
We're all wet and somewhat tired after the ride but very glad to have ridden (and very glad to be done!)

By the way, a few years ago one of the members of the Northfield Bike Club, Bill Metz, wrote a book dedicated to Nick. The book is titled Saturday Morning Rides - it's a collection of essays, art and bike ride routes and maps. It's a gem. Proceeds from sales also benefit SAVE. You can download it at the Northfield Bike Club website. Just click HERE.

Okay, it's time for me to take a shower and put on some "girl clothes" (a quote from one of my favorite movies, Always) and head to my high school reunion. How is it that I graduated 25 years ago when I feel so young? ;)

Oh, and if you want to see my senior picture I've included it below. 

Myrna Christine Gatheridge. Richfield High School. Class of 1985.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Last Week - Rewritten

Whoa - it's been two weeks since I've written and people are starting to wonder if I've disappeared. Well, @bikerly has been wondering and if @bikerly is wondering it's possible that other people are wondering, too. If not, @bikerly has done wonders for my ego in asking when I'm going to blog again. (@bikerly, aka Jim, always has something good to say at his blog. He likes bikes and Dr. Seuss. Visit his blog. Soon! You will laugh and smile.
So I’m sitting here ready to blog - but I don't know where to begin. 
I guess you could say that last week was busy. Crazily busy. I somehow thought that having both kids in camp was going to give me lots of free time but the reality was that I spent most of my time driving the kids to and from town. By Friday afternoon I was kind of a mess. Yep, I was frazzled. I yelled at the dogs. I screamed at Owen over the phone. That night I cried a lot and couldn't sleep and was feeling pretty bad about things, about my behavior, about how crazy life gets sometimes.
I confessed to my friend, via the wonder of text messages, that I was bitchy. He said something like, "being bitchy is okay as long as you can put a positive spin on things later." I was too tired at that moment to make sense out of what he said. But I'm wondering if it's this...
Last week had some pretty low moments - but a lot of good things happened, too. I did the best I could given who I am and what I have to deal with. My best, sadly, wasn't very good, but I survived and, thankfully, my family still loves me. Friends assure me that I haven’t damaged my children too badly with my yelling and stuff. (I hope they are right). And, best of all, I’m able to learn from my mistakes, pick myself up and move on.
So that is what I’m doing. Moving on.
This week is going well. I’m driving to and from town less because I arranged for the kids camp schedules to coincide. Because of this, I have some time home alone so I can catch up on work. I read that doing a 10 minute meditation each day greatly helps in reducing stress so I started that yesterday. I must admit, I don’t think about breathing in and out like I’m supposed to very well but I took the time to do some stretches and did manage to breathe. And the last two nights I’ve made a point to jump on my bike and pedal around the neighborhood for a few minutes. No worries about speed or hills or miles - just some time to pedal away the worries of the day.
All these things seem to be helping. I’m feeling good about the weeks ahead.
As for last week? It’s over and instead of thinking of it as a bad week I’ve decided to reframe the week with positive memories instead of negative ones. To rewrite history, I suppose. So, here goes. 
Highlights of Myrna’s Wonderful Week...the Last Week of July, 2010.

18 mile bike ride with Owen on Sunday morning. Had breakfast at a small town cafe.
My garden continues to bloom and be beautiful.
Took Rose, Ryan and Rose's friend out for ice cream on Wednesday afternoon. We laughed a lot. Ryan ended up with a chocolate mustache and bit of a chocolate goatee.
Made 14 cheesecakes for two parties and two friends. That's 2 big ones (like the two in the picture) and 12 four inch mini cakes. They all worked. Everyone loved them.

Dinner with friends on Wednesday evening. We had fun and ate a lot of good stuff including an awesome chocolate cake.

Rose had a great week at theater camp where she grew in confidence and in her acting abilities - plus she had a ton of fun. Plus, Rose packed her lunches each and every day - yay!

Rocket, the wonder pup, did very well at his puppy agility class.
Ryan had fun at Rocket Camp where he built several rockets including the one he's holding in the picture. He shot it off and it went really high. I was there to watch it go.

The kids had a sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa's on Friday night and Owen and I went out for dinner. I had an awesome margarita and excellent steak.
My nephew, Liam, turned one and we celebrated his 1st birthday in fine style on Saturday.

We finished off the weekend with a potluck dinner with friends. Four couples who all like good food, airplanes, belly dancing and fun. 

A lot of other good stuff happened, too.
Last week was a wonderful week. Yep. It was.