Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What are words for?

Did you ever notice people use words to define themselves? For example, there are so many words I could use to describe me. Husband, father, Catholic, musician, cyclist, supervisor, blogger, son, brother. These are just the ones that come off the top of my head. Some people just throw around words as if they have little effect.

However, words have power. Words we use to describe ourselves can have powerful meanings. When I think of myself as a husband, there are some very powerful and personal emotions that surround that word as it relates to my wife. The same goes when I think of myself as father.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, and oddly enough, our deacon’s homily in church this weekend was about words and their meanings. How some words have more than one meaning and how they change over time. I’ve always been struck by the power of words, especially when it comes to faith. There’s an old saying in the Catholic Church (designed I think to make people sing) that singing is praying twice. I never believed it. You can sing a song without thinking about what the words mean. We do that all the time. You like the music for a song and sing along with the words without really thinking about what the song means. But if you actually SPEAK the words, that can be a whole different thing.

I know it’s said that actions speak louder than words, but words can move someone to action. Again, they say the pen is mightier than the sword. Certainly words can hurt for a long time, or they can heal. Words can overwhelm us when they come at us non-stop, or we can be crushed by the lack of words when we need to hear them.

For a long time, music has been the soundtrack for my life. I can point to songs that embodied where I was at any point in my life. As a good example, Queen’s Spread Your Wings (lyrics here) was the song that got me through 3 years on USS Bainbridge when I just really hated being in the Navy. Now the song is more nostalgic than anything else. If I were to pick a Queen song now, it would be Bicycle Race. However, the song that probably best fits me know is one I wrote, Blessings (lyrics here). As with much of what I write, it has a personal component to it.

When you compare to where I’ve gone from Spread Your Wings to Blessings, I’m surprisingly content with my life right now. The most stressful thing I’ve got going on this week is trying to find some time to get riding in. We should all have that kind of worry.

So what words do you use to define yourself? What kind of power do they hold for you? Do they give you hope, or do they bring you down? Where these words given to you by others or picked yourself? I know I made a conscious decision when I was in middle school never to let anyone else define me, but be my own person. It resulted in me being a pretty odd kid (my wife might suggest that’s putting it mildly). But I’m pleased with the result so far.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Will of the People

I was going to post about something else but I've read one too many letter to the editor in my local paper and got my dander up. The subject, the so called "will of the people". What brought this on? One more letter to the editor about how the majority of California voters are against gay marriage and a court shouldn't overrule them.

What some people don't seem to understand is that even though a "majority" of the people may believe in something, that doesn't make it right. People bring up the idea that marriage is not a constitutional right but a state's right issue. The federal government should not interfere since a majority of the people in that state want to create laws banning two people from getting married as a legal contract within that state. Mind you, no one is saying that religious groups should allow gay marriage, just the state.

This reminds me of another argument used around 150 years ago. It was about a state's right to legally allow slavery. Even when slavery ended, segregation laws kept African Americans disenfranchised. Unfair comparison, you say? Why is that? In both situations you're saying that if a majority of the people of a state are bigoted and/or prejudiced, then it's ok to deny someone a right another has? Because that's what this is really about. It's not about "saving marriage" or "traditional family values". Let's face it, political science 101 clearly states that it is not the role of the government to legislate morality. Won't happen. Additionally, with the divorce rate among straight couples in the US over 50%, I'd say "traditional marriage" is already in trouble without factoring in gay couples.

Sometimes you need a judge to say that regardless of what the "will of the people" is, a group's rights are being denied and the situation must be corrected. That's why we have an independent judiciary system. To prevent the "tyranny of the majority" as the Federalists argued back in the 1780's (if you haven't read the Federalist Papers, you should).

On a side note (I won't get too much into it as it will REALLY get me started) this argument can also be used in the current "controversy" over the community center in NYC near ground zero. It's not about the site being "sacred ground" but about religious intolerance. But, again, just because a possible majority of New Yorkers may be against it, that doesn't make it right.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Proud of myself

Today I was planning on again racing in the Farmall Hill Challenge. After racing this course two weeks ago, I was a bit terrified. In taking with Ellen's niece's husband, an avid mountain biker, even he said this was a knarly technical course. Some of the downhills scared the crap out of me the first time. So while I wanted to race, my gut was churning all day long. I recently swapped out my pedals for ones I could clip my racing shoes into so I don't lose contact with the pedals. Which also concerned me because I'm a newbie to clipping in and I was afraid of falling over while trying to unclip going up a hill I might need to walk.

Top all of that off with running into a traffic jam on the way out to the race. I literally arrived as the expert class was starting the race. I had the family with me so Ellen started to get my bike off the car rack while I ran to register and make sure I could race. I got there literally with 5 minutes to spare. So quick get on my gloves and helmet, bike computer, drink, quick pit stop to pee, and I'm lining up just before they count down the beginner start.

And I was off! Since I was now familiar with the course, I took it much easier. I also was smart enough to use easier gears going up the hills. The result? Last race I walked up most of the hills. Today, I rode up most of the hills! As a result, I shaved 5 MINUTES off my time. That's huge! And I didn't crash once. I fell over a couple of times trying to get unclipped from the pedals and had my rear wheel come out from under me in a turn when it hit a really sandy spot, but not ending up on my butt in the brush or a puddle!

That big hill on the course still scared the crap out of me, but I finished the course and acutally had a lot of fun! I felt a lot better as well, though that may be due to the much lower humidity today than the last time. Now I just need to keep training so that next year, I can ride up all the hills and those downhills are no longer scary.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On the road again

Tiring day today. I came home pretty whipped. Don't ask me why. I did have to talk to one of my staff about the way they handled a situation. The person began by putting the caller on hold and then announcing to the team, "Who created this account" in an accusatory tone. Not condusive to teamwork. Dealing with conflict drains me.

The drive home was one of those ones where you think you might fall asleep the second you get in the house. However, no napping when I get home as there's too much to do. Clean up after dinner (Ellen usually cooks), make lunches for the next day, and today I had to vaccum the hardwood floors since the boys tracking in little black thingies from day camp.

By the time I was done, it was nearly 7 pm. It was supposed to rain today, so I used the stationary bike at the gym. But, as it turned out, it rained a little early and by 7 pm it was sunny. So, of course, tired as I am, I went on a bike ride. Grabbed the road bike for a quick 20 minute sprint. Got a little under 6 miles in. I checked my two bike computers (one on the road and one on the MTB). So far since Christmas (when I got the first computer) I've logged around 470 miles between the two bikes. And there's plenty of riding to go this season.

Just so this post isn't ALL about biking, I thought I'd mix in a little politics. There's so much going on right now! Between Proposition 8 in California, Congressman Rengel and his total lack of making any sense, and so much more. The thing that got me going a little was immigration.

You may have heard about a "suggestion" to repeal the 14th ammendment to the Constitution that states anyone born in the US is automatically a citizen. The intent is to prevent so call "anchor babies", where illegal immigrants come into this country just to have a child that will be a citizen. Then they can stay here and sponge off of the government to raise their child.

Here's my beef with that. Where does it end? If the child of an immigrant (legal or not) is no longer a citizen, what happens to the children of those people that followed the rules to get here? People like my parents. They're off the boat Italians. Neither of them were US citizens when I and my siblings were born. Under the propsed repeal of the 14th ammendment, I wouldn't be a US citizen. My parents are the kind of people Republicans dream about. They came to the US and busted their butts for years to provide a better life for their kids. NEVER took any kind of public assitance. Hard working ethic that they passed on to myself, my brother, and my sister. Taught us to take responsibility and that nothing is for free. You need to earn it.

I'm sure most of the people that come to this country illegally are like my parents. They want to come here and do the work that Americans DON'T want to do. Work in the fields in the hot sun from dawn till dusk doing back breaking work. Do all the dirty jobs that are "beneath" most Americans. And how do we repay them? We villanize them and dehumanize them. What we need to be doing is give these people a legal way to come here and do our work for us. Give them a way to become US citizens if that's what they want. I'm sure the US can use hard working people like that contributing to our society and raising children with the same values.

Monday, August 09, 2010

As time goes by

Is it just me or is time this summer flying by? I realized this weekend that there are only a couple more weekends left in summer. We have some family activities (baptism, family pictures) which leaves 2 weekends before Labor Day. Where did the summer go? I still have stuff on my list that needs to get done!

Besides getting in a couple more specific bike rides in (we’re in training for the 50 mile bike ride to complete the cycling merit badge for the boys and I want to do a nice “slow and easy” ride with Ellen), I have to paint the front door, sidelights, and shutters. We haven’t even picked out a color yet. I’ve got a bedroom and 2 bathrooms to paint. Again, no colors picked out. I’m sure Ellen has a bunch of things on her list that we wanted to get done this summer. Her lists are very interesting in that for every thing she takes off of it, it seems like 3 replace it. It’s sort of like a Hydra.

On top of all that, the band has a gig at the end of the month and we JUST started rehearsing last Monday. Oh, and did I mention our drummer graduated from high school so we need a new one? And we’ve only auditioned one person that wasn’t that good? AND, we begin playing regular Masses at our church in October. Not too much band stress.

On the plus side, I have been able to get a lot of reading in. Now that school’s out, I’ve been reading mostly Star Wars novels. Nothing too taxing on the brain. However, I need to finish up my summer reading soon as Labor Day my fall courses open up and I kick into high gear on school again. Then it’s a full court press until December.

On the home front, things are in pretty good shape. The boys are done with soccer for the season so we actually have some time to do things in the evening. We’re trying to keep them busy helping with the housework, but that’s a struggle. They’d much prefer to be watching TV or skateboarding (at least in Christopher’s case). We’re making sure they practice their instruments. Christopher starts high school this year (Yikes!) and has band camp the last week of August. All members of the concert band in his school are required to be in the marching band so he needs to learn how to march in formation and perform the routine the band will be doing this year. He’s working on memorizing his music. Hopefully that week won’t be too hot.

Other than that, things are on cruise control right now. Once school starts, I’ll certainly be looking forward to fall as it’s one of my favorite seasons. We saw a Halloween food and craft book at the supermarket yesterday and I can’t wait for that (besides being Nicholas’ birthday). I just love the leaves turning and the cooler temperatures. In the mean time, hope you all stay cool and stay well.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Racing fool! - UPDATED!

Tonight was the Farmall Hill MTB Challenge. For beginners, such as myself, it's 6 miles of grueling up and down single track trails (meaning the trail is about the width of the handlebars on a mountain bike). It's a no recovery course, meaning you have no chance to recover your breathing before the next hill. And they weren't kidding.

Granted, this is only my second mountain bike race, but damn it was hard! I had to walk up a lot of the hills (but not all!). It was tiring as hell. There were some relatively flat areas where you could recover a little, but then it was back into the hills.

The family came out with me to cheer me on, which was awesome, let me tell you! Nothing like having a cheering section to keep you motivated. After 2 laps, I was questioning whether I'd make it. It was a bit humid tonight, thought there was a breeze. I was cramping up a little and taking water made it worse instead of better. However, I did the only thing I could do. The beginning of the course was a long downhill where you could cruise. I took it on the 3rd lap and got on the trails. Once your in, the only thing to do is keep going. Since I was committed, I had to finish the race.

Overall, I did pretty good. I only crashed once! And not too bad. There was one hill we went down near the end of each lap (the race was three 2 mile laps). You're at the top, there's this little dip that lets you get into a track, then you hit this hill that looks nearly vertical from the top. I swear it's about 70 degrees down or more. I figured if I was going to bite it anywhere, it would be there. Each time I went down the hill leaning back, center of gravity low, applying the brakes as hard as I dared. The only thing going through my mind was not to flip over the handlebars, which I felt in danger of doing each time.

So where did I bite it? A WAY smaller hill that I handled well each time before. On the 3rd lap, I was pretty tired and the hill was right off a turn. As I came around the turn, I didn't get the right line on the hill and ended up in the grass. I totally lost the bike and ended up on my back in the brush with my head pointing downhill. After a quick word or two inappropriate for young viewers, I got back on the bike and kept going. I did walk down the hill because I wasn't too sure about starting out on a downhill like that.

I finished the race in just over an hour according to the "official" timekeepers. I had my stopwatch going and it said 58 minutes. Oh well, still a great time! All I wanted to do when I finished was fall down and die, but I managed to walk it off. I'm not too sore right now, but I'm sure I wil be tomorrow!

All in all I had a blast! It was tiring, scary, challenging, and wicked fun. There are 3 races in the series, with the following 2 races next Tuesday and the Tuesday after that. I won't be competing next week since I have a conflict. But I might not have anyway after today's race. I'm too whipped! I may race the following week. We'll have to see how the weather is and how I'm feeling. At least next time I'll know the course and can pace myself a little better.

UPDATE: Pictures of the race are on the site! Look for number B10 wearing a red Fox jersey, red helmet, on a white bike. Some good snaps of me racing! I'm sure you'll figure out which is me. (In case you missed it, the link is on the word pictures).