Over the Hill

On the way in to work last Wednesday, it dawned on me that I might be over the hill. I was thinking about how things have sort of plateaued in my life – I’ve been driving to the same building for 15 years, teaching the same classes, working with the same colleagues. There are always new challenges every semester, but I’ve reached that stage in my teaching life where most new situations can be compared to something I’ve encountered before.

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A hill I once rode over

So I started wondering if the term really does apply to me. Being called “over the hill” could be an insult of sorts. I mean, once you’re over the hill, what is there to look forward to? It’s all downhill from there, or so the saying goes. And still, I think I might actually have arrived at over-the-hillness. It seems a good idea, then, to think some more about what this might mean.

The obvious synonym for over the hill is “old.” Think of those birthday cards that you see at the store – the front is black, with the words “over the hill” prominently written in white letters. When you open it up, the inside contains some cheesy joke about hair loss, hearing loss, bifocals/reading glasses, wrinkles, aches and pains, early dinner, etc.

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some of these MAY apply

This, then is one of the ways a person can be over the hill. And if I’m honest, some of these ways might even apply to me. I’ll let you consider which of them…feel free to add your guesses in the comments section of this post.

And yet, the hills in the world around us can be a blessing, can’t they? We climb them in hopes of getting a better view of the scenery, and maybe even a better sense of where exactly we are, and which direction might be the right one to head off in. To be over the hill, then, might mean that one has a better sense of themselves and the direction they’re headed and route they’ve chosen to follow. Perhaps being over the hill means that I know who I am and I know where I’m going? Better, at least, than I did when I was on the way up the hill.

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Then there are hills in cycling. Usually, these are hills you WANT to get over, since there is often a very fun downhill stretch waiting on the other side, assuming you like riding downhill (not everyone does). Can we see life in the same way? I hope so, as it was a big lot of work to get up this hill I’ve been climbing in life and I’d be glad to look forward to a fun ride down the other side. Maybe the trick is to be a little less afraid and learn to like descending.

When I was a teenager, in the rare moments when I wasn’t feeling surly, I would often feel sorry for my Mom. She carried a lot in those years, and to put up with my brother and me (not to mention my Dad, who sometimes acted like just another kid) seemed more than a person should have to do. Especially someone as old as Mom, since to the teenage me, Mom was already well over the hill. How, I wondered, would I manage once I got to be so old and had teenagers of my own? Could I cope with their snide remarks and their not-very-subtle eye rolls and sighs? Now that I have my own teenagers (and am older than Mom was during my teenage years), I see that there really wasn’t all that much to dread. Sure, my teenage children regularly make snide remarks and sigh and roll their eyes. And I love them anyway. If this is what being over the hill means, then I can live with it. Because I get to point my wheels forward and fly down the other side to the next bit of road.

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I can’t

My friend Anna came out with us for part of last Saturday’s ride. It’s always nice to have another woman along to talk about kids and stuff like that. We also talk about the erg-fit class that I go to on Mondays and Fridays (Anna is the teacher).

We spend some time on these and some time on other exercises

Last Friday’s class was a real doozy – I don’t know when I’ve been so gassed at the end of a workout. When I mentioned this to Anna, I also told her that I can’t do some of the hamstring exercises she suggests.

A hamstring exercise I can’t do

Anna, teacher that she is, encouraged me to focus on how I might build up my hamstrings to get to this next level (think growth mindset). So I did for a second. Then I started to wonder what exactly my “I can’t” meant.

Sometimes, saying, “I can’t” is just a way to say I don’t feel like it. Like when your friend invites you to a monster truck rally and you don’t know how you’ll manage the noise. It’s more polite, somehow, to have an “I can’t” excuse so you can avoid having to tell your friend you think monster truck rallies are loud and boring. Of course you could just say “no thank you” but that seems somehow rude.

Then there’s the whiny “I can’t.” The one that’s really another way to say, “come over here and help me.” Kids use this one a lot, especially if their parents fall for the whining and pitch in more than they actually need to. This ploy has been used to get me to make beds and do dishes way more often than I should have done. I doubt I’m alone here…

Sometimes you can get big brother to go help.

Then there’s the I’ll probably do it wrong “I can’t” which serves as a great excuse not to try. This mostly explains why I don’t mountain bike. I suspect I could do it, and it might even be fun, but the risk of a broken something makes it easier to decide that I can’t and just stick with road biking. This also explains why I don’t usually change my own flat tires – my riding partners are so much faster and more adept – it’s easier to stand aside and hand over the tools…or take pictures…

What I was saying to Anna was different from all of these. It wasn’t a plea for help, and it wasn’t an excuse not to try. Instead, it was an honest self-assessment of my capacity, delivered without sentiment. What I meant was that there is something in the way I do hamstring exercises that makes them impossible. Not just for me, but for anybody who has the misfortune to use my technique. I mean, my hamstrings are pretty strong, I guess, and they cramp up within 5 seconds of starting the effort. It feels like if I go longer than that, I might actually injure myself…

It’s interesting that this little two-word phrase has so many interpretations, ranging from, “I’m not interested,” to “You do it for me,” to “I’ll just do it wrong,” to “No really, I am not able to.” Maybe this makes it worth considering what I mean and then saying that instead.

What other two- or three-word phrases have this property? Let me know in the comments!

J-term

For the past week or so, I’ve been following one of the PLU J-term blogs. The students are away with my friend Laree, and while I started reading for Laree’s sake, I’ve continued because the posts are quite good and it’s fun to have a little window into the way these students think.

J-term can so easily sweep one away – fitting 14 weeks worth of material into four is most certainly not for the faint of heart (students and faculty alike). And it all happens during the darkest month of the year.

And so this J-term blog project I’m following is a welcome respite from the dark and cold and overwhelm. As we enter the third week, I wish the writers well and look forward to what they choose to tell us!

Sunrise in Tacoma

Crashes

July is Tour de France month and like most years, I’ve been following along on my favorite cycling website (www.steephill.tv) This site aggregates video clips of each stage with articles from the cycling press. It’s fun, because the video is often the same, but there are clips with British, Dutch or Spanish announcers (take your pick), as well as with NBC’s Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin – the gold standard of cycling announcers.

 

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One thing I can’t help watching are the clips of crashes. Why is this? Maybe it’s because I’m hoping to learn something about how to crash if it’s unavoidable, or (even better), how to avoid them. If that’s the case, I’m not getting much out of it. So far, all I’ve learned is that I should not ride in a peloton (haha, like I’d ever do that anyway), and that I should use my brakes liberally on downhill stretches (check). Oh, and that riding in a peleton over cobbles is a spectacularly bad idea.

Try not to ride on roads like this!

So learning what not to do, and in some instances what to do (sometimes you can unclip and use your outside leg to lean away from the way you’re going, and other times you lean into the person right next to you to keep both of you upright) seems to be of limited use. And still, I watch the crash clips. Even when I wish I hadn’t. Have you ever done this? Do you know why?

One reason might be that I want to see what happened to cause a rider to abandon the race, like Richie Porte did on stage 9 both this year and last. Sometimes it’s to be amazed at a rider’s capacity to get back on the bike and keep going, like Phillipe Gilbert on yesterday’s stage, who crashed and broke his kneecap toward the end of the day and finished it anyway (and then abandoned the race) or Lawson Craddock who is still riding even though he landed on his face in stage one, broke his shoulder blade in the process, and looks like a boxer two days after he lost a fight. He’s likely to win the red lantern, a “prize” given to the rider who finishes the entire tour but in last place (he’s currently almost 4 hours behind the leader). Cyclists sure do give hockey players a run for their money in the toughness department.

 

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Lawson Craddock after the crash

Maybe watching crashes is a little like seeing that ski jumper on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The one that illustrated “the agony of defeat” every Saturday afternoon for years. This video is the first “crash clip” I remember, and it never changed. Frankly, I don’t even remember what was shown for “the thrill of victory.” Do you?

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Seeing a crash reminds us just how hard some things can be, since they often only look difficult when they aren’t going well. That anyone can point their gigantic skis down a long and steep hill and make it close to the bottom without poles is, frankly, a miracle. In the same way, it’s amazing to see Tour cyclists maintain the focus it takes to race (not just ride) almost every day for three weeks and 21 stages. The crashes remind us of just what a feat this is, and also that the riders in this race are (doping allegations aside) just people after all. Which makes finishing any Grand Tour that much more amazing. This is as good an explanation as any I’ve heard for why crash clips might be ok, even when you’re sometimes sorry you saw them.

Learning

One of my top five strengths, according to the Clifton strengths-finder by Gallup, is “learner”. Here’s what the website says about this particular strength:

You love to learn…whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you.

Seems right to me. That’s probably why my articles range from bargaining to beef packing to vocation – the process of learning new stuff is what I enjoy the most. This would also explain why I’m always trying new things in the classroom (Freshman Writing, anybody? Flipped classroom?) It’s fun to learn new stuff and see if I can make it work.

So I seem to find myself on the brink of some new learning this summer. Already, I’ve had to learn how to keep on riding when my two regular riding partners are off on a cross-country jaunt.

Missing these two

And enjoying following these two over new routes

And I’ve had to start learning how to relate to my new adult child, who informed me recently that he can now buy “rated M for mature” video games for his new Xbox. <<Sigh>>

Then there’s the other learning I’m doing this summer. Like learning how to implement someone else’s idea instead of my own because, well, because it’s better. Or learning how to lead a conversation in which several audience members know more than I do about the topic. (Humility helps a lot, as does honesty.) Or learning how to not get my way, even when I could.

I suppose these are things I’ve had the chance to learn before (except the new adult child one), and yet this summer has provided multiple opportunities to learn them anew. Or differently.

Last spring, I asked my Dad what he thinks life’s most important lesson is. He answered straight away, “God is love.” I saw this in the last years of Dad’s life, when he became more interested in making, building and keeping relationships than ever before. Maybe this is the key to what I’ve been (re)learning this summer. It’s the relationship that matters, and if going with somebody else’s idea instead of my own furthers the relationship then it’s almost always the right thing to do.

Dire Straits has a line that sums this up. “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.” Maybe being the bug isn’t always so bad. That’s what I’ve learned this summer. Oh, and also that you still have a chance even with two outs and two strikes in the 9th inning.

graduation

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David and Matt, both looking happy!

So our firstborn son graduated from high school tonight. The ceremony itself was just like every other graduation ceremony. You know…think back to the last graduation ceremony you went to. Was it boring? (Be honest.) Did you feel like pulling out your phone to look for distraction? Or, if it’s been a while, maybe the crossword puzzle you tore out of the day’s paper. Anything to last through the tedium.

 

I’ve been to plenty of graduation ceremonies as a faculty member. But this was the first where I was in the audience. In many senses, it was the same. Mostly boring. Occasionally fun, when someone I know walked across the stage.

Kyle

But in another sense, this one was different. Because at graduations where I’m faculty, meeting graduates outside the Tacoma dome afterwards is fun but haphazard. I see students I know, and that’s nice. Or I don’t see students I know, and that’s ok too. There is, generally, no particular graduate I want to find. But this time, there was (and not just because I needed him to drive me home from the ceremony). And it wasn’t only a former student I might recognize, but the student I’ve known since before he was born.

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And somehow, that made all the difference.

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Matt and Mrs. Lovejoy, his first grade teacher.

Proud of you, Matt.

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The Easter Promise

These are my friends Cathy and Bob. They go to my church, and were a part of Jason’s and my small group this past fall. Cathy had some serious health challenges during Lent, and so it was especially exciting when she unexpectedly reappeared at church last Thursday. Even though it was only Maundy Thursday, it felt exactly like Easter is supposed to feel.

And now, Easter has come. It’s still the Easter season, where we remember and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. All around us, new life springs forth. Flowers (and pollen), budding leaves on the trees (and more pollen), longer days, and just new life in general.

Of course, besides being a season to celebrate, Easter is also a season to remember, and to claim God’s promise of the resurrection. Here is my friend Scott, who I want to remember in this post.

Scott, not dressed for spin

Not dressed for spin

Scott taught spin at the Y for many years. He had the Friday franchise when I first started in spin, and passed it off to two of us a couple of years ago. The Friday franchise took place from 5:45 to 6:45 am and was known (maybe even reknown) for the music. Scott could put together a playlist like nobody’s business…

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Some of the Candoo cache

Besides spinning (pun intended) a mean playlist every Friday, Scott was an excellent conversation partner on Monday and Wednesday when he wasn’t teaching. He was always good for a laugh, and usually got us in trouble for talking. Getting in trouble for talking was an art form that Scott perfected, and it was great fun to help him in this effort. We considered all sorts of questions, like who should be on an “all girl” playlist, and was it possible to put together a good “no lyrics” set (yes, it was). We also touched on more serious matters like who exactly “they” are – you know, as in “they said you should never try that” or “they just want to take our guns away”. I still don’t know exactly who “they” are, even ‘though we spent many classes trying to figure this out. Ah well, maybe it’s something we’ll never know…

Besides pondering the unanswerable questions, Scott and I spent some time interpreting dreams. It took us a couple of weeks, but we finally managed to figure out what the extra room I dreamed I found behind my chimney was all about and also why his brother left him at the top of the 6th Ave hill in the rain one night in a dream. No wonder we got in trouble for talking – these were serious matters to discuss!

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I miss Scott, just as I know I’m not alone in being thrilled to see Cathy back at church. And so this year especially, I’m thankful for the Easter promise of the resurrection. Friends are a gift, especially those you see regularly. Even, or maybe especially when it’s just for an hour at the gym three days a week, or for a couple of hours at church on Sunday.