Friday, February 27, 2009

IronSpud Tip #1

Because I know that the vast majority of those who come here are looking for the training tips that will help them excel on their path to triathlon glory, I’ve decided that as I prepare for my next Ironman in June, with the usual grueling training regimen I’m known for, I’ll impart some “lessons learned” along the way. Some best practices, as we Whartonites say in the business world. Peeling back the onion a bit, as it were. Creating a strawma......oh, never mind that stuff. Where was I? Yes, Ironman tips. Without further ado, here’s Ironman Tip #1:

We all know that to sign up for an IM, you have to do so literally a year in advance, because they sell out so quickly. That’s why my dumbass self signed up for IronSpud last JUNE, what with my crystal ball neglecting to inform me that come August, I’d be progressing nicely towards becoming a sluggish, lumpen ball of fat, thanks to the cancer/collarbone surgeries that made any kind of oh, say, movement, rather difficult.

Anyway - the other thing about signing up for an IM is that you need to book your hotel room immediately, or the only thing left will be the Bates Motel clone 50 miles away. So here is my tip: when you booked that hotel, chances are you won’t have made the reservation online because it’s too early. So you’ve called to reserve and have written the info down on a scrap of paper somewhere. Great. Terrific. Just make sure that when you do that, you write on that piece of paper not just the relevant stuff like the dates, cost, and reservation number, but also minor details like, for example, the NAME OF THE HOTEL. Otherwise you’ll find yourself really sounding like a dumbass, calling random hotels asking if that’s where you have your reservation. Umm, not that I’m saying that I did that or anything. I’m just sayin’.

As far as training goes, I’m happy to note that I’ve found the perfect plan: 13 Weeks to a 13-hour Ironman. Oh sure, it presumes that one is already exercising like a fiend, but pshaw, clearly those caveats are for mere mortals, not triathlon goddesses such as myself. And since I’m the queen of ramping up, it really makes sense to follow a condensed plan such as this. So tough though it’ll be, I’m going to force myself to sit around and eat bonbons for the next 3 weeks, so that I truly follow the spirit of the plan as it was intended. That’s just the kind of person I am.

Oh, and a shoutout to my pals at my favorite Starbucks on Roscoe, where I’m well on the way to knowing the names of everyone who works there (hi Jesus! hi Ellen! hi Diane!). The other day I mentioned that I’d been writing about them on my blog, and lo and behold, Ellen found her way here. You know, Starbucks may be a huge corporate monolith and all, but the way they’ve managed to bring people together, why, that’s just bleeping golden, as we say here in Chicago. Kumbaya, anyone?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Back to the future

Because Blackhawks tickets are now so tough to get and expensive to boot, thanks to all the wanna-bes and hangers-on who have realized that hockey is the only real sport worth watching, the girls and I decide to head to a Wolves game. Slogan: “What do you mean it’s not the ‘80s anymore? When did THAT happen?” Mullets abound – and then there are the men. Ha. As we’re driving to the game, talk turns to weddings since Jen and Jillian are newly engaged, and I make the cardinal mistake of asking about their plans.

Jen, winding down an hour later: anyway, that’s a quick rundown of the basic costs and where I’ve been looking for dresses and so on.
Me, dozing: ..hnzzzzzzzz.......huh....oh! Umm, yeah! That all sound great. Dresses, yeah, all that stuff. Dresses are good.
Jen: I gotta tell you though, this wedding planning is SUCH a nightmare, it’s incredible. I’d rather deal with ANYTHING other than with having to plan this shit. You have no idea how painful it all us.
Me: Hey, I invoke the Spinster Rule. You don’t get to complain bitterly about how horrible it is having to plan a wedding, not when you have a Spinster in the car.
Jen: No, you don’t understand, it’s a nightmare!
Me: REALLY. You don’t get to bitch about it. Sure, you can complain about how many dress shops you have to go to and stuff like that, but you can’t bemoan the entire process and how you’d SO much rather not have to deal with any of it.
Jen: But it’s TERRIBLE, a total pain in the ass, a pox on society, a mfccshihfihe......

Somehow just then Jen wound up with one of Deanna’s spare compression socks in her mouth – I have no idea how, but all was blessedly silent for a while. At least until we got there.

Jen, unencumbered by sock-in-mouth, continuing unabated: And you wouldn’t believe how expensive this wedding shit is – hell, it’s like you paying for your cancer treatment!

Naturally, at this point I react in the only way imaginable, namely by bursting into loud, incredulous laughter.

Me, guffawing: Oh, right, cancer and weddings, they’re almost exactly alike!
Jen: They’re not alike, but paying for them is, the cost! It’s the exact same thing!

Now, the thing is, I felt vaguely like this was somehow wrong of her to say, but I’m not sure why. After all, with the typical wedding these days probably being $100K or more, then she’s correct, it IS like paying for cancer treatment. Yet it just somehow seems.....wrong, to parallel the two. One is a celebration of life, of new beginnings, while the other is....not. At least it sure doesn’t seem that way. Maybe it's just me.

Anyway, I’m still chuckling over this as we make our way in and find our seats, and as we’re squeezing our way down the aisle, I notice the guy next to us telling his wife something about “check out the hat” and “look at that awesome hat.” I had almost forgotten I was wearing the Fuck Cancer hat, but obviously it’s a big hit with him. And his wife, who looks at it and tells me she loves it too, then points to her shortly cropped head and says “I’ve gone through it twice.” Ah, my people.

We suck down all the necessary food and beverage products, including mai tais, carcinogenic hot dogs, red-dye-saturated cotton candy, et al. This makes ME at least feel like I’m doing something for the cause. (And as an aside, we discovered that cotton candy is the perfect food - a big bag has just 200 calories. Whee! Of course, that's because it's nothing but pure sugar. Like that's a problem.) As I’ve noted here before, since I did everything right the first time around and still got cancer, since my diagnosis I’ve been doing the polar opposite. I have to confess though to my one great failing thus far, and I hesitate to even bring this up lest you all think less of me, but here goes: I....I.......I’ve been unable to take up smoking. There, I’ve said it. Yes, I’ve been a complete, miserable, abject failure at this. Oh sure, I talk big, about working my way up to the stogies, of using the patch and so on, but no, it’s all been a lie. I haven’t even bought a pack of cigarettes for show, for god’s sake. Talk about lack of dedication. I hang my head in shame.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

For the hockey fans and my Canadian friends

But I repeat myself. Originally I was going to title this post For Deanna, but I changed my mind, because you see, that would have forced me to admit that I created a monster. Yes, it’s true. I was the one who earlier this season took Deanna to her first hockey game, where she was like an innocent babe in the woods, commenting that “ooh, the hockey players are so cute!” and “yum, mai tais!” But I believe that was a game where the Blackhawks had something like 5 penalties in the first 3 minutes – Deanna was mesmerized, and since then, well, it’s a different story. Now all I hear is enforcer this and PIM that, and Deanna is glued to her seat when there’s a fight, getting the requisite hot dog when the puck is in play. I knew she was really a goner when she started talking about “putting on the foil” before games, and starting an “I Love the Hanson Brothers!” group in Facebook. Ah well. Deanna, this one’s for you too:

It takes a village

Far be it from me to want to turn this blog into the Kone-Scone Chronicles.....but really, the kind of serendipity I now encounter on a daily basis needs to be commented on. So this morning – yes, you guessed it, after the dog park – we go to Starbucks. And my eagle eye immediately notices that the petite scone plate is (gasp!) empty. I start looking at the alternatives, and when Diane looks in my direction I give her my Sad Face.

Me, sadly: Look, no more petite scones today.
Diane: No, check it out, there’s one left!
Me, looking in vain at the empty plate: But.....
Diane: Really, there’s one left and I was saving it for you, hoping you’d come in!
Me, still looking at the empty plate: But....
Diane, pulling the plate out of the case: See, there’s one that fell off the plate and got wedged next to the glass from the display case, so we can’t sell it, but it’s for your dog so I can give it to you!
Me: Aha! Well, how’s that for Starbucks efficiency?? Nothing goes to waste!
Diane: Exactly! I totally thought of you as soon as that happened!

And we all grinned at each other and acted all self-congratulatory at our quick thinking in turning what could have been a tragedy (wasted scone) into a victory (happy Kona). Why, it’s like Bastille Day all over again, this snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat, this modern-day uprising. Or not. Probably not. But clearly close.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's good to be king

I head into Starbucks as usual, to get the standard coffee/scone, and I see Dave the manager, but before I can give him even a hearty "hullo!", he spots me and beelines over.

Dave: Hey, did you see what we got in today? Look, there in the case - the sausage scone!
Me: No, I had no ide.....
Dave, burbling over with excitement: Yeah, we didn't even order them, but they just showed up in our order this morning! Isn't that great? I was amazed! And now you have your scone!

So even though I was just going to get Kona the standard petite scone, I figured after all that, the sausage scone it would indeed be. Which I was doubly glad of when I went to the end of the counter to pick up my coffee.

Girl who works there whose name I don't know: Oh, you're here, I'm so glad! I saw this morning when I came in that we got the sausage scone, and I thought, oh, I hope the girl with the dog comes in today!

Have I mentioned yet the importance of telling the Universe to fuck off? Because really, ever since I did that, life has been if not exactly a bed of roses, a hell of a lot more pleasant, with all sorts of great things falling in my lap, including the sausage scones for my baby. And that's nothing to sneeze at.

And on the triathlon goddess front, I have decided to try a new diet, the one that will hone my body into an almost surreal state of perfection, even more than it is now. The new diet is going to be this: Eat Nothing. This is simply a more refined version of the diets I've already tried, namely Eat Less, Eat Next-to-Nothing, and Drink Yourself Silly. Apparently when you're on these anti-cancer drugs, aka FatSurly, fat cells cling to you like the stink on a pair of hockey gloves. Oh sure, you're thinking this is just another iteration of my popular diet from last year, the Eat Nothing Unless It's Fruit-Based, but that was totally different since it allowed, even encouraged, lots of frothy alcoholic drinks. No more of that. Unless the drinks are pink. Or at a hockey game. And kind of pink. Orange being close enough to pink to count. Sigh. Did I mention yet that I'm doing an Ironman in 123 days?? And that it might be a weee bit difficult trying to cycle while wearing a muumuu?

At least, I will note, I finally have started following a plan. A random 18-week IM training plan that I got off the internet, but a plan nevertheless. And okay, it was actually a 19-week plan, so I had to start it in week 2, but who's counting? And granted, I refuse to actually get into a pool since I have no desire to share my lumpen deformed self with the world as of yet, so I'm going to be skipping that part of the plan for now. But other than all that, I'm following it exactly as it's written. This should be a piece of cake.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Goal

The Goal is one of those eponymous books that makes the b-school rounds and is required reading, at least for a time, while it’s in style. When I was at Wharton, apparently what was in style was making us read books filled with feel-good, TQM, supply-chain efficiency rah-rah pablum, all about working together to eke out more efficiencies while doing jumping jacks and stretches first thing in the morning to techno-pop music. Or maybe that was only in Japan. Anyway. The only real takeaway from The Goal was that there’s a bottleneck in every crowd, and his name is Herbie - in this case Herbie was the fat kid on some hike slowing everyone down. So if you find yourself confronting an issue and you’re not sure how to get things moving again, first you need to ask yourself, out loud, “Where’s Herbie?” Then after you’ve withstood the resultant laughter from those around you, you can proceed to fire anyone named Herbie, or even similar. At least that’s what I got from reading The Goal.

What does this have to do with anything? Not a hell of a lot except that I was thinking about my quest for the maple-sausage scone and it made me think of The Goal, and the important things we learned at Wharton that I on occasion like to impart to you, dear reader (s). You just never know when these little nuggets of wisdom will come in handy, particularly in today’s lousy economy.

So, back to the damn scone. The rumor that it tasted like a McGriddle (which is the most heinous food substance known to man, technically speaking) didn’t deter me, as I didn’t think Kona would care about the association with the offending, treacherous pseudo-food. I was on a quest, dammit, and would not be swayed from my course. Thus began a journey of epic proportions, as I learned not only what I’m truly made of, but also a bit about what it takes to succeed under the most trying circumstances, the perseverance, the guts, the determination, the…….okay, that’s a bunch of crap. Actually, I just went to a different Starbucks about a block away, and lo and behold, they do carry the scone, though they were out that day. So my most trying maneuver involved going back the next day and finding a parking spot. As for the scone, Kona did enjoy it, but then he’s a dog and he eats sticks. And big chunks of ice that he finds outside. And he drinks from the birdbath. So I’m not sure I would call that a ringing endorsement. Plus in order to buy this scone I’d have to change my Starbucks habits, and I just don’t know if I can quit all my friends at the Roscoe Village store. So as much as it pains me to say it…….maple-sausage scone, we hardly knew ye…….

On a totally separate note, my friend Kristen from IDR relayed to me how she was reading with the tv on in the background, not really paying attention until she heard what sounded like “ass effects.” Ass effects? On tv? So she looked up, and there was a commercial for some drug called.........Aciphex. Aciphex. Now, come ON, people. Did not one of the non-Wharton MBAs whom you hired for big bucks to come up with a revolutionary and exciting name for this drug ever at some point SAY THIS OUT LOUD??? I just shake my head.

Friday, February 6, 2009

So it has been spoken it shall be done. We all know by now that Kona and I hit the Starbucks on Roscoe basically every day after the dog park. Well, I actually go in, Kona stays in the car, but clearly his needs take precedence, because as soon as I get to the counter, the first question is “the scone for your dog, right?” I’m known as “the woman with the dog” to all and sundry, even the other customers, who seriously have said to me while waiting in line, “oh, you’re the girl with the dog who gets a scone.” For a while we had to deal with the......there’s no good word for it other than tragedy.....of their having no petite scones, so Kona had to suffer through the indignities of bagels, apple fritters, etc., until his beloved scones were back.

Anyway – I go in today and am chatting with Diane (yes, I now know the names of some of the people who work there).

Diane: “...yeah, so it’s kind of random how we wind up having to order certain things, and then others we’re told not to. It doesn’t always make sense, like with the scones.”
Me: “Someone was explaining to me that you have to count what’s left at the end of the day, and that made the scones look bad because they’re little so there’d be more of them left.”
Diane: “Exactly – but it made no sense because they’re so popular. Then, you have one of our new products, the maple and sausage scone, an...”
Me, interrupting: “Hooold it......a MEAT scone?? now have a meat scone?”
Diane: “Yes, with sausage, but we’re only allowed to order 2 or 3, so they sell out quickly and...”
Me, interrupting again: “So what you’re saying is that Starbucks now has a KoneScone. A scone for dogs. Because seriously, who else would want a scone with sausage in it?”
Diane: “Apparently quite a few people, because we keep selling out!”

So I went back to the car and told Kona that mere days after his mentioning his desire for a KoneScone, Starbucks obliged with a sausage creation. Clearly the folks at Starbucks keep tabs on the pulse of America by reading my little blog here......

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Screw that whole "going gentle" thing

One thing that you can be pretty sure that people will get into heated arguments about – in addition to whether Blago will EVER stop making the rounds of the talk shows, or if this is like some perpetual 7th Circle of Hell where we’ll be forced to listen to him blather on for all eternity – is some of the language around cancer, and especially the whole “fight the good fight” terminology. Most people with cancer hate that, or at least the acerbic people on the message boards that I sometimes frequent do. The problem with that is that then you get into the whole “she lost her battle with cancer” and “he fought to the end but lost the fight” and so on, and it makes you think – just who the hell are you supposed to be fighting against? And how? If someone says to you, “hey, you’re strong, I’m sure you’ll put up a good fight” (and never mind that that sounds like you’re going salmon fishing), is anyone really going to say “Nah, I figured I’d just curl up into a ball, forego all treatment – I’ve never been much of a fighter.” No, of course not. And if you do all the recommended treatment, and obviously have some skin in the game so to speak, and it just doesn’t work, does that mean you didn’t “fight” enough? No, it just means that life sucks sometimes.

Put me firmly in the camp of those who dislike this imagery, as well as the notion that people with cancer are so noble and brave and all that crap. Again, do you have a choice other than to just go on with your life, finding humor where you can? Not really, though I guess sitting at home wailing and watching Oprah all day is an option. But even that gets boring after a while. So dusting yourself off and getting on with things isn’t brave, to my mind, it’s just what has to be done. And all those obits and such that talk about the person “going out peacefully, comforted at the thought of soon being in the loving arms of a merciful God”? Well, fuck that shit, I say.

So given all that, imagine my delight when I came across the following wonderful article, put forth by the Onion oh, some 10 years ago, yet still as timely as ever. I believe it needs no further commentary. Enjoy.

Loved Ones Recall Local Man's Cowardly Battle With Cancer

On Jan. 26, just four days after visiting the doctor for what he thought was severe indigestion or maybe an ulcer, Russ Kunkel got the dreaded news: A malignant, fist-sized tumor had metastasized between his stomach and liver. It was cancer.

Right then and there, faced with the prospect of a life-threatening disease, the 34-year-old Florissant, MO, husband and father of three drew a deep breath and made a firm resolution to himself: I am not going to fight this. I am a dead man.

On Feb. 20, less than a month after he was first diagnosed, Kunkel died following a brief, cowardly battle with stomach cancer.

"Most people, when they find out they've got something terrible like this, dig deep down inside and tap into some tremendous well of courage and strength they never knew they had," said Judith Kunkel, Russ' wife of 11 years. "Not Russ. The moment he found out he had cancer, he curled up into a fetal ball and sobbed uncontrollably for three straight weeks."

Said Judith: "I can still remember Russ' last words: 'Oh, God—I'm going to die! Why, God, why? Why me? Why not someone else?'"

According to Russ' personal physician, Dr. James Wohlpert, the type of cancer Russ had generally takes at least four months to advance to the terminal stage. But because of what he described as a "remarkable lack of fighting spirit," the disease consumed him in less than one.

"It's rare that you see someone give up that quickly and completely," Wohlpert said. "Cancer is a powerful disease, but most people can at the very least delay the spread of it by maintaining a positive outlook and mental attitude. This, however, was not the case with Russ."

Russ' friends and acquaintances saw that same lack of fighting spirit.

"Russ did not go quietly, that's for sure," said longtime friend Bobby Dwyer. "He did a tremendous amount of screaming."

"During the three days he spent at work before the pain got too bad, I saw a very different Russ," said Arnold Tolliver, a co-worker at the Florissant electronics store where Russ had been employed for the past six years. "He was always telling the customers how tragic it was that he wouldn't outlive his kids, reminding me that every day is a gift cruelly torn from his fingers, and grabbing somebody, anybody, by the shirt and screaming into their face that he didn't want to die."

In those final days, like so many who realize their day of reckoning is near, Russ Kunkel turned to a higher power. "Russ came to me in his time of need," said Pastor Charles Bourne of Holy Christ Almighty Lutheran Church. "But when I tried to comfort him by saying he would be with God soon, he only stopped bawling long enough to say, 'Fuck God. There is no God.' I had to get a couple acolytes to help me pry him out from underneath the pews."

When the end finally came, Russ Kunkel died red-eyed, trembling and hysterical in the attic of his home, where, in the depths of his fear, he was convinced the Reaper would look last. On that day, his 5-year-old daughter Bailey awoke to an unnerving quiet, the usual terror-choked sobs and shrieks of her father strangely absent from the morning air. Alarmed, she ran to her mother's side.

"Bailey was yelling, 'Daddy stopped crying! Daddy stopped crying!'" Judith said. "Somehow, though she's still very young, she understood."

On Monday, Russ Kunkel was laid to rest at Shady Grove Cemetery in Florissant. More than 200 people gathered to bid farewell. And just as Russ had requested shortly before his death, the funeralgoers wailed loudly and gnashed their teeth, cursing the heavens for the unfair hand dealt their loved one.

"The day before Russ died," Judith recalled, "he took my hand and said to me, 'At my funeral, I don't want people to wear bright colors and smile and laugh fondly at the wonderful memories of the precious time we spent together on Earth. Tell them to wear black and cover their faces with ash. Tell them to weep bitter tears and rail angrily against the cruel God who took me at so young an age. Do this for me, my beloved.'"

Added Judith: "He also told me not to move on from this tragedy by one day finding love in the arms of another. He said he couldn't bear the thought of me with someone else, and that the best way I could honor his memory was by never building a new life for myself."

"They say it is in times of great trial that a man's true colors show," said Russ' best friend, Larry Ahrens, summing up the feelings of those who knew the man. "And in Russ' case, he had a yellow streak a mile wide."