Me,myself and I

Helmets up the dork factor

A few weeks ago, I rode my bicycle 30 miles with 3,000 other people.

It’s an annual fund-raiser to support a Detroit neighborhood and to help establish more bike paths within the city. I’ve never done anything like it before and I’m proud that I only stopped once for a bathroom, water, granola bar break.

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time. I have a long list of “things” I want to do. Most of them just sit passively on paper, trapped as hopes and wishes.

When I learned of the bike tour, I felt an energy building inside, the kind of thing that cannot be ignored. I considered: We didn’t really have the money to pay for the entrance fee. I didn’t have a bike helmet. My bike was in the basement, bolted onto a CycleOps. Since Girl from the East came into my life, I’ve only rode at the gym or in my basement. I longed for the wind in my hair and the open road.

Determined to make this happen, I accepted the entrance fee as an early birthday present. I found a bike helmet on sale. I hauled my husband’s neglected bike into a local bike shop for a check-up. I teamed up with one of the moms at Girl from the East’s school and we made it happen. I practiced long rides for weeks.

On the day of the tour, as I pedaled along the city streets, through historic neighborhoods, past abandoned factories, high school football games in progress, and along the breezy shores of the Detroit River, I felt the stress evaporate from my heavily saturated psyche. With each turn of the wheel, I felt lighter, freer, like anything was possible on this brisk morning.

When the tour was over, I stood in a food line braced against gusts of frigid air, my leg muscles twitched and my hands turned a little blue (I was severely underdressed for the day). I vowed that I would do something for me, something challenging and fun at least once a month. I’m really bad about pampering myself. I’ve never:

* had a full-body massage (I had a foot and leg massage in Beijing in one of its famous massage houses.)

* had a manicure or pedicure (I’m a DIY girl, but maybe just once I could splurge and let someone do it for me.)

* purchased anything indulgent just for me, such as a bouquet of flowers or an expensive piece of jewelry

Here are some things I want to do (notice full body massage is not on the list):

* skydive on my 50th birthday

* go storm chasing in tornado alley

*visit Alaska

* really learn Mandarin (I started lessons, but let it drop due to the cost.)

* attend a writer’s workshop and learn how to write what’s really inside

* Spend a few days alone in a non-haunted cabin in the woods to do whatever the hell I like

If I live to be 90, I am more than halfway there now. If I don’t make it that far, my life is three-quarters over. I’m not trying to sound morbid, but the dark circles, fine lines, and other signs of aging made me realize if not now, when?

I’ve led a fairly predictable and safe life so far. So much of what I’ve wanted to do with my life I’ve put on hold.  If I keep putting myself at the back of the line, I’ll never get my turn. And that’s how I’ve felt for some time now, at the back of the line. The kids need shoes. The roof is leaking. The car tires are bald. Insurance rates went up. On and on it goes.  Time is running out.

Now, I’m vowing to take time, maybe just a day, maybe three or four if I can get away with it, to reclaim “me” time in my life.

In two weeks, I’m unplugging for at least five days and going on a silent retreat. I’m both excited and terrified to do this. It will be hard, but I know I’ll emerge stronger and better for having done it.

What’s on your list?

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Pieces of China

Two years ago we were in Beijing and other parts of China, touring, soaking up culture and feeling like big, fat, pasty Westerners. We also were there to complete our family and make some kind of lasting connection. While we were taking away one of its daughters, we also left behind a part of ourselves.

So it has been with great interest that we approached the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing. We root for the United States. We root for China. We can’t help it.

In spite of all the charges of fireworks fakery and lip-syncing deception that have come out since the spectacular opening ceremony last week in Beijing, we’ve decided to hold onto the first breathtaking memory of watching it together.

We admired its grand scale, feats of athletic prowess and incredibly creative interpretations of Chinese history through dance and art. So many times we stared at the TV and asked: “How did they do that?” Most of all, we loved watching our Girl from the East point with glee at the TV and shout “China! China!”

Ultimately, she is too young to watch the games or gain anything through the special features. Her impression of China is firmly rooted in the bouquets of pyrotechnics coloring the night sky and the elaborately costumed characters.

Our visit to China took us to many tourist attractions, but it also led us down streets not highlighted in any official network feature — which seem to want to put a high polish on everything to keep international relations warm and fuzzy.

We walked away with many pieces of China. Some beautiful, some confusing, others haunting. You can’t walk through Tiananmen Square without thinking of the student protesters. You can’t walk among a sea of nearly homogenous people and not understand what it’s like to be a minority. You also can’t really know a place unless you’ve been there. Seeing the Great Wall on TV is no match for scaling its dizzying steps.

We realize there are many pieces to the China puzzle. We don’t know if all of our impressions are accurate, or if we’ve passed them through our American filter too many times. Will the Olympic exposure help us and others better understand China? If nothing else, it has sparked many conversations and debates.

We feel commited to learning the language, to studying the history and culture. We befriend Chinese people. Anything to hang onto that cultural thread, no matter how thin.
Yet China remains far away and largely a mystery to us.

Here is a picture sent to me by a shopkeeper I met in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province. Once a year I receive Chinese New Year greetings from “Tiffanie.” With a population of 4 million people, Nanchang is considered a small town by China standards. This image was taken during the Chinese New Year; it more closely depicts the China we saw. This picture is nearly the polar opposite of the BBC image at the top of this post. Both are pieces of China.