20 November 2012

Almost like a kid

Yesterday I hopped on my bike, and took an easy ride to nowhere.

I didn't change into cycling clothes. I didn't take my asthmatic precaution. I wasn't trying to get anywhere in particular, or by a certain time, or to reach a self-imposed goal. And when I got home I didn't write the ride down in  a cycling log.

It wasn't as much fun as when I was in school, before I got my license, and rode from town out to friends in the country. I'd go out to Jeff's place after school to ride horses and shoot squirrels. Then I'd ride home before supper. Those were the days. And I'm pretty sure that's where my love for cycling began (though as an obsession it lay dormant for a couple of decades).

Reflecting recently on my current relationship with exercise, I realized that a big part of my avoidance of the bike (yes, I'll stick with that word, avoidance) was partly wrapped up in the mechanics of preparing for a ride. Without going into a lot of detail (actually, a post in itself sometime if I don't mind revealing my compulsions), I'll just say that I just loved getting on a bike and riding. Without folderol.

My friend Neal and I don't get together nearly often enough. When we do, we often swap cycling books. We both love travel writing, and both love to ride, so we usually have some book that takes in one or both, usually both. My latest on loan from Neal is Just Ride: A radically practical guide to riding your bicycle. It is by Grant Peterson, the founder of Rivendell bikes. (It says so, right on the cover!) Peterson's main point - his only point, really, illustrated in dozens of ways - is that most of us aren't professional cyclists, or even racers, so why do we think we have to conform to the racing bike-style?

Freeing. Absolutely freeing. Now, I enjoy vigorous, challenging, fast group riding. And I'm not going to give that up. (If I did, I'd pretty much have to go back to riding solo all the time.) But yesterday's ride was a direct purposeful response to this common sense wisdom . .  and it also met my need to just get out and ride, for cryin' out loud.

19 November 2012

Fortified Fortnight

. . . being a bi-weekly report on self-imposed unemployment, scholarship, and vocational exploration . . .

Yesterday marked another fortnight on the precipice. Winter's coming - though the warmth of this Thanksgiving week in the Midwest makes that a little hard to believe - and with it a run of special services that I am going to miss being a part of. I mean, of course, Advent and Christmas. I have to admit that I felt I was getting away with something this weekend, having breakfast with my brother, Ron, on Saturday while the choir (I can no longer say "my choir" - more on that another time) had a rehearsal for seasonal music. Getting away with something . . . and missing something. That is going to mark this season, I know.

The past two weeks have been packed with school work. For the most part, I am settling into the reading, the assignments, the long-range planning required to succeed as a student. I am engaging a bit more in class discussions (without feeling like a total doofus). I've been really jazzed finding resources for a research paper in the Trinity course. This weekend I charted out the days from now till that paper is due. Then, I tried not to freak out.

A friend offered me a little musical gig, playing congas for one item in his choir's Christmas concert. When my Karen and I talked about this, she said, "Gee, if we'd known you'd get the random monthly gig we could have made this change years ago." She can be so sardonic. Still, she has always supported the pent-up percussionist in me, and I think she is secretly delighted. Or maybe she is just happy to have me out of the house and earning something!

We've been confronted in multiple ways, these past 2 weeks, with the realities of a limited income. Yes, we counted the cost, and yes, I've known all along that after the fall weeks, I'll need to take some kind of part-time job. But it's in the spontaneous, in the unexpected, that the reality of our belt-tightening hits us. Son Andrew will not make it home for Christmas - he will be tied to his post (oh, now that's a funny double meaning!). Instinct: "Let's rent a vacation home and move our Christmas to Kentucky." Reality: Oh, right, that's what the discretionary part of our income used to do for us. Which presses the point: discretionary spending aside, I really need to earn some income during my next semester.

I've been indolent in the exercise arena, and reflected on that. Why am I "OK" with not cycling or running these days? Am I just super engaged with creative studies, or am I in a funk? Good questions. And characteristically, I won't take time now to sort that out.

We're still here on the precipice, and winter is coming. Thankfully that means that Thanksgiving is upon us, and with it a long weekend with our grown kids. Andrew won't be with us on the day (that post he's tied to) but we'll drive to see him and spend some time after Thursday. Karen and I will get to St. Olaf College for their iconic Christmas Festival. (We can, you see, find a reason to spend some "discretionary" money!) Andrew will get home for a few days of leave. And I'll write a long term paper. Then, before we know it, it will be Christmas. And after that, a new year.

We are eager to see what that new year will bring.

16 November 2012

Unemployed in exercise

Two funny comments people have made, hearing about this stage of my life:
"What is it like to be retired?"
"Will you get a lot more time for cycling now?"

Don't even get me started on the retirement question. Either people have a really outrageous idea of how much church workers make, or they think I'm a lot older than I am. (My gray hair notwithstanding.)

The second question at least has the prospect of reality in it. It does make sense that, having cast off the daily office routine and getting "weekends" in my life, I would find time for more cycling.

When asked about that on my way out the church door, I would say that my recent sabbatical demonstrated that being a full-time student is every bit as time-consuming as the job I had. However, I did manage to train for and run a marathon during that sabbatical, so maybe it was a reasonable question. Would I ride and/or run more, in this period of life?

And the answer it: "no." For reasons which are different and similar to my work life, and certainly because this is unfolding in the autumn months, I haven't been cycling at all and my running has pretty much wound down to nothing. Having a cold recently didn't help the running. And today, when I had planned all day to get in a short, 3 mile run, when it came down to it I couldn't bring myself to "suit up" for it, and treated myself to a power walk instead.

While out, I reflected on this. Nothing new here - I have to admit that the running, at least, and probably the obsession with cycling too, has been a form of compensation for a work life in which I was less challenged/engaged/empowered, or whatever. The exercise was one way to keep me pressing on in one arena - to push myself to accomplishments I could record and look back on with some pride.

Don't get me wrong. There is a lot of that satisfaction in the work I've done and hope to do again. This is just a slice of reflection here, not the whole picture.

Not to mention, that this kind of exercise is kind of essential for keeping my weight down. (Some readers know that I was . . . let us say, plump, until my senior year of college, and have fought weight issues since then.

Now I am busy with school, and when I do have time I feel I must give it to the details of home ownership. And then when we're both home, trying to be a good husband. So the running and cycling? If they're on the back burner, there's barely a flame under them. And the surprising thing is, that I'm OK with that. I'm just busy enough to keep my weight where it should be. (And I'm trying to eat according to my reduced exercise, too. That's the part I miss :~) And I'm more than engaged enough in creative and challenging studies to keep my mind otherwise occupied.

Having said that, this weekend I will bring my road bike into the basement, and put it on the trainer for the winter. Because, after all, this is my physical thing, and spring will return, and when it does I want to be ready for it.

04 November 2012

Following Fortnight of Folly

. . . being a bi-weekly report on self-imposed unemployment, scholarship, and vocational exploration . . .

 Four weeks ago today was my final Sunday as pastor for worship and music at College Church in Wheaton. The first two weeks away were marked by travel, some school-related panic, and something that tasted a little like grief. These past two have brought a more realistic sense of what we may expect of this transitional phase.

We're calling it a "transitional phase." I think of it as a "self-funded sabbatical." My Karen's take is more like "unemployment." I have to take her appraisal very, very seriously. We did the math before stepping into the abyss. We know how to live in want, and we well remember from the lean years that just because a budget doesn't work on paper, doesn't mean our needs won't be met. So far, so good. How we feel about that in January will tell the real story. Paul Simon's song, "Getting Ready for Christmas Day," has a little bit of edge to it for me this year:
From early in November till the last day of December,
I've got money matters weighing me down . . . 
I know Santa Claus is coming to town.

These past couple of weeks have brought me into the last half of the fall semester. In Wheaton's odd pattern, that has meant a course change in my Historical Theology sequence, but the continuation of my Trinity course. I've got by OK in both, but this past week I had to admit that in spite of what I have tried to tell myself, grades really do matter to me! More to the point, I'm concerned that "decent" grades might be a reflection that I lack "originality" or that academic  je ne sais quois. I guess that is OK so long as I don't have doctoral aspirations.

I don't.

Reading has been exciting. I can't get enough of it. Nothing new there. It is a love for reading that created a "pastor's bookcase" that is now jockeying for space in our home. 27 years of keeping a personal library in church offices, come home to roost. Literally. Karen has made one really creative alteration to accommodate about 18 linear feet of shelves, under our sun-porch window sills. They can double as seating, and a week ago we had a group in and proved that it works. We are waiting on another simple bookcase that will serve as a desktop bookcase. I really hope this will meet our needs. I don't like Karen giving up more space or repurposing one more piece of furniture to accommodate this "transition." Happily, yesterday I was able to put most of my deep storage books away without requiring more work or ingenuity on Karen's part.

One week ago, I had the pleasure of being a substitute director at a friend's church. It was a joy to walk in, work someone else's plan, conduct choir and brass, and get a feel for a different church. I don't know whether or how much this could happen in the coming weeks or months, but that was a gift. It was our first Sunday in town since October 7. Today we drove into Chicago to attend an historic church where (due to the obvious conflict) we had never been for services. Interesting experience at every level, and it has me thinking again about "what I want to do next." I wrote a little  about that earlier this week. I have to say, from both of these church experiences: I really value good preaching. I refuse to concede that a church has to have either good music or good preaching.

Oops, but now I've slipped over into the work of my other blog: Te decet hymnus.

My journal has been a good resource, but not something I am hung up on writing in daily. But now as we head toward Thanksgiving, along with my grown children I've committed myself to naming, listing, writing each day about Three Things for which I am Thankful. Thankfulness, too, is an adventure. And it is coloring this one.