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Marzipan

image of a dog sitting in clover. a red bandanna tied around its neck reads "squirrel patrol"

This weekend was the Texas Independence Relay, a 200+ mile jaunt from Gonzales to San Jacinto. It wasn’t held in 2020 because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t much matter; I’ve not run it since 2010. Though I didn’t finish that 2010 running (busted open a knee), it was filled with so much fun and many good memories, especially the dog.

Nicholle & I had been married for a few months by the time the 2010 TIR rolled around, and we had been talking about getting a dog. Because we both ran so much, a good-sized running-ready canine was going to be a must. Sometime mid-afternoon, I came across such a mutt. Some random stray dog just started running along with & following runners from one relay station to another for nearly fifteen miles—more than a half marathon!—and still had energy to spare. But we didn’t get that dog; he was in too-high of demand among the hundreds of runners at TIR. He found his forever home with another running couple who were able to get the dog back to their home more quickly than Nicholle or I would have been able to manage.

The following Monday, I was back at work with my stitched-up knee, while Nicholle stayed at home, earning some much-needed sleep & rest. Sometime in the afternoon, she took the extra cat stuff we had to the local animal shelter for donation. (Her cat-at-the-time, Sophie, had accommodations at both Nicholle’s old apartment and the home we now shared as husband & wife; with just the one cat, we didn’t need double stuff.) Shortly before the day’s last bell, I received a text from her reading something along the lines of, “I found us a dog. How soon can you get here?”

Twenty or so minutes later, I pulled up to the Schertz Animal Shelter’s old offices on Borgfeld, finding Nicholle in a side room with this lean, black & white dog who was loving all over her but promptly took a disliking to me, barking for me to stay back. Neither of us seemed terribly keen on one another.

But Nicholle was smitten, so I dropped back by the animal shelter to try to start building rapport with this dog while they started the paper work on getting Maggie (the name the shelter had given her) ready for adoption.

There was a side yard where the animals could go play, so I took Maggie there to walk around and better assess her personality. Within a few minutes of being outside, she found a gnarled, well-loved tennis ball and dropped it at my feet. Like any other sensible person, I threw the ball, which she, like any other good dog, promptly sprinted after and returned to me. This went on until the shelter personnel said her playtime was over.

What you can’t see is the ball I’m holding to keep her focus.

The next day, I brought her her own ball (fresh from the tennis courts at Steele High School—thanks, Coach Haecker!) and arranged to take Maggie home by the weekend, just in time to start Spring Break. On Saturday, Nicholle & I walked the two or so miles to the animal shelter and walked home with a very happy Maggie Marzipan, tennis ball in her mouth.


Shortly after Nicholle & I wed, we jetted over to South Carolina for her to see her paternal grandparents and for me to meet them, introduced as the guy who eloped with their eldest granddaughter without telling a soul. While there, we were introduced to and enjoyed the traditional German sweet, marzipan, derived from ground almonds, spices, and sweetener. When we adopted “Maggie,” we agreed we would change her name (our dog, our name), and Marzipan was the best fit—because she was so sweet.

That, and I was am a HUGE Homestar Runner fan, and the character of Marzipan & general silliness, goofiness of HSR matched our new dog perfectly.

Right away, we learned a number of things about Marzipan that remained true over the years:

  1. She did not like being indoors for very long. Kenneling would not be an option. (She destroyed nearly all of the different ones we bought for dogs her size—and larger.)
  2. She was super-eager to please in most every respect. She learned to sit and stay away from certain things very quickly.
  3. She loved to play ball, even learning the word “ball” and going to look for one when we would ask her, “Ball?”
  4. She loved kids, acting as protector and pal to any & every kid she came near.
  5. She knew she was home, staying in the boundaries of the home, protectively barking at any perceived threat until she was told it was OK.

There were more, like her love/hate relationship with laser pointers, but one thing Nicholle & I relished with her in those early years was that Marzipan loved to go for walks, as well as for runs.

“A tired dog is a good dog” is what Nicholle would say, and we both really tried to make Marzipan tired, but she was always ready to go anytime either Nicholle or I laced up the shoes to venture out. Some days, Nicholle would run with Marzipan in the morning, and I would run with her in the evening, 5 – 10k at an outing. And then we’d still go for a walk later, even picking up discarded bottles and other recyclables along the road. For a while, we kept items collected on walks with her in a separate bin labeled “Marzipan Recycles.” Tired or not, Marzipan was always a very good dog.


When we adopted Marzipan, we were renting & living in my grandparents’ house, which featured a phenomenally spacious backyard with lots of shady trees. Marzipan loved it because of the innumerable squirrels and the soft grass to run and run and run. But, within a few months of adopting her, Nicholle & I decided to buy a new home in a neighborhood not too far from where we lived. Though it would have a significantly smaller backyard (later expanding the side yards that first summer), it would be our own home, and Marzipan would still find a way to make herself happy, with the same running routes readily available and sufficient room to play ball.

Despite the smaller yard, Marzipan continued to persist on being an outside dog. She would come inside for short bouts of ten or twenty minutes at a time, but she insisted on being outside, no matter the weather; she had her dog house, and she loved that more than the house the people lived inside of. Even when it froze & snowed a few months after moving in, Marzipan would only come inside for a few minutes here and there—but she certainly did not like the snow, venturing out only to take care of nature’s business wherever she could find a suitable spot.

While we weren’t necessarily “that kind” of dog owners, Nicholle & I did do a lot with Marzipan, taking her to dog night at hockey games, triathlons where one of us was racing but not the other, as well as general training. One such spot was Boerne Lake, and Marzipan loved it there, playing fetch with tennis balls in the water—they float!—and just generally having a good time. Shortly before Nicholle learned she was pregnant with our first child, she & Marzipan attempted to do a doggie duathlon, with the two of them swimming together before running a 5k. Unfortunately, Marzipan was too overwhelmed with the noise and general mayhem that comes with open water swimming in a race, and the two of them had to DNF. But Marzipan would enjoy other victories, including a first place dog finish at the Boxer Boogie at McAllister Park later that same year as her epic failure as a duathlete.

At these varying events, we were typically asked of Marzipan’s breed, but we honestly didn’t know. We presumed she had boxer in her, given her markings and behavior around other dogs. Her paws, however, really threw a lot of people, ginormous as they were. “Oh, she’s going to be big when she grows up” was a regular comment for years of us having Marzipan in our lives. At one point, we saw a Great Dane with the exact markings as Marzipan, so we just decided that she was a mix between a boxer and a Great Dane. It seemed to satisfy the eternally curious, especially with regards to her paws. Honestly, though, we didn’t care what breed of dog she was. Marzipan was a good dog, and that was totally good enough for us.


Marzipan was always a very happy dog, made even more happy when she caught sight of her people—especially at feeding time. She would express this exuberance by leaping into the air. Normal, I guess, but her light, lean, muscular build allowed her to launch herself into a low orbit for a few seconds before doing it again. Jordan would likely have been impressed.

By the time Ironman Texas rolled around in May of 2011, Marzipan had been a part of our family for a little over a year. What to do with her during our weekend hiatus to Houston had been on our minds but not exactly at the forefront. With a few weeks until race weekend, we happened upon a new-to-the-area boarding service for dogs dubbed Pawdersosa Ranch. Their slogan? “We love your dog.”

Her stay there was more than satisfactory, though we did get a phone call her first night—the night before we left for H-town—to advise us that she was jumping “so high” that they were afraid that she was going to hurt herself. We assured them it was perfectly normal and that she was just really excited to get her food. By night two, they were used to it and loved having her around. Everyone always did. She was simply a very good dog.

The day after Ironman, we returned home to learn that Nicholle was pregnant with our first child. Marzipan would finally get to be a protector dog for her very own person.

She saw Nicholle through this pregnancy brilliantly, going for lots of walks and being, as always, a very good dog.

The night Nicholle went into labor with The Boy, a severe storm hit the area. Rain and thunder and lightning roared and flashed across the sky, pelting the house with angry arrows of rain. Naturally, Marzipan was outside, hanging out in her doghouse because she hated it inside. Plus, Nicholle was agonizing through labor pains as we waited her to feel “ready.” At some point, a tornado touched down somewhere in San Antonio, which, of course, was where the hospital was.

Unbeknownst to us, the ribbons of wind on the skirts of this tornado would wreak havoc on the extended fencing I had put up around the house, blowing it down where it ran past what would become The Boy’s bedroom. A neighbor attempted to call us throughout the morning and into the early afternoon to let us know (The Boy was born at 10:40 AM and rushed to the NICU, while Nicholle was shuttled off to surgery herself to repair a tear sustained during three hours of pushing) as well as to say that Marzipan was in the front yard. She hadn’t gone anywhere or done anything other than just to lie down in front of the house, waiting for us to come home.

Sadly, she would have to wait for us for several days, though my dad was able to go over and repair the fence, with Marzipan in the back yard with full food & water dishes during our absence. She was, after all, a very good dog.


As with all other kids she encountered, Marzipan was enthralled and super-protective of The Boy, as well as Nicholle, and even from his earliest, he loved the dog. “Dog,” in fact was one of his first words and everything became “dog,” including the orca leaping out of the water at SeaWorld one summer. One of our favorite pictures of The Boy was him supporting himself on the windowsill, peering outside at Marzipan, with her waiting for him outside the window, tail and tongue wagging.

Despite a similar picture with The Girl a few years later, she didn’t connect too well with Marzipan. Marzipan’s goofy, spaztic nature caused her to bump into The Girl and knock her down, which promptly caused some crying and an irrational fear of the dog. The Boy, on the other hand, despite frequent knock-downs and more, continued to be besties with Marzipan and attempt to coax his little sister to give the dog a go. It finally paid off eighteen or so months ago, with The Girl and the dog making nice with one another and becoming every bit as inseparable as the proverbial peas and carrots.

With the onset of the pandemic in mid-March of 2020, schools were shut down, and I found myself at home and able to take time to take the dog for a walk most every morning before logging in for work. Despite her advancing age, Marzipan proved to be more puppy than dog, always eager to go for a walk around the block, the neighborhood, or down to the doughnut shop (once they reopened) with me and the kids or even just with me. She was just happy to get out and move, even if she couldn’t move as quickly or as far as she once did. I’d given up running with her a few years ago when even 5k proved to challenging for, especially in the hot & humid summers common to South Texas. Though she had once run ten or more miles a day with me and/or Nicholle several days a week, running for distance could just no longer be her thing. But she would still chase ball. Or squirrels. Or anyone she perceived to be a threat who came within a dozen feet of the fenceline. She was simply a very good dog.


Following the freeze this past February, the sun returned, and Marzipan resumed her laying about in her yard, soaking up sunlight as thought she used it to generate what we thought was boundless energy. She would still jump at the sound of her food being scooped or the unlocking of the door. Until she didn’t.

I cannot say exactly which day it was that I first noticed her limping, bit I did notice when it had been more than a few days. Her paw had no thorn or debris embedded in it, and there was no wincing or yelping at the motion of the upper or lower leg; I guess I just thought maybe she had finally sprained something with her boundless leaps or sprints up and down the fence. But I also noticed she was losing weight, no matter how much food we gave her, and that she was drinking more—a lot more—which was odd for as mild as the climate has been.

When loading her into the car for her appointment with the vet, I was able to really feel differences between the right and left sides of her body, most prominent in the shoulder and ribcage. Something was very not right with this graciously good dog.

The phone call from the animal hospital came towards the end of my first class of the day, and I was able to step outside to take it while the students continued on with their assignment. Though I knew something was very not right, I was unprepared for what the doctor had to say: Marzipan had bone cancer, and it was moving fast through her body. She didn’t have long to live; weeks at best. Painkillers could be given to help her be more comfortable, but there was the real concern of her fracturing her shoulder which would, of course, put her in more pain. Sure, they could amputate and attempt chemotherapy, but, for a dog her age and the cancer as advanced and aggressive as it was, it was not a practical or realistic option that would allow Marzipan to live the good, carefree, and happy kind of life she’d lived to that point.

A call home put Nicholle & I in tragic agreement: Marzipan would need to be put down.

The timing could not have been much worse, given proximity to The Girl’s birthday (last year’s was complicated by the onslaught of covid19, while this year’s seemed to be bringing on the death of a dog she loved but only relatively recently had begun to truly enjoy having as a friend), but we knew that, given the immense pain Marzipan was living each moment of each day, unable to run or bark or be her happy self, it was best for Marzipan. No person, no animal should suffer so.

And so an appointment has been made for this Monday morning—the Monday after TIR, no less—for Marzipan to go to sleep in the company of the man she didn’t really much care for at first but with whom she found trust and companionship and a home. And in her, he—and any who met her—found the kindest, most gentle soul, wanting nothing more than to help others feel safe and loved.


Over the years, Marzipan was featured in a lot of pictures & videos we took. My favorite is of her on a rare occasion indoors in the living room of what had been my grandparents’ house, then mine & Nicholle’s when Marzipan first came home to us. She sits, staring intently at the remains of a foam ball she had completely obliterated. The look on her face speaks of confusion, of sadness, of acceptance.

The photo is framed and, for years, hung in our kitchen before being relocated to The Annex, the makeshift office constructed in the master bedroom closet just ahead of the pandemic last year. Looking at it has always made me smile just as it always will.

Interspersed with those feelings of elation, though, will also be feelings echoing those of Marzipan in that picture: confusion, sadness, acceptance.

Confusion over how such a healthy dog could so quickly succumb to something so unexpected as bone cancer.

Sadness at the taking of such a great bringer of joy in our lives at such critical periods, to say nothing of the suffering she must feel but never let shows.

Acceptance that this is just how things are, and I am grateful that Marzipan was able to be in our lives for as long as she was—even if I do not feel it was long enough.

In Marzipan we found more than just a dog as a running companion. We found a dog that was a companion through so much of life. She was always loving, always loyal, always just what we needed.

She was always a very good dog, and we we love her and miss her already.

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Getting (Back) Inline

Literal volumes have been written about how the human body changes as it ages. Monthly magazines by the score paired with an entire industry are at the ready to “inform” the reader/listener/viewer of the (mostly negatively) impacts of these changes. And, of course, some secret or other of how to counter them so “you” don’t suffer like some other sucker.

I’ve not actually read any of these magazines; the cover’s copy & accompanying image all but convince me not to. I’m not “ripped,” nor have I ever had any desire to be so.

Overall, my participation in sports has always been casual. I’ve enjoyed taking part in this sport or that (except for that one time I subbed in for second base during a company’s softball game one evening—it wasn’t even my company, but I was asked by a friend who was pitching, and the guy playing center nearly took my head off by attempting to throw through me in order to get the ball to home ahead of a runner who had barely rounded third) but only really found my niche and true enjoyment with seemingly solo sports, such as cycling and later running and eventually triathlon. But between my second foray into cycling twenty-one years ago was inline skating.

While the exact details around what inspired in me to pick up a pair of blades (originally some cheap set of Rollerblades and two days later their somewhat elite Macroblade) are fuzzy, I’m sure it had something to do with Leon and maybe the movie Airborne. But whatever it was, I was hooked on skating as a fun way to get something resembling fitness, literally wearing the umpteenth set of wheels off the skates and eventually wearing out the skates themselves.

Fast-forward to present-day twenty-twenty-one, and inline skating appears to be having somewhat of a renaissance, especially with me and many others in my general age bracket. While I certainly cannot speak for others, I’m not naive enough to deny this could very well be a midlife crisis for me, attempting to rekindle what gave me fire, gave me purpose through most of my twenties—maybe all; I don’t recall when, exactly, that buckle broke on my blue & silver Macroblades, but I can still feel the weathered plastic strap and its sundry notches in my hand, staring in abject horror at the literal destruction of the symbol of my younger years.

In between bouts of inline skating, I had somewhat of an athletic life, cycling tens of thousands of miles, running a dozen or so marathons, and completing who-knows-how-many triathlons, including three full-distance Ironmans. Even with my lackluster time since Ironman Arizona five years back—where increased responsibilities as a dad and caretaker for my wife, whose diagnosis with MS continues to compound as her body’s mobility degrades by degrees at a time—I’ve managed to maintain something resembling fitness. So even that had me ready to re-enter inline skating.

The “return,” in fact, was inspired by leg exercises prescribed by the biomechanics guy (Coach Joe—you remember Coach Joe?), where I remembered the sensations inline skating instilled, so I began poking around the interwebs for information on inline skates before stumbling upon a Facebook group geared towards a community of beginners who had a passion for not only skating but also—and especially—encouraging others to pursue their passion in the myriad disciplines of inline skates. It was here where I read so many hello-themed introductions of folks returning to the thrill of their respective youths by strapping three or four wheels inline with one another to their feet.

Now a month and change into being a part of this group, several who joined around the same time as I are beginning to lament injuries beyond the blood and bandages accompanying falls or crashes. These are the injuries of the aged, myself somewhat included.

Without even considering what happens to the forty-something’s body when it impacts with pavement, there’s a lot going on, especially for the lot of us who spend so much time in a chair or a car or otherwise not being terribly physically active—or haven’t been physically active since last lacing up a set of skates. Once those hunks of plastic and aluminum and countless other compounds are fastened to the feet, a multitude of muscles go into overdrive to stay upright, to say nothing of staying in motion.

Because I’m not a physical therapist or a coach of the caliber who should be spouting advice about preventing or treating muscle injuries, I’m, instead, going to just anecdotally disperse what’s worked for me for keeping me relatively injury free. Despite not having felt any of the calf cramps that necessitated my call to Coach Joe back in January, I know that no one is immune from the prospect of injury, myself included.

To note, my involvement with inline skating is, well, in line with fitness, tiptoeing up to speed skating. I’m no Apolo Ohno—though we are both Ironman finishers, even if his was Kona—but that’s more akin to what I fancy in comparison to aggressive or urban styles.

A few of the muscles & muscle groups that go into inline skating

Looking at the image above, it comes as no surprise that the bulk of the work comes in with the hips & thighs. This should not discount, though, the importance of the abdominal muscle region; a strong core will help with both balance and the muscle movements in the areas south of the abs. Sure, there are sit-ups and burpees, but other ab-building exercises exist, many of which are far friendly to those of us closer to retirement than to our sweet sixteen. Myself, I prefer indoor rowing and am fortunate enough to still have my own WaterRower onhand when I want (or need, like last night) to hammer out a couple-thousand meters.

I’m working from memory here, but most hurts incurred have come lower back and the thigh muscle group as the primary culprit in keeping folk in this FB group from (enjoying) skating. The aforementioned indoor rowing will help with this, too, but a far cheaper means is available from Amazon: Stretch bands. Paired with the Phase I Hip Corrective exercises from Peak Fitness, this $20 pack of bands goes a long way in building & maintaining strength in critical muscle groups associated with inline skating, running, cycling, and swimming.

And then there’s what to do when the skating’s done.

Most anyone with any sort of kinetic experience sill simply say stretch, but that itself becomes a complicated process in terms of which stretches are best and for how long and blah, blah, blah. So I defer to the experts at The Sufferfest.

(Anyone who’s read most anything I’ve written the past year or so knows that I can’t shut up about the best app for cycling & indoor training—nor will I—and for good reason: It works.)

While the Strength section of SUF, too, will help build essential muscle groups to help with leg-based endeavors such as skating, it’s under the Yoga heading where salvation is to be found here, most in fifteen minutes or less. Yoga sessions such as “Hip Openers” I & II, “Hips & Hamstrings” (my favorite), and “Hip Flexor & Groin Recovery” all have invaluable benefits to anyone making any use of these muscle groups, regardless of fitness levels.

There are many, many more yoga sessions available through The Sufferfest (who, in turn, contracts them out from Abi Carver of Yoga in 15, which has its own horde of an additional 100 videos), but those mentioned above are kind of my “go-to” sessions when I need to loosen up critical sections of the body to be able to function, let alone skate. Or ride. Or run. Or whatever.

Because getting old sucks.

Whether or not returning to rollerblading is a midlife crisis is irrelevant—though if it is a midlife crisis, it’s fairly tame by comparison. What’s relevant is keeping moving which will certainly require some endeavors sans wheels. Cross-training through other sports can certainly help, but not near what building strength & endurance through exercises like those with the stretch bands or trips to the gym—if you still do that sort of thing in the midst of a pandemic—because there is significant importance to strength training as we age.

Thanks for reading.

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K2 VO2 S 100 Boa

K2 inline skates resting in original packaging material
Sure, they look beautiful, but how do they skate?

I really wanted to like love these skates. I really did.

When the notion of getting a new set of inline skates crossed my mind, I started my research where most do: The internet.

Without a whole lot of searching, I came across K2’s offering of the VO2 S 100 Boa, a fairly versatile boot atop a split rail, 4-wheel setup on smooth-rolling ILQ9 bearings mounted to 100mm wheels—and I was in love.

Good design has always been an attractive factor for me: Duncan’s wooden yoyos, Saturn’s original S-series of automobiles, McIntosh amplifiers, Apple computing products, Suunto watches. Good design tends to yield good results…but not always.

Case in point: These K2 skates.

K2 inline skates resting against sofa
K2 VO2 S 100 Boa skates, fresh out of the box, nestled up against the sofa.

Spec-wise, the K2 skates seemed to be solid, save the 83A wheel hardness; 85A has proven optimal for ’round these parts. My original order for the 2021 version from inlineskates.com kept getting pushed back and back—four times in under a month!—so I cancelled that order. But, a few days later, I was made aware through a Facebook group of a set of the 2019 models in my size through Inline Warehouse, and I was all…

meme of jim carrey from ace ventura: pet detective with text reeeeaaaaallllyyyyyy?

So, yeah, I ordered them.

They arrived in seemingly miraculous time at the tailend of Spring Break for me to give them a roll around the neighborhood. And here’s what I found.

Without doubt, the Boa lacing system is the best in the business. I’ve used Boa on my road & MTB cycling shoes for a couple of years to great enjoyment, and this was the principal reason for my attraction to this setup—especially after updating to Lake’s CX241 a couple of months ago. Riding with these shoes is like pedaling with little, white, puffy clouds on my feet.

Stock photo of Lake CX241 cycling shoe
Lake’s CX241 is a superb cycling shoe & gets Boa’s lacing system right

The K2 skates, on the other hand, are not exactly that.

The K2 skates weigh in at an impressively light weight and are equipped with 100mm wheels, what I presumed to be a midrange wheel for recreational skates—the kind to tool about town and do just about anything that doesn’t involve a half-pipe or grinding or other fancy footwork. The bearings are super smooth and free-roll with virtually no perceivable resistance, physical or auditory. Because of this, I had built up in my mind that this would be one phenomenal set of skates.

Meme of Eddie Murphy's character Saul in film Coming to America stroking lion fur coat saying "What is that? Velvet?"
My God, they’re beautiful!

But maybe my expectations were too unrealistically high. Idealizing that the Boa lacing system on the K2 VO2 S 100 would sufficiently “hug” my feet in the same fashion that even the cheaper Lake CX218 or MX218 do—made me think everything would just fall into place with this skate, and I’d swear off my memory-based adoration for Rollerblade’s Macroblade line. But maybe K2 just didn’t get something right in this 2019 iteration.

Though it’s not just the Boa system that falls short.

The ratcheting buckle about the ankle feels too loose, even when fully ratcheted down around my seemingly narrow cyclist’s legs. Additionally, the 83A wheels are just not grippy enough for the pavement in my neck of the world—and that’s just plain blacktop; I’ve not even ventured out on the rougher chip-seal surfacing with these things.

Nor will I.

No, the nodular feeling, the unsavory ride, the unsecure sensation derived from what should have been the best system on the market leaves me with little choice but to secure whatever form of refund may be derived from this purchase.

Unlike with adventures on the Rollerblade Macroblade 3WD 110 setup I’ve been sporting about town the past week, I’ve no video to post. My actual roll-time with the K2s totals less than five minutes, barely making it about the block before deciding these were not the skates for me. To be sure, I fastened on the Macroblades and ventured out around the block instantly finding the ride to be so much smoother, so much more enjoyable than the K2 that I’m almost perplexed as to why I even bothered ordering them.

I guess it was hoped that the K2’s wider 415mm wheelbase would give better, more sure footing than the Macroblade’s 395mm, but such was not the case. Despite the broader footing and seemingly smoother bearings, the K2 felt more clunky, less agile, less of a good fit than Rollerblade’s Macroblade 3-wheel option.

No doubt, the K2 is a looker of a set of skates. The red, white, and black color scheme screams “Sufferlandria!” with all the fire and fury of a herd of rabid laser goats. But looks aren’t everything.

meme of david alan grier & damon wayans of gay film critics antoine merriweather & blaine edwards from sketch comedy show in living color. text reads hated it!

Did I hate them? No, that’s a bit much; the design and looks alone are superb and worthy of much adoration. With the as-executed lackluster lacing system and a roll quality leaving much to be desired, however, I was left unimpressed with my purchase of the K2 VO2 S 100 Boa. Disappointed would be an understatement. It was not a good fit.

Maybe the 2021 model really is that much better and is worth the wait that keeps getting pushed further and further back into 2021. Or maybe it’s not. I know some have been satisfied with the Boa system concocted for K2’s offerings in inline skates, but I sadly cannot count myself among them. As somewhat cumbersome and relatively time consuming that the Rollerblade setup is to get on one’s feet (probably 3 – 4 minutes, compared to roughly half the time of the K2), it’s the quality of the skate that follows that really killed the K2 for me.

meme from nbc show the office (us) of characters gathered around table in italian restaurant. meme text reads if the skates are not to my liking i'll send them back

Again, I really wanted to like love this setup—because I did; it really was love at first sight. The devil, however, proved to be in the details, and the details (for me) revealed a sub-par experience on what should have been a benchmark set of skates.

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Dear Joe

When first I called you some weeks ago, I was limping home from yet another run gone bad. My calf had again cramped at less than two miles in, and I found myself at wits end, theorizing over what could be causing such debilitation in my aged-yet-not-that-old-just-yet legs.

So I called for a bike fit.

Of course, Retül was the tool of choice, but our schedules would not allow, so you agreed to make a house call and see about better fitting me to my bike.

This wasn’t my first rodeo with a bike fitter but was when it came to biomechanics to the degree your degree and experience informed you. And I am so glad it did.

After some two hours of motion observation, wrestling with a stuck seat post, and fitting me to not just one but two road bikes, the everything seemed to be set in place for a more comfortable, more engaged & engaging fit on the bike, outdoors & in. there were even PT exercises prescribed to get me back into better shape on the bike, as well as off; that was, after all, the catalyst for calling you in the first place.

Since that last pain-riddled run, I’ve not run, though I have bought new running shoes, eschewing the suggested four millimeters of drop for the zero drop that has worked so well for me these past ten or more years. There is a bit more cushioning on the shoe to better match my own increased cushioning. But that’s a work in progress.

Today, I wrapped up a week-long effort on the indoor trainer, the annual Tour of Sufferlandria from The Sufferfest. The seven consecutive days of 60+ minutes on the bike trainer ramped up almost 200 miles, and I don’t think I’ve felt better since last February’s ToS. Consequently, I think I’m ready to go for a run.


So I went for a run, and what a run it was—even if it was only four miles and change.

I didn’t set any new speed records (PR or OQT or anything else), but I did make it over that two-mile barrier I’d been unable to cross since the calendar flipped over from 2020 to 2021. I’ll not lie and say it was entirely pain-free (legs screaming from Tour of Sufferlandria, lungs screaming from fresh, cold air), though I will say it was the best run I’ve had all year.

So thank you, Joe.

For the bike fit, for the recommendations & exercises, for taking the time to not exactly teach an old dog new tricks but to teach this one how to adapt in order to keep running—figuratively and literally.

Oh, and thanks for reading.

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Not Any Easier. Just…Faster.

Looking back, 2011 was a phenomenal year. Life was so much better, so much simpler.

There was no pandemic, kids (and all that’s involved with raising them properly entails) hadn’t yet entered the picture, and MS had not robbed Nicholle of the ability to walk; she, in fact was using her recently completed master’s degree to further her career, herself, and thereby us. We had also closed on our own house and were loving it. The most complicated it was had to do with finding time to train for the inaugural Ironman Texas. But, even then, that minor inconvenience all seemed to snap together.

Following the end of swim season, I & a co-worker rode our bikes up to Austin on a cold, rainy Saturday, and I ran the Austin Marathon cold (no focused marathon training), finishing a full minute faster than I had the day before. A few weeks later, the student teacher I had been assigned was ready for her solo stint in the classroom; if there were no classes for me to cover or “other duties as required” to tend to, I was able to hit the weight room or go for a run around the campus during the day and get in long bike rides or swims in the afternoon and evening. By the time IMTX rolled around, I was in some of the best shape of my life and had a heck of a strong finish: 11:16:09, almost a full hour faster than Ironman Coeur d’Alene two years prior.

The next day, Nicholle & I learned we were expecting our first kid, who would be born the following January. Another would be born in 2015, and then our entire world would be rocked in 2016 when a near-fatal infection began to exacerbate Nicholle’s MS diagnosis to take away her ability to run, to walk, to be independent in the sense that most “normal” people live their lives. More and more responsibilities transferred to me, including transitioning Nicholle in and out of bed at night and again in the morning. By the end of 2019, she would be in a wheelchair, unable to even hobble around with a rollator, manipulating physics to swing her hips side to side, forcing her legs into (relative) motion, as she had done the past two years.

Though I managed to finish another Ironman (Arizona) in 2016, my finishing time wasn’t to my liking, nor was how I felt pre- & post-race, to say nothing of actually during the race. After my return home in the wee hours of the morning the day after the race, I fell asleep on the sofa (Nicholle & I could no longer sleep in the same bed, as disease progression meant she needed more space and less heat in close proximity), crying myself to sleep. It was awful.

Things continued to decline the next few years.

But now it’s ten years later, 2021. The year after the year that we thought sucked more than any other year in the history of years.

By most accounts, this first month-and-a-half has been anything but stellar follow-up: Complications with MS management and the ongoing pandemic and the winter storm(s?) ravaging Texas, resulting in lots of snow & sub-freezing temperatures, bringing about intermittent power outages and other complications; yeah, it’s sucked.

But in a way, it’s actually been kind of OK, thanks again to The Sufferfest.

The annual Tour of Sufferlandria has been this week, and I was initially concerned, but, then, things just began to fall together.

I mean, there’s the 50-hour timeframe that is the Sufferlandrian day, but even that made some of the double-header stages seem more challenging or less likely to happen. Factor into that rolling blackouts brought about by Snowpocalypse 2021 (and ERCOT’s lack of foresight & planning for cold weather they knew was coming), and the 2021 ToS was proving to be nearly impossible. But then that same weather caused the cancellation of school (ergo work) one day, then another, then another, and then: The entire week.

In spite of the rolling blackouts, I was able to use my smartphone to run The Sufferfest and pause the workout if the power went out; once it came back up: Resume the workout and finish as usual. Double-headers were still a challenge, but that was only one day. By today (Thursday), everything was more or less back to normal with reliable electricity (keeping ours in moderation so as to not overwhelm the grid, natch), connectivity to the interwebs, and everything else to live a lifestyle accustomed to in these United States.

This is not to discount the enormous suffering so many have experienced in concert with my own semi-blissful state of life at home with the family (Probably our worst came with Nicholle getting stranded in her electric recliner for a few hours.); no doubt, others have been far less fortunate. With reliable power/connectivity, I’ve been able to check in on my students, ensuring they are OK, and offering assistance if needed. Fortunately, all who have checked in have been fairing about as well as I have with sufficient food, shelter, power, and running water to get by with minimal inconvenience. Some even worked on (non-mandated) assignments to stay busy.

Winning.

Of course, 2021 hasn’t been even close to on par with the phenomenal year as 2011, but it’s been manageable. Life with the unpredictability MS ushers in has enabled me to be more accustomed to uncertainty, and even thriving where others might struggle. But that’s kind of what cycling does, too. To borrow from legendary cyclist Greg LeMond:

Life has been throwing a lot of stuff at us these past 13 or so months, but I guess life is always throwing a lot of stuff at us. Much like in cyclinging and The Sufferfest and so much more, what we do with what gets thrown at us determines our future: Sure, we can whine, we can complain. Or we can HTFU and do the best with what’s been handed to us. It’s likely to be uncomfortable. It’s likely to suck a little or a lot. But it’s also likely to make things better for the time(s) to come.

And, just like 2021 has taught us: If you thought 2020 was tough, just wait.

Thanks for reading.

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Narrative Writing Practice

“I don’t know why they keep listing my name and number with these things.”

It wasn’t quite the warm welcome, hey-come-ride-with-us response I was expecting when I called to learn about the Thursday Night Ride from the Old Bracken fire station off 2252.

I had owned my GT Force for a few weeks and had been venturing out on increasingly longer rides ever since and had finally worked up the nerve, the courage, the endurance to go ride with a group of cyclists—a peloton, the French word for “platoon” used in pro cycling for the mass of riders who work in support of one another to make it through the miles. 

Only I didn’t have near the endurance I would need.

When I arrived at the old Bracken fire station (I say “old” because their new facility was far larger and nicer and located several miles away; the old part of Bracken was now the city of Garden Ridge, and the amount of bracken in the area was quickly diminishing to make way for houses and businesses and schools), the field where we would park was full of cars and ordinary people, fresh from their day jobs, transformed into something extraordinary thanks to the marvels of Lycra and Spandex, helmets and sunglasses. Each had a bike worth more than the car I was driving.

Hurriedly, I leaped out of my car, unstrapped my bike from its rack, checked air pressure, and threw on my own helmet and sunglasses; I was no longer a mild-mannered computer technician: I was now a cyclist. A real cyclist heading out on a real bike ride with other real cyclists—and many were already heading out, so I followed the lead, tucking away the notion that so many were still in the field as I tucked in with the group.

Cyclists, as I would later learn, are a snobbish group of folk, due in no small part to the extremes of the sport, be it cost of bike or the miles ridden on said bike. This group was no exception, uttering not a word as a mile ticked by, then another, then another. Rocketing down the roadway (the bike speedometer read 21-point-something miles per hour—faster than I’d ever gone before), I knew where I was but was getting to experience the familiar in a whole new way, mentally making note of which was we were turning so I could later explore these same roads on my own or with hypothetical other friends I’d make through this new sport. But that didn’t last long, and, before I realized, we were in an unfamiliar area, where, to paraphrase U2, the roads had no names—or at least no name that was visible by street signs.

After another left, the pace intensified, and the roadway darkened as the foliage flanking the roadway itself intensified, reaching towards the sky like mitted hands hiding the sky save for a sliver. Balancing myself on a sliver of rubber some two centimeters wide at more than 20 miles per hour I knew this was what I had wanted when I reintroduced myself to cycling. It was thrilling to be zipping along the backroads between here and New Braunfels with so many strangers, and I glanced up as we swung right on the road and a railroad bridge came into view. Beyond that was a wall of gray as the road seemingly disappeared.

The part of Texas where I live and ride is known as the gateway or foothills to the Texas Hill Country, a topographical tangle of rises and falls in altitude. While not quite mountainous, the Hill Country and its outlying area are nothing to take lightly, especially if traveling by foot or by bike, as I was as I slammed into a twenty-four percent grade hill and the fast friends I naively imagined I had made demonstrated just how fast they were and I was not. Like a balloon tethered to the ground, my legs refused to turn as I became instantly aware of what it meant to be “overgeared” on a bike; I stayed put and the peloton floated away up the hill and away out of sight. I would not see them again.

Alone on the side of the road, gasping for breath like a fish out of water, I realized just how like a fish out of water I was. Though I wanted to think I was in my element, I certainly was not, so I began walking my bike up the hill in search of flatter earth to remount and pedal on in hopes of finding where it was I was supposed to go. In those days, there was no GPS, and there were no maps provided for the weeknight rides. But there was the sun, and it would be setting somewhat soon.

The ride was advertised as an “out and back” to New Braunfels and back again, and I knew how to get to New Braunfels and back—even on backroads, providing I could find one of the countless pathways that crisscrossed like so many arteries and veins making up this semi-remote part of south Texas, the lifeblood of farmers and ranchers allowing them to network their way in and out of neighboring towns and markets. I just needed to find one of these roads I recognized.

After a near eternity of twisting my way up a snake of a road, I happened upon FM 1863, a fork in the road that could take me back towards my car (albeit the long way) or on a shorter jaunt into New Braunfels. Because I needed to replenish my fluids, I opted for the latter in order to pop into the first gas station I came across and get what I needed to make my way back, like a dog: Head hung low, tail between its legs.

FM 1863 blasts down a hill into the outskirts of New Braunfels near Landa Park on a 5-lane stretch of some of the smoothest pavement this side of NASCAR. It was on this stretch I descended towards the Shell station that would serve as my salvation for not only fluids but also company: There were other cyclists congregated, ready to resume the ride back home. 

After a quick refill of both bottles, I managed to bolt out of the gas station in time to mount my bike and catch up with this slower-moving pack of cyclists for the ride back home. Here I would learn about the two groups to leave on weeknight rides (the “A” group left first and had an average speed in excess of 20 miles per hour, regardless of terrain, while the “B” group left a bit later and was a bit more lackadaisical; it would take me another almost a full year to work my way up being able to hang with the “A” group) and assorted other nuggets of knowledge needed for surviving group bike rides. I would also meet Laura and her husband JF for the first time. Their company and mentorship would guide me over thousands of miles and hundreds of hours on two wheels, on road and off.

Turns out there’s a lot to know about riding a bike, at least in the group environment. And while this first group ride I went on some twenty years ago remains fresh in my mind, as though it happened recently, there are other impressions left elsewhere on me, in me that are even fresher, even stronger. The disclaimer given on group rides (organized or not) is that it is incumbent on the cyclist to know his/her way; he/she needs to know what they are doing. And, sure, that makes sense: We all need to have some semblance of responsibility. But that’s not entirely how I choose to roll.

Since getting dropped on that ride, I’ve managed to work my way up to being a somewhat decent cyclist (note: I still get dropped by the countless cyclists in the area who are so much faster than me) through hours on the bike, outdoors & in, as well as cross training with weights, running, and rowing. Since getting dropped on that ride, I’ve made it a mission to, when on a group ride, to ensure I know if someone who intentionally or inadvertently takes off with a group that’s faster than they’re used to riding that they know where they’re going, they know what they’re doing. Since getting dropped on that ride, I’ve become somewhat of a super domestique, a workhorse for others in the peloton to help bridge gaps between groups of riders, to help those who would otherwise be lost and suffer along the road alone. Doing so has garnered respect from fellow riders while expanding the circle of those I call friends and fellow riders. Indirectly, getting dropped on that ride put into motion a chain of events, a series of relations that would lead me to meeting the woman who would agree to marry me. 

There have been adventures. There has been heartache. And since she’s developed MS and can no longer ride or run or even keep pace with daily activities so many of us take for granted, getting dropped on that ride has fortified in me the fortitude to do what I must so that she doesn’t get dropped. 
I attempt to take the same tack with my students at school, serving as domestique to get them what they need, readying them for their turn to pull at the front, so we can all make it through the months that make up the school year and not get dropped in the race that is life.

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Through October

Swim season was always tough.

Getting started with each school year is always tough to do—readjusting to routines, creating/executing lesson plans—but coaching swim added a whole new level.

The lack of a swimming pool meant we had to borrow lane time from the district next door, which meant 4:45 AM practices, which meant 4:00 AM wakeup calls in order to pick up the bus, then the kids who needed a ride, then coach for 90 minutes, then work a full day before getting home to be husband and later dad, entailing a whole slew of other activities. To say it was exhausting was an understatement. Some nights, I was in bed as early as 7:30 or 8:00.

And then the meets would start.

The first meet was typically held at the end of September with biweekly meets for the next several weeks, meaning that October was an extremely hectic and hurried month. And every year, Nicholle and I would feel the turning of the screw, the tightening of the stress on us as the days and weeks would wear on. Our (own) kids would feel it too, either directly or indirectly by my not being home or, when I was home, being too exhausted to be anything more than a collapsed lump on the sofa or bed; take your pick.

And every year, Nicholle & I would repeat what became our mantra:

Make it through October.

Weighing in at a full 31 days, October is considered by many to be their favorite month. And why not? Cooler weather, sports seasons underway, pumpkin spice everything, and Halloween (or Reformation Day for some) tops it all off.

But it was the stress of swim meets, a new house, Nicholle’s new diagnosis with MS, and, eventually a new baby that just really compounded things, giving rise to the mantra, the drive to just makeit through October.

Not that November presented itself as a finish line of any sort. Quite the contrary, life was every bit as stressful, but it was just knowing we would make (or had made) it through such a challenging time that made it seem worthwhile to promote October to some sort of a benchmark.

Maybe it’s because, as the tenth month, it grants October that glimpse of the good that is to come, kind of like mile 20 in a marathon—regardless of if that marathon is tacked on at the tail end of an Ironman: Even though it’s way past the halfway point, it’s not until you get to that twentieth mile that you’ve overcome the wall that is mile 18 and realize you’ve only a 10k to go until the finish.

I recognize that on the other side of October is a whole lot of school year, but, right now, this is all about making it through 2020. Teacher or student or parent or anybody else, 2020 has been a godawful year if ever there has been one in recent memory.

Like many other things this year, making it through October 2020 will prove especially daunting. Heck, making it to October 2020 was a challenge in and of itself, and no time was wasted on showing just how grueling of a month it was gearing up to be. From the president contracting COVID19 to missing out on even a virtual Bike MS to my own sheer exhaustion (I left work early on Monday because I could not stand for more than five minutes; I began writing this post in an exam room of my GP, waiting for my own COVID screening; it eventually came back negative), I’m feeling pretty done with 2020. With a lot of things.

But those are just feelings, and feelings will pass, feelings will fade.

I just need to make it through October.

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A Mile

Native American Bison Hide Moccasin Photograph by Millard H. Sharp

A month or two ago, I babbled about heading Into the Unknown with reporting for the start of the school year and how, as a professional educator, it was something that I and my colleagues would just do because, again, we’re professional educators.

But we’re still human.

Now four-ish weeks and two confirmed cases of covid amongst school personnel on my campus (none of which are purported to have had direct contact with other faculty members and/or students—which isn’t all too reassuring, given how long the virus can survive on sundry surfaces, coupled with the all but careless handling of everything from masks to food to touching things I’ve observed in my comings & goings) in, I’m not ready to completely eschew what I wrote but am given pause to reflect on not only my station in life but also my own mortality. Many of my fellow teachers have, too, in addition to pondering just how on earth we’re going to get done all the things we have to get done.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been in the education game for some fifteen or sixteen years now, have a master’s degree, or somehow give give the impression I know what I’m doing and/or talking about—or maybe because some find me “approachable” (teachers, right?)—I find myself as audience to others on almost a daily basis now.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy listening to my colleagues. I literally am here/there for them anytime they need an open ear. Heaven knows I’ve agonized them excessively with all the struggles I and my family have experienced over the past few years as Nicholle’s MS symptoms have worsened, her health declined, and all joy not stocked up in our children sucked clean out of life, so to listen to their concerns over the present struggles over the present situation is naught but part of what I am here/there to do.

Only this year, it’s been a lot more than usual; as I mentioned, it’s almost daily. Sometimes multiple times a day. And—this is new—sometimes tears are involved.

It’s not just one or two teachers, either, nor is it the same teacher, nor is it the new teacher who’s trying to figure out if they made a bad choice in profession.

These are supremely educated colleagues who are literal experts in their fields, at what they do. But what they do has produced more challenges in these first few weeks than several years’ worth of teaching ever did. And, yes, “challenges” is a euphemism.

This isn’t a situation isolated to just my campus, just my district. I’ve friends across the country in the education game and follow others on social media, so I’ve heard of, read of, experienced folk in the education game either experiencing for themselves or knowing first-hand someone who is experiencing…

  • Stress eating
  • Stress drinking
  • Weight gain/loss not necessarily related to above
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Exacerbated symptoms associated with chronic illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, and so on
  • Excessive doom scrolling
  • Inability to stick to a schedule or plan for one—even if planners themselves (these are teachers, ya know)
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Considering leaving the teaching profession

I get it: Everyone is struggling, everyone is hurting, but when seasoned professionals, veterans (often in both military and school service) are having a difficult time in soldiering on each day, keeping pace with the demands of in-person and remote learners, as well as providing support to parents and responding to their questions—to say nothing of juggling an attendance and grading interface that shuffles students daily—it gets to be a bit much. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better anytime soon.

With an increasing false sense of security with restaurants and bars and sports again reopening (I type this from my office annex while streaming a replay from today’s stage of the Tour de France—a race typically held in July but delayed twice with strict restrictions in place—restrictions that still didn’t keep the race director himself from contracting covid19), to say nothing to the fact that so many Americans either won’t or don’t wear a mask in public and/or take other precautions to keep themselves and their countrymen/women safe, I’m not entirely optimistic of how the fall is shaping up. Labor Day weekend was just a week ago. Coast-to-coast natural disasters, including some in the middle, are causing some folk to move when they wouldn’t normally, causing fluctuations in population all over. Oh, and it’s almost flu season, too.

This is not an easy time for anyone. This an especially hard time for teachers because we’re supposed to be the ones with the unbreakable poker faces. Schools are one of those institutions to be counted on to always have their collective acts together to support the community at any point in the game.

For a good chunk of my adult life, I’ve been an endurance athlete. I’ve done countless triathlons of varying distances, run and paced many half and full marathons, ridden my bike (indoors and out) thousands of miles each year, and have persevered with my wife through the struggles and challenges of multiple sclerosis, so it might seem that I’m at a unique advantage to handling the endurance event that is covid19. But even I’m not as strong as I used to be. The miles don’t tick by quite like they used to.

Rather than muse or wax over why (age, decreased mileage due to increased demands on my time by others, environmental factors, etc.), I’m just going to reflect on this sign my great-uncle & great-aunt had on their kitchen wall that said to the effect of…

Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.

Same goes for women, natch. And children, too. And everyone, to be honest.

We’re all suffering, we’re all challenged. If you find or feel your suffering is impacting you more than you can handle, please, seek help. Find someone who will listen, preferably a professional. But my door in B227 is most always open, and so is DM on Twitter. Take care of yourself, because this is really hard. But I think you’re doing great.

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And Even the Heavens Did Weep

The sky finally opened tonight, albeit only somewhat, seeping through some of the rain that had been building, teasing this parched parcel of Earth for so many days.

It wasn’t a deluge, nor was it a even much of a pattering of drops on shingles, a soft percussion to the harshness of the past near-two hundred of days. It wasn’t any of these, nor was it any of the other numbered types of rain Douglas Adams depicted in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. It certainly wasn’t Type17, that’s for sure.

No, tonight, when the clouds could take no more, they merely revealed their fault lines, traceable through the moisture slipping through those cracks and falling to earth, moistening the ground, as an eye tears when the wind is just so. But, despite the distant thunder, there was little wind, little much of anything, save a little bit of rain.

And yet it seemed sufficient, those sundry drops somehow satisfying the thirst of those below. It wasn’t the need to saturate the ground to make the crops grow or refill the aquifer so much as it was the need to simply relieve the pressure that had been building, literally and figuratively, knowing what was inevitable but just on some precipice unknown—what it is that keeps us up nights despite knowing the nourishment sleep can bring to mind and body but staying up anyway, worrying unnecessarily. An uncomfortable tension between two forces at odds with one another until both just succumb and let happen what we are powerless to keep from happening.

Sometimes, even the sky just needs a good cry.

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Into the Unknown

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

GORKON: I offer a toast. …The undiscovered country, …the future.

ALL: The undiscovered country.

SPOCK: Hamlet, act three, scene one.

GORKON: You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.

CHANG: (in Klingonese) ‘To be or not to be.’

http://www.chakoteya.net/movies/movie6.html

As the youngest of my folks’ kids, there wasn’t often I didn’t have a guide of some sort. To call my sister a role model would be an almost gross exaggeration of how I perceived her; “cautionary tale” would be much more accurate.

For example, when she, again, was busted one evening for breaking curfew, she screamed out how “Mr. Perfect” (her sarcastic nickname for how she felt my parents perceived me—though she wasn’t exactly wrong) also broke curfew; I just never got caught. After her grounding and being sent to her room, I entered in the guise of being the kind, concerned kid brother. Instead, I just let her know that her methodology was all wrong: When coming in late, one should never go through the primary entrances of the doorways, both of which led through the living room. After all, even if our light sleeper of a mother wasn’t waiting in her recliner, the shifts in air pressure by opening/closing the doors would alert her that someone was either coming or going. Instead, I offered, go through the windows.

Throughout most of my life, I’ve looked at what others have done in order to gauge how my own efforts should go. This has gone through both the example of my sister or other elders, reading academic and anecdotal literature (and I use the term loosely), or even pictures. It’s not that I have a fear of the unknown; I just like to know what I’m up against and how to achieve optimal results. So just imagine how I am with all of the unknowns associated with covid19.

From as early as January and February, when reports of a novel new virus had appeared in China and was starting to spread, N— and I began discussing plans; we’re like that. We made an ATM withdrawal to keep cash on hand and began limiting our outings. Observations of declining stock levels of some foods (frozen waffles, for example) and other items made it clear that something was happening. It just hadn’t happened here. Yet.

Frozen waffles were among the first covid19 casualties at the local super.

By March, we were no longer being social with anyone and decided to not visit the gym. Then the schools closed. First, for a week, then another, then for the year. By then, we’d secured devices for the kids’ remote learning and had a makeshift office set up in the main bedroom’s closet, affectionately dubbed the annex, complete with my own megadesk…err…workspace.

My own take on megadesk. And, no, I don’t have enough coffee. Further, you cannot use my stapler; it’s mine.

So now it’s July, and things are starting to take shape for the 2020-21 school year. By that, I mean everyone from my own superintendent all the way up the President (yeah, that guy) has said schools will be open this fall. Trouble is, guidelines just came out a couple of days ago and have led to more questions than they answer. Things are further muddied when realizing that the Texas Education Agency (the entity releasing those guidelines) are, themselves, quarantined at home and will not return to their offices until January 2021. They, like most other policy makers, are handling things remotely.

But students, custodians, teachers, counselors, administrators, and the rest of the countless cast of characters that make a school function, are expected to report for duty in a few weeks’ time.

And we will. Because that’s what we do: When students have a need, we as professional educators find it in ourselves to do what we need to do.

Are we anxious? Nervous? Scared, even? Probably a mix of those things. Myself, I am all of those things—not so much for myself but what it could mean for my immunocompromised wife and, by extension, the family unit as a whole. We have made tremendous sacrifice these past several months in order to keep our house’s microbiome as unaltered as possible, thereby keeping N— safe. Or safer, anyway.

In Act III, Scene 1 of Hamlet, the title character muses over the matter of death—the ultimate known—making reference to it as “the undiscovered country”:

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscover’d country from whose bourn

No traveller returns […]

http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/hamlet.3.1.html

While I am not fearful that I’m going to die (my affairs are more or less in order) when returning to school next month, I acknowledge there is a lot that is unknown or, at best, unclear. Exploration is aided by having the appropriate tools, including a willingness to explore. Hamlet further espouses this when, a few lines down says:

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action

http://shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/hamlet.3.1.html

So, come Monday, I’ll be helping the curriculum team with writing lessons for in-person and remote learning to help myself and my colleagues be ready to adapt to the ever-changing situation in which we—and our students and our families and our communities—find ourselves.

It’s what we do: We teach. We mold the present to prepare for a future, even if so much of it is unknown.

Ready? Off we go.

Thanks for reading.