The Lumpy Bumpies

Today I realized how close I am to turning 50. I may crash my brother’s 30th high school reunion tonight, and mine is just around the corner. And I thought turning 40 was hard.

Of course, I’m still 46. But not for long, and I feel like my body is slowly giving in to this whole age thing. I can’t stand up without a creak or a pain, I can describe about five places in my body that hurt chronically (upper arm, arch of left foot, right hip, lower abdomen, boobs). My teeth have coffee stains, my hair is greying at the roots.

Welcome to the Old Hag stage of life.hag

Blindly optimistic, I chip away at banishing this evil twin. Although triathlon training probably contributes to many of my aches and pains, it is also a time balm. In the pool today I found a rhythm I haven’t found in a year, and ended up swimming 45 laps when I only meant to swim 30. Maybe my new goal would be 46 minimum for every year of my life. I would need time, as I am not very fast.

More time in the pool=strength. Pool time also calms me down, stretches out sore muscles and is an all body workout that is unrivaled.

Hopefully my new running shoes will cure my arch pain. I kept having other financial priorities and waited way too long to replace them. Don’t do it, people! Buy new shoes every 500 miles minimum as otherwise they stop supporting your tootsies. 

But some pain doesn’t go away. The boob pain is disconcerting, upsetting and hard to manage. I mean, it looks weird if I massage yourself every time it hurts, or walk around with ice taped to my chest. Apparently I am prone to cysts, which I found out after a few alarming visits to the doctor and ensuing ultrasound. I also have lumpy, bumpy breast tissue, as one radiologist told me in a consoling voice. This means I have a lot going on in normal times, and it’s hard to tell what is a bad lump and which is a good.

There is a wonderful Ted talk on the politics behind why diagnosis isn’t better for women like me.

Take the time to watch it if you are not aware of different densities and how it can affect a mammogram. Watch it for yourself, your wife, your daughter or your friends.

They do have digital imaging at the hospital I frequent way too frequently, but 3D imaging is too expensive and not covered by most insurance. Ultrasound is helpful with my type of breast tissue, but it’s easy to miss a lump in the mass of dense tissue.

If this envelope of skin, muscle, blood and bones I call my body can hold on so that I can meet all my goals. Short term I’d like to make it in one piece to and from Pleasant Prairie Irongirl Triathlon in two weeks from now.

If I can be a role model to my son, Balletboy, who spends hours pushing himself physically as a dancer, that also will make me happy.

And I’d like to spend some quality years with the Brewmaster, who is the most wonderful partner I could ask for. We’ve survived traveling, house projects and all the other litmus tests I have thrown at him.

So hang in there my twin, Old Hag, and help me ride this lumpy bumpy roller coaster of life. We’re going straight to the top.


Posted in breast density, Parenting, relationships, running, swimming, Triathlons | Leave a comment

Taking Flight




I’m sort of afraid of falling. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Apparently my recurring dream of falling down infinite flights of steps is a common one. I just happen to have lots of these dreams. I have all the aspects of this fear; vertigo in high places, small panic trying to mount stairs with space between.

Fortunately, I also have a strong will to push beyond this fear. I constantly work on overcoming my phobia.Dont-let-the-fear-of-falling-vinyl-wall-design

Today I took a monumental fall on my bike. I came out virtually unscathed; just some road rash, but I am feeling lucky. It wasn’t a full speed wipe out. You’ll probably not see me in one of those as I don’t race that often and am not often in the thick of it when I do. 

I fell into a ditch. A big, steep ditch. I was taking a lovely ride with Ironcelloman who was being very patient with me on some big hills. We had decided to do one last hill to see the view and then head home. It was a steep one and there was no way to get up any momentum since we were turning off a flat road, but Ironcelloman ate it up. I stopped at the top to let a car pass before turning around to coast down. I unclipped on the downhill side (smart!), but somehow lost my balance and toppled down the ditch. 

The beautiful Iowa countryside, featuring me coming up a hill with Ironcelloman far ahead shooting the pic

The beautiful Iowa countryside, featuring me coming up a hill with Ironcelloman far ahead shooting the pic

Fortunately there was a lots of grass growing there. Fortunately it was sandy under the grass.

I had visions at one point of heading down the whole ditch. I was laughing like a maniac and I could hear Ironcelloman telling the driver of the car that had stopped that I was ok. He said her eyes had popped out of her head like a cartoon when I lost my balance. I passed him my bike and climbed clumsily up the slope, swallowing my pride and thanking the bike Gods that nothing was broken on me or my bike.

Apart some wicked road rash and soreness, I am good. Considering I am due for a three hour opera rehearsal every night this week, this is a good thing. I’ve showered and put both antibiotic cream and arnica gel (great for bruising!) on my rough patches.

Road rash selfie post-clean up

Road rash selfie post-clean up

Those of you who know me know I fall. A lot. I also am just plain accident prone. It could be postural. Or mental. Or all of the above. I know it worries the Brewmaster. He told me to call if I got into trouble today. I told him I had a bike kit and that Ironcelloman would help me if I couldn’t change my tire on my own. I wasn’t thinking particularly about getting pulled out of a ditch, but horror stories about several people who just got hit by cars on bikes were in the back of my mind.

So why do I ride if I fall off? I know some people are probably thinking, “Ya know, you don’t HAVE to get on a bike!”

I do it because I love the scenery. I love my sore muscles afterwards. I love telling myself that no matter how slow I went, I didn’t stop and push my bike up the hill. It gets better with training (no need to hear Little Miss Excuses on the long Iowa Winter and all the other reasons I’ve gained 10 pounds and am out of shape), and it actually for the most part helps my balance. I can go much further than on foot, and I really am excited to do another triathlon in August.

So I will keep riding, and flying downhill, even if I’m plodding uphill. And I will continue to laugh. A bunch!



Posted in cycling, Triathlons | Leave a comment

Old dogs, old tricks

Old dogs. Such old dogs we are. The Brewmaster is moving in and we have been doing some Major Projects. He rebuilt my deck, built a shelf in my kitchen for my cookbooks (after trying to convince me that I can do it all online), and built shelves for the basement to put stuff away on. For starters. Ballet Boy even joined the fun and donated most of his old Legos and toys that he has NO TIME for since he is dancing pretty much 20 hours a week when he is not in school.

But I bristled a few times at suggested changes,  like sound-proofing our teaching spaces so we can both teach at the same time. This has been my home for 12 years, and I already have issues with my students and their parents stomping through my house. Add another set on and it will feel like a music school. We can work out opposite teaching schedules. We can make it all work. Mostly I’m so grateful to have someone at my side, helping me with projects, dreams and there to pick me up when I’m down.

Do you know how old it is to teach an old dog new tricks? Well, try just getting a couple of old dogs to do anything. Old or new. It’s not easy.

I’ve been feeling so old as I try to start working out while on vacation last week. I’ve gained so much weight that my last run felt like I had a little kangaroo baby with me. “Roo” was jiggling away. I started a little litany in my head of everything that I had eaten on vacation that was not helping, “Chocolate fudge thingies, s’more thingies, brat thingies, G and T thingies…” It was a very unpleasant run, only improved by some really nice guys I met along the hilly route around local lakes. Like the one in the “Walleye Grampa” t-shirt that leered at me and a pick up truck that heckled me as I turned around at the local bar, Zhateau Zorba. For years it was good ol’ Chateau Paulette’s, with different bands playing every night. Now it is Zhateau Zorba.  Zorba’s sports a live dj and dancing on Zaturdays. Zats all cool. I decided to highlight it back to the cabin for more wine thingies to add to my little food pack around the waist.

10333332_10152209800761025_1866775882748130759_oBut really, how many times do I have to start over on my exercise? Can I not learn the lesson? Nope, Old Dogs can’t learn even old tricks. I should really know by now how painful it is to start over. I met lots of turtles on my one week vacation to MN, but none as slow as me.

10451008_10152205916206025_3587068252356053368_nBut I am revelling in the thrill of pushing myself back into shape.I had a great bike ride and an ok run on vacation, and did a lot of kayaking and canoeing. It was way too cold to swim without a wet suit. The lake made for an awesome mega ice bath for my foot/ankle post running. 10476397_10152207825226025_8214929332008904220_n

I got all excited about swimming today, packed my bag and went to the local indoor pool. The outdoor opened yesterday pretty late in the season due to leaks and a lot of work that had been done, but I wasn’t ready for the long pool and no lane markers. I needed a good calm swim. I should have known getting out of the car and seeing all the happy kids coming out that it was swim lesson season. When I got in and was told there were lessons for two more hours I was crushed as I had a busy teaching day ahead. When I got home I’m proud to say I got my running gear on and went out in the 91 degree heat and humidity. It was not pretty, but it happened. I really hope to swim tomorrow since I DON’T have lessons to teach.

There was a small moment of panic this week when I realized I am doing a triathlon in August that I’ve paid for. I thought for a moment that all my friends that are going along had signed up for a half-Ironman. I actually truly believe myself capable of one if I can get out of my slump, but right now I’ll be happy to survive a sprint distance (which is what the Pleasant Prairie Irongirl is, after all.) I also plan to run another half-marathon in the fall. Onto the next workout!

Speaking of Old Dogs: my Rosie is 8 1/2. She got 5 ticks on this trip. About the same count as the guys. Fortunately the Frontline took care of them as she’s had both Lyme’s and now just got diagnosed as a carrier of Anaplasmosis, another tick-bearing disease. Old dogs, lots of ticks. 10363129_10152210420126025_4066113961215411067_n


Posted in cycling, dogs, relationships, running, swimming, Triathlons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monday Muffins: Banana-Chocolate Gluten Free

Monday Muffins are back! Now that my college-teaching and orchestra season are both over for a few months, it’s time to focus on reality. My garden. My training. Food. More food.

As you may have noticed, my Monday Muffin series is not as much about creating my own recipes as testing, tasting and often modifying (sometimes on purpose, many times by accident or omittance) other wonderful chef’s recipes that I find online or in books.


Today I decided that my brain was only going to process bits and pieces. After waking up with my son, I tried to do some online work for Pearson and was going to have to turn to tech support for some issues. Instead, I ended up back in bed, hunkered down with my shaggy mutt who was terrified of a major Iowa thunderstorm rolling through. I dreamt of hiding in a basement with my mother and son, thinking we were riding out a bad storm but then realizing that we were actually being bombed by some unknown enemy.

I’m not disturbed or anything.

Since I’m still moving slowly, some “healthy” chocolate muffins seems like the perfect treat for Ballet Boy for after school and pre-dance. No dairy, no butter…coconut oil, almond and coconut flours, and lots and lots of chocolate. I used Costco chocolate chips.

I did NOT weigh the flours as the blogger said you should. Bad Amy. I don’t have a scale, so hopefully the lumpy bumpy batter will produce something awesome.

Here is the recipe:

My apologies to author for not following instructions. They look yummy…but I will let Ballet Boy be the judge. Sometimes I feel so bakery-item-deprived as a gluten intolerant–too much so to be objective! If they are good, I will send some to my son’s ballet teachers who work so hard and eat on the fly. If they are not good, well, there will be some in three days when the Brewmaster gets back from teaching in Missouri.



Posted in Monday Muffins, Nutrition, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One step backwards, two steps forward

String pulled taut and ready to release, I am an arrow notched to a bow, pulling backwards before moving forwards.


Or this is what I felt like running hills yesterday. Why were they so hard? Why was I slow? Why did 3.2 miles feel like at least 5? I really did run a half-marathon last spring. It just constantly feels like moving backwards.

But if I look at the bigger picture, I really am moving forward. Most of my life I would have laughed if anyone said I’d be a runner, or a cyclist, and especially a swimmer. Apparently I just need to backtrack sometimes to really want it more. As I ran I came up with a plan: get faster on 5k, do some races. Get faster on 10k, do some races, train for second half-marathon in the fall, complete it much faster than first one. Sounds simple, right? Yet in the past I’ve only focused on distance, not speed. 

After a couple of frustrating weeks for my music career, I realized I need to come up with a better career plan and stop hoping to transform my colleagues and work environment. This goes with the “Let it Go” theme of an earlier post, but more importantly, if I don’t move on, I will become bitter and petty. That is not me. I have a lot more integrity and respect for others.




When I started to articulate a plan involving change, however, little Miss Excuses reared her head. “I can’t move to a place that would be bad for Ballet Boy…I can’t afford to go to national orchestra auditions…I don’t have time to practice at that level.” Can’t can’t can’t. The Brewmaster listened patiently (he is very good at this). But he knows I CAN’T stay in this niche, that it is becoming a very uncomfortable place.

Now my cello bow is also set and ready to fire. Image

In the immediate future I’ve come up with a thematic recital: a study of studies, or etudes. All my life I’ve heard that I am a very musical player. Although I take this as a big compliment, for some reason in the back of mind this implies I am not a technically proficient player, that I hide that behind beautiful sounds and ideas. This recital will be a fun way to show that technique is only useful when it serves a musical function, but also build my own confidence in my own technical proficiency by performing works that showcase hard technical skills.

This morning I went online and looked for cello jobs and orchestra openings. They are few and far between, and nothing with good timing for now, but I vowed to myself that this would become a regular morning habit, just like I plan to have regular Friday weigh-ins and stop avoiding the 8 pounds I’ve put on since November. 

Since I can’t accept mediocrity, I can’t change my situation, it’s time to leave it. Ready, aim, fire!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Better and Beyond

I should be feeling pretty good. This weekend I ran my first 5k of the season, and in spite of really sporadic training, I managed to finish in around 32 minutes. For me, this is a pretty good time. It was something under a miracle. I blame Candy Ass, as she has been training at much faster paces all winter on the Dreadmill, and I got right in behind her at the start. “Hey Candy Ass, I’m right behind your ass, as usual!” I yelled. Then I realized there was no way I could keep up a 9 minute pace or faster the whole run.

In spite of my asthma kicking in on the last mile, I broke the finish with my Darth Vader-like rumble coming from my chest. One of my 7th grade cello students smoked me at the end, but I didn’t fight that one as we have great conversations about triathlons as he is a champion swimmer just starting to dabble in the bike/run fun. I look forward to commiserating at his lessons about spin sessions, the pain of a bad run, and our muscular aches and pains.

It was a wonderful day. The Brewmaster and some other friends walked the whole course, while Ironcelloman, Candy Ass got some wicked fast times (somewhere around 21 and 26 minutes respectively). I talked friends into running with us that haven’t run in years, or were sick all week. Ironcelloman’s wife did the stroller pushing thing (a lot harder to run that way!) and had a great time. We all had brats and beer back at my house later, and it was one of the most relaxing days I’ve had in a long time.The Brewmaster and I finished the day with ice packs to ankle and knee, like two happy Old Farts on the couch.

But I couldn’t help thinking: what if I really trained? What if I hadn’t let my gym membership slip? What if I stopped making excuses? And then I realized that these thoughts are kind of a theme for 2014: I need to face up to some slacking.

Last week I performed with a local symphony I don’t usually play with. I was “first chair” cello and led the section. I also had a few solos. Normally in the past I would have enjoyed this, but I got unusually nervous. I felt jittery, couldn’t count measures and just felt way under par. I wished I had beta blockers, which musicians sometimes take in small doses to control the shakiness that nerves and adrenaline referred to as performance anxiety.

It all turned out fine, primarily because I thought of the advice I give my students: breathe and focus on the musical idea and shapes, not on what other people might think. But I also remembered my main advice: you won’t feel nervous if you feel prepared. The concert went great, but I still felt as if I could do a LOT better. That I used to strive for more.Blog-low-balling-illustration-321x301

In my twenties I lived in France and subbed for a local full-time symphony. I remember clearly cellists in their 40’s putting their instruments in their lockers after rehearsals and thinking, “I will never be that person. I will take my cello home and keep practicing.” When I moved back to Iowa, I remember looking around one of the symphonies I play with now and thinking, “This is okay, but I could do better. I won’t be one of those people celebrating 10 years here.” Yet I’ve passed that anniversary. I’ve stopped preparing as well as I should for rehearsals because I can “get by.” Just like I did in my race this weekend.

When did I quit? I can’t pinpoint it. I know motherhood, grad school, divorce all took a toll. But there is never an excuse. I like what I do; I’ve just lost my musical Mojo. More importantly, I feel a little like I’ve fallen out of love with myself. I need to find that confidence again that comes from striving to move beyond my current plateau.

I am in awe of Ballet Boy at a point in his life where he has so many goals for his dancing career and musical compositions. He works so hard to get closer to those, like a bird flying towards the sun, never caring if he starts to feel the heat. He inspires me to do more, to love more and to keep flying.

Hopefully this blog will be a testament to that journey to the sun. In the meantime, I’ve got to go. I need to practice, and I’ve gotta run.


Posted in Parenting, running, teaching cello, Triathlons | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What you learn from music, besides music…

This is a cry for help. This is outrage, incredulity and shame.

Last week our school board announced a $3.6 million dollar budget cut. It was no surprise that music is again on the cutting block. It was a shock that foreign language and football also were. Even more shocking was that our superintendent has announced that this is a done deal. Non-negotiable cutting of fourth grade orchestra and seventh grade general music, all seventh grade languages, the complete phasing out of German language classes. Seventh grade football eliminated as a school-sponsored sport.

Apparently the board had studied the numbers, crunched them, and decided this was the best way to proceed. No significant cuts were made to six-figure salaries in the administrative office. No parental input was sought. Ironically the board adopted a diversity policy last year, intended to protect low-income groups in our district,  but these cuts directly impact families that can’t pay for musical instruments or private lessons. These families can’t afford private language lessons for their kids to help them be competitive when it comes to college-entry exams and AP tests. Yet, our superintendent has announced that this decision is irrevocable and even hired an attorney last year to “deal with parents.”

The parent of one of my students asked me to articulate why I thought the music cuts were detrimental to our district. Immediately I thought of all the research that makes it very clear that starting an instrument or a foreign language at an early age is important.

Un a recent study published in the British newspaper “The Guardian,” Wang, the author of the study, notes “ that musical training that started before the age of seven appeared to thicken areas of the brain involved in language skills and executive function, which is a person’s ability to plan and carry out tasks.” (Read the whole article here:


What the article continues to note is the impact on the brain’s development, how learning an instrument can actually improve cognitive skills beyond musical knowledge. These changes to the brain improve performance in all areas of reasoning.

In my own experience, music teaches all of my students many important life skills. Almost none of my young cellists will become professional performing musicians. A few will become music teachers in public schools. Most will go into life with the appreciation of a wonderful art that brings beauty and meaning to our lives. Through a musical kaleidoscope, my cello students learn many talents. Through hours of practice and performance on the cello and sometimes multiple instruments, they are discovering how to:

1. Be independent. Music is not like a sport, or even my son’s ballet lessons, where the participants receive daily feedback from a coach or teacher. Music teaches students to be autonomous; they practice independently (most parents feel unqualified to help) and always have to count rhythms when playing in a group.

2. Solve problems. In our lessons, my students learn to first identify an issue, then choose how to fix it. As a teacher it is my responsibility to arm them with a bag of tools to fix something that is not working, or to steer them towards a solution. If they don’t use this process, they are probably just repeating their errors over and over again. I remind them that they need to as analytical as a doctor, who wouldn’t prescribe aspirin for every patient that walks in the door without asking a few questions.

3. Reap the rewards of hard work. There is a great satisfaction in chipping away at a skill and finally mastering it. In music this often culminates as a concert, similar to a presentation by a research team or a finished product for a commercial business. Musicians know this does not come easily, but only after hours of hard preparation.

4. Be patient. Music students learn that hastiness or cutting corners won’t get you far. Sometimes I have to remind my students that a week without practice will make the next lesson feel like they are trying to give a book report when they haven’t read the book. At all. You can’t bluff or hide behind your instrument. However, in due time, your hard work will pay off if you practice slowly and patiently. Like the Ents in J. R. R. Tolkein’s novels, it never pays to be hasty.

5. Forgive yourself, brush yourself off, and try again. Not unlike an athlete that does not perform well in a race, musicians have to learn to deal with failure in a performance. Nerves, lack of preparation or a lack of focus can make even the best musician in the world have a bad day. I remind my students that often the audience has no clue that you’ve made an error, and the best approach is to keep your poker face on and focus on the ride ahead. The more we create opportunities to perform, and the more hours that are spent in the practice room guarantee better performing conditions.

Kwasi Enin recently became social media phenomenon and  a national celebrity after being accepted to all eight Ivy-league Universities. His application essay was recently released and Enin largely attributes music to his intellectual curiosity and abilities. ‘The self-guided journey known as music in my life excites my mind every day. My heart sings every day because the journey is already wonderful. Although I hope that my future career is in medicine, I love that I still have much to learn about and from the world of music.’ 

Read more: 


Let’s not cut programs that can’t exist or be equitable without public funding. Let’s keep music and foreign language in the schools . Let’s raise a generation that understands and can make meaningful connections to culture and the world at large. Let’s teach our children to teach themselves, and to delight in that process.

Posted in Cello, Parenting, teaching cello | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment