Avocado Tree Trouble

As I may have mentioned before, I have an avocado tree that I sprouted when Benji was a newborn. It’s one of the few plants I’ve been able to keep alive – that is, it has survived despite my “care.”

Every summer, I put it on the front porch, which faces North and provides steady indirect light all day. The last few years it’s grown a couple feet during the summer months, prompting me to overcome my reticence and pinch off new growth. Even so, at the beginning of this season, I did some research and repotted it into one final, large pot with wheels. It’s movable, if not readily so.

Earlier in the summer, I noticed some holes in a few of the leaves. This happens every year; it’s one of the hazards of putting a plant outside. But when we got back from vacation in Friday Harbor, whatever-it-was had decimated my tree!

I took a leaf to Molbaks, seeing expert advice, but they had no idea. They recommended pulling the tree out of the pot (!) to look for culprits in the dirt, as well as checking every leaf.

Needless to say, that tree is never coming out of the pot. It would probably kill it, or me, or both of us, even to try. 

But I did decide to check every leaf, front and back, as before I’d only looked around the eaten areas. That search resulted in my finding this:

Which spurred me to check everything else very carefully. And that led me to find the other 10 of that caterpillar’s friends, some of whom were having a caterpillar party…

And a few of which had gotten very comfortable indeed…

Needless to say, I looked very carefully for any other avocado-leaf -munching killers. I didn’t find any more, buy Ian did a second look for me, and he found one more. Now I’ve added “find caterpillar pesticide” to my list for the next visit to Molbaks.

I will never look at The Very Hungry Caterpillar the same.

Friday Photos: Now We Are Four

Benji turned four on Monday. For his birthday, he asked not for more presents, but for money so he could buy the toy he’s been saving for with his allowance. So, at our small family party, we did a scavenger hunt in which Benji slowly found about $5 (in $1 bills, of course) from each family, giving him enough to buy the truck he’s wanted since he and Ian went to Seaside a month ago. A month is a long time to wait when you’re four!

On Tuesday, we acquired the much-desired truck set first thing in the morning, even before his 4-year checkup.

Speaking of the 4-year checkup, the long and short is that, after taking another urine sample from Benji, his regular doctor took him off the antibiotics — possibly the best birthday gift ever for me and Ian! The second sample was completely normal and healthy, no infection to be seen, and we’d already done the drugs for five days. The doctor said normally he’d only prescribe a 3-day course for a UTI anyway, so we were done! Hallelujah!

The other small birthday presents for Benji turned out really fun, too. First, Grammy and Papa Gary gave Benji a fort. That is, it’s really a lightweight square tarp with a ton of Velcro elastic bands all over it and a door and window on the sides. It’s kind of like a rain fly without the tent. You can use it to hook to all sorts of different things, such as (in a non-hypothetical example) kitchen chairs. Instant fort!

Mom and Dad gave him some small Lego sets, which has set off a Lego craze at our house. Fortunately, Ian and I are well-equipped to handle such a craze, having retained all our childhood Legos for just such an occasion. Right now Ian and I are mostly doing the building, as it requires a level of fine-motor dexterity and strength Benji doesn’t have yet.

Actually, that’s something I want to work on, but I’m not quite sure how. When he thinks he can’t do something, like put together Legos, he just gives up without trying, or with only a halfhearted attempt. I’m not sure how to encourage willingness to try and fail. Since Ian and I are both recovering perfectionists, we aren’t exactly the best guides here.

Anyway, last but not least, when Colleen and Jordan visited, Colleen wore a camo jacket that Benji really liked. They played a camo search game where she “hid” while wearing her camo jacket and Benji had to find her. It was quite a delightful surprise to receive a camo jacket of Benji’s own in time for Benji’s birthday.

In keeping with the Camo Game, here’s Benji being camouflaged in the park. Because scorching hot summer temperatures never stopped us from enjoying a fleece jacket!




Last but not least, and not related to Benji’s birthday, after obtaining our CSA share, we got to visit Papa Joe at his work yesterday. This involved a lot of shushing on the parts of us adults as we walked around the up-high mini-track that went around the main work floor, but overall Benji did a nice job. It was a bit of a vertiginous view out the windows from that vantage, too.

San Juan Island: Interlude

Our vacation is done – we got home yesterday afternoon. But I’m going to try to catch up what happened, albeit in order of noteworthiness rather than in chronological order.

Most noteworthy was having to get antibiotics for Benji, who developed a urinary tract infection while we were there. Actually, before the vacation, over the weekend he mentioned discomfort when peeing. I decided to wait and see if it stayed a problem in, and then with all the excitement, it slipped my mind. 

Fortunately, Benji has gotten better at expressing himself, because on Thursday after Colleen and Jordan caught their sea plane (!), Benji described very accurately the symptoms of a UTI: 

  • Always feeling like he has to go, but then not having any pee because he just went;
  • Pain during urination

I was pretty sure of his diagnosis, based on his symptoms. But of course we had to see a doctor to get antibiotics. That’s when it got interesting.

There were two medical offices on the island. We went to the bigger one, but the clinic couldn’t get him in until 2:50 pm, smack in the middle of what used to be nap time. It’s still quiet time, anyway. So we decided to go to the other doctor’s office, which was just 1/4 mile down the street, and see if they could get us in earlier.

Unfortunately, that 1/4 mile was through a construction zone. We waited for easily 15 minutes to finally have the flagger let us go. Then we couldn’t find the other office, driving in circles until mom finally asked a local where to go. That straightened us out.

That doctor could fit us in at 1:30 pm, so we took it. While we were there, Benji had to go potty, and they managed to get a urine sample-hooray! Because I really doubted we could get a sample on command.

 When we got back at 1:30, Benji found Happy Birthday to You, which we read twice. Their Dr. Seuss library was impressive. The nurse and doctor were both so nice! The nurse explained everything simply and clearly do Benji could understand. The doctor talked to Benji directly and was very kind and patient. He had 6 kids himself, so that probably helped. Benji told him:

If you remember when you were a little boy, it was afraiding to go to the doctor for the first time, so I brought my blankie so I wouldn’t be so scared.

The doctor solemnly agreed that he did remember how scary it was going to the doctor as a little boy.

Then it was time to get the antibiotics. I left Ian at the drug store-there was only one-and Benji and I went back to the house to rest.

Walking into the house, Benji tripped and smacked his head super hard on the cement driveway. I heard an audible thunk, never a good thing. 

So instead of going straight to nap, we iced Benji’s bruised head for half an hour.

After which he actually did nap, and we had to wake him up to administer the first dose, which was a 25-minute screaming disaster. 

We were all really glad for bedtime.

Friday Benji woke up feeling much better-I’m so grateful to have antibiotics!-and we’ve gotten better at taking medicine, too. But we were all happy for the end of Thursday.

Friday Harbor Vacation: beginning


Colleen and Jordan came up from California to join us on our San Juan Island trip. They stayed with mom and dad on Sunday night, and they all drove up to Anacortes in one car while we met them there in our car. We only had to stop once for Benji to use the bushes.

First we drove to the ferry terminal in Anacortes, about 1.5 hours. Benji did great.
Then we rode on the ferry, and Benji was a little too loud inside, but clearly didn’t want to be outside.

We had to wait several hours in Friday Harbor for the rental house to be ready. Just as we were asking ourselves what to do for all that time with an already-tired kid, there came to our rescue a drop-in play area that was well worth $7.50 for an hour.

Mom stayed with Benji in a play area while the rest of us walked around. Benji was sold on the play area as soon as he found the trains although mom said he didn’t play there the entire time.

We ate lunch at the slowest (possibly busiest,  – certainly full, but not exactly overflowing) fish and chip place ever. It literally took an hour to get our food-an hour of keeping hyper/exhausted Benji in a seat! Once we got our food, however, he demonstrated the correct way to eat French fries: dipped in first in a milkshake, then into ketchup. This from a kid who thinks plain, unseasoned chicken is “too yucky.”

At nap time, we were able to get into part of the house. I stayed in the room with Benji to help remind him to stay in bed, and at first he was quiet, if not actually sleeping. But when he started tossing blankets at my head, I figured nap was over.

Afternoon went decently well, considering the excitement of the morning. Benji and Ian went to the beach that came with our rental, and then after a rinse-off Benji played until dinner. 

Everyone else played a game after Benji went to bed, but I took a bath and read a book. Good vacation activity.


First thing, Dad and I rode our bikes all the way around the island. Yep. It took well under two hours, even not riding hard.

After we got back and cleaned up, it was time for American Camp.

Tuesday we all went to American Camp, which was mostly boring grass to Benji…

… Until we got to the beach, which was driftwood everywhere.
There were three separate driftwood forts; the best included a tunnel as well as a very nice little room. Colleen, Jordan, and I built another room on the other end of the tunnel.

We also raised the tunnel roof so it was high enough for Benji to squeeze through without getting stuck.
Benji bravely crawled through the tunnel, even having to squirm like a snake for a bit.
Benji loves Uncle Jordan and Aunt Colleen

August 9 is our anniversary, also, so Ian and I are going out to dinner alone. Our bed is in the finished basement, which is fine, except that there’s no door to keep wandering kids out. And the bed is very creaky, again with no door to block the noise. Ah, celebrating our anniversary as parents!

Building Character, One Mile at a Time

Yesterday, Dad and I rode Mt. St. Helens. I last did this back in 2011, also, and I remembered beautiful views and difficult climbing, with stiff headwinds on the way back. The roads were nicely paved, though. Yesterday was similar but also very, very different.

So I’ve been thinking about how to approach talking about this ride, because it wasn’t quite the ride I planned on doing. As you know, I normally don’t even mention my rides unless they’re really exceptional. Our St. Helens ride certainly was noteworthy. Yesterday I was going to talk about what went wrong, but after sleeping on it, I’m going to talk about what went well first.


  • The weather wasn’t too hot. This may seem like reaching for good things, but actually, we are normally scorched. Yesterday it was cloudy and high 50s for much of the ride, and then later the sun did come out, but it never got above 70. I actually wished I had my vest for most of the time.
  • A couple other people showed up! We didn’t actually expect anyone, so when two other guys showed up, we were pleasantly surprised. One of the guys was a little slower, but it worked out fine.
  • When the clouds cleared, we got some phenomenal views of Mt. St. Helens, and there were some really pretty stretches of road with nice scenery. One of the really amazing things about this ride is that as you come around corners and over hills, you get these stunning views of the mountain. Here are the pictures I took at the top. They actually weren’t the most beautiful views; some of the viewpoints along the way offered those, but I didn’t want to dig my phone out of my bag to get them.





  • Overall, the ride felt relatively easy. Dad and I were in good shape, and started off optimistic about our ability to set a new higher average pace and get some PRs. By the end of the ride, we felt like we had worked hard, but we weren’t completely exhausted (mainly for reasons to be noted below).

So overall, lots of good parts of this ride.

Not So Good

Nary 5 miles into the ride, we saw a sign that said “Loose Gravel – Next 35 miles.” This translates to “all the way to Johnson Observatory,” our destination. But we elected to just see what that meant, and for the next 10 or 15 miles, it really didn’t mean anything. Just a little extra bit of gravel in the shoulder, but nothing noteworthy.

That remained true right up until we came upon the long line of traffic stopped by a flagger. Ahead of the flagger, we could see some really bad news: A long road of chip-seal being freshly laid down as we watched. The flagger told us that all the cars had to wait for a pilot vehicle to come drive them through the work zone, and that we had to wait not only for all the cars to go, but then wait for our own pilot vehicle to come escort us.

We had ridden barely 20 miles at that point, and having driven 2.5 hours down there, didn’t want to turn around with not even two hours of ride time. So we waited, and got our own pilot vehicle. They wanted to make sure we didn’t exceed 25 mph up the mountain — ha! Anyway, that was fine. We were able to ride in the lane not yet chip-sealed, and then in the shoulder where the chip-seal didn’t extend.

We did deliberate some about whether to continue, if it was all like that; but the pilot car driver told us it was only a couple more miles, and then the rest was well-packed but un-sealed gravel chip-seal. Not my favorite riding surface, by any stretch, but not alarming like the loose, freshly-laid gravel. I kind of pushed for us to go on — after that whole drive, I wanted to make it worth it.

The ride up went tolerably well. The chip-seal wasn’t fully sealed — it still was gravel, without the final layer of tar/oil/whatever black gunk to hold it all together completely — but it was very firmly packed down and not troublesome to ride on. The shoulder, with its random loose bits of gravel, was actually worse. On the way up, we had no real trouble.

The climbing wasn’t a problem, the road was extremely bumpy and a little alarming at spots, but tolerable, and the weather steadily improved. The clouds cleared and we got some lovely mountain views. Dad and I felt strong and while we did feel like it was challenging at the top, it wasn’t the kind of grueling slog I felt at the top of Haleakala (presumably because I’d done barely 1/2 the climbing yesterday — 5,000 feet compared to 10,000).

On the way down, the un-sealed packed chip-seal was more problematic. Normally we’d have been flying down those descents, but with the gravel being only packed and not sealed, I (at least) took it much more cautiously. It was a bit of a bummer to only go 20 or 25, but I didn’t trust my ability to stop on that gravel. Every time cars went by — which was pretty often — another layer of dust and gravel went flying into me. I was filthy, I got tons of road dust in my eyes, and my bike paint job will probably never be the same.

There was some extra climbing on the way back, which made the ride feel like it was uphill both ways; and we did have headwinds, as I recalled. But really those were overshadowed by the unfinished chip-seal of the road. When we got about halfway back, we planned to stop at the Forest Learning Center to refill our water. But right before we got there, we hit the construction zone where the cars all lined up waiting for a pilot car to go the other way. We had to wait for a long, long time for that pilot car, and then we had to wait for the very long line of cars to go by, and then we were finally allowed to ride 1/2 a mile from the flagger to the Forest Learning Center.

Things got worse from there, at least for me.

So what you should know is that I’m terrified of loose gravel. I don’t have the best bike handling skills, despite years of practice, including multiple LCI trainings and bike handling clinics on my bike racing team. I’m just really concerned about slipping and falling.

I rode in the snow in Massachusetts, but was an effort to overcome my fear every time, and I did fall many times. But falling in snow isn’t that bad; you’re bundled up, at least, and snow is fluffy and soft (although, to be fair, ice isn’t).

What’s not fluffy and soft? A road freshly spread with tar and then unpacked chunks of gravel.

Suffice it to say that the interminable section of fresh, unpacked gravel literally brought me to tears. At first it was OK, but as it went on… and on… and on… I slowly descended into terror and misery so deep I just started weeping. I’m pretty sure my face was horrifying. I didn’t stop riding; but I rode and wept and doggedly fought to stay upright and moving forward as the guys I was with disappeared into the distance, and even Dad pulled away. I was just so terrified of crashing, and I could so keenly imagine the feeling of falling and having that gravel embedded in my skin, I was utterly overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with fear. I was utterly miserable, in the “depths of despair,” as Anne of Green Gables would say.

Terror, fear, and misery. Not generally associated with a positive bike ride experience. I imagine lots of people feel those when riding, but I don’t, usually, because I stick with what I know: Road riding. Call me a wimp, but I have always stuck with what I can do decently well. This ride forced me — literally — to ride through conditions I would always avoid. I would ride 50 miles out of my way to avoid that 5 miles of loose gravel, but there was no choice, no other road. If I wanted to finish, I had to do it.

So I did, terror, fear, misery and all. I finished the ride feeling unsuccessful, disappointed with my performance, discouraged, and wishing I’d done something else.

So What?

I’ve been thinking about this, though. And in the sermon today, I was listening and thinking about being handed a “hard word” — something you need to hear, but don’t want to hear. The sermon was in the context of a job, and I do have that in my work sometimes, but yesterday was a hard word for me about my character.

I have let fear rule my choices, not only in biking but in other areas of my life. The ride yesterday, being forced to confront that fear and, frankly, feel like the fear won… made me realize I don’t want to let fear rule my life. I was too afraid to look up from the road to see the spectacular views. I let my friends get away. I was alone, too afraid to try to stay with them. I was willing to give up everything that made the ride wonderful and worthwhile, just to try to avoid crashing.

Yet, crashing, is that so bad? I wasn’t going real fast, I might have gotten some nasty gravelly road rash, but unlikely to break anything. Ultimately, it probably wouldn’t have been that bad. A little painful, yes, but probably not more painful than being overwhelmed with fear and misery.

This ride and the sermon today made me realize that I’ve been willing to sacrifice the opportunities in favor of maintaining the safety of the status quo, because I’m afraid change might bring something worse. That’s always possible, but without change I can’t get to anything better, either.

I’m tired of letting fear rule my life. I want God and His priorities to rule my life first and foremost, whatever that looks like, however frightening.

Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias.

Friday Photos

I added a couple pink streaks to my hair.
I have pink hair now.

But my hair just doesn’t want to soak in the color, which is supposed to be a nice baby pink to match my bike (naturally! What else?). Aunt Dana wants to go more fuchsia next time, and have it fade to baby pink. I’m still on the fence.

Benji also got his hair cut at the time, but I forgot to take pictures because I was busy interviewing him for information to put in our very own planet book. We made a book about the planets because the ones he has don’t contain all the information he wants to know. Specifically, he’s gotten interested in “cut-outs” of planets, ie, what’s inside planets.

Here’s Benji playing with the slide. It’s the summer of the slide, apparently.

Here’s a superhero family selfie.


And here’s Benji’s first picture, which he took himself with my phone.

RAMROD 2016 Ride Report

The last time I rode RAMROD was in 2011, the first summer I started riding far and fast. Before that, I’d done a few 100-mile rides, including STP twice (STP in two days, to be clear), but that’s the year I rode 10,000 miles. I didn’t have a full-time job, and I had a lot of free time, which I spent riding my bike. That’s the year I rode 1,000 miles a month in May, June, July, and August, with September just shy at 920 miles. Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to have all that time.

Needless to say, life’s sure changed. With having a kid and a real job, I’m lucky to have Ian, who helps me get in two training-type rides a week, plus maybe one or two commutes with Benji in back. Life moves on! Maybe when I’m retired I’ll have time to do that kind of miles again, but until then, I’m enjoying what I can get. In fact, just the time it’s taken me to write this — a full week since the event — indicates how much change we’ve had in our lives!

I’m not going into a blow-by-blow description of RAMROD like I did last time. Instead, I’ll just say it was a beautiful day; Dad and I found a good, strong group of some of our friends, and we worked hard. I felt satisfied with my effort, and my average pace of 18.5 mph overall. Thanks to fast guys pulling our group, I also logged what I think may be my fastest two splits ever: 36 miles at 21.3 mph average, and 37 miles at 22 mph average. I can’t exactly take credit for it — I wasn’t riding by myself at those speeds — but I did hang on for those stretches, anyway.

The weather was beautiful, views of the mountain spectacular, and wildflowers were out. I didn’t take any pictures, but it was pretty much the same as last time I did it, only faster. I felt strong and took care to eat and drink consistently throughout the ride, and never had any bonking or issues with running out of fuel. It did get hot towards the end, but never felt truly, brutally, grilling-hot. The ice cream bar at the end was heaven!

That’s about it, I guess. It was a good time, but I don’t imagine I’ll have time to train for it again for a number of years. Next year, I’ll come up with some new goal. Meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy this hill-climbing fitness by riding up some other good climbs around here. Next up: Mt. St. Helens.