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Archive for the ‘home’ Category

Dream, Interrupted

After a much-needed reprieve, I’ve been trying to figure out how to return to my blog. So I’ll start with today. I may have to back track a bit the next few weeks, to piece things together before moving onto next year.

Gram and one of her many gifts

Today I want to write about my Grandma, Mary K. Franco, who died two weeks ago at age 97.

My Grandma embodied the word ‘home’ for me. Homemaker, homemade, homecoming . . . going home.

She rocked the house-dress.

We grew up 20 miles from the little town where she and my grandfather lived. Going home for the holidays has always meant going home to see Gram.

Mary K. Franco, 1912-2009

She was born Mary K. Monago in 1912, the oldest daughter of Cesidio and Annunciata Monago. Her mother died when she was a young girl. She grew up caring for her father and siblings.

My Gram was a woman of simple needs. She lived for her husband, Alley P. Franco, her brothers and sister, three children, nine grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, her lord and good food. I’m from a large Italian-Catholic family, so there was always good food and lots of it.

As a kid, I quickly learned being sick meant an early morning ride over the hill to Grandma’s house where she’d rub Vic’s Vapor Rub on my chest, wrap me in blankets and take good care of me.

When I arrived, she’d have hot tea with honey & lemon waiting. I’d get back into my PJ’s and set up on the sofa. Soon, I’d hear her chopping vegetables and the smell of chicken stock would fill the house. We’d have soup with pastina and fresh Italian bread for lunch, then settle in for As the World Turns, Guiding Light and The Price is Right. She’d do laundry or mending—but was always nearby, just in case. Before long, I’d hear the La-Z-Boy click and her soft snoring.

Grandma’s life centered on her family, her church and the community of Lewis Run, a tight pocket of Italian immigrants in Northwestern Pennsylvania. My grandfather helped build the church where they worshiped while Gram made meatball and spaghetti dinners to raise money. Grandpa’s Super8 film collection captures three decades of Franco & Monago weddings, christenings and anniversaries held at Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The first I remember was their 50th wedding anniversary when I was a teen.

Mary and Alley Franco

After she died I asked my uncle if they ever found love letters she and Grandpa had written to each other. No, he said, they were rarely apart.

My Gram had the one thing so many of us crave: time. She was rich with it and lived 97 years of good, quality uncomplicated time.

During her time on this planet, she taught those of us who knew her the meaning of faith, devotion, love, respect and fun. Bocci ball tournaments, horseshoe pitch and Easter egg hunts were always held in her backyard. What sparked her competitive fire most was a good game of Scrabble, at which she was unstoppable.

From her, the girls in my family learned to crochet, knit, sew, cook and be good mothers and aunts. She drilled into us the importance of keeping a neat and tidy home, (some took to it better than others). The guys, she taught how to recognize a good woman.

She never learned to drive or flew in an airplane, but somehow made it to all the important games, reunions, christenings and  graduations. Her frig was always stocked. There was a period where she worked at JC Penney in the mid- to late-70’s. But I never knew of her as anything other than Gram.

She grew roses and made food that left people asking for recipes, but never cooked with them.

She had a faith so strong that she seemed, at times, ethereal.

At the end of her life, Gram was filled with grace—for her family and the life she shared with us. She literally glowed. I got to spend time alone with her at Thanksgiving. I had a workout to do, but something told me I should be with her instead. She was winding down. I read her birthday cards and sang to her. I wiped her eyes for her and got her to drink water. We prayed. We flipped through the photo album my sister made of her ever-expanding family to help Gram recognize us and remember our names.

We are her life’s work.

She thanked me over and over again. I thanked her too, for everything, and held her hand.

She was a star to me. One of my favorite subjects. I took her to get her hair done for Easter Sunday in 1999, I think it was. I remember it being a great day. She giggled. She was embarrassed to be the center of attention with Kathy, her hairdresser, looking on. That’s when I started to call her Precious.

Here are some photos I’ve taken over the years. I’m so lucky to have had her in my life.

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I love Thanksgiving. Mainly because I love turkey. No, I love it all. I love going from the cold into a warm kitchen filled with people. I love the chatter and banter and seeing my family. I love hugging my grandma and playing cards with my cousins. And I absolutely love turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy.

I’m all about saying grace, and my goal is to stay in that frame of mind well into the new year. I have much to be thankful for, starting with Coach Ben, who patiently, diligently works to keep me on course; Coach Jared, Mike Cerimele and the folks at Velocity — who helped me square up after my injury; Phil, Gazza, T-Bird, Jess, Trish & Lisa, my Verducci-Breakaway teammates . . . looking forward to a great 2009; Tiffany Brown at Giant Bicycles, who gives me the fastest, most incredible bikes to race on; Matt, Kim and my other training partners at T-Town; Matt, who deserves a second mention because he’s such a great motivator and generous guy; Gene Durigan, without whom I wouldn’t have a slick computer to write on; Dave Q Pryor, who somehow calls me with freelance work when my tank is on fumes; my Lath, who’s zen-like in his encouragement of my goals; the many friends who’ve listened to me kvetch about how hard it is at the elite international level; all you kooky people who read my blog; Bicycling magazine, for giving me a forum to share my experience, and the good lord, for giving me a body that can take the kind of punishment I dish it. 

Just kidding about that last sentence. I love training, riding and racing bikes and seeing what I can do. You only live once, I say.

Since 2005 I left a great job, started a freelance business, moved to a new town, got married, focused on training and racing, made an uninhabitable living space livable, made the US National Team, shut down my business, got fast enough to chase after the Olympic games, worked through two injuries, and ran completely, utterly out of money. 

Giving up everything good and secure and reliable to jump head-first into a world where there are no guarantees has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The best part, so far, about doing this has been the depth of the experience, and the many smart, friendly and passionate people I’ve met—both in cycling and outside the sport. I’m grateful for every single one of them. 

Plus, I can now ride rollers using only one leg. That has to count for something.

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my mom.

I got to see my mom while visiting my brother and his kids around Halloween. She and dad made the drive from PA to Connecticut for costumed mayhem at Loomis-Chaffee where he teaches.

I’m from a football-playing family—my dad coached, brother played for the University of New Hampshire, and now he coaches the game—plus we’re from the football playing corner of the state, so the Saturday morning soccer scene is a novelty to us. We were treated to a classic New England fall morning for my nephew Ivan’s game. 

team_6855

team_6860

Ivan scored a goal, and so did his buddy Will. Their team won and played a great game for a gang of 6-year-olds. Good ball, nice footwork, excellent passes, kept the action moving down the field. I was really impressed. 

 

My grandma (Mom’s mom) turned 96 this week. Ninety-six! When I asked if that was true, she said, “I was born in 1912, Lizzy . . . you do the math.” She’s still pretty sharp, and a lot of her state of being has to do with my folks and their home-cooked meals, fresh veggies, frequent visits and playing cards and scrabble and keeping her on her toes best they can.

M&D’s trip to Connecticut was a quick getaway. Maddie and Ivan can’t get enough of them. It goes both ways. I’ve never seen my mom more radiant than when she’s around her grandkids. 

memom_68712

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When I tell people we live in a 10,000sq/ft warehouse, the first thing they do is look at me as if we’re rich (we’re not), and wonder how we heat it.

Our home is a concrete brick structure embedded in a working class neighborhood in the coal mining-turned-tourist town, Jim Thorpe, PA). Outside, it’s a curious industrial building attached to a row home. Inside, it looks like a New York loft. 

Lath’s passions are building things, pre-fab homes, mountain biking and the outdoors, so when he stumbled across a structurally-sound, nondescript vacant building in the heart of undeveloped wilderness and heard the price, he blurted out, “Sold!”

I was looking for a place to call home, and had we met first . . . I’m sure we would be closer to my friends in something that came with heat, an oven and a finished bathroom.

But I digress. Love does funny things to you. When we met he was camping out here, surrounded by books, sketch pads, a stereo, space heater and a bed . . . picking away at projects and wearing many, many layers. In the five years since, I’ve lost track of things I’ve done and learned I never thought I would do in my lifetime; one of them being shuffling 1-ton bins of coal around our basement with a pallet jack.  

So in the spirit of grace, this post goes out to Ellis (right) of L.U. Balliet, Inc., who brings us coal each October and who’s industry allows us to heat our living space affordably. And, to Lath, who’s single-handedly made a cold, dark building into one kick-ass place to live. 

At $215 a ton, rice coal will get us through the winter; and let us heat our space for around $200 /month. 

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Come ride with us!

Starting tomorrow afternoon, Lath and I are leading bike rides in Jim Thorpe as part of the Fall Foliage weekends, sponsored by the Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce. If you’re in the area  . . . come join us!

I can’t wait to see how many people we have. It’s so beautiful here right now. This past week, all the merchants were busy decorating store fronts, getting ready for thousands of visitors expected to stream into town.

We took the dogs up Mt. Pisgah this afternoon, to mark Indian Path, the trail Lath’s ride ends on. I may be biased, but the best way to see fall colors is from the seat of a bike, floating along, on the trail, with sunlight illuminating the trees. 


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If you love bike racing, and you love small town America . . . I can’t say enough about the race being held next Saturday, September 20th, in my hometown of Smethport, PA.

I mean, first of all . . . check out the original poster (left). It’s pretty cool. Mr. Porter, I need a framed copy of this.

Second of all, it starts right in front of the McKean County Court House, where my buddies Rich and Sue and I used to hang out, smoke my mom’s cigarettes (sorry mom), try out new swear words, listen to Journey songs and watch cars cruise Main Street.

If that’s not enough of a draw, you can win a gold pocket watch, then hit the Smethport Diner, home of the Hubber Burger, for some good home-cookin’.

This race started back in the 1890’s. My high school Social Studies teacher, Ross Porter, now Mayor of Smethport, lover of life and passionate historian has brought it back. If I find out the prize list, I’ll post it. I will say I remember my third place winnings in 2005 being something like $200. The town really gets behind this race. 

The only catch is this: In a word, Smethport is polite. So if you’re one of those elbow jostling, bike racing jokesters, don’t think you’re going to come in all willy-nilly acting like you own the town and its’ bike race. I’m serious. Here’s one of the rules:

All those leaning or swerving (or any other dangerous movements) during a sprint will be relegated.

This is not just a race, it’s a step back in time. Here’s a shot of the race start: 

I was going to kid around and say this was taken last year . . . but ok, it was taken in 1895.

And here’s a shot of the ladies and gents at the Hamlin’s house . . . two blocks from where I grew up. 

 

 

 

I’ll leave you with a copy of the race map, this years’ official poster (which I also need a copy of, Mr. Porter), and a link to the registration  info: 

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it has to be said . . .

I’ve been quiet lately. There have been things going on at my home track, where I’ve lived and trained and raced for the past 10 years, that have been hard to digest and wrap my head around. It’s nothing to be taken lightly, and it’s made it difficult to dig in and suffer this year in the name of sport.

If anyone tells you otherwise, don’t believe them. Getting better as an athlete has everything to do with your ability to suffer, usually in measurable doses—sometimes more than you can handle . . . but suffer, nonetheless. It’s a good pain, though. I generally like it. It tells you what you’re doing is working, let’s you know you’re alive, and the end result is usually worth it. 

I’ve had a hard time suffering this year. Making up, I think, for all the suffering I did last. I’ve worked through physical injuries, but this has been so much harder. How do you resolve it mentally when you believe in yourself, in what you’re doing, jump in with blind faith, are good at something to the point you’re willing to sacrifice everything to see how far you can take it,  . . . only to reach the highest level and be told “you’re kind isn’t welcome here, we wish you would go away . . . ”

People who are in charge of public institutions can’t use their power, influence, public and sponsor contributed money to create programs that exclude, abuse or demean a population—whether that population is black, white, female, gay, straight, Jewish, Muslim, . . . or otherwise.

If that’s what they want to do, they should leave the leadership to a more magnanimous character, excuse themselves and start a private club of their own.

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