Author Archives: brennancm

About brennancm

I used to write fiction a long time ago and even published a couple of things, but then life intruded. I'm back. I write fiction. I submit fiction for publication or put it up in this space. Sometimes I blog about what I've been up to.

Bike MS 2021 – Progress Update

June the 1st

Bart’s Posse, left to right – Tiger, CB, and Captain Cookie

Eeeeek! Bike MS Tour de Farms is only 25 days away.

We’re only riding 25 miles this year.

I should be fine, right?

Two weeks ago, I didn’t think so. I started to let Tiger and Captain Cookie down easy. After each riding session, I’d say things like, “I’m in terrible shape.”

This led to, “I thought I was going to puke after my last ride. Maybe have a heart attack.”

Finally, I came out and said, “You know, I don’t think this is my year. I just haven’t trained enough.”

“That’s okay,” said Captain Cookie.

She was so understanding that I couldn’t stand it, so I softened the blow. “I’ll give it a couple more weeks and see if I’m doing better. I can decide then.”

“That’s fine.” Then Cookie took on undeserved blame. “Besides, as captain, I should have set up more group training rides by now.”

Nice of her to say, but I knew Cookie and Tiger were already riding many more miles than I was, and at a way faster clip. I was embarrassed to ride with them and reveal how dire the situation was.

Cookie set up a training ride about a week later. Previously, here’s what our training rides looked like:

Captain Cookie’s Wild Ride

Cookie rode 17.29 miles at an average speed of 9.54 mph

Tiger’s Swift Sprint

Tiger rode 13.15 miles at an average speed of 11.72 mph

My best showing (as of 5/24/21)

Aaand I rode 10.51 miles at an average speed of 8.79 mph

With a heart full of dread, I agreed to go anyway.

Now for a little background. I am not now, nor have I ever been an athlete. Being the slowest, weakest person in our little cadre brought back the trauma of junior high gym class, when two captains for [fill in the sport] took turns choosing people for their team and I was always picked last. Or at fitness test time, when they made you run a mile and the gym teacher finally gave up and told me I was done because there are only so many minutes in a class period.

But unlike almost any other physical activity, I actually love bike riding. I was never going to enter the Tour de France, but up until this year, I wasn’t embarrassed to ride in Tour de Farms. 

When I showed up at Busse Woods, Tiger said, “I was afraid when you saw my last ride it would freak you out.”

“You were right,” I said.

She made some excuse for her frighteningly excellent speed and said not to worry about it. Hmm. Then Cookie showed up and reiterated that they’d take it easy on me, it was going to be fine, etc.

You know what? It actually was fine. Cookie and Tiger took good care of me. They didn’t even sigh at my tortoise-like pace. They said it was comfortable, especially for a longer ride. They pretended I was doing them a favor! 

It always helps to ride someplace scenic and fun, and Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village is both. We saw elk!

A bull and a cow

Anyway, we here’s how we did:

I was encouraged enough to finally set up my Bike MS fundraiser, which you can access here: main fundraising page
or here if you’re on Facebook: Facebook fundraising page

We’re going to Busse Woods again in a couple of days. When we get up to 21 miles (or one more loop of the trail we did last time), I’ll know I can handle a 25-mile ride on June 26th. I’ll keep you posted.

New Chapter

BK just retired! His final day at work was last Friday.

I’d like to say he’s mostly been resting on his laurels and enjoying everyone’s congratulations. He’s basked in the well-wishes somewhat, but he’s also been busy. I woke up pretty much at my usual time this morning and he’d been up for hours already. Part of that time he soaked up the ambience in our loft, where he’s been hard at work. Over the weekend and for a few hours yesterday, he set up a desk he and Rocky got me for Mother’s Day. Much furniture assembly and reorganization was required. Doesn’t it look great?

My new, improved workstation

After that, he played bridge on his iPad, which seems more like retirement activity to me. As does playing guitar. He’s been looking forward to getting his calluses back and as I write this, he’s noodling around on his guitar, playing, changing his strings, etc.

BK also has an adventurous streak. I won’t say he’s given it free rein yet, what with all the furniture assembly, but he’s begun to explore it. This morning, when faced with a sour cream coffeecake (a retirement gift from a friend) he hefted a pastry knife and demanded, “draw yer cutlass, ye cowardly swab! Defend yerself!”

However, this soon segued into, “And I shall call you Sting!”

“I will do the stinging!”

Clearly, he’s going provide entertainment whenever he’s not improving our home environment. So far, I’d say retirement is going fabulously.

Bike MS 2021- a Post Pandemic (please!) Tour de Farms

After a past Bike MS ride with Tiger and Cookie

Okay, who here is in terrible shape after a year of not being able to use your gym? Show of hands, please.

(My hand is waving wildly in the air)

I’ve heard people refer to the “COVID-Twenty” or “Thirty.” My weight gain was less than twenty, but it was not in my best interests to gain even a gram. Losing the COVID Twenty or Thirty (or even Forty—I’m a cock-eyed optimist) would have been preferable.

So what’s my excuse, other than too much emotional eating? For part of 2020, my gym was closed. You just couldn’t go. At least they didn’t charge members during those months. Then the gym reopened, at something like one-quarter capacity, with temperature checks and masks and physical distancing required. I rarely went during that period, even with those precautions. Maybe twice. Then I quit going altogether around Thanksgiving when COVID cases were spiking. I considered returning afterwards for about ten minutes, and then we got THE VARIANTS. So I was like, “how about I wait until I’m vaccinated?”

Which is what I did. Two weeks after the second jab, I went back. I’d reintegrated strength about six weeks before then, but I was still in pitiful shape. Here’s a little tip for anyone closing in on 6 decades of life: try not to get out of shape. It’s not as easy regaining your muscles as it was when you were thirty or forty.

Anyway.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying, I’m not ready for Bike MS this year. Despite being comfortable riding 50 miles in past years, idea of only 25 miles is mildly terrifying. Especially when one of those miles is heading east on Keslinger Road, the hill that has caused many to climb off their bikes and just walk up.

And yet, I’m doing it. I’m posting this intention here, in my semi-public blog. That way, I’ll feel accountable.

So Far…

I rode 9.6 miles this past Sunday. In former years, that was a shorter-than-normal weekday ride. This time out, I thought I was going to puke. I also achieved saddle sores—the lady-parts were not happy, if that’s not TMI. Still, it was half again as much as I’d ridden up to that point. Baby steps.

I’ll post about my progress once in a while, either to kvetch or to kvell, depending on how it’s going. Maybe I’ll be ready by June 26th.

I realize with our past and present times and the resulting economic troubles, donating may be difficult, but if you’re able to support my fundraising effort for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, I’ll be grateful, as will BK. You should find my fundraising page here. If that doesn’t work or you have any questions, please contact me or post in the comments below.

Thanks for your support!

An Appreciation of BK

BK, aka Spouse Charming

As the pandemic wears on (and on… and on), I find myself reading productivity porn and wellness porn and anything I stumble on that makes me feel like I might someday sally forth to conquer.  Make the world a better place. Live long and prosper. All that kind of thing. One idea I’ve come across in a few places is that you should perform stretches before you get out of bed. I’ve tried a couple different routines.

Two discoveries resulting from my experiments: 

  1. Stretching before you get out of bed can increase your energy and even help alleviate aches and pains
  2. It’s very hard to accomplish one of these routines if you share a bed with someone. Seriously, you could put someone’s eye out or bruise one of their kidneys. 

Two more discoveries:

  1. I’m not going to kick my sleeping partner out of bed so I can perform morning stretches there.
  2. Being a creature of habit, if I don’t do something everyday for at least three weeks, I won’t remember to do it going forward.

So some mornings I start out cranky and achy. That’s the price of sleeping with BK. But I don’t want anyone to think this situation comes without its perks! I’m always finding new ones. I recently discovered, for example, that structural engineers can be filthy!

Now that BK works from home, I occasionally get to hear his work conversations. These include discussions of “erection drawings” and “riser supports.” When I overheard him say “a relatively stiff member,” I couldn’t take it any more. I allowed my inner juvenile free rein and immediately texted him: “Haha, you said ‘stiff member!’” 

Being quite the philosopher, BK mused that maybe one reason engineering remained an old boys’ game for so long was due to all the locker room talk. 

Thus endeth my little PSA for girls considering engineering careers. The women who are already engineers have probably heard it all already. I have a new appreciation for what you’re going through.

Another perk of living with BK is his tendency to make dad jokes. I’ll close with his most recent offering.

(Content warning: if you’re a fan of our former president, read no further)

“Donald Trump is so clueless that, until one of his staffers explained it to him, he thought Roe v. Wade was a discussion about how to cross a river.”

-BK

Ba-dum-ching. Thank you very much.

Read This: The Once and Future Witches

By Alix E. Harrow
Redhook Books/Orbit
Hachette Book Group

During the first few months of the pandemic, I’d pick up books that I probably would have enjoyed in normal circumstances and I couldn’t make the words on the page mean anything interesting or relevant. 

Then around mid-August, I discovered Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic and then N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became (as an audiobook, brilliantly narrated by Robin Miles). I was back. 

Not everything I’ve read in the interim was as fabulous as those two novels, but I was able to enjoy reading (and the occasional audiobook) more than I had in months. 

Another book that delighted me was Alix Harrow’s Ten Thousand Doors of January.  The characters and concept immediately hooked me, and I can recommend the book to anyone who likes portal fantasy. I read everything I could find by Harrow (she has some great short fiction available online), but I really waited for her next novel breathlessly, based on the title alone: The Once and Future Witches. It came out in October of 2020.

I’m a huge fan of Arthurian legend reboots, and the teasers I read about the novel also promised there would be suffragists. And naturally, with that title, there had to be witches.

I read it. I loved it. It might just be my perfect book. Feminist witches? Fascinating characters to love and hate? A plot that zips right along? Terrific use of language deployed in the service of all of the above?

I’m thrilled to enjoy reading again. I’d hate to imagine not appreciating this novel as much as it deserved. For me, the book succeeded so well that I chose it as my study book for the DIY MFA Writer Igniter Challenge

If you like your fantasy liberally spiced with alternate history and a feminist bent, you really should pick this one up.

Goosing the Muse

I’ve had difficulty writing for a while. Maybe since last March. I blame 2020. In response, I’ve tried shaking up my process somewhat—investigating new forms, brushing up on the basics, doing a LOT more reading, and reading differently.

One enjoyable strategy: I signed up for DIY MFA’s Writer Igniter Reading Challenge by Gabriela Pereira. It’s free through February 12, 2021, so if you’d like some guidance on how to read like a writer, this challenge could provide a valuable resource to explore that skill.

It’s a ten part class consisting of a short video (the longest is about fourteen minutes) explaining each concept she wants you to investigate. She then provides an assignment related to that concept.

The sessions included choosing your book, the protagonist, promises made to the reader, the inciting incident, secondary characters, the midpoint, theme, and more.

I found the challenge useful. It was a way to keep my hand in. Granted, I was writing ABOUT writing rather than making much progress on my WIP. Still, I can easily see that noting how a good writer puts together a good book could improve my future work.

If you think this sounds interesting, check it out here: https://writer-igniter-reading-challenge-2021.heysummit.com/

Why Be a Jerk?

So my sister posted a thing on Facebook. It’s likely you’ve seen it before now, but in case you haven’t, it shows Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and Kamala Harris.

There’s some controversy around this meme, including reports that the image was plagiarized. But even before I learned that much, someone posted on my sister’s page to complain that “Kamala Harris is no Rosa Parks and by the way Rosa Parks was inspired by Claudette Colvin; where’s her recognition?” Or words to that effect.

The conversation (or diatribe) went downhill from there. The objecting (and objectionable) poster went on to launch a stream of hateful rhetoric that made me wonder how she ended up Facebook friends with Sis in the first place. Nobody changed anyone’s mind, and nothing was done to advance civilization. Complaining because this popular composite image didn’t honor every last person who’s helped advance people who have unfairly been held back misses the point of the graphic entirely.

If we’re going to pick on every possible omission we see from someone with whom we disagree, we will never find any way to heal this country. It was imperfect before Trump’s election; it will continue to worsen until he leaves office. Biden/Harris are inheriting this mess. Based on their past records (imperfect, but showing some human growth) I trust them to try their best for every American–and not just for themselves, their family, and wealthy friends.

Even with our best efforts, democracy is a work in progress. And as long as we see it as a zero-sum game (where the winner gloats and humiliates the loser), we can’t make any progress. The only way anybody moves forward from conflict is by assuming some basic humanity in the people they’re dealing with. By treating them with respect. I’m saddened by how little of that I see on social media among people who list one another as “friends.”

Personally, I don’t have time for people who are more interested in scoring points than making the world a better place. Unless you’re willing to accept that the person you’re talking to is a human being with feelings, and to converse in a respectful way, please leave them alone. As my late mother would put it: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

That’s not just making nice or being politically correct. It’s simple civility–also known as not being a jerk.

Early Voting Report – 2020


In DuPage County Illinois, the first early voting site for the 2020 General Election opened on September 24th. I originally intended to vote the first day I possibly could, but there’s an important family birthday that day (Hi, Duchess!), and we needed to celebrate. 2020 being the dumpster fire that it is, we celebrate everything we possibly can.

It’s probably good I waited. On the 24th, the lines to get into the DuPage polls were newsworthy: as in, they appeared on national news broadcasts. I know people who waited three hours to vote. The rush died down a bit, and I went in about a week later.

The DuPage County fairgrounds site opened at 8 a.m. I arrived at 7:57 and parked where the guy with the traffic control wands directed. A faint drizzle had just ended. It was 49 degrees out. I couldn’t see the whole line, but I’d estimate somewhere between 30 and 40 people were ahead of me. Maybe 25 metal folding chairs were set out for people who couldn’t stand indefinitely, but when I arrived, I didn’t see anyone using them. Voters were good about maintaining at least a 6-foot distance, even without pavement markings.

Everyone was masked. Even if they were anti-maskers, they wouldn’t be allowed inside without one. I’m going out on a limb, though, and guess that anyone willing to stand outside for an unknown length of time in almost-rain to vote is probably okay wearing a mask.

Inside, the floor was marked, most of the workers were behind plexiglass barriers, and the voting booths were well-spaced.

Once I verified my voting status with a poll worker, I listened carefully to everything they told me. I’d heard enough about ways to get your ballot rejected that I wanted to make sure mine was accepted. That’s why I voted in person in the middle of a pandemic. I figured talking to a human would help me avoid making any mistakes.

There are people for whom it isn’t safe to vote in person, and here’s the main advice I’ve heard for them:

  • Register to vote (or verify your voter registration) ASAP; some voter rolls have been purged
  • Request your mail-in/absentee ballot as soon as it’s permitted
  • Carefully follow the directions included with your ballot, and
  • Mail in your completed ballot as early as you can

I was told to put my completed paper ballot into an envelope labeled “absentee ballot,” but the poll worker explained that I was filling out a normal ballot. The envelope was provided for security. There were glue sticks in the voting booths which allowed me to seal the envelope without having to lick it.

The rest of my experience was unremarkable. Both voters and poll workers were businesslike but pleasant and courteous. I dropped my ballot in the ballot box and the special pen in a labeled basket, picked up my “I Voted” sticker. Then I slathered on some of the hand sanitizer they provided, and headed out to take on the rest of the day.

26 minutes, in and out.


Voting feels awesome. Do It !!!

More Links:
Making sure you’re registered
Election protection
Voter assistance
Accessibility
More on voter purges
Become a poll worker

Read this: The City We Became

By N.K. Jemisin
Hachette/Orbit

Re: The City We Became

When I say “read,” I mean listen to the audiobook. I like audiobooks–some more than others. This one left every other audiobook I’ve ever heard sitting on the side of the road wondering wtf happened.

The story itself is great, no question. Jemisin kind of bitch-slaps Lovecraft (only in the most entertaining way). But for me the audiobook took it to the next level. I was able to borrow it through my library, which I always appreciate. I’m not always able to get the audiobooks I want at the library.

While the production values were great and the director’s choices and special effects were apt and very enjoyable, it still wouldn’t have been as wonderful without Robin Miles’s narration. She channeled the myriad voices of Jemisin’s novel brilliantly, but my favorite touch had to be the way she recycled Pat Carroll’s Ursula (of Disney’s 1989 Little Mermaid).

I have more book recommendations in store, but I just finished this one (and was left sitting by the side of the road wondering wtf happened), so that’s my tip for today.

Bike MS 2020 – COVID-19-Style

Summit
Summitt is ready to go!

This has been such a strange year that my usual summer highlight—riding to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society—was completely up in the air for months. Because of COVID-19, it wasn’t clear that the Illinois ride—Tour de Farms—was even going to happen.

Eventually, we learned that the ride was still on. It’s just not happening in St. Charles, Illinois with herds of people riding together. This year the ride is virtual. Everyone is participating however they’re able to do it safely.

Our team (once known as the Power Pedallers) recently rechristened ourselves in honor of our inspiration (and my husband) Bart. With a terrific name like “Bart’s Posse” how could we not ride?

BikeMSBartsPosse_062320
Bart’s Posse: Tiger, me, and Captain Cookie

Captain Cookie, Tiger, and I will ride about 24 miles and we’ll document the feat with photos and maybe even video—or at least, the best we can while maintaining social distance.

June 27-28 is a big weekend for Bike MS rides all over the country. I don’t know how well the MS Society is labeling posts about local rides but if they do, the one we’re participating in is called Tour de Farms. Here’s the Bike MS Facebook Event Page (where they’ll be going live on June 27, 2020): https://www.facebook.com/National.BikeMS/

The virtual event starts at 9 am CDT. I believe it goes until Monday, June 29 at 1 pm, but I’m particularly excited about the 3-4 pm CDT on Saturday, June 27. There’s a big fundraising push during that hour, so if you were planning to donate to the MS Society via my fundraising page, I’d love if you did it then.*

The money we raise goes toward researching treatments and cures. It also supports and educates those who are dealing with the disease. MS hasn’t gone away or taken a vacation, even with everything else that’s going on. That’s why I’m still raising funds and why I hope you can contribute if you’re in a position to do so.

We’re in challenging times. Most of us have been under emotional and/or financial strain. There are many good causes that deserve support, and you might already have donated to some of them. But if you’re able, we’d really appreciate your support of our cause this year. We ride for Bart, for Madolyn, for Janet, for other friends and family who are fighting MS, and in memory of others.

Here’s the link to my fundraising page.

Thank you** in advance and take care of yourselves!

* But if you’d like to donate, and that time’s not convenient, please don’t let that stop you!

** Many, many thanks to those who have donated already! You’ve been so generous, George A, Elizabeth J,  Irwin G, Thomas M & Family, John M, Dr. Mickey S, Emmi M, Katherine L, Madolyn L, Steve and Lorie R, Ann L, Mary S, Robyn T, Sara G, Beth N, Tim Y, Randy B, Cecelia M, and Lori K.