‘Tis The Season

Making the best of this particularly wintery (and technically it’s not winter yet) holiday season has included a walk through Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh and watching Jim (aka the Irishman) try out his new skates on the rink, dinner with friends, and a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert.
On the heels of a few 60-degree and sunny days last week was Friday night’s ice and snow and Saturday morning’s 28 degrees at the start of the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for arthritis research. Fortunately, a couple thousand people still showed up – including yours truly, my daughters, and my two oldest grandchildren.
Notice the semi-creepy photo bomb?

Claire and Luca ran the 100-yard Tinsel Trot. It was Luca’s first race and he ran his heart out. Claire placed third.

Cassie, in her Chuck Norris shirt, ran the 5K in 22 minutes and change, and Carlene, Jim, Claire and I walked almost the entire 5K in 47. Claire’s legs were getting tired and we took a wee shortcut, but still managed to keep our time at a 15- to 18-minute mile pace. Considering I couldn’t feel most of my toes (and Jim wasn’t going to carry me on his back), I thought that was pretty darn good.

Claire choking her ride

Let’s see…what else…

The Happy Bookers are reading “Christmas Jars” this month, selected by my kind-hearted and always positive friend, Cookie (even her name is fun!). What a well written and engaging story. If there’s a little ice around your ho ho ho this season, I highly recommend you give it a read, preferably lying on the couch, wrapped in an electric blanket, and drinking wine. Or maybe that’s just me…

I’ve watched “Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and next week, I’m mailing out a few Christmas cards, despite what some bah humbuggers think of the tradition.

“There’s little point to writing a Christmas update now,” Nina Burleigh wrote in Time. “The urge to share has already been well sated.” Sure…if everyone you know uses email or is on Facebook or Twitter. Twenty people on my mailing list don’t have email, or if they do, it’s only because their kids set up an account for them and they’ve long forgotten their password. These folks don’t care about social media, either.

It may not be chic to exchange Christmas cards anymore, but I rather enjoy catching up with and staying connected to the people with whom I don’t text/email/gchat/ichat/ or otherwise communicate electronically. I like seeing photos of their grandchildren, their gardens, their RV trip across the southwest. In a social climate increasingly diminishing its attention span to 144 characters or less, it’s relaxing to read a letter summarizing a friend’s or relative’s year of joys, sorrows, and gratitude.

My dad sent me lutefisk, something I haven’t eaten since going vegetarian six years ago. Because I’ve added some fish to my diet, I am excited to renew the tradition of eating lutefisk during the holidays. I just wish my dad didn’t live so far away. It’s way more fun eating it with him, but Jim wants to try it, despite my warnings, so this could be an interesting meal, too.

Of course, you can’t have lutefisk without lefse. As you recall, I made 40 rounds by myself last month, but that lefse’s long gone, eaten by my daughters and sons-in-law on Thanksgiving. Because I send lefse to three of my siblings and my dad for Christmas, I need to make even more this time, so tonight, Jim and I (Team Lefse, as he’s dubbed us) will roll and flip and fold somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 rounds. I’m sure Christmas music will be involved. Tall, strong, carpenter boyfriend knows every word to “We Need A Little Christmas” from “Mame,” (he likes the Angela Lansbury version), and has two Christmas channels preset on his XM radio.

Come January, I will be tempted to take “a long winter’s nap,” but I’m moving in the middle of the month, so not only will there be no post-holiday rest, but I doubt I’ll find my “kerchief” for a while. In the meantime, let it snow, I guess. Complaining about it would be as useless as stopping the cat from playing with the Christmas tree.

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The Department of Happiness Has Reopened

I was all, “Look at me doing the advanced class!” last week at the Y, jogging vigorously in the pool and plunging Styrofoam dumbbells into the water, making figure eights. I was feeling the burn in my calves and the burn in my biceps and the…slippage. As in, the bottoms of my bathing suit were slowly creeping down my bum. I dropped the dumbbells and probably looked like I’d peed in the pool. I tried nonchalantly to pull up my bottoms, but my instructor noticed the barbells floating around me and mouthed, “Wardrobe malfunction?” My face turned a million shades of red, and the class, reading her lips, broke out in laughter.

Apparently the bathing suit string is essential. Who knew?

It had come out in the wash (the string) and I threw it in a drawer, like I do with hoodie strings that come out. Everyone knows what a pain in the butt it is to thread those things back through. But what doesn’t seem essential at the time has a way of making its lack of use known (sometimes with embarrassing consequences).

There’s been much talk since the government shut-down about what and who is “essential.” It’s gotten me thinking – especially since my bathing suit debacle – about what essentials I’ve “laid off,” essentials I need to…keep employed. And I’ve decided that the essential department I need to reopen in the government of Lynn is the Department of Happiness.

There are a lot of things that are essential in my life: eating right, exercising, relationships, love, “Call The Midwife,” “Downton Abbey,” the Pirates. But when I sort through the food and the gym and Netflix stuff, what is most essential to me is to be happy. And how I mean “happy” is that I don’t expect to have a smile on my face 24/7. What I want is to be happy with what is. What is now. This moment. This body. To notice what’s right in front of me and appreciate it for what it is. To read something I don’t agree with and not get all pissed off, or if I do, to read the words more objectively and reflect, not react.

Happiness isn’t all laughter and balloons and candles on a cake, nor is it limited to a perfect sunset or a first kiss. It’s seeing the rain outside and knowing you have to go out in it and that your hair will get all goofed up and yet…you can take in the disappointment that it might create. It’s that moment just before you drift off to sleep and the one you love kisses your shoulder, perhaps the first time the two of you have touched all day because of busyness or disagreements in between sleeps.

Choosing to be happy is a new concept for me, as is learning to be vulnerable. In a recent talk, Tara Brach asked listeners to reflect on these questions: “Do you experience happiness much? And when you’re feeling happiness or well-being, are you aware of it? Is it something you’re mindful of? And do you have a sense of what gives rise to happiness when it happens?  What is it between you and really being happy, being contented? Can you feel the life that’s right here in your body and sense nothing is wrong? Nothing is missing?”

The core teaching of the Buddha is that what we want most is to change the source of suffering, that we want what is to be different, whether it’s ourselves, our circumstances, our health, our parents, our lover, traffic, the price of gas. We think forward and forget now. We plan and we want. And there’s a place for those things! Goodness, without want and desire, we’d never get anywhere! But it’s where we place those things in our lives that matter. It’s in how we think about what we want to be different and how we crave things to be different.

2013 is the Chinese Year of the Snake. Until recently, it was mine as well. I’ve slithered through a lot of issues this year, circled a lot of decisions, and hissed at the changes and decisions I’ve had to make. I was happy only when happy presented itself. Now, instead of gracing me with its presence and throwing out crumbs of joy, happiness is a verb. It’s something I do, not something I wait for.

Happiness is as essential as the string that holds up my drawers in a pool. And, at times, as complicated and aggravating as threading that dang string through my drawers when it falls out. But still…

I choose presence. I choose awareness. I choose happy.

“School’s” Back In Session

Because this is true:

This must go:

To quote N’Sync, “Bye Bye Bye.” See you later, Popcorners! Welcome back, Greek yogurt! (BTW, did you see N’Sync on the VMAs? Not that I listened to a lot of N’Sync back in the day, but my kids did. It was fun to see them together again.)

As other people’s children go back to school (grandbaby Claire on her first day of Kindergarten…*sniff*), I’ve declared my summer food and exercise vacation over. Sporadic and once-in-awhile planning and implementation is out. Accountability is in.

It felt “fun” at the time – eating off plan a day or two a week, staying in bed rather than going to the gym – but fun has a price tag, both physical and emotional. You can’t maintain your weight eating your way through a box of pasta, even if it is whole wheat, or noshing on Popcorners and birthday cake, and you can’t stay sane telling yourself it’s worth it, because it’s not.

Of course, maybe that’s just me.

This summer wasn’t a complete exercise and eating disaster. Damage control is readily implemented with a few swift kicks to my arse and a purging of the Brie in the cheese drawer. Not that I’m damning Brie, but right now, it’s not a welcome guest in my fridge.

I’m not reinventing the wheel. It’s more like a chiropractic adjustment, tweaking (NOT twerking!) the  lifelong learning process of weight. Getting back in sync. Back to one small dark chocolate a day and all the other things that worked before. Salad…it’s what’s on the menu every day. Kale, chard, raspberries. Baked squash and lentil dishes. Homemade soup and cheesy quinoa. I’m even going to give wheat berries a look-see.

The mind is willing. The flesh is willing. Bring on the new “semester.”

X-Amount of Time

I couldn’t follow the dharma teacher’s guided meditation this morning to save my life. My monkey mind swung from thought to thought, and my body busted loose from every position I put it in, even though I was in the comfiest place in the world: my bed.

I sat up and took out my iPod ear plugs and said, “What? What the hell do you want?”
The answer I got was, “Live now, not later.”
Don’t ask me where that came from because I don’t have a clue. I often wonder if it’s not my past lives coming through (all of whom had obvious issues with patience) saying, “Come on already! Figure it out and let’s move on! Chop chop!” But I guess that wouldn’t really be embracing patience now, would it?
Anyway, I sat with that question and answer for a moment. Then I reached in the nightstand for a pad of paper and wrote this: “When my knee is fixed, when I lose 10 pounds, when this depression leaves me, when I’m done with school…THEN life will be the way I want it.”
Ha! Like some magic fairy is going to come along and make my life great – without any  exertion on my part – once x-amount of time has passed?! Fat. Chance.
X-amount of time will pass: One. Second. At. A. Time. And in those seconds, I am.
I. Am.
So instead of a formal guided meditation this morning, which clearly wasn’t happening, I broke it down into my own meditation.
I am:
1. A person who needs a knee replacement.
Sooooo….What can I do in the x-amount of time between now and surgery? “Duh…” say my impatient past lives. “You can still have goals!”

I can’t ride my bike and I can’t work out on the elliptical – two things I love to do – but that boo-hooing has put at least two pounds on each of my thighs, I swear. I CAN walk, for cryin’ out loud. Pretty well most of the time, despite the limp. And I can lift weights. And I can strengthen my core. So I set goals: To walk the entire length of my beloved 20-mile bike path twice before replacement, a few miles at a time. And every other week, my BFF Shari will join me, like she did today. So will Al.

Today, Shari, Al and I walked my favorite part of the bike path and I saw some old friends and their babies:

I’ll also pick up the weights again at home, and I’ll hit the gym and talk to a personal trainer. I might even join a yoga class, like I’ve said I’d do for how long now?

2. A person who wants to lose 10 pounds.
Sooooo….What can I do in the x-amount of time between now and when my shorts feel a little loose? PAY ATTENTION to everything I put in my mouth. It worked before, it will work again.
3. A person who is clinically depressed.
Sooooo….What can I do in the x-amount of time between now and the time I’m feeling less depressed? I’ve already started doing something about that (pat on my back).
“I met her in a Kuhn’s grocery store parking lot…” Sounds like a great beginning to a cheesy romance novel, but that would be how I met my AIM blogging friend, Debby. Google maps sent her 20 miles away from where we were supposed to meet, and when she called and said she had no idea where she was (which is totally understandable since Debby lives in California and has never been to Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh motto is, “If yinz don’t know where you are, go home.”), I went in search of her.
“Stay put, I’ll find you,” I said, and typed in her coordinates into my Garmin. (When I was a kid, I wanted to be Uhura).
We were supposed to meet – of course – at a groovy healthy breakfast place, but that was light years away from the grocery store, so we went to my favorite Mexican place, Mad Mex, where we ate pepita hummus, chips and salsa, and chopped salads.
Often, the Internet feels ethereal, so meeting Debby grounded me. I needed to be reminded that real people read my blog, real people write blogs, and real people interact with real people, just not always in person. Having said that, the Internet has a silent surrealness about it, at least it does for me, and I’ve been needing some real-life connectedness.
Last week, I met another online friend, who works at Clarion University, just a few blocks from where I used to live, and yet, we never got our s*it together to meet when I lived there. Melissa has lost over 100 pounds and, like so many of us, struggles with the “Can I/How do I/Do I want to lose more?” question, along with “Who am I now?”
We got along juuuuust fine *grin*
I also went to a Pirates game with my friend Rachelle.
The Bucs are doing great right now, but even when they’re bad, I can’t be sad at a Pirates game, thanks to Michael McHenry and Andrew McCutchen. …sigh…
4. A person who is still in school.
Sooooo….What can I do in the x-amount of time between now and certification?
Study. Finish my final projects. Pass my exam. There’s no room for wishy-washy, feel-good sentiment here. I need to kick myself in the ass and do it.
I. Am.
You. Are.
We all have x-amount of time between now and….when? I will do my best to fill that space with compassion. Fill that space with love. Fill that space with curiosity and questions. I just know I can’t fill that space with the future. It doesn’t exist.
“Live now, not later.” Life is the way I make it. Now.

What To Do With Busy


If happiness could fuel our bodies, I’d be as energetic as my 2-year-old granddaughter, Mae. Audrey’s birth yesterday, while obviously expected, filled me with a familiar yet inexplicable joy.

But happiness is calorie-free, so after taking care of three small children and eating an all-over-the-charts, nutritionally sketchy diet for three days, this nearly 50-year-old body is beat.
Lifting 20- to 50-pound children, climbing stairs, cleaning “accidents” (Mae is being potty trained), washing clothes, washing dishes, washing children…I thought I was in pretty decent shape, but I’ve discovered muscles I never found working out at the gym.
And forget about my resolve to eat healthy. Resolve got tossed out sometime  Monday night, like one of those old t-shirts you find obscurely lying in an alley, dirty and torn from the weather and from being run over by pickups and garbage truck; barely recognizable as a shirt. I had the option of eating a salad for dinner last night, but I opted for Tex-Mex Bean Casserole and Frosted Mini Wheats instead. What the…? My only excuse was that it was easier and I was busy.
I’ve been busy before and I’ve managed to stay mindful of my eating. But the kind of busy I’ve been involved in these last three days is a busy way outside my experience. That said, I’m beginning to understand what so many of you tell me you struggle with: how to find the time to make a plan and time to implement your plan. Believe me, I have a new-found appreciation/empathy/soft spot for your schedules and your struggle to do what you know is best for YOU.
When I started this whole weight-loss thing in 2005, my parenting duties were greatly reduced. Carlene and Cassie were grown and living away from home, and my stepsons visited their usual 6 weeks in summer and during Easter and Christmas breaks. I was self-employed and lived with my (then) husband, who was also interested in losing weight. I had personal time and personal space. Time and space to think about and implement my plan.
As you can imagine, today I’m carb-o-blah. Exhausted. Pretty much useless. Happy? Yes. But I’m definitely in need of a food adjustment. A food adjustment and advice.
I would love to hear from those of you who do double/triple/quadruple duty as parents or caretakers or employees or employers. How do you make yourself a priority? How did you learn to work your food and/or fitness plan into the fabric of your busy schedule?

Seven Times Slower

It’s been almost a month since my last bike ride, and in that time I’ve spent a lot of time logging miles in the Jeep, always with the intention of getting “there” as quickly as possible. So yesterday, when I got on my bike for the first time in four weeks and started pedaling, 10 and 11 and 12 miles an hour seemed really s….l…o…w. But as I rode down the familiar path at seven times slower than in my car, I became acutely aware of what I miss at 70 mph.

At seven times slower, I thought about how much I love this time of year, and that despite its bittersweet theme of death and decay, I cling to its promise of rebirth. At seven times slower, I smelled and heard the leaves above and beneath me.

At seven times slower, I noticed a cat slinking up a hill and I watched a pig sleeping in the mud of his large pen. At seven times slower, I became aware that a farmer, through whose land a mile of the bike trail cuts, found it necessary to post a sign, “Do not throw objects at turkeys.” What kind of person throws things at turkeys?

Anyway… At seven times slower, I said goodbye to my bike path friends for the season. The cows.

And the power lines that let me know I’ve reached the apex of that stretch of trail and it’s all down hill the rest of the way.

And the golf course the bike trail passes through.

And at seven times slower, I felt my body release its 70-mile-an-hour tension, fiber by fiber (even though I was pretty irritated by the whole throwing things at turkeys thing).

At seven times slower, I thought to visit my daughter and grandchildren. I see them several times a week, but usually always because of some need for one of them to be somewhere else. Yesterday, I sat in their presence and absorbed their essence (and snuggled with Claire in her genuine fire fighter hat that she sleeps with like a stuffed animal).

Tethered to my calendar of penciled-in appointments, yesterday was a gift gotten from a miscommunication involving school. It was like being set free, if only for a few hours, from the new tricks this old dog is learning. For many months I have been what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls a “human doing,” but yesterday, at seven times slower, I was a human being.

What Would Uncle George NOT Do?

Exercise has become so dull and predictable that I practically sleep through a workout. It’s the same old thing on the elliptical and recumbent – up and down, round and round, rote, like an actor playing Hamlet for the gazillionth time. I know every crack in the sidewalks around my neighborhood and every rut on the bike path. It’s Snoozapalooza!

It’s not that I’m slacking physically. I’m just not challenging myself psychologically through exercise, which is the very thing that makes exercise so important to my overall well being. Riding my bike in the same place, walking the same route, and reading books on my elliptical is safe. I like safe. There’s nothing wrong with safe. But safe can be pretty boring and unfulfilling.

I have no excuse other than complacency. I live near a park in which there are at 7 hiking trails, including 3.5 miles of the 35-mile Rachel Carson Trail. I take my grandkids to the playground there all the time, but I do little else than intend to hike there. Same is true for the infinite number of bike trails I’ve yet to discover in western PA. “Some day…”

My great-great-uncle George always used to say, “It’s plenty good the way it is!” George wore loose fitting dentures and had a heavy Norwegian accent, and he’d say “It’s plenty good!” with a dismissive wave of his hand. I loved George, but the man changed nothing. Not even his underwear. My mother used to sneak into his room and take his dirty clothes and wash them on the days he drove 35 miles to Sioux Falls to fill his tank because gas was two cents cheaper there.

I’m not knocking “plenty good.” Things ARE plenty good the way they are right now, but plenty good doesn’t translate to growth. And without growth, I would become complacent in more than just my exercise life. Good grief, the last thing I want to do is become that person who does nothing but talk about “the good old days.” That would be a big “Uffda!”

So last week, I got off my complacent butt and went to the park and hiked Pond Trail, which took me to…of all things…a pond. A really lovely pond with a wooden birding lookout made by a Boy Scout for his Eagle Scout project. It was a fairly easy hike, but the change of scenery was just enough to call out the part of me that welcomes and embraces change and challenge. That lead to this weekend in which I tried not one, but TWO new bike trails.

Saturday, I decided on a 13-mile stretch of the Allegheny Trail. I was a little nervous about it since I’d never been to the town where the trailhead was, and I didn’t want to look like a tourist. I wasn’t 100 percent sure (certainty is big for me) how to get to the parking lot described on the trail’s website, and Google was no help. So with nothing more than a good sense of direction, BF and I loaded the bikes and drove northeast.

A few miles in, Colton asked, “Do you know where you’re going?”

“Kind of,” I said, handing him the printed directions to the parking lot. “I can get us to instruction number 4, then you need to read the rest to me.”

“Ok, Puddin’,” he said. (That’s my nickname. Puddin’. No, you can’t call me that.)

As we got closer to the road to the parking lot, Colton said the directions were to drive past the entrance to the marina. What did I do? I drove into the entrance to the marina. Tourist! At least I turned around without running over the fisherman carrying a bucket of bait and an oar, and I eventually found the parking lot. We unloaded the bikes and started riding.

It started out pretty.

Then it got kind of industrial and urban.

When the trail stopped abruptly with no signs of where to go, I asked a biker who was coming the other way where the trail picked up. He said the next part of the trail went through town and that the gravel trail picked up at the power plant near the bridge. Goody. A bridge.

We followed his instructions and soon I could see the bridge in the distance.

Living here in the land of rivers, bridges are hard to avoid, so I suck them up and think happy thoughts when I’m driving over them or riding under them. Stopping to take photos was actually therapeutic. They’re concrete and steel, for cryin’ out loud. They aren’t going to grow legs and chase me, right?

We continued on into Kittanning.

Having passed – up close and personal – several bars and living rooms (there’s a stretch of trail in which the path itself is literally a front yard), we concluded we’d had enough urban and turned around at the 6.5-mile mark. We biked back to the car and agreed we were glad for the experience, but not enthralled. Too many people, too many roads, too many stop and starts.

Today, Colton wanted to head north of the Flannel Curtain to see his parents and do some work around their house. I really wanted to ride again, so I searched online for a trail near Meadville. I found the Ernst Trail, a rails-to-trails renovation that is 5 miles in one direction and runs along French Creek. No traffic, no towns. Perfect. Colton loaded up his hedge trimmers and I threw my bike on the rack and we were off.

I got to the trail at 2:45. It looked promising.

A quarter mile in, I was treated to this.

There was a slight incline all the way, which I knew would bring great coasting opportunities coming the other direction. And since the temperature was 86 degrees, the breeze would be welcomed.

The last quarter mile was steeper than the previous 4.75, and I had to downshift to 2. When I got to the top, I turned around and coasted down the hill. ‘You can do that again,’ I thought, and I downshifted and charged back up the hill. My thighs might hate me tomorrow, but the downhill was sooo worth it. I felt powerful. Best of all, I felt psychologically challenged again.

Tomorrow I’m going to hike a 2-mile loop in my local park. It is rated as easy-moderate, so I’ll probably do it twice. Or perhaps I’ll go back to the Pond Trail and do some bird watching. Either way, it will be my own personal mental-health-through-exercise adventure. Uncle George wouldn’t understand, but “plenty good” isn’t good enough anymore.

“What I Did On My Summer Vacation”

In grade school, we referred to the time between grades as “summer vacation.” It wasn’t defined by travel. It was simply time away from book learning.
I’m many years removed from 6th grade, but next week at this time – god willing and the creek don’t rise and I pass my finals – I will be on “summer vacation.”
In grade school, my only summer vacation plans were to sleep late and play flashlight tag as late as my parents would allow. My dad owned a grocery store, so of course I had to work, too. But it was a good gig and earned me enough money to afford as many Trixie Belden books and “Teen” and “Tiger Beat” magazines as I could read in three months.
This year’s summer vacation plans are a bit different. I won’t be tearing out posters of Shaun Cassidy and hanging them on my bedroom wall, but I will still read as much as I can. I will also work in the soup kitchen, blog more regularly, help my daughter plan her wedding, and take my grandkids to the park. A LOT.
I will also…..RIDE MY BIKE!
I know. Shocking. But it’s something I get so dang excited about, it’s hard to explain. I know many of you know what I mean. You’ve found your “thing.” That something you never dreamed you’d love to do, let alone get all mentally wrapped up in.
Biking is my thing, and every spring since discovering my love for biking, I get this angst of “What if?” I could never articulate it until I read “My Journey To Fit: A Forty-Something’s Weight Loss Journey” blog post yesterday. Shelley nailed my thoughts. I just substituted “bike” for “run.”
Here’s what she wrote: “Run the mile you are in”– Runner’s World posted that on their Facebook page yesterday, and it struck me: I seem to spend so much of my runs worrying about what’s around the corner – the hill (ugh, so high!), the distance (ugh, so far!),the wind (ugh, so strong!), the heat and humidity (ugh, TEXAS!)that I tend to not focus on and better still, enjoy the moment.  Because I really DO love to run. I think it’s just in my nature to want the circumstances to be perfect and easy…and we all know that doesn’t happen very often when it comes to running! But I am going to work harder on the mental aspect of it, and just BE a runner and stop fighting everything else that comes with it.”
What I will do on my summer vacation is all I noted before, PLUS, I will “just BE a biker and stop fighting everything else that comes with it” and bike the mile I’m in. There will be hills I’ll be slow to climb. There will be heat and humidity and I’ll smell bad and my hair will suck. There will be people on the path who don’t respect the rules. (Texting and biking? Seriously?) There will be flat tires.
But there will also be birds and trees and the rich smells of the forest floor. Most important, there will be freedom. That’s why I love to ride my bike. When I ride, I’m free – for an hour or two – from the everyday minutia. I am focused only on me. Just me. Am I hydrated? Do I need to stop and stretch that muscle? Spit out a bug? That’s freedom, my friends. That’s quality “me time.”
And speaking of “me time,” this weekend is the Pittsburgh Marathon. There will be thousands of folks out there concentrating on themselves for 3, 13 and 26 miles (plus a few yards), including my daughter Cassie, her husband Matt, Maintaining Diva Sondra, and my friends Jim and Kara. Good luck to them and to all of you doing your “thing” this weekend and every opportunity you have ! May you always live the mile you’re in.

Hello Bike Path!

This morning, I took one helluva test in Medical Nutrition Therapy. 100 points. Math was involved. Yuck. And it was timed. Afterwards, I was shaking and second guessing myself. ‘Dammmit, I should have answered that question another way. Wait…was she asking about PPN or TPN? Ugh! I’m stupid. I’ll never pass.’

It was 60-something degrees outside. Sunny, but a bit windy…25 mph gusts. I’d been up studying since 6 a.m. I watched the sun rise, I checked the weather a million times on my phone, and I thought about Bike. I’ve been eyeing her every time I pull in my garage the last few weeks, wondering if she misses me as much as I miss her. Bike needs a tune up, no doubt. But did she have enough oomph from last year to get me through a late winter ride?

Hmmmm…..

My mind was making me nuts. I had to get OUT of the house, and the only place to go that made sense was the Butler-Freeport Community Trail:  21 miles of personal peace. I worked out a whole lot of arthritis angst there last year. It was the place I said no to sciatica and yes to my thighs when they said, ‘Are you sure?’ while pedaling up a 2-mile incline along the outer edge of a gun range.  
I had to go there. So I slathered Vaseline on my face to protect it from the wind, and dressed in two layers of shirts, a jacket, leggings, and tennis shoes. I backed the car out of the garage and loaded up my bike on the rack. I felt strong and in control, even though it had been five months since I’d engaged in the bungee cords and straps ritual.

My body felt good hugged in form-fitting clothes. The snugness reminded me that I had one. A body, that is. It wasn’t lost in the perpetual layers of winter. And while I’ve gained 20 pounds since my lowest weight, my body feels stronger than it did at 125 pounds. I’m no longer afraid I’ll break. I felt so fragile back then.

With the sunroof open and the tunes cranked, I drove to the trailhead, wondering if I’d be the only car in the parking lot. I didn’t think so, but since I didn’t know the answer to question 17 of my MNT test, I figured what the heck did I know about anything?

But when I pulled into the lot, I discovered several people felt the same way I did. 
Fortunately, Creepy House Owner, who lives in the house at the entrance of the parking lot, was not outside. (For more info on him, read “ItSeemed Like A Good Idea: The Best Worst Bike Ride Ever.” More on him later.)

I took my bike off the rack and examined it. It was encrusted in last year’s mud and I wondered if it would carry me for the simple 40 minute ride I had in mind. I’d pumped up the tires before I left, and I had a tube and tire levers in my pack along with a pump attached under my seat, but it had been a year since I learned how to use them. What if I got a flat?

I stood there with my right hand on the saddle and my left hand on the left handle bar. The sun was warming my back, the air smelled so spring-like, and…ahhh!! I figured I’d walk the damn bike back if I had to. Nothing was going to stop me from riding. I had to. It was calling me. It’s like my body and the weather and the trail were a holy trinity offering salvation. Not riding was not an option.

I hopped on Bike my favorite way: with my left foot on the pedal and my right leg swinging over the seat like it was the back of a horse.

Hello picnic table! Hello campsite across the creek! Hello shelter that kept me and another biker I’d never met before and haven’t seen since dry in a torrential thunderstorm last year!

Hello ice and mud and the bug that just flew into my eye! Hello rapids!
Hello really tall bridge across Route 28 whose foundations are built like the legs of the Empire’s Imperial Walkers and scare me every time I ride under them!
Hello mile markers that remind me how far I’ve gone and challenge me to decide how far I’ll go! Hello Monroe Road that I pedal like hell across because people drive around the bend like they’re racing in the Daytona 500! Hello couple walking their dog off leash! Not cool, by the way!

Hello wind and sun and 65 degrees! Hello faint smell of woodsy western Pennsylvania! You’ll be in full smell soon.

I rode 20 minutes and turned around. While I wanted to go further, I knew my body and Bike needed time to “tune up” into the regular summer rides. I loaded my bike on the rack and drove home in the closest thing to a perfect state of mind I could achieve: Whatever happens, happens. School, weight, relationships, life. I’ll figure it out. Maybe not on the trail right now. After all, it’s early. It will rain and it will not doubt snow. But I rode Bike in western Pennsylvania on March 7, 2012 with no repercussion or consequence other than a lot of mud sprayed on my backside.

Bike will be going in for a tune-up next week. She deserves it and needs it. We have a lot of stuff to figure out this year!

Journey to the Center of the Pendulum

Most of us don’t consciously want to hurt ourselves. However, by driving our bodies beyond what they can do or, conversely, by not challenging them at all, we are hurting ourselves.

I’ve swung to both extremes of the exercise pendulum. I was an extreme exerciser for several years while losing weight and in the early years of maintenance. Body parts started falling apart and still I pushed myself because: A) I was afraid I’d gain all my weight back if I didn’t kill myself working out; B) I didn’t believe osteoarthritis was a big deal and I called myself a wimp (Yeah, that was real helpful.); and C) I was afraid of what all the pain meant. 
After knee surgery in 2010, I worked pretty hard to get myself back in shape, although not to the too-thin body I once had that hurt all the time. Things were going along pretty well until this past summer when my hip started to burn. I thought it was “just” sciatica and a tight IT band. Stretching helped. So did deep-tissue massage. And nothing beats a foam roller for working out the kinks in your glutes and those hard-to-reach muscles in the hip when you’re not in the presence of someone with a willing fist or elbow. 
I felt it most when I rode my bike (my favorite exercise in the whole world). Some days my hip would complain like a 7-year-old in the back seat: “Are we there yet? How many more miiiiiiles?” I’d stop a few times to dig my right butt cheek into the corner of a bench or the edge of a guard rail. Don’t think THAT didn’t get me a few strange looks from other bikers. But still I biked and sucked down Advil like Tic-Tacs and told myself it would go away.
Then in December, my hip did more than complain. Standing up became difficult and I stopped exercising almost entirely, adopting George Carlin’s philosophy on exercise: “No pain, no pain.” But exercise keeps me sane and not exercising feels as natural as breathing through my ears. It was time to get my head out of my ass and address the problem.
I went to the doctor in January and according to the x-rays, I have OA in both the sacroiliac and hip joints. She prescribed meloxicam (a prescription NSAID), and as much as I hate taking drugs, it’s made all the difference in how I move. Not a half hour after I took it the first time, I was on my elliptical working out with minimal pain.
Of course, having gone to the extreme of no exercise for several weeks, my lungs and legs let me know they were not happy. Thank goodness muscles remember, though, and within three weeks I was back to 30 minutes of cardio and 20 to 30 minutes of strength training.
In this journey to live in the middle of the exercise pendulum, I won’t push myself so far to get in shape and stay there. It’s about building what I can and maintaining what is complete. (This is true with weight, too, am I right?) And while my routine is not as intense as the routines of other people, it’s crucial that I stop comparing my abilities to what I could do in the past and to those who don’t have the same issues. Do I wish I could run like Sondra? Lift weights like Lori? Do lunges like Carla? Swim like Shelley? Box like Mari-Anne? Zumba like Kristin? Spin like Angie? Crush a Cathe Friedrich DVD workout like AJ? Absolutely! But I can’t and I won’t try and I’ve stopped wishing I could.
At least…most days *grin*