Monthly Archives: February 2015

Walk this way

I don’t belong to a gym or fitness club. There’s no room for home gym equipment where I live, even if I was moved to spend money on something like a treadmill, stationary bike, or rowing machine, which friends, I am not. These items make up my home exercise equipment:

Five-pound handweights and push-up bars

Five-pound handweights and push-up bars

A hoola hoop - because anything is better than sit-ups or "crunches"

A hoola hoop – because anything is better than sit-ups or “crunches”

I’ve got a jump rope too but nowhere all that practical to be jumping rope. Sometimes I jump inside and try not to smack anything.

All that being said, fitness and staying in shape are important to me, a central part of my life philosophy, so I get outside a lot. That’s a good bit easier when the weather’s decent but I realized a long time back, you can’t sit around 3 months out of the year waiting for weather conditions to improve. (Things can really go South in that time if you do. I’ve never forgotten what a fitness teacher said in an exercise class I took many years ago: that it takes six weeks to get in shape but just two to fall out. It ain’t fair but there it is.)

I walk. I’ve walked for years. I make myself walk.  I recently read that the Amish have an obesity rate of less than 5% AND they walk 14,000 steps a day. (Curious about their life expectancy, I just checked and found it the same as the rest of the population.) I am fortunate to live in a community where it’s possible to do a fair amount of walking while generally staying out of the flow of traffic. And besides, I don’t have a car which certainly lends itself to more walking.

However, I think people feel sorry for me! Sometimes I get offered rides when I’m walking on purpose. One time, I was in the adjacent town, several miles from home, where admittedly it was kinda hairy be walking, at least in some areas along the road, where there was no public sidewalk. Three people offered me rides and I started to feel guilty! I realized, in retrospect, that I was dressed too nicely, as if my car had broken down or I was stuck out walking along the road for an unfortunate reason. (I dressed a lot more casually, scruffier, the next time I walked the same route and was offered no rides, lending credibility to my theory.)

I think what has happened culturally, at least in this semi-urban area, is that walking on purpose has become weird, particularly for a “nice, middle-aged lady” like me. What is she doing out there? She should get a car and drive to the gym – I really think, whether they’re conscious of it or not, that that is what people believe. They don’t see the point in walking. I know that’s not true for everyone – thousands of people belong to local hiking groups – but that’s more about driving somewhere scenic and then walking around, as opposed to walking in your everyday life (which ain’t always so scenic and involves dodging cars).

The longest trek I’ve done locally – and not too recently – is two miles out to a big park which has a 5.5 mile trail through the woods, and then 2 miles back home. I’ve even biked over and locked up the bike while I walked the trail. I’d rather do that than say, go over to the high school’s outdoor track and walk around in dull circles with a boring view of a housing development and a road.

The thing that is worth saying, is that I almost always feel better after I walk, especially if I get in a couple miles. Probably need that many in order to have endorphins kick in. A walk to the corner mailbox does not endorphins make.

When the weather is bad and wicked cold, I go out so I’ll appreciate how nice it is to come home and get all warm-and-cozy. Although, it occurred to me recently, in a spate of cold, snowy, low-temps weeks, that my thinking might be a little like the old joke about a guy who hits himself in the head because it feels so good when he stops.

I want to walk because I can. While I can. For as long as I can.

Let’s make crocheted leg warmers!

When I was a kid I first learned how to knit (that’s two long needles) and it was okay. Then, however, I learned how to crochet (one short needle with a funny little hook on the end) and oh baby, that was the one for me! I liked crocheting much better and had aptitude for it. In fact, when I was a teenager my adventures in crocheting peaked with a Grand Champion ribbon at the “County Fair” one year. I made this sweater (don’t ask me how; it looks hard).

I still have said photo – from a magazine (you didn’t think that was me frolicking happily did you?) – because I cleverly taped it to the back of the winning ribbon to save with keepsakes. The prize came with cash too, but I’ve forgotten how much (but was thrilled with that part).

It’s good I have the photo because not long after the fair I unraveled the whole thing – crocheted sweaters made from yarn are really itchy and where was I going to wear this thing anyway? Knowing me, I likely wanted the yarn for something else. Now, if I could go back, I don’t think I’d unravel it, but there you go.

Over time, I made other things, including afghans, for each of my sisters and my mother. I know they liked – and kept – them, but I’m kind of appalled by how many crocheted afghans I see these days languishing at thrift stores and yard sales. Some old Granny’s hard work tossed onto the scrap heap…

My crocheting came to a halt in my late teens soon after I moved out on my own. My time got taken up with other things; the usual fare of work, school, relationships. I really didn’t much see the point of crocheting, especially when clothes and accessories were increasingly less expensive, all the more so at those aforementioned thrift stores. Why crochet a scarf when you could find a perfectly nice one already made for a dollar? Besides, once clothes were eliminated for itchiness, what did I need that could be crocheted?

A couple decades rolled by. I would think of my old hobby from time to time. Maybe, I thought, the point wasn’t the end project so much as the pleasure in the making. I remembered crocheting as fun. Although I finally gave away the last of my yarn, I had never gotten rid of my old crochet hooks, if only out of sentiment. You know they’re old: they’re stamped USA.

It started to bother me that I’d so totally abandoned a hobby I once enjoyed. In Fall 2013, I found a big stash of yarn for a low price at a church yard sale. I rooted around in a bin that nobody else showed much interest in, and chose these.

A year rolled past. I wasn’t sure if I knew how to crochet any more, so I thought it’d be a good idea to get a children’s instruction book from the library. I found one in the online catalog and requested it. However, when it came I discovered it wasn’t a book for children, but instead crocheted things to make for children. Oh.

I found instructions for cute leg warmers. But they looked complicated. Naaah. We don’t need no stinkin’ complicated instructions. I decided to make my own leg warmers by winging it. This has become somewhat Vintage Me – why bother with cumbersome instructions when you can make something a lot quicker your own way?

At first I started with the “single crochet” stitch, which makes a tight weave. That was taking forever; didn’t I used to be fast at this? Had I grown so slack?? Then I remembered how much better I always liked the “double crochet” stitch, which creates a looser weave but goes much faster in the making. We were in business. I selected 4 of the yarn colors I had for a repeating pattern and just made it up as I went, occasionally holding them against my leg to decide on sizing, etcetera. It worked! Good enough for me – after all, I wasn’t gunning for “Grand Champion.”

Modeling the completed leg warmers

Modeling the completed leg warmers

I’ve been looking at leggings, boots, etcetera on Amazon and the models usually pose elaborately. I needed to get in on this.

Not only are they cute, but they even function as intended: added warmth over jeans or leggings. Each time I’ve worn them out, a woman has complimented me on them. Not the same woman, I mean different women, which is very nice.

Things Men Have Said To Me #17

We’d recently starting seeing each other but things had moved quickly in the relationship. Although young, he was an attorney as well as a volunteer firefighter.

HIM (informing): “My job comes first and the fire department comes second.”

(I had a pretty good idea his Mama was third in line; my number wasn’t looking promising.)

Commemorating fatal accidents = bad idea

In my community and elsewhere, plaques, paid for by family or friends, are sometimes permanently set up in public places where individuals have died, typically in accidents. There’s something about these markers that is bothersome to me. I can totally see commemorating locations where many people have died, such as battle fields, prison camps, or the grounds of the twin towers in NYC, for examples. I can also see the significance, perhaps, of marking the spot where a famous or historical person died. “Here is the house where such-and-so died.”

It’s not that I don’t understand the impetus behind family and friends wanting to commemorate the loss itself. They want their person to be remembered, and I imagine they think they’re honoring the dead person. The trouble is, when I come upon a plaque at the site of a death, instead of thinking kind thoughts about the diseased (who I almost certainly did not know), I begin thinking about the possible gruesome circumstances by which the person died. I don’t think that’s what anyone intends, but I can’t imagine what else might be intended; i.e. a sign at the site of a fatal crash or accident doesn’t make me think about improved safety regulations or driving more cautiously, or anything along those lines. I’m not really sure what’s accomplished by permanently noting the place of an accidental death. Does dwelling on the exact location even help the family and friends of the person?

Also — why should only certain people’s death sites be noted? I mean far and away most people’s are not and I’d have to think money would be a factor in at least some cases. In my own neighborhood, a man died on the street of a heart attack some years back. It was never marked in any way. (I temporarily marked it with a flower that was gone in a week.) For some time after, I’d look at the spot and think about the man, who I did not know, and think also of how that location must feel to his family, who lived in the immediate area.

I feel similarly about “Ghost Bike” installations. These are bicycles which have been painted white and are permanently installed at the site of a bicyclist’s death. I didn’t know quite what to make of these when I first became aware of them, but now, several years later, I think they simply make me uneasy. Again, because all they do is elicit unpleasant thoughts of the nature of the death. They don’t make me rally for improved bike safety or write my congressman to press for legislation that’ll make drivers and bicyclists coexist more peaceably. They’re creepy – maybe that’s the point? And I say this as a bicyclist myself. I’ve recently seen one set up in front of a residence, that is, not near traffic or roads, and I really don’t know what to think about that one.

In my community, to memorialize a death of any sort, people can “purchase” a tree, or even a park bench that’s installed in a public spot with a small plaque listing the diseased’s name and birth/death dates. Sometimes, it’ll also include a more personal touch like, “beloved father and husband” or “she loved gardening and walking.” A sweet one I saw included what must’ve been a common refrain by the diseased, something along the lines of, “Oh, how glorious!” I like these memorials – they contribute something to the community and make me stop and think, and not only about how someone died.

Short Thought 109 (expressions)

(I was thinking about writing this post for the last week and today I (serendipitously) saw a similarly themed post on Vanbytheriver.)

When I was a teenager, I specifically remember reading in a girls’ magazine the recommendation that the reader stop making facial expressions in order to prevent wrinkles later in life. Even then, I was shocked by this “advice” and readily dismissed it. What a thing to tell impressionable young women.

Can you imagine a boys’ or mens’ publication making such an absurd suggestion? Boys, stop smiling, raising your eyebrows, and frowning now if you want to be hired for jobs or get women to have sex with you later in life.

A Healthy Microwave Brownie (anyone can make – really!)

Recently I saw a recipe for a microwave brownie on a a blog. It had a lot more sugar & oil than I use in my diet and baking, but it gave me the idea to experiment with making a healthier version that I’d still actually want to eat. If you’re used to typical brownies, this much less sweet version will be an adjustment, but if you’re like me and don’t want or have a lot of sugar or sweets in your diet, this brownie is a treat.

The ingredients are all typically found in the baking aisle of the grocery store:
Whole wheat flour
Canola oil
Cocoa powder

It’s not essential to buy the specific brands pictured. I use Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa but the regular cocoa is fine too.

You’ll need a (microwave-safe) small bowl or a cup, and a spoon. I use an oversize mug.

And a quarter cup water.

Mix together in the bowl or cup:
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Stir in till smooth:
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon canola oil

Microwave on high for 2 minutes.

I like to eat mine right out of the cup, but here’s how it looks on a plate.


An even healthier version, pictured below, can be made by omitting the Canola oil and/or cutting back on the cocoa powder to 1 or 2 teaspoons.

I think I need a high school education

I want to go back to high school. Not to relive “glory days” or hang out with friends or in order to be 16 again. No. It’s the taking classes part that is on my mind. I think I might appreciate a high school education now. I’m wondering what did I learn in high school? I’m drawing a bit of a blank. When I look back, it’s my friends, relationships, and various moments outside the class room that stand out. Not history. Or math. Or geez, what DID I take in high school? And why don’t I remember it?

Graphic Arts. I took Graphic Arts. That was pretty cool. Prior to that class, I’d had no exposure to the subject. We made pinhole cameras and took and developed b&w photos I have to this day. I had Child Development (or rather was stuck in it after “Single Living” for which I’d signed up, was filled). We made lesson plans for little kids who were brought in by their parents for half days. Spanish. Two years of Spanish. But I didn’t use it and it fell away quickly. Pablo esta en la casa. No hablo Espanol. That’s about it.

Would I be bored in the average high school curriculum today? Or would a modern education be more suited to my learning style than the one I actually had? I.e., sitting quietly in standardized rows for hours on end. Would the teachers’ personal biases and opinions and personality quirks bother me even more than they did when I was a teenager? Would I find the environment stifling? Would I learn?

I’m reminded of Cameron Crowe’s memoir about going undercover posing as a high school student, which was the precursor to his film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It’s been a long time since I read the book, but remember that Crowe, in his twenties but passing for a teenager, wrote of misinformation being taught by high school teachers. If I recall, he said the gym teacher was also teaching another subject – History? – and clearly getting facts wrong. Does that still happen? (In 9th grade, I had a gym teacher for Health class and I remember very clearly that he decided to entirely skip the text chapters on sex. Just flat out said we wouldn’t be covering them.)

Why is this on my mind? I think it’s because I’ve been away from formal education for so long. I’m starting to wonder what I know – and don’t know – any more. So much of what I studied in college even, is just very hazy. I actually went to college with the desire to learn. Yep, that was my overarching plan. That didn’t entirely work out. College was undeniably better than high school but it still left a lot to be desired. I was frequently bored in my classes. Too many instructors used their class time to pontificate and hold forth on their pet topics to a captive audience, often about subjects that weren’t on their syllabus. I didn’t have a slew of great teachers, but many average ones, including poor planners who farted around all semester and then tried to cram 3 months of lessons into a week or two before finals.

So that kind of messed up my plan of going to college to learn. And, the intensity of the experience rather quickly became about surviving it, more than about broadening my horizons. Yes, I was exposed to a lot of information, but all crammed in at once. That’s not how I retain stuff. And — to pay for school, I depended on, in addition to part-time jobs, grants and scholarships. For that I needed good grades, and grades became my focus; A’s meant cash. I’d do it no differently now.

One of the things I did really like about college – outside the classroom – was all the free lectures that were available on campus. I was – and am – a consummate bulletin board reader and I’d find interesting, or potentially interesting topics, familiar and not, advertised on flyers. They were held right there at the school and often during the day, which was great – I’d go to my classes and if I hung around awhile, I could attend an open lecture, perhaps by a guest speaker or one of the school’s professors. Or a panel forum. Talks and lectures would be attended by students and instructors alike, which raised the level of interaction and discussion. It kept me engaged and up-to-date. I really miss that, and I started missing it as soon as I graduated.

Both before and after my college years, I had jobs on other college campuses, but it wasn’t the same. When you work somewhere, usually the last thing you want to do is hang around longer after your work day is over or worse, come back to attend this or that. No, you want the hell out of there.

I don’t go to classes of any kind now. I have little interest in pursuing more formal education, like a Master’s. Instead, I read books and spend time online. Online I don’t learn who was the 15th President of the United States or what’s in the Bill of Rights or where Madagascar is located or how to conjugate verbs or anything whatsoever about Sartre. No, I learn trivia and gossip and innuendo and scandal and what’s been linked to cancer and who’s died and what sports figure is drugging and all about the latest shooting spree and terrorist bombing. All that without even trying. The dopey path of least resistance. I bet there’s a study out there that correlates point drops in I.Q. to time spent online.

I don’t mean to denigrate the internet. I love the internet. And it’s brought me a lot of good things. But lordy, does it need to be managed. It requires so little of you. That’s the problem. I’m a critical thinker. I don’t tweet. I don’t even WANT to try to think in 140 characters. Not ever. I don’t have a Facebook status. I don’t haves inane arguments or flame people. I require more of myself. It’s too easy for it to become your world. Suddenly you find yourself caring about things you don’t care about. Your head is full of rubbish and you wonder how it happened. Didn’t you used to think bright thoughts and contemplate important things?

I don’t know what I know any more. I think the things I’ve learned or studied on my own, since my formal education, have been relatively narrow. I think about doing it, but I’m not learning Italian on CD or online. I’m not trying to teach myself Algebra or god forbid, Calculus. I don’t try to understand the current state of the Middle East. Nutrition. Psychology. A bit of Literature. Gardening. Some American History. These are the things I’ve been interested in and studied on my own. Not a broad selection. I don’t have cable so I’m limited there, but I used to watch NOVA and other science programs – they’re SO much more interesting than any science I was ever taught in school – but I’ve gotten away from that. Is the internet and the culture ruining my attention span for anything else or is my restlessness stemming from elsewhere? A combination ? One thing now – I’m intentionally quite active – and I neither want to sit around for hours on end or can. Further, when I do stop and relax, I usually want to be entertained. Documentaries are about as scholarly as I get.

There is a particular saving grace. I like crossword puzzles and in doing them, I realize I know more than I would have thought. That is, I can retrieve information I didn’t know I knew. I could never offer it up voluntarily, but when prompted by the puzzle and given a little time, information evidently buried away, finds its way to the surface. How did I know that?? I have no recollection of learning it and yet I know it. This is encouraging.

Sometimes I’ve attended public lectures, but I often lose patience. So few people are good teachers and I’ve grown so particular about that – maybe by all the years of having to sit through what was at hand, like it or lump it. The other thing – the problematic thing – is the other attendees. A lot of adults feel pretty free and easy when attending a class or lecture. They hold forth, dominate class time, talk to their neighbor, and even – in some lectures I’ve attended – get up and wander around the room. This makes me want to knock heads together. It’s so distracting and annoying. The way I feel is this: I’ve come to hear the lecturer or teacher, not to listen to other adults carry on. But that is too bad, yes?

I’ve taken IQ tests online and done respectably. But it’s been several years since I’ve even done that. I’ve never taken a practice SAT but I’m wondering if that would be a good idea. I imagine I’d find one online or in a book. (I recently read an essay by a columnist in his sixties who took the SAT and was pleased to receive the same score he had in high school – although I believe he noted that the way they’re scored has changed.) The thing is I’m not sure I want to know what areas I’ve fallen way behind in, maybe because I’m not certain I’d do anything about it. How much do I care? Enough to do anything?

I do know this. I’m thinking about what I know and don’t know for a reason.