Monday, September 14, 2015

Alphabet of Daily Life - R

R is for Running.

(Yup - I've gone out of Virgo alphabet order - I'm getting a bit wilder as I age!)

For years, I had vaguely heard people talking about the many benefits of running. Their words passed right into and back out of my ears. Running was not something I resonated with. In fact, I had very unpleasant associations with running. 

We had to run as part of our fitness regimen in the Army, and I never liked it. (Read my Army-related posts here: CareersExcitement, Unrequited Love.) One thing I think many people have never taken into consideration (including Army fitness gurus) is that short women / people have short legs and this necessarily gives them a shorter stride. So, it takes shorter people more paces and a longer time to move a specified distance. To require short and tall people to cover the same distance in the same time period is far from fair. We short ones were running double-time ALL THE TIME in order to achieve the same fitness goals. I was always suffering while running with so many tall long-legged fellow soldiers. So, I hated running.

Fast forward 30 years to a time when my daughter was in college. She had gained the infamous Freshman 15, and wanted to do something about it. She'd heard of the Couch Potato to 5K running regimen and wanted to try it. She asked if I'd do it with her and I really didn't want to. But, I did want to support my daughter in any way she needed. So, I completed the program with her. I liked it. I was able to do it. And, at the end of it, I just kept running. And I'm still running today. In fact, I'm a running evangelist.

Here's what running gives me:
  • Stress Reduction - it's amazing how much more mellow I am after I've run, and this feeling lasts for several days. It's a great way to deal with the stress at work. Whenever things go wrong, I just go for a run.
  • Muscle Tone - for someone my age, my legs are looking pretty good! In fact, running works so many areas of the body - butt, abs, arms. It's a great workout that leads to smooth toned muscles.
  • Youthfulness - people actually tell me I'm glowing. Yeah, how great is that?! It must be the enhanced circulation that keeps all of the body's cells refreshed. People usually guess my age as 10 years younger than I actually am. And, of course, the added energy that comes from running adds to the sense of youthfulness.
  • Weight Maintenance - I find that when I don't run for awhile, the pounds slowly start piling up. But, if I run (I typically do 3 miles, 3-4 times per week), I can maintain or even lower my weight. Of course, I also eat lots of vegetables, eat very little junk food, and drink TONS of water.
  • Ongoing Fitness - there's a feeling of confidence that you walk around with when you know your body is in shape. You know that it can do anything you ask it to - climb stairs, go hiking, ice skate - whatever. And, you know that this fitness means clothes look good on you. It's just a general all-around good feeling.
What took me so long? Who knew!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Best Cinematography - The Big Lebowski

I've been on a film odyssey for several years now - I'm wading my way through watching every Oscar-nominated film since the Oscars were first handed out in 1928. So far, I've worked my way up to 1945 (I'm watching all nominees in all categories). Needless to say, I'm gaining many skills in the process:

  • I'm a very discerning viewer now. I only have an appetite for really good movies and can only watch a bad or mediocre movie for a few minutes.
  • I'm learning to spot winners before the awards are handed out - the two movies I can specifically recall KNOWING would win in a category as I was watching them were Scent of a Woman (I knew Al Pacino would win for Best Actor) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (I knew it would win in at least one of several categories, especially Art Direction).
  • I'm gaining an appreciation for the many aspects of making a movie, beyond the acting, such as directing (I can often spot the work of a director without knowing who it is in advance) writing, editing (so crucial and so subjective), set design, etc.
  • I think this process should be a college course in American Anthropology. Watching this many movies in sequential order is allowing me to watch the evolution of our society over the decades, including concepts surrounding beauty, morality, racism, power, war, violence, sex, and so much more. Simply fascinating.

The incredibly awesome Jesus character
from The Big Lebowski. John Turturro
made a small part spectacular and
memorable. LOVE the jumpsuit...and
the purple pinky fingernail and purple
bowling ball.
I've come across many Directors during this film fetish of mine, including the Coen Brothers (Joel & Ethan). They have become one of my favorite directing duos, as their work is quirky, irreverent, and often beautiful. The Big Lebowski is one of theirs that I've watched many times over, and I've since learned that it has a cult following. While watching it, I can't help but admire the cinematography. It's beyond beautiful - it's sharp, glistening, unusual, and smart.

Some of the scenes that I relish are:

  • The many atmospheric shots inside the bowling alley, such as the backgrounds showing glowing vintage neon wall art, the smooth long wooden lanes, the bowlers letting balls go one after the other after the other in sequence, and close-up views of the bowling pin reset mechanisms (and I'm not a bowler!).
  • The clever aspect of a view from inside a bowling ball (the Dude has become stuck inside one of the ball's finger holes in his dream), as the ball rolls down the lane.
  • The unusual angles, such as when the thug is shoving Dude's head into the toilet - the camera angle is down below the toilet looking up, so we see the toilet, the Dude and the thug behind him, all in one shot. Great perspective.
  • The under-the-girls view as the Dude passes through the legs of the Busby Berkeley style showgirls with bowling pin headdresses. In fact, the entire dream sequence is well-lit and well-shot.
As I watch the movie (again) and my eyes linger on each of the beautiful shots, I can't help but wonder how Roger Deakins did not win Best Cinematography for this film. Insights welcomed!

I think Sam Elliott deserves a special mention here, but then, he deserves his own blog post! Time for an oat soda...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Alphabet of Daily Life - M

M is for Milk.

Yes, an odd (mundane) choice of topics, I know, but it's very meaningful in my life.

I was 8 years old, and we were living in Manitou Springs, Colorado. All nine of us kids were staying temporarily in rundown public housing with my mother, during the harshest part of winter. We were just up the hill from Manitou Springs Elementary School, while my father was down the hill living in the Truck, parked in a campground. The 3 big boys were not always home with us, though, as they had been working and staying on a nearby ranch for a few months.

We were very poor then, and had very little money for anything. Real milk was one luxury we never had (although we always had powdered milk - yuk!). I remember once being at the elementary school early one morning, before the other kids had arrived. One of my little sisters was with me. We had a few coins in our pockets and were goofing around in one of the bathrooms. For whatever reason, I put one of the coins, a nickel, into my mouth. I think I liked its metallic tang on my tongue. Before I realized what was happening, the nickel had gone down my throat. I could feel it lodged in my esophagus trying to work it's way down to my stomach. It hurt! My sister and I went to find a teacher - I don't know what we thought the teacher could do for us, but we thought it was the best tactic.

The teacher was naturally alarmed, but there really wasn't much she could do; I wasn't in any type of actual distress other than discomfort. So, her solution was to take us down to the cafeteria and request a (FREE!) carton of cold milk and a warm roll from one of the cooks so she could give it to me to help move the nickel down my throat. Wow, this was the type of food we never had - we didn't have the money to buy food from the cafeteria. The teacher had us sit down at one of the long communal tables in the dim empty dining hall and told me to finish both food items. She definitely didn't have to tell me twice! I ate every bit of that soft warm roll, following bites of it with swigs of cold creamy milk. My sister looked longingly at it, but I didn't wan to share my bounty, and never gave her any. She asked me what it tasted like and I described it to her, but I didn't let her try it, not even just a little bit. I still feel so badly about that greed and denial toward my hungry little sister.

At our house on the hill, when the boys would come to visit us after working on the ranch, they were allowed to bring large multi-gallon jugs of milk home (the ranch was a local milk supplier). The clear plastic containers sat on a shelf in the refrigerator of the rented house, and had a spigot that milk could be poured from into a cup. This meant we could go over to the fridge any time we wanted and have all of the cold creamy rich milk we wanted - any time and as much as we wanted. My God, that was the life.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Alphabet of Daily Life - L

L is for Lists

Does everyone live by making lists? I'm not sure if this is a universal habit among adult humans or just a Virgo thing. Personally, I don't see how I could get through daily life without a list of

  • a to-do list
  • a grocery list
  • a list of chapters for my book
  • a list of other books to write after my first one gets published
  • a list of places to travel to
  • a list of projects to complete at work, especially "top priority" ones
The "list" goes on. For me, lists accomplish a couple of things:

  1. They organize a project or a day (or a life): my lists begin by just putting lots of random, related items down on paper. Once visible on the page, it's an easy task to put them into some type of order, such as a time sequence for accomplishing, or grouped by subject category, etc. It's then a matter of just "working the list" to get things done.
  2. They offer a sense of accomplishment: it's a very satisfying feeling to cross something off the list. And to have an entirely crossed off list is something good indeed.
This is a travel list I'm currently building. I determined that I want to take at least 3 vacations per year: 1 to the Cape, 1 to a US locale, and 1 overseas trip. I'm in the midst of planning the Florida Keys trip; it will be me, my daughter, my sister, her daughter, and our niece - all driving the Keys from Miami to Key West and back again. We'll hopefully also get in a quick visit to The Everglades, as riding a fan boat is on one of my lists!
Recently, my daughter, who has been groomed in my list-making mentality, suggested we help each other develop lists of our big and little victories in life. These types of lists are used to remind ourselves of what we're doing right when we're feeling down. We did so, and were quite pleased with our results. It's very compelling to see this list of accomplishments written on a page; you should give it a try (and get someone to help you - they sometimes remember things you don't and can be much more generous than you might be for yourself). We'll keep adding to our lists, but so far, mine includes:

  • Broke the poverty cycle
  • Brought up a citizen of the world
  • Developed a successful career
  • Became a gourmet cook
  • Earned a Master's degree
  • Able to consistently run a 5K (at least 3 times per week)
  • Bought my own house
  • Live a healthy lifestyle
  • Paid off my student loans (woohoo!)
  • Helped put my daughter through college
  • Traveled outside the country (a life-long dream)
  • Took an epic road trip (with my daughter, from MA to Yellowstone in WY, and back again)
  • Bought a brand new car (my hybrid)
  • Climbed Pikes Peak (twice)
  • Spoke successfully to an audience of 600+, and also served as emcee

I also came across this interesting List, which is a "just for fun" type of list, featuring tidbits about TV Chef Ree Drummond, whom I greatly admire.

Do you live by lists? I simply must know.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


Fellow bloggers Sean Welsh and Louise Horner, of the Our Odyssey blog, have inspired me to get back into the swing of blogging after quite a long hiatus! It was such a pleasure to meet up with these fellow bloggers IRL, and I continue to be amazed at the connections blogging helps to bring about.

In talking with them about their ongoing adventures, it reminded me to do the things I want to do in life. To stop waiting and stop procrastinating and start doing. Like writing. I originally started my blog to "learn" blogging and other forms of social media for work. But it occurs to me that blogging is also a great tool for writers. It's like a story-writing scratchpad. So, time for some stories.

In my Empty Nester experience, I began toying with the idea of where to live, and of finding increased job opportunity. With my daughter graduated from college and living in her apartment in not-too-far-away Boston, I realized that I really could live anywhere at all. So, I toyed with the idea of selling my house and following the job market. I went so far as to invite a realtor over to discuss potential sale price, and hired a local contractor to do the minor improvements suggested by the realtor. But, somehow, I just couldn't bring myself to officially list it. I was talking about this quandary with my daughter, and she suggested I write about it to try to get at the underlying issue. So I did...

Saying Goodbye

As a kid, when we lived in The (new) Truck (our second tiny home on wheels), Father would select some spot along the highway to stop for the night. The area was very often just a random pull-off next to the road – nothing structured or “official” like a rest stop or RV park. It was often just a patch of dirt by the side of the road.

One of many newspaper articles about our family
 traveling the US in The Truck
Because space in The Truck was so limited, we kids really didn’t have any toys. We made our fun out of anything and everything. Our creativity was high and our imagination made survival possible. Each of us used our creativity and imagination in different ways. Ruthie didn’t get to have much fun because she was always busy helping run the household. The boys ran amok in the woods or the desert – wherever we happened to be – and often got themselves into trouble.

I was a dreamy tow-head mostly-silent waif, and one of the first things I would do when I climbed down from the truck and into the area of our pull-off, after I’d found water and brought several jugs of it back to Mother, was find a long stick to draw with. I then found a patch of dirt on a somewhat flat and smooth area and began to draw. I always drew the same thing – a house.

When we stopped for school each September in whatever state we were temporarily staying, I envied the other kids who lived in houses. Once in a while, when I’d made a new friend, I would get invited to one of these houses. The house would have so much room compared to our Truck. And it would have furniture. And a working bathroom with a shower and toilet. And sofas and coffee tables and bedrooms. And a kitchen with a refrigerator. So, when I drew in the dirt, I always drew a house, based on the ones I visited.

I drew the outer walls, and then I drew the rooms inside. I left spaces for doors and windows. And I drew in every piece of furniture. Then, I would walk into my house drawing and sit on the sofa. I would walk around inside my drawing and visit the kitchen and the bathroom. And finally, I would lay on the little bed that I’d drawn in the dirt. I loved my little houses, and I tried different layouts each time I drew one. I had such a strong and vivid imagination that I was able to easily imagine that I was walking around and living inside my stick-drawn home.

Then, Mother would call out that dinner was ready, and the other kids and I would go back inside The Truck. The kerosene lamps would be lit. The truck had a central living area that was about 10’ x 12’. The kitchen was just off of this, and was about 6’ x 8’. And there was a tiny back porch just off the living area and the front driving cab, with an area for sleeping, just off the kitchen. That was it. And nine children, two parents, and several pets lived in this space. There was no refrigerator, little electricity, and definitely no plumbing. And there were certainly no bedrooms, beds or dressers.

Mother and Ruthie would have cooked our meager meal, from anything we’d been able to find or gather during our travels that day – it was never much. After we ate, one of us was assigned to clean up the dishes and neaten the kitchen. Our evening entertainment in the small communal living space was often reading aloud or playing card games, and on nice nights, we made a fire outside and sang songs together while Father played the guitar. Then, Mother would open up the sofa, which became a bed for Mother and Father. Ruthie would lay blankets on the floor of the open area in the main living space and that would be the bed for her, us little girls, and Lucky. The big boys would sleep in a flat area in the driving cab. During the night, they each took a shift watching the fire so it didn’t go out on cold nights. So, The Truck was very different from the homes I saw when I visited with my few newly made friends.

I longed so to live in one of those homes. They represented stability, normalcy, ease, and acceptance. I suppose the unusual life we lived was adventurous, imaginative, daring, educational, and many other positive things. But it didn’t include a house. And that was all I wanted.

When I was an adult and newly-divorced, I lived in apartment with my daughter. After a several years, I had done well enough that I was able to buy a house. This felt like a major undertaking to me. I really had forgotten about all of the little houses I’d drawn in the dirt, but my heart had not forgotten. I looked at many houses during this process – too many to count. I drove around in neighborhoods, went to open houses, visited homes with my realtor. And then, one day, my realtor brought me to My House.

It was a little cape-style home on a pleasant street near an elementary school. The shape was very simple – something I had probably drawn in miniature many times over. Upon entering the back door, I was inside a charming kitchen. And I knew that I was home. This house had all of the elements I had ever envisioned. Each room was laid out very much like my old drawings, although I was not remembering them at all. My heart was remembering, but not my intellect.

I walked from room to room with my realtor, and I wanted this house. I longed for it. I adored it. I did end up buying it, and lived in it for over 10 years. During those years, I still did not think about my stick drawings as a child. But I did love my house. And I made it my own with paint and sweat and determination and design. Each year, this house became more precious to me, and more like the houses I had daydreamed about as a little girl. I loved to walk through my house and admire its layout, its appliances, the color of the walls, the layout of the furniture. Everything felt so cozy and so right.

And then the day came that I knew I would need to move. I needed to move to an area of the country that had more job opportunity. And that meant selling my little house. For some reason, I kept procrastinating. I continually put off making progress and taking the steps that would allow me to sell my house.

One day, I was talking with a good friend who had had a difficult childhood. His mother had died when he was very little and his father traveled for his sales job. So, he was often handed off to relatives. He told me about feeling always like a visitor and never having a permanent place to call home. As a successful adult, he’d been able to buy a very nice house. He told me he would never sell it because it meant so much to him. It was his own. He had always felt beholden to others. So owning a house meant so many more things to him than just having shelter. It meant home, belonging, stability, security.

As he told me these things, I began to remember my stick drawings in the dirt. I remembered how much I longed to live in a house, with a kitchen, running water, a bathroom, a washer and dryer, a bedroom, heat, electricity, and a refrigerator. It all came flooding back to me, and I understood why I had not been making progress with selling my house. I was having trouble letting go of my dearest childhood wish.

This house was not just a place I’d purchased at some point in my life. It was the culmination of my greatest longings. It stood for everything I’d ever wanted – stability, normalcy, acceptance, ease, comfort. And I finally understood why I was having trouble saying good-bye. This was my lovely home. My wonderful sweet charming home. I walked from room to room, just as I’d done in my stick homes. I admired the rooms, the layout, the colors, the furniture. The feeling of warmth. The sound of humming appliances and the rumble of the furnace. The swish of the dryer. The sound of cars passing by on the street. And I cried. I cried because I needed to say goodbye.

My intellect tells me that I can make this happen again. I will find another place. And I will make it just as charming and just as cozy. But my heart hates saying goodbye.


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