30 April 2006

New Beginning #2: Younger Next Year?

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately: Younger Next Year for Women, by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge.

And boy do I ever highly recommend it! It’s mainly geared toward people 50 and above, but I wish someone had told me this stuff in my 30s, so don’t let the hype that names the target audience fool you. (There's also a version for men.)

So what’s the deal? Can you really be younger next year? As one reviewer says, “Well, maybe.” But the “maybe” isn’t based on sketchy science, less-than-reliable studies, or even unclear advice; the “maybe” is based on the reader’s willingness to follow the authors' very clear and well-supported advice, which is based on new and exciting discoveries in the science of aging bodies.

The advice? 7 basic and fairly straightforward rules, beginning with exercise (6 days a week for the rest of your life) and ending with finding something to be committed to and excited about (for the rest of your life), with some talk about "not eating crap" and a few other recommendations in between. Simple to understand, but not so simple to do, maybe most especially that thing about working out 6 days a week, every week, until they carry you out. That’s a tough pill to swallow for many of us, but the authors make a clear and convincing case that it can be a magic pill, a pill that can promote wellness and firmness into our 80s and beyond, and help most of us replace what might have been a frail and desperate old age with a vigorous, joyful “next third” of our lives.

And what a great job they do of making that case, not only in the sense of presenting a clear and persuasive argument, but also in presenting it in a witty, entertaining, but also very direct style. The authors are one doctor and one of his patients, and they alternate chapters, in sort of a team-teaching style, where Harry, the doc, gives you the science, and Chris, the regular guy, talks about how the science plays out in your life, and has in his. Interestingly enough, while Harry is the scientist, he has a pleasant, almost gentle bedside—or, in this case, bookside—manner, and Chris is the one who’s inclined to be a little severe, though in an encouraging, coach-like way. So while Chris admits he wanted Rule #1 to be something like “Exercise 7 days a week,” he tells us that Harry persuaded him to let us off with 6 days a week. On the other hand, Chris scolds us severely when we ask, as he imagines us doing, “How about 5 days, or even one day? Isn’t that better than nothing?” No! Chris insists (you can almost see him stamping his foot), it’s NOT better than nothing. But then he patiently explains his point, and leads us carefully through the reasons why one day, or even three, four, or five days, are not better than nothing. (In a former life, Chris was an attorney, and you can hear the litigator’s flawless logic and attention to detailed argument in the way he builds his case for exercise. It’s really quite wonderful!)

But Chris is no monster (OK, run the tape of old lawyer jokes in your head and get it out of your system). Chris is the coach, browbeating when he has to, variously demanding compliance or cajoling when it makes sense, telling a joke now and then, and through it all, leading you along the path to success. He has lots of little tips and tricks to offer about all the rules. And he’s a bit of wit at it, too. I’ve read lots of books on the subject of getting in shape, and none of them has made me smile, even chuckle, as this one does. As I was finishing the last chapter or so, I found that I was unhappy that it was all about to end, the way you’re sorry that you’ve reached the end of a good novel or a wonderful movie. Fortunately, the authors have developed a very supportive website where you can ask questions, join a forum, get in on a chat now and then, and get more detailed advice about exercise and nutrition: Younger Next Year

To learn more, you’ll have to read the book. You owe it yourself to read Younger Next Year or Younger Next Year for Women. But don’t delay—the clock is ticking.

29 April 2006

More Beginnings

Two new beginnings this week, both, of course, to do with cycling.

New Beginning #1: new seatpost and saddle on my bike. My left knee has been whining an awful, well, OK, it's been screaming, despite the healthy doses of Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and anti-inflammatory drugs I've been providing for the persnickety little joint. So I decided to check my bike position to see if I could tweak that a little and shut my knee up that way. Though my bike frame is custom-made, I've moved things around a good bit since I've had it, so there was a possibility that things had gotten out of whack. And guess what? They had. And even worse than that, I found a crack in the seatpost. So time for a new one, this time with an offset, so I can jam the saddle back a bit, since the measurements I took suggested that my knees are too far forward over the pedal axles.

But with bikes, you move one thing, and a new problem is likely to rear its ugly head. This time, it was the place where the rider meets the saddle. The new position caused some ouchiness in my own "saddle." So I ordered a new Terry Butterfly saddle to top off my new carbon fiber seatpost--very snappy. And I took them both for a spin today. Here's what I found out: the carbon fiber seatpost rocks--it even seems to smooth out the ride a little. The new saddle, however, is going to take some breaking in. My girly parts were nicely pampered by the slot in the middle of the saddle, but further back--still some ouchiness. But I know from experience that the best cure for that is . . . more miles in the saddle. Yep, I can do that.

New Beginning #2: Younger Next Year--to be continued.

27 April 2006


Joyful. That’s the defining quality of my life, and I like it just fine.

I once heard a woman discussing how her religious belief had brought JOY to her life. Did this mean that she was always happy? Not by a long shot—that wasn’t what she meant and it wasn’t even what she expected. She said that this joy was a kind of foundation, and on top of that, she could be laughing her head off or she could be crying her eyes out, or doing anything between those two extremes, but her underlying feeling was still one of profound joy in life.

And that’s just what I mean when I describe my life as joyful. Now I am not a religious woman—in fact, I’m a skeptic on that score—my spiritual jury is still out (though I still believe in the golden rule and feel that it could be the basis of peace on earth). So I guess my joy comes from somewhere else—from myself, I suppose, but also from my great fortune in being surrounded with people I love and having a job I love and so many other reasons to be thrilled to get up every morning.

OK, so my life is far, far from perfect—I’ve got the same irritants in my life as everyone else has: appliances break down, the aches and pains of being in my 50s appear and disappear, the Chief sometimes disagrees with me, and Cocoa isn’t always a model of good dog behavior. Plus, there are my two parents with Alzheimer’s disease, my home in what is apparently Hurricane Central, my dear brother living thousands of miles away, and of course, taxes. But again, there’s that substrate of joy joy joy joy (hmmm, think that comes from a song I learned in Sunday school, ironically enough).

And oddly enough, this joy—or at least its outward manifestation in my behavior—irritates some people. I know a woman—I used to call her my friend, but she wanted too much for me to be unhappy, as she is, so now we’re only acquaintances. I guess misery loves company. But joy loves company too, and I could wish for everyone to have the same underlying joy in life as I have. Think what a world it would be then!

26 April 2006


Well, the UWF 5th Annual Women’s Studies Conference has concluded. Whew! My first time organizing an academic conference—with the help of one graduate assistant and some advice from the previous Women’s Studies Director. We had about 50 people attending throughout the day, including faculty, students, and a couple of administrative folks (though not as many administrators as SHOULD have been there). So attendance was high, the papers were excellent, and there was plenty of delicious food supplied by the caterer. We ended up giving out three cash awards for the best three papers—one professor kicked in an extra $50 of his own money to allow for three awards instead of the planned two—what a guy! Things didn’t go off without a hitch, but it all went a lot smoother than I’d anticipated, and now I won’t be so frantic next year. Oh yeah, next year.

So, here are my lessons learned from this little experience. I post them here in case you, dear reader, ever find yourself in this exciting yet nerve-wracking position.

* It wasn’t all that bad. Some irritating things happened, and I might have over-reacted to some of them, but no harm done and I learned to deal more effectively, less explosively next year. So people don’t always call back, students don’t always show up, moderators can’t always keep their commitments—there’s always an alternative. Things will go wrong, but barring complete annihilation, there’s always some way around the problem.

* Folks are willing to help if you just give them a chance. Certainly some are less willing than others, and some SAY they want to help but don’t really mean it (if you’re reading this, you know who you are). But in general, they really do want to help out. You just have to give them plenty of notice and tell them exactly what you want them to do. Develop a list of possible helpers early in the fall semester and start “grooming” them early.

* Stick to the advertised schedule, even if it looks like things are rolling along more quickly than you expected.

* Even if some of the food is donated (so you don’t have to pay the caterer’s exorbitant prices for everything), you still need the caterer to set up utensils and possibly condiments and beverages.

* It’s true, what your mother said: you catch more flies with honey....

* You’ll forget some things. Don’t let on and most people won’t even notice.

Speaking of most people, they want the conference to go well and want you to be a strong and capable leader. And in most cases, they’re willing to do whatever you, the strong and capable leader, ask of them to make things run smoothly. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but also don’t be afraid of taking charge. Be BOTH in command AND in control. But again, don’t hesitate to ask for help and advice.

Yeah, I sound pretty sanguine now, but I sure am glad it’s over and everything worked out OK, for now....

17 April 2006

Feed Me!

Pitcher Plants are in bloom! The original Audreys. If you’ve ever seen the campy film The Little Shop of Horrors, you know just what I mean. The strange plant in the movie didn’t want anything the florist gave it, except human blood:
“I’ve given you sunshine,
I’ve given you rain.
Still you’re not happy,
‘Til I open a vein.”
The pitchers, along with a few other plants, are the real-life prototype of Audrey—the carnivorous plant. Fortunately, however, the pitchers consume insects rather than human flesh and blood. White-topped pitchers are native to northwest Florida and the showiest of the pitchers, with their white, pink-veined tubes and ruffly edges.

I did a 16-mile training ride on the Blackwater Trail this morning, before heading for campus. The weather was cloudier and muggier than it’s been, but still not too, too hot. At least we’d had a little rain late last week, so things were greener. I’d been especially worried about the pitcher plants that live along the trail. Last week I hardly saw any pitchers there, and what few I did see were all grey and shriveled—very sad.

But today! They were all over the place. They’d taken advantage of the brief precipitation last week to blossom into their gorgeous white and pink-veined selves, ascending from their sturdy green stalks. Pitchers are wild, but choosy. They like their feet damp, but not continuously wet; they favor wetlands, but have particular nitrogen preferences as far as soil content goes. They seem very happy along the Blackwater Heritage trail, our local paved, rails-to-trails recreational greenway. I guess they were just waiting for a little rain. Just as well, I suppose. The much-drier-than-usual-spring has also resulted in a less-hearty-than-usual crop of early spring insects, which are the food on which the pitchers thrive.

Those lovely, delicate-looking, lacily-veined cups are slippery inside and lined with downward-pointing hairs. The unsuspecting insect, lured by the plant’s color and scent and its promise of nectar, slips into the cup, can’t climb out because of the hairs, and eventually slides into the liquid at the bottom of the cup (which actually narrows to a tube), where the liquid digests it to make it usable food for the plant. Mmmmm…..

I thought it looked as if these two pitchers were having a little dialog.
“Mmm, you shoulda seen that fly I had for breakfast. I can still taste it. Urrpppp!”
“Well, excuse you! I had a couple of nice delicate midges.”
“Hey, look, a fat ol’ bee!”
“Come ‘ere, honey—nice yummy nectar, right here….”
“Hey, I saw it first. Here, buzzy boy!”
You get the idea.

In addition to the pitchers, I also saw a wild bunny, vacationing, no doubt, after her long arduous weekend of delivering Easter baskets, a small black snake (whom I called Snaky-Poo for no apparent reason) wiggling across the trail, and good old Ms. Go-Slow, eyeing me suspiciously. Did you know you shouldn’t turn a turtle 360 degrees because it might cause twisting of its intestines? Remember that the next time you’re struck with the urge to turn a turtle.

Anyway, it was a long, lovely ride, but about a mile from the end, I noticed that I sure was hungry. Just like Audrey: “Feed me!”

15 April 2006

Signs of Spring

Ah, Spring--and once again, I'm seeing the world from the cockpit of my kayak. It's not that we're not able to paddle in winter at all--after all, this IS Florida, the land of perpetually liquid water, in contrast to the hard water (read "ice") that plagues northern paddlers in winter. But liquid though it is, the water does get colder in winter, and the bay is less, well, friendly. Certainly I'm not completely averse to pulling out the boat and bundling up warmly for a little paddle on a bright, sunny January day, but all conditions have to be absolutely perfect for that to happen--no clouds in sight, low water at the put-in so I can avoid getting wet feet, all the stars aligned just right, etc. etc. etc.

But in spring, I barely need a breath of warm weather and a hint of sun to reach for my paddle. And this morning, the whole fan-damily got out on the bay--the Chief (also known as Mr. Y), Cocoa, and me. The wind had started coming up early, so we had some little swells, but nothing too rough. The thing we had to avoid most were some mulletheads (fishermen throwing nets for mullet)--Cocoa loves fish, so we have to keep him from harrassing the fishermen and begging them for handouts. There were two groups of mulletheads this morning, but we successfully avoided both--Coke was pretty busy just keeping up with us, though sometimes he took the lead to try to get a jump on some gulls.

We didn't paddle for long--weekend chores beckoned, unfortunately. But it was a great morning, and when we got home, the water was really getting rough--not my favorite kind of stuff to paddle in. In fact, I had to beach my boat in front of the neighbor's house because it was too rough to put in at our seawall. Yikes!

While I was rinsing off the boats and paddles, Coke apparently thought, "Now wouldn't it be lovely to go and rest my incredibly wet self under that tree, in that nice, fresh pile of dirt?" What a clever boy....
Oh well, he could use a bath anyway. :D

09 April 2006

On the Train

So I’ve started training in earnest for my Herculean four-day bike tour coming up in late May. After a few experimental short rides to make sure everything was working right in both bike and body, I’ve added some longer rides this past week. On Wednesday, I did 10 miles, and today, I rode for an hour—slightly over 12 miles. And here’s what I have to report: so far, so good.

I almost derailed myself last night. While doing a little core workout, I slipped and fell off my exercise ball—what a klutz! I fell onto my right hand and shoulder, and was initially worried that both would be injured enough to interfere with my training schedule. But I iced them up pretty well and hit the naproxen sodium again. I was almost afraid to go to sleep, knowing how motionlessness seems to allow injuries to get a firmer grip. On the other hand, “sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care” (Macbeth) also knits up the injured parts. And this morning, I felt, well, not perfect, but not too bad either, considering that a large part of my larger-than-it-should-be body came down relatively hard on my poor right side.

So, after walking the dog and downing a little caffeine, I hit the road, or more specifically, the bike trail. We have a lovely rail trail about 10 miles from my home, and it’s perfect for training because you don’t have to deal with traffic or traffic lights. It’s also reasonably flat and surrounded with lovely scenery. In previous years, I’d worked up to riding from my home TO the trail, then riding the 9-mile length of the trail, up and back, then riding home FROM the trail. Whew! Even then, I filled up my jeans more than I could’ve wished to, but I felt healthy and strong. Love to get back to that kind of shape. I don’t think it’ll happen in the next six weeks, but it CAN happen.

Anyway, today. Cool morning for early April in the Florida panhandle—somewhere in the mid-50s when I got to the trail. Stiff little headwind—about 9-10 mph. But there was that blue, blue sky and the surrounding greenery, and again, I felt like a kid on my bike. I even had the chance to help out another woman cyclist—new at this, she said—who was trying to top off her tire pressure but didn’t quite understand the intricacies of her Presta valves or the pump she’d borrowed from her boyfriend. The teacher in me loves little chance opportunities like that to instruct and encourage someone.

At the turnaround point, the nagging headwind turned into a friendly invisible hand pushing me along, and somewhere about halfway back, I hit 20.2 mph! Woo-hoo! No surprise that I came back a lot faster than I went out, so I had to add a little coda of a few more miles at the end to make it a true one-hour ride. But what a coda! I didn’t see the peacock today, but there were goats and a pair of friendly boxers (dogs, not underwear LOL) and one blue, blue, bluebird standing guard on top of his house.

So the training, so far, is going well. I don’t want to increase my mileage too fast—that can lead to injuries. But I do want to try and be up to two one-hour rides on consecutive days by next weekend. Stay tuned to see how I do. And keep those cards and letters coming (also known as comments :D )!

07 April 2006

Digital Scrapping--Why Do I Do It?

Why do I scrap?

This is maybe even a more interesting question for the childless person than for the parent. And I’ve actually heard someone say that she didn’t have any use for scrapbooking because she didn’t have kids. EXCUSE ME? So according to that logic, if you have no children, you have no life, or at least no life worth recording. Give me a break! Actually, once I got over my irritation at that remark, it made me feel a little sorry for that woman; clearly she feels that her life isn’t going to have been worth remembering after she’s gone—that seems unspeakably sad.

Because you see, I don’t feel that way at all. I don’t feel that a person has to have children to have goals, a purpose in life, fun, memorable experiences, and most of all, joy. I DO feel that you have to have important other people in your life, because what IS life without others to share it with? And I do have that—my husband (aka “the Chief” or “Mr. Y”); my chocolate lab, Cocoa (see below: “Chocolate Shadow”); my twin brother, with whom even now I share a secret language; a pack of nieces and nephews who are the beneficiaries of my goal of being the Aunt of Their Dreams; my best friend and her family (her children call us Aunt and Uncle, too); and so many friends I can’t count them all. It’s a full and rewarding and uproarious and joyous life. How could I not want to record that?

I suppose I most especially do it for my nieces and nephews, who live far away from me. We stay in pretty close contact through phone calls and email and occasional visits, but I want them to know the day-to-day stuff of my life, too. They’re all pretty special to me.

But there’s a selfish motive in my scrapping as well. Quite plainly, I just enjoy the work of putting together pictures and papers and little bits of other things—I love the work of collage, whether it’s actual or virtual, paper or digital.

And I really love it when I produce a nice combination of writing and images. My head is always full of language, language that’s aware of itself and usually in search of an outlet, and journaling is the answer. Journaling here in my blog, privately for my own files, or as part of a digital layout with photos and digital papers and clips and beads and tags and word art and . . . whatever else seems cool at the moment. I simply LOVE this work. And if what comes out of it seems worth sharing, so much the better, but if not, I think I’d do it just the same.

05 April 2006

On the Road Again

Wish me luck! I'm training for a four-day bicycle tour in Maryland.

I've been bicycling for decades, and my "holy grail" of cycling is the multi-day bike tour. Mr. Y and I took one together in Vermont in the early 1990s, and I loved it. Not sure he loved it as much as I did, but he loves ME, and we had ourselves a nice little vacation together, along with our bikes. It's true what they say--"Vermont ain't flat." But it's also true that what goes up a long, murderous hill with what you'd swear is an 80% grade must come down the other side, crunched into a racer's crouch and flying at an unbelievable screaming pace. I swear I heard the music from the witch's ride through the tornado in The Wizard of Oz playing in my head as I flew down the steepest hills, grinning like a fool--savoring my reward for having scaled that mountain at my back.

That tour featured lodgings at a charming New England B&B (the setting, in fact, for the Newhart show). This being Mr. Y's first experience with a B&B, he was surprised to find our room had no television, no telephone, no mini-bar, and, in the cool New England mountain summer, no air conditioning. (Guess I could've warned him, but what fun would that have been?) His initial dismay vanished, however, after our first day in the saddle. As he told our fellow riders over ice-cold beers at the end of the day's ride, "No TV, no phone, and no air conditioning, but boy was I glad to see this place after a 40-mile day on my bike!" Roger that.

Fast forward to 2002. We hadn't been on a bike tour since that first one. I'd done a few metric century rides (100k or 65 miles in a day) for charities, but no multi-day tours. It was the year of my 50th birthday, and I wanted to mark it somehow--somehow other than the big birthday party that Mr. Y and friends made for me. So I signed up with Womantours, a company that runs bike tours exclusively for women, for a week-long tour on the Katy Trail--a Rails-to-Trails bike trail of 200+ miles in Missouri. I was enormously excited, and kept to a strict training schedule so I'd be able to enjoy the tour to the fullest extent possible. Rail trails are relatively flat--generally no steeper grade than about 5%--but I WAS almost 50, and I figured the easier the riding, the more fun it would be.

But again, that was the summer of 2002. Remember what happened in September 2001? In many ways, the pall of 9/11 still hung over our nation 6 months later and travel was at an alarming low. People just weren't signing up for bike tours very much that summer, so my tour had to be cancelled for lack of participation.

I was crushed.
I was heartbroken.
I was 50 without a bike tour.
I settled for a metric century in September, and figured I'd go for it again the following year--surely people would have begun traveling more by then.

Between health issues and family responsibilities, almost 4 years have passed since then. But this--this is my year. The tour I'm taking is only 4 days--not quite the week I'd originally hoped for--but this is what I can fit in, and I'm not going to miss it again just for the sake of 3 days. Also, with the back problems I've dealt with in the last couple of years, 4 days is probably more appropriate (read "do-able" LOL). Still, I have to keep myself on a solid training schedule. On the tour, mileages for most days are flexible, but our shortest day is 21 miles, while the other days offer mileages from 25 all the way up to 73 miles. Not sure whether I'll want to do the 73, but certainly I'd like to do 30 or 50. And I only have 6 weeks left to train.

The weather has just turned glorious here in the Florida panhandle, so my training period has begun. I've been doing "experimental" rides of 5-6 miles for a week, just getting my back and legs loosened up and checking for unusual aches and pains, gently reintroducing my muscles and joints to this particular activity. And today I did my first 10-mile ride in months. I averaged about 12 mph, which is pretty dismal by racing standards, but not too bad after a winter of almost no riding but what I did on the stationary bike at the gym. My back feels OK, my knees aren't screaming, and though I've availed myself of modern pharmacology in the form of a little Naproxen Sodium tablet, still I don't feel overstressed.

I saw a flock of guinea hens, several pitcher plants (carnivorous plants native to northwest Florida), and a peacock sitting on top of a fence, its long blue-and-green tail cascading down over the bike trail! It was a glorious warm, dry, sunny day with a sky so blue it could break your heart. And I felt like I was 18 again. That's where my body wants to be--on my little bike, flying down a trail.

Anyway, wish me luck in my training efforts and on my tour. Stay tuned for more developments of this particular Work-in-Progress!