Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering


It's another beautiful morning in New York City -- September 11, 2011.  The 9/11 memorial located at the site of the World Trade Center is opening as the names of the dead are being read.  Moments of silence are being observed.  Water is cascading down into the reflecting pools like the tears that streamed down our faces that day and in the days that have followed.

The bell is tolling right now -- marking the strike on the Pentagon.  On TV, elected officials alternate with the families of the deceased.  James Taylor is on hand to sing Close Your Eyes as he quietly strums his guitar.  Something hopeful yet sad about those lyrics -- "you can sing this song when I'm gone."

The names of those who were lost are engraved on the walls surrounding the pools.   The children of the rescuers are making rubbings of their names while wearing their parents' hats.  Others stand mutely with pictures or flags and stare deep into the reflecting pools as if somehow the answer to the events of this day -- nay the events of a thousand days over time -- can be found there.

For 9/11 is only one of many days that we humans have endured because of the hate we feel for each for other.  The bell is tolling right now -- marking the fall of the South Tower.  On the TV, another of our elected representatives is reading a poem followed by Emi Ferguson playing Amazing Grace.  The haunting notes of her flute playing waft gently out over a silent crowd.  The half-finished Freedom Tower stands solidly in the background

The bell is tolling -- for the United Airlines flight that crashed into the ground in Shanksville.  Another elected reads a poem.  Somehow the appearance of these dignitaries among the families of those that were lost rings hollow.  One can imagine the discussions of who was going to do what on this solemn day.

We are up to the G's now.   Flowers and flags are beginning to cover the wall of names.  Long stemmed red roses laid gently are interspersed with carnations and lilies standing tall with their stems placed gently into the corners of the names.  Rubbings are still being made.

I wrote about what that day in 2001 was like for me in  2010 -- Today.  This year, it's sad to watch the parents who lost children and the children who lost parents as they read the names of those who died on September 11, 2001.  Their losses are still palpable.

The bell is tolling -- marking the fall of the north tower.  Another elected is speaking followed by Paul Simon singing Sounds of Silence.  Sadly, Garfunkel is not at his side.  A fireman's worn helmet rests gently on the wall of names.

It's almost 12:30 now and they are reading the names beginning with S.  I've missed the L's -- someone from my hometown, an old schoolmate from my grammar school days.  He was a year behind me.   Nice guy.  Nice family.  Ten years later, still hard to believe he is gone.

As I listen to the names and watch the pictures scroll across the bottom of my screen, it is clear that the victims of 9/11 reflect the diversity of our country.   We are a nation born of immigration.  Not so far away from this memorial site is another wall on Ellis Island -- engraved with the names of those who came here because they wanted a better life.  That is the foundation that we stand upon and the strength that helps us to get through hard times.

They are coming to a close now with the reading of the names.   A formal place for remembering our dead and that day in 2001 is now open.   The water gently flows into the footprints that mark the foundations of the towers.  The hole in the New York skyline is being filled.  The hole in our hearts remains.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Me and My Mii

Cheek to Cheek (Tanzania)
The last Saturday in July was one of those lazy summer days where I was spending my time doing not much of anything.  The kind of day where the most pressing thing on my mind is whether there was an episode of Law & Order (any variety) that I hadn't seen yet.  Picture me, ensconced on my nice soft couch weighing the watching of television with a long walk in the heat.

At some point in my channel trolling, I stumbled across an infomercial for a DVD set that would teach me the ins and outs of Zumba.  For those of you who, like me, have been living under a rock, Zumba is a dance exercise program craze that has been sweeping the country.   I had recently spent some time visiting with Lisa who is one of my oldest and dearest friends and who is now a CERTIFIED Zumba teacher and skinny.  So, I paused on it (of course the caloric restriction (hmm, deprivation?) piece of this was in small print at the bottom of the screen and easily ignored for the moment).  It was compelling.  How could it not be with visuals of rock solid abs and everyone having so much fun.  I'll confess that having been an early acolyte of Jazzercise, this seemed like something I would really, really like.  I was hooked.

Alas, my television and my DVD player are not currently speaking to each other.  A casualty of the bedbug sightings and ensuing cleaning of last year.  I have a very nice-looking connection wire coiled up in the television cabinet that is likely the culprit but I just haven't had the need to find and read all of the books in order to figure it what is wrong with my connections.  Rather than try to solve that problem (whatever happened to my younger self that liked to get the technology all in order?), I cast my eye around my living room and saw the dusty Wii remotes, the Wii balance board, and the Wii itself.  New batteries and a trial run showed that everything was speaking to each other.  It also earned me a message from my Wii Fit trainer (aka a talking balance board) that it had been something like 1,200 days since she (he?) had seen me and that I was obese!
Hipster (Mara Mara River, Tanzania)

Now, I think the designers of the Wii Fit software may have made a bit of a misstep on this categorization of people into a spectrum that ranges from underweight to overweight to obese.  And, if we're going to nail the top end of the spectrum as "obese" then shouldn't we be calling the bottom end "anorexic"?   Aren't they equally problematic states to be in when thinking about overall health of an individual?   Rather than quibbling over how the message was framed, the reality was that the Wii wasn't telling me anything that I didn't already know.  I might be carrying my weight well but I am carrying more weight than I should.  

I do so like a challenge.

So I threw down the gauntlet then and there.  If I could have a sport at the callow age of 16, lose 30 lbs in my mid-20s by doing Jazzercise, and become a weightlifter in my 30s, I could certainly lose 20 lbs in my early 50s with a combination of some diet changes, adding exercise back into my life, and dedication.  Just to be completely honest, my talking balance board thinks that I should lose quite a bit more and get to that same weight that I was when I was a Jazzercise fanatic whose diet consisted of salad, salad, and more salad.  I have a picture someplace of that period in my life.  I look a  bit emaciated.  Suffice it to say that my trainer and I have a disagreement here.  The good news is that I don't really have to argue -- after all there are limits to talking balance board's capacity to engage in repartee.

You should also know that aerobic exercise and me are not such a great fit.  This goes back to that formative meeting when I was a freshman in high school with my guidance counselor Mr. C.   I asked what I needed to do to get scholarship funding and Mr. C. laid out a plan for me.  Some things were easy for a bookworm like me -- good grades, extracurricular activities like the school newspaper and the Spanish Club, scoring well on things like PSATs and SATs, making the National Honor Society.  And then there was the hard thing -- you MUST have a sport.  Sport?  Did I hear that correctly?  You want me to PLAY a sport.  Mr. C was pretty reassuring on that front.  It wasn't that I needed to play a sport but rather that I needed to have a sport -- any sport -- on my high school resume.  

Nah! Nah! (Tanzania)
Have I mentioned that I like a challenge?

So there I was, a kid who had gone to a Catholic school through the 8th grade where the auditorium served as the gym and the gym time was something like once a week when you get right down to it.  The neighborhood kid who was picked last for teams and generally stationed so far out in the field (think kick ball played on a football field) that everyone else could conveniently forget that I existed.  The kid that had no eye hand coordination and who on the first day of ski class demonstrated how to ski down a hill backwards and into a tree.  A kid sandwiched between two brothers -- one of whom played football and the other one of whom was a superstar swimmer (repeat after me -- his 1978 high school record in the 100 free is still standing as of today, August 9, 2011 at 11:31 pm).  Me.  I was a teen age bookworm in need of a sport.

So I went out for the field hockey team and I made it!  OK, OK, in those days pretty much anyone made the field hockey team.  And there ensued four years of relative misery just to be a kid with a sport for that all important college application.  The thing I learned from this formative experience as a member of a team is that even if you are the kid that can't run all that fast and who has no eye hand coordination, you serve an important function for the more athletically gifted and talented who can run around you on the practice field.  Somewhere along the way I learned how to wield a hockey stick in a self protective mode and every once in a while I would score a pretty good hit from my fullback position.  I also learned that I wasn't necessarily built for running or at least for running fast over a distance.  I could run the Burma (our not so complimentary name for the training course that we'd run at least once a week) but I generally came in close to or dead last.  A big deal then and not so much now.  And I played in a varsity game.  The last five minutes of the last game of my senior year season.  And I lettered.  In a nutshell, after four years, I was a kid with a sport AND a varsity letter.

Flapper (Kangaroo Island, Australia)
And, yes, Mr. C was right "having a sport" was viewed favorably on my college applications.  I got a very nice offer from a liberal arts school that provided a good scholarship, a right-sized loan, and a work study job.  I was in and the very FIRST thing I did was to promise myself that I was never again going to be a kid with a sport.  Don't get me wrong, I dabbled in recreational swimming and rollerskating (is that a sport?), and assorted other activities.  For the most part, I studied, worked, and spent my free time socializing.  Some twenty pounds later, I was a young adult with a college degree.  A young adult without  a sport.  

That year after college was the first of my periodic flirtations with exercise.  I quietly took up Jazzercise, moderated my diet, worked hard, continued to socialize, and I lost 30 lbs.  Not a bad outcome.

Then I started to be an adult with knee pain and the remedy -- NO more Jazzercise.  Too much twisting and turning said my mother's orthopaedist.  Find another exercise.  Easier said than done.  Rather than find a new exercise, I found a new life -- going back to school to earn my Masters and then moving to the big city where at some point in my late twenties, I picked up the exercise habit.  Again.  

Now this exercise period was different -- and more long-lived than my previous incarnations.  I was running with a crowd that liked to exercise, I'd joined a gym, and I had discovered weightlifting.  Let me be clear -- not merely doing the "circuit" a couple of times a week with one set at each machine.  Real, weight lifting with free weights, spotters, and a great delight in running with the boys early on a weekend day as I occupied space in the the free weight room.  I worked out five to six days a week for two hours a day - a little spinning, rowing, or running to get the blood flowing and then to the weight room where I'd work my back and chest one day and shoulders and legs the next.  Biceps curls and triceps work -- not a problem.  My favorites -- shoulder presses and working my lats.  The best part -- controlling the weight on the way down.  I was jacked. 

Jimmy Durante (Kangaroo Island,  Australia)
And, then I turned 40 and I switched jobs.  Less time to work out and the onset of what has always seemed to me to be a battle that I am destined to lose.  It's pretty well-documented that women easily gain weight once they turn that 40 corner.  I'm no exception.   I moved to long walks, acquired a photography hobby, and had a brief flirtation with swimming at a fancy gym in 2009.  The walking and photography stuck but the swimming didn't and aside from starving myself, the ins and outs of dieting eluded me.  Which brings me back to my Mii and that dang talking balance board.

So on that lazy Saturday in July, I decided that I was good to go.  That if I could lose 30 lbs as a callow young adult, I could lose 20 lbs as an older and presumably somewhat wiser 50-something year old who was basically living a sedentary life.    

It bears repeating -- if only to remind myself -- I do so like a challenge.

Having tested the electronics, I did some Amazon (you all know the url) research and in addition to the aforementioned Zumba program for Wii, I purchased  Wii Fit Plus, a walking program (Walk It Out), and a set of two-lb hand weights.  Then, I started to exercise.  Just me, my Mii, and that dang talking balance board.

I have to say that so far this has been a pretty entertaining adventure and I can see the benefits.  I'm sleeping better and my talking balance board tells me I am down to just being overweight (progress!).  As for the fine print on the Zumba infomercial, I've limited my intake of things like bread, pasta (sigh), and white sugar while increasing my intake of (gasp) proteins, fruits, and vegetables (not doing so well on the vegetables truth be told).   The pact with my inner self on that front is that if I'm out to dinner, I can have ALL of those bad carbs that are currently out of my diet and a glass of wine (or scotch or beer if the mood strikes). And, if I feel like a cookie every once in a while, that is OK too.

Big Waves Coronado Island
I came back to my Mii and my talking balance board this week from a one week vacation and the prior weight loss was relatively intact despite a week of being "off the diet" and certainly not exercising as much.  As for my Mii, she is not looking any thinner but I must say she is a pretty cool little avatar.  For most activities, she wears a purple tunic, black leggings, and sunglasses.  There are some activities where she is decked out differently.  I particularly like her skateboarding outfit -- all decked out in purple and white and helmuted and padded.  She is a Mii who is ready to tackle the skateboarding course.  Her only problem is that her avatar -- that's "Me" -- is a 50 something year old woman who can't seem to get the hang of steering the skateboard.

It bears repeating -- I do so like a challenge.  Which is good because this weekend -- I'm gonna crack open the Zumba program and add it to the mix.  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Big Waves

Coronado Beach Calm
On most days, Coronado Island is not the locus for big waves.  But sometimes, nature delivers big surf in the most unexpected places.  That’s the kind of day to take the camera out, screw on the biggest zoom lens I own and saunter off down the sand.  It’s a day to wade into the water and let it crash around my thighs.  It’s a day to dig my toes a little deeper against the strong pull of the undertow that wants me to come out to sea to play for a while in the roller coaster ride of the next big wave.  Click.  Click. Click.  Crash. Crash. Crash. 

I wonder if it would ever get old if I lived at the beach and could frolic on the sand whenever I pleased.  Ah, that would be the life – falling asleep and waking up to the ebb and flow of the surf crashing on the shore.   It would need to be a desolate beach – one that was hard to get to so I could have it all to myself all of the time. 

Coronado Spray
My house would be high on a cliff overlooking my secret beach.  Like Doris Duke’s Shangri La, it would have a wall of glass that receded into the floor – opening my living room to the sea and the sun.  The floors would be made of the lightest blond wood and the wall opposite the sea would be cerulean blue as if the sea and the sky had come indoors.  For those cold winter nights, there would be a fire pit filled with glass beads in the center of the room with low slung beach chairs made of teak and red striped canvas sitting at the ready around it.   White sofas and chairs would stand like soft sentinels just waiting for me to sink down into the deep cushions and forget where my tush ends and the cushion begins.

Coronado Crashing
The house would be shaped like an L and off the living room on the right hand side would be the door to a massive kitchen with countertops carved of the stone that the house sits upon.  The kitchen would be tricked out with a Viking stove and a beehive oven for those wood-fired pizzas and empanadas that I’d suddenly know how to make.  Sliding glass doors would lead to shallow steps down to an infinity edge pool tiled with blue and green tiles that sparkle in the sun. 

Down a weathered flight of steps (200 to be exact), there’d be a fire pit surrounded by big boulders smoothed and ready for a driftwood fire on a summer night. The kitchen would always be stocked with s’more makings and sharpened sticks would always be at the ready for when the mood strikes.  At least once a day, the sea would be calm enough for an ocean swim and the sand would always be a cool white powder that invites a barefoot walk from end to end.
Coronado Perfect
The basement of my house would be a tricked out great room with every electronic gadget known to woman.  My kindle would be loaded with all the books I could ever want to read, I’d have an iTunes library bar none, and the latest movies would beam directly into my home.  Blasted out of the rock, it would open to the sea with a sturdy wooden deck for watching the sun go down while relaxing in a weathered old Adirondack chair straight from the Catskills.   With a room this size, I wouldn’t have to choose between a deep comfy sectional and the writer’s chair of my dreams – there’d be room for both and then some!  The walls here would be filled with my flotsam and jetsam from years of traveling the world.  Fine art would mix with found art which would live next to outsider art.  Eclectic but working all the same.

Coronado Crashed
Upstairs would be two master suites (for the occasional guests invited to share my own Shangri La) – each complete with its own deck and hot tub.  There would be retractable skylights for those nights that I or my guests wanted to sleep under the stars and cozy fireplaces would take the chill out of the air.  Downy white quilts would grace the beds sheer white curtains would billow in the ocean breezes.  The tubs in the bathrooms would have views of the sea and the showers would be lined with tiles in all the blues of all the seas in the world.

Coronado Pounding
In my room there would be a spiral stair to the widow’s walk that graces the roof of the kitchen.  A strong pergola would provide welcome shade and yoga mats would stand ready for morning reflections.  And I would be able to stand on my head or twist my body into a pretzel with the distant sound of the waves crashing filling my ears as I sunk deep into the tranquility of being still and breathing deeply.

From the road, passersby would only be able to glimpse the top of the pergola as they drove by.  They wouldn’t know that the dirt road winding its way over the windblown cliff led to Shangri La above a secret beach. 

No, that life wouldn’t get old.  In my minds eye, I can picture it.  I’m catching the perfect wave and riding it to the end of the world.  

Coronado Wave on the Cusp of  a Break