Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Exercise Routine Psychology

Yes, that's me on the treadmill -  30 minutes, 5 days a week. Even though I have managed to stick with this routine for two months now, I haven't lost an ounce, but I'm strangely undeterred by this lack of progress. Everyday I tell myself I am going to start eating better (this monologue is usually conducted during my healthy yogurt and granola breakfast), but by 11:00am when my blood sugar dips, I typically grab something sweet to tide myself over until lunch. Lunch is also typically a healthy meal, but afternoon snack, another sugarfest. Dinner is hit and miss: sometimes healthy and low calorie, other times not.

Oddly, I have found that what keeps me coming back to my treadmill every morning is allowing myself some movie time via my iPad while I'm hiking - I absolutely love watching a good show. I have gotten hooked on Brideshead Revisited, a 1981 British series, with lots of episodes, but I only watch it during those 30 minutes I am exercising. Now, why is it that I can be so disciplined about when I watch a particular show, but I can't seem to steer clear of those extra calories each day? I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but it seems silly to me that, as much as I'd like to shed a few pounds, I can't seem to make the necessary diet changes to make it happen. At 9:00am I am gungho to choose fruit for a snack instead of cookies, but by 11:00am I have decided that it doesn't really matter. What's with that?!?

I used to have more resolve about achieving goals. I think I'm getting lazy with age.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Serendipity: happy accident; pleasant surprise

Eating my breakfast in our kitchen last November, barely three months after we had moved into our new home, I looked up where the sun was shining through our window over the sink and saw this lovely diamond, hanging precariously from our water faucet. Actually, the water droplet was not as precarious as was the angle of the sun that caused it to strike the exact right spot, creating this beautiful glow.

Dirty dishes surrounded the sink and papers from yesterday's mail were strewn on the kitchen island, waiting to be tossed or filed, but over my sink was a perfect example of serendipity. I wish I could remember what the rest of that day had been like. I'd like to say that I'd had a great day, full of more happy surprises, but I think it was just a regular day for me. 

Each morning for about a week, the sun continued shining in our kitchen window at approximately the same angle, creating the same beautiful effect. I do remember looking forward to seeing it everyday. I felt a little disappointed when it stopped, when the sun moved on down, getting closer each day to its lowest point, signaling the beginning of winter. I look forward to seeing it again next November. 

It's the little things in life, isn't it, that can bring such joy if we are paying attention and allowing that vulnerable spot inside us to be touched by small gifts given.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gullible Grandma Gets Taken in by Toddler (it ain't hard)

Self Portrait

Yesterday I was the woman on the right; I felt intelligent, in control. Today, I am reduced to a caricature in fruit.

My three year old granddaughter, Lily, came over this morning to spend the day. She means the world to me. We love spending time together and rarely have a dull moment. After playing school and tea party, we watched a toddler dance DVD and she enthusiastically tried to follow all the moves. Me, I just tried to make a few moves without throwing my back out. Afterwards, it was time for snack. She bellied up to the bar and I watched as she deteriorated before my very eyes. Her eyes got droopy and she started complaining about how Mommy had made her get up too early this morning, and how tired she was. I knew naptime would be welcome and figured she would sleep well today.

She then started complaining about her foot hurting. This soon escalated into full-blown screams of pain. I started to get worried. Had she hurt her foot while she was dancing around? She had also put on her dress-up shoes. Had she twisted her ankle when I wasn't looking? Maybe something was even broken! But I tried not to jump to conclusions.

After carefully checking and re-checking her foot, trying to see if there was swelling or bruising (there wasn't), I tried to divert her attention by getting her interested in some arts and crafts until lunch, but she was having none of it. This isn't typical behavior for her. We usually move from one activity to another and have a lot of fun together. Still crying and even screaming off and on about her foot/ankle/heel (I never did get a straight answer from her) she seemed to be in such agony that I put another DVD in the player, propped the poor baby on the couch with a pillow and an ice pack under her foot and sat down with her to give her moral support. Every 5 or 10 minutes for the next hour, she would cry out in pain, tears and runny nose dripping down her face uncontrollably. I would dab her face and make soothing Grandma-feels-your-pain noises, but everytime I'd attempt to touch her leg or foot, trying to find out if she could even move her "broken" limb, she would scream. 

Thinking lunch might perk her up, I tried to encourage her flagging spirits by enticing her with all the good stuff I was going to make for her, but she barely paid any attention to me, such was her pain and discomfort.

Finally, I called my daughter. After giving her the blow by blow, she decided to come get Lily. I had visions of them spending the afternoon in the emergency room waiting for x-rays. By the time they got to my house, my granddaughter had managed to choke down some food and was much calmer. My daughter and son-in-law came into the room and immediately went to her. Of course they were concerned, but there was also a note of skepticism in their voices - apparently, they had seen this movie before. Within minutes, my daughter had managed to take a close look at Lily's foot and ankle and there was, in fact, a microscopic wound in her heel, had put Lily in her lap, asked her if she could walk, and plopped her onto the floor where Lily proceeded to demonstrate that, yes, she could indeed walk just fine, thank you very much, albeit without putting the injured heel on the ground.

'Nuff said. Score another one for the Lilster. I've always known that she's got my number, but today I was on speed dial.

My heart (the little stinker!)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Bittersweet Pain of Nostalgia

Grandma and Grandpa in their basement antique shop in Lincoln, NE

Parsing through old photos I've scanned onto my computer, I feel a pang of longing for the past that stabs my heart and kicks me in the gut. I am looking at pictures of my grandparents back in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I lived for a few perfect years when I was young: my grandpa's antique shop in the musty basement of his house, a group shot of my cousins, aunts, uncles, my great Aunt Esther standing in my grandparent's rose garden in the backyard, my youthful 30-something parents, my younger brother and sisters as babies, me and my older brother still cute and unaffected. I see these images and I am suddenly there, a child surrounded by a large, loving extended family.

My father moved us to California when I was eight, to take a teaching job, a million miles away from Grandma and Grandpa. I cried as we headed out of town, feeling as if a limb was being amputated. We would visit 'back home' once in a while, for a family reunion or a special anniversary, but it got harder and harder to make the trip.

Sometimes I think about going back to Lincoln to find my grandparent's old house, a place I remember as Utopian: concrete lions at the base of the front porch stairs, water melons and roses growing in the backyard in the summer, a lovely porch swing I long to go back to and often do, in my mind, when I can stand the bittersweet pain of being there again. I remember summer nights with siblings and cousins, catching fireflies while my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents sat on the front porch (excuse me while I wipe my eyes). We don't have fireflies in California - an entomological shortcoming in my book, if there ever was one.

Me (on the floor looking bewildered) with my older brother holding our baby sister, and some cousins - probably at Christmas which we always spent with the whole family.

A few years ago, when my husband and I were looking to buy another home, we walked into an old house that smelled of ripe apples and wood. I nearly swooned. I was immediately transported back in time to Grandma's house and filled with such longing I couldn't keep back the tears (our realtor politely ignored my reaction). I fell in love with the house, wanted to walk into it everyday and smell that smell, feel those feelings (I am, without a doubt, a glutton for punishment). I often buy apples and put them in a bowl for the sole purpose of smelling them as they ripen and rot. We didn't end up buying that house, and the house we live in now has many years to go before it has that lovely aged, lived-in scent I love so much. I will probably be long gone by the time it does.

I looked up my grandparent's old address online. The house is still there, but I don't think I'll ever go back to see it. If just thinking about the house creates such emotion in me, I think that actually seeing it again would either be a huge disappointment (reality is a poor replacement for our idealized memories) or I would have to be scraped up off the ground after a complete emotional meltdown.

I once read that when we feel nostalgia, we are actually longing for heaven. I like that....

My brother and I with our grandparents, most likely after church on a Sunday
Circa 1958'ish

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Earworms: When Songs Get Stuck in Your Head

After watching Paul Simon's documentary on the making of his album 'Graceland', I have had the song 'You Can Call Me Al', stuck in my head for weeks, months really. The chorus goes around and around in my brain, eventually involuntarily coming out of my mouth in short bursts or I'll find myself humming it. Although the words are simple it's easy to leave some out:

  If you'll be my bodyguard
  I can be your long lost pal
  I can call you Betty
  And Betty when you call me
  You can call me Al

I get almost all the way to the end and then usually mess up on the '...and Betty when you call me' line.  Obviously, if you don't get all the words in there, you end up with too many notes, which means you must start the song again until all the words land in the right spots, or at least until all the notes have words attached to them. Sometimes I will settle for this imperfection. But even settling can take a while since only a small portion of my brain is actually paying attention. Then, when I know I've got the song right, around it goes again, and again, and again, ad nauseum.

I finally bought the stinkin' CD, thinking that if I could listen to the whole song whenever I wanted I might be able to purge it from my mental replay list.

I couldn't resist looking up the phrase, 'songs get stuck in my head' in Google, and, omg, Betty, there's a name for what causes it (at least according to one website): earworms. Not like real worms, but rather, and I quote: parasitic in the sense that they get lodged in your head and cause a sort of "cognitive itch" or "brain itch" -- a need for the brain to fill in the gaps in a song's rhythm.

I feel better.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


My husband's new hammock, where I should find him more often.

Today in Sacramento we are enjoying a dry 97 degrees. I'm talking 13% humidity... dry! I have experienced East coast humidity and appreciate the difference.

I love summer. No need to find socks that match my shoes (flip-flops are attached to the only soles on my feet), no need to rush from warm covers in the morning to a heavy bathrobe and slippers, dressing for the day involves picking out a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt (to match  my flip-flops, of course), iced green tea instead of hot tea for breakfast, a sense of freedom not found in any other season.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Remembering.... What?

Groovy suede poncho and 501 button fly Levis: circa 1971
I could remember lots of stuff back then. 

Why can't I remember things? I've never had a good memory, so I can't say this is a recent development, although I know it's getting worse. I find it very odd, this forgetfulness. I'm pretty sure it's nothing as serious as Alzheimer's, at least I hope it's not, but it bothers me that it seems to occur more frequently these days. At least I think it does....

Quantifying how much I actually do remember is difficult since I don't know how much I'm forgetting. I mean, how do you know what you're forgetting unless someone else brings it up? And even then, the other person could be lying.

One benefit of a bad memory is that it saves money on books. Sometimes when I'm reading a book I'll feel a vague sense of deja vu. Have I read it before, or just the cover jacket? Or was it that I read one of those annoying 'teasers' they sometimes put at the end of books, giving you just the first chapter or so of the next book from the author. No matter. If I can't remember the story, what difference does it make? I always save books I like because I know will enjoy them just as much the next time I cycle through them.

I can't help but wonder if my poor memory is related to my poor sense of direction. I am really bad. I recently got confused about which direction I should turn after coming out of a store at the mall (a mall I have gone to for 20 years). I walked the entire length before finding a landmark that hit home making me aware of my error. I just gracefully did a u-turn and casually hiked back the other way. I was alone, so who was going to know? Even worse, I got turned around in my own neighborhood once (okay, twice). True, I'd only lived in the area about 4 years at that time. Barely long enough to get the hang of things, don't you think?

My poor memory could also be related to the fact that I spend a lot of time inside my head and not enough time looking around me. No. That sounds good, but I don't think that's the problem (that's a whole other story). It must be some inner ear thing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

That Which We Promise: Renewing Wedding Vows in Edinburgh, Scotland

Months ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to renew our wedding vows this year for our fifteenth wedding anniversary. I thought, Sure, why not. (Romantic, aren't I?) Where will we have the ceremony? When? Who will preside? Who will we invite? Will I wear my wedding dress? (It still fit if I didn't move my arms too much.) Will my husband rent a tux? Wear his suit? Photographer? Reception? How far are we going to take this thing?

Overwhelmed by lack of decisiveness, as is our way, we pretty much let the idea go, but every now and then would revisit the topic, only we would ask the questions in a different order just to keep things interesting. But still, only squishy resolution to come to some sort of decision would result.

Time goes by and it's now just a few weeks away from our anniversary. By this time, we had reduced the whole plan to just going out to dinner somewhere in town. We felt like cowards, losers. We had to have some sort of inspiration, didn't we? We weren't that burned out, were we?

Then, on a Friday evening, both of us exhausted from our week, I said something like, You know, we really should go somewhere out of town for our anniversary. Carmel? (We'd spent our honeymoon there.) Washington? (We'd been wanting to make a trip north.) My husband said, Scotland? And I said, why not?

We managed to make arrangements ahead of time for a vow renewal ceremony to take place at St. Giles' Cathedral in Old Town Edinburgh, after Sunday services (which also happened to be my husband's birthday),  with one of the church Ministers presiding. We invited no one (how are you going to bring a crowd all the way to Scotland?), wore "regular" clothes, brought our little point-and-shoot camera and had someone snap a few photos. The reception was high tea with a couple we know that lives in Edinburgh that we hadn't seen since our last trip in 2009.

But the ceremony! The ceremony was 15 minutes of tears and high emotions that we were both unable to contain and, I think, a bit surprised by. Speaking for myself, I hadn't realized how much I needed and wanted to hear my husband recommit himself to me and our marriage. Although we have had a great marriage, I found myself thinking, He really does want to stay with me! It's not just because he feels he has to. (Sorry, Honey....)

We sort of floated out of the cathedral when it was over, feeling lighter somehow. I keep going back to that day in my mind, remembering one of the best days of my life, my new touchstone.

st giles' cathedral edinburgh scotland
Our 'little' wedding chapel in Edinburgh: St. Giles' Cathedral

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