Saturday, January 30, 2016

i sing the body in motion

Last night I was in tree pose in the gym. I was about 30 minutes into my practice, all warmed up and in the zone. As I stood one on foot, arms stretched above me in prayer hands, I was struck by the pure physicality of the present moment. I hadn't been thinking for quite awhile, just breathing and moving. Then the stillness of this balancing pose brought an intense experience of feeling - physically feeling - all of me, like every piece of me was hovering, yet simultaneously rooted to the earth. 

After I finished practicing and was heading back upstairs to my apartment, muscle memories of movement in childhood washed over me:

running barefoot through long grass as a toddler in our backyard
swimming in Long Island Sound near my grandparents' house
walking across fallen tree trunks in our woods
turning cartwheels in the front lawn
riding my bike, up and down hills
playing kickball and tag with the neighborhood kids
jumping rope
sledding on the Flying Saucer down the hill by our driveway
swinging on the red wooden swing my father made
skating on the cow pond across the street
bouncing on the Hoppity Hop ball across the basement and back, again and again
practicing walking silently through the woods
sliding down a huge sand pile in my neighbor’s yard
dancing to 45 RPM records at my friends' house
skiing in the Helderberg Escarpment, and chicken-walking back up the hill
jumping off the rock wall my mother built between the front and back yards

In motion or stillness, awareness of my body is my connection to reality.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


My name is CA and I’ve been addicted to running for three and a half years.

What else do you call it when you jump out of bed on a freezing cold morning, an hour before sunrise and tuck into your carefully piled clothes, lace up your sneakers and bound out the door?

I had attempted to become a runner several times before Spring 2012. I guess because I thought it must be “good”. Everyone else does it. I didn't enjoy it, because I was always getting out of breath. Not being able to breathe is an uncomfortable feeling. I would give up after only a few tries, wait weeks or months, try again and give up. Not for me, I’d say.

Then came the moment of commitment. We were living in Ghent, Norfolk VA in a beautiful turn-of-the-previous-century apartment with a long hallway. Occasionally I would succumb to the urge to skip down this hallway. As I was skipping one morning, I heard/felt a terrible rending and collapsed on the floor shrieking. My calf muscle had given it up. 

I immediately looked up information on my injury, since I had to leave for the airport in less than an hour. I found the description for what I thought I’d done and in the first sentence were the words “Calf (Gastrocnemius) muscle tears commonly occur in middle-aged recreational athletes”. 

What? I ride my bike to yoga class three times a week, that phrase can’t refer to me! Or can it? I was certainly middle-aged. I had collected 20 pounds over my high school graduation weight. I, um, did yoga three times a week, but the rest of the time I sat around. I did some walking, to be sure, but there was never any sweat involved.

I had 6-8 weeks of recovery time to plan out my strategy for improving my fitness. Running seemed a good place to start, but how to stick with it this time?

This simple tool - Couch to 5K - turned the tables. Working through this program finally allowed my body to adjust to comfortable breathing while running. I gained the stamina to run for 30-40 minutes without stopping and without feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath. I learned to sweat.

Ghent is a beautiful place to run. There are streets with block-wide medians full of gardens. There are no hills. There is scenic water, a pedestrian bridge to the downtown harbor park on the Elizabeth River. The more kilometers I racked up the more in love I became.

One of the things about running that I love, aside from the simple repetitive foot contact with the earth and the air in my happy lungs, is tourist running. To be able to run while traveling is to forge a connection with a new place that is far better than any postcard or souvenir shot glass. I can remember the weather, the terrain, the sights and smells - because while running, one is present and moving through the place on it’s own terms. A runner is part of the landscape - a participant and observer at the same time. It is the quintessential experience of place.

Some of my memories of place (in no particular order):

the wash in North Las Vegas NV
the beach in Wrightsville Beach NC
the wooded path along the Brandywine in Wilmington DE
the cobbled streets of Ghent, Norfolk VA
the gravel shoulder of the General Puller Highway in Deltaville VA
the neighborhood sidewalks in Los Feliz, Los Angeles CA
the narrow streets and alleys of Old City, St. Augustine FL
the dirt paths through the swamps of North Charleston SC
the walled mansions of Coconut Grove, Miami FL
the park in Westover Hills, Fort Worth TX, round and round with the dog…
the Canal Walk along the James River in Richmond VA
the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach DE
the bike paths in Mountain View CA
the tiny village of St. Mary’s GA
the Alberta Arts District in Portland OR
the wide, empty sidewalks through the business complexes of Tysons Corner VA
the campus of Union College in Schenectady NY
the punishing hills in Hendersonville NC

Looking forward to adding Anchorage AK to the list this summer.

Until then, my eyes pop open every day, in the early morning dark, eager to greet the sidewalk - totally addicted.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


The Winter Solstice is over. The Shopping Holiday is done. Now is the time of reflection and renewal. I think this is my favorite time of the year. It’s quiet after the New Year’s Eve parties and sunrise is creeping slightly forward every day. Soon it will be dawn-ish when I head out for my morning run/walk/shuffle/skip. 

It’s a time to review the good times, bad times and mediocre times of last year, to focus on lessons learned and establish priorities for the new year.

It’s a time plan the coming year: vacations, projects and personal resolutions.

It’s a time to clean house: scrub, organize and discard.

It’s a time to watch cat videos and do a juice cleanse. 
Nah, just kidding.

Happy New Year, everybody!

On a more serious note, I walked past this sign today and got to thinking about folks who may not be so joyful as I feel right now. Today is also a time to connect with family and friends and take stock of how you are feeling. If you need help, reach out. Tomorrow can be a better day and you don’t want to miss it.

Monday, December 28, 2015

jobbity job job

Joblessness has officially ended. I start next Monday with a local high-tech company as an application support specialist. It's a challenging position with on-call requirements and a steep learning curve for someone whose unix skills just might be a little rusty. I'm so excited!

I have learned much about the elusive work-life balance since my last career job. I understand how important good food, sleep, exercise and play is for my performance. I'll need stamina and a clear mind for this job.

I'm happy that we have simplified our lives to be able to focus on what really matters to us. Having only a tiny apartment with the bare essentials in it means I don't have to spend much time on maintenance. We share a car that neither of us needs to get to work, so it sits quietly waiting to ferry us to the rock gym or the marina on weekends.

I wake early to run and practice yoga, so my body/mind is ready for the day.

My work wardrobe is basic, easy and machine-washable. I wear two rings and the same earrings I've worn for over 20 years. I don't have to comb my hair. I have two pairs of office shoes (boots and clogs).

We eat simple vegetarian stews or stir-fry, so meal prep is straightforward. I use a menu-planning, grocery list, recipe manager that saves much thinking time. Packing my lunch is quick and easy - some combination of apples, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, and leftovers.

All this simplification means I can focus on work during the day and focus on my own life priorities the rest of the time: talking with my kids on the phone, playing with my husband, planning travel adventures for our vacation days and a little reading thrown in for fun.

Bring it on, Monday!

Friday, December 11, 2015


I went to a job fair today. At the Metro station, I noticed a young woman searching around and staring at her phone, apparently lost. So, after we got off the escalator, I asked her if she needed directions. She looked relieved and said yes. Turns out she was headed for same the job fair, so we walked the few blocks chatting together. 

She has her Master’s Degree in some kind of IT/data analysis/health care research stuff. She came to this country 6 months ago from Nepal with her husband on an H1 Visa. They are here, in our country, to make a better life for themselves. 

But they are are not just making a better life for themselves. They are making a better America. 

This country was built on the skills, talents, ingenuity, and back-breaking labor of immigrants. Why do we keep forgetting that? Why does someone like Donald Trump preach a slew of anti-immigration policies when he, himself is a product of immigrants?

What, exactly, does his campaign slogan mean? “Make America Great Again

How far do we go back to claim the “Great America” we want to recreate?
America when the white man came over and killed off most of the indigenous people? 
America when we legally enslaved millions of Africans?
America before the Irish came?
America before the Chinese came?
America before the Scandinavians came?
America before the Italians came?
America before the Germans came?
America before the Mexicans came?
America before the Hmong came?
America before the Cubans came?
America before the Guyanese, the Dominicans, the Nepalese?
(order of immigration waves from here)

What would America be without immigration? Think about it just for one minute.

I hope Subita gets lucky at the job fair.

I hope we open our doors to our Syrian neighbors. 

To quote President Obama, in a speech in 2014,

“There is no us or them, there is only us.”

Saturday, December 5, 2015

winter weekends

For the three seasons of warm weather, we like to spend our weekends on Red Ranger. She'll be moving from Deltaville VA to Deale MD this spring, so we are looking forward to exploring our new cruising grounds. Today, however, it was 2 degrees C when we woke up, maybe not the best day to go sailing on an unheated boat (although it is sunny and the wind looks about perfect). While I'm well aware that the weather we get in NoVA doesn't really qualify as "winter" in the sense we are used to, but it's still chilly.

Since we've embraced a minimal lifestyle, we have the luxury of not having to spend our weekends churning through household chores or errands. For now, until I find a job, I'm able to clean, provision and cook on the weekdays. Those tasks don't require much time anyway, cleaning three tiny rooms goes pretty quickly.

So, how does one spend winter weekends? We do like to walk out to the coffee shop in the mornings to read and write for an hour or two. We also like to get exercise and fun at the rock gym. But that still leaves large stretches of loose time, since we're still getting acquainted to our new neighborhood and don't really know anyone. Last weekend we headed into the District to attend a climate march around the White House to show support for the Paris climate talks. I got to chat with a retired NOAA marine scientist and meet a few folks from the local Sierra Club. And we got to explore DC a bit more.

This weekend I'll be helping at the local library book sale. I went over yesterday to sort and stack books and meet some of the regular library volunteers. During the sale, they're even providing us lunch! I'm always up for bartering food for labor.

Wait, this could be a pattern. If I work this out, I can find a volunteer opportunity every weekend until the weather warms. It shouldn't be too hard. I'm already tapped in to a few activist organizations that I worked with in our former city. There are volunteer aggregate sites like VolunteerMatch and a local site that do all the searching for me. We have the Metro to get around.

Volunteering is a win-win. We get out, meet people, and support organizations that build up our communities. And the organizations, obviously, get to function and serve. Looking forward to hitting the search sites for next weekend's outing.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Storage.  We’re so used to the concept of storage. Closets, plastic bins, shelves, cupboards, garages, attics and off-site rental spaces - the more it grows, the more we get used it. Long ago, my husband and I purchased a special wooden shelf with slots designed to hold cassette tapes. It was functional and made of nice, light-colored wood with a felt backing and brackets to attach it to a wall. It was storage as decoration. Decoration with bonus storage. We took our cassettes out of the cardboard box they’d been living in and slid them into the waiting slots. We had arrived.

One day, we bought a cassette tape and brought it home. The shelf was full. My husband said, “Oh, we need to get a new shelf.” Something clicked in my head and I suggested “We need to get rid of an old cassette to make room for this new one.” I suddenly realized that storage doesn’t end. There are always more shelves to buy. It was a turning point for us and we stopped looking at storage as an ever-expandable supply. We started using our space as a fixed limitation. If the space is full, something has to go. One in, one out. Sometimes, it’s one in, two out.

Along the way I started reading about alternatives to the mainstream consumer-driven American lifestyle. Back in the day, it was called voluntary simplicity. Now it’s called minimalism. Whatever it’s called, it just makes sense. Acquiring things only ties us down. We wind up spending money on more and more storage for the stuff we didn't need in the first place.

Once one understands the false allure of ever-expanding storage, one can appreciate getting away from it. Open space is calming. Not having anything to dust is freeing. Once a new acquaintance stopped over our house, looked around and asked if we had just moved in. We’d been there 14 years. I loved the emptiness of that house, it was spare and functional. Things need breathing room, just like people. A shelf with only one or two things on it looks more hopeful than one packed to the gills.

Not accumulating things is a huge directional change for most people. We are sold the ideal of acquiring more and more. Our economy depends on shopping as entertainment, even shopping for more special purpose storage containers. Better, our hard-earned money should be saved, or used to spend on the people and experiences that really matter in life. Were we enriched by owning a shelf full of cassettes? Better to buy a ukulele and spend time jamming with friends or go to a concert.

We’ve come a long way from those youngsters with their cassette shelf. We eventually gave up the house, cars and all the stuff to move aboard a sailboat for a few years. Now we divide our time between the sailboat and a tiny apartment. I don’t miss any of the stuff and I still try to keep the boat lockers and apartment cupboards only half full. We love our freedom far more than closets and plastic bins.