Friday, March 30, 2007

Glorious Washington State

This week my work has taken me to the great Northwest yet again. Quite a pain-in-the schlep, from home in Florida. In fact, Tuesday's trip involved 3 flights - JAX - ATL - SLC - GEG (Jacksonville, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Spokane), a very long day of flying. But Washington is worth the trip.

Spokane is surrounded by "gentle" mountains. The environment is green, and the pines rise grandly from the hillsides. A cute little downtown with a great parks system and trails galore. After presenting in Spokane, I rode to Pasco, in South-Central Washington. I traveled a desert, including tumbleweed and views that went endlessly into the horizon. The sands gave way to more hillsides, covered with the vineyards that provide the Willamette Valley wines.Thursday evening, after the presentation in Pasco, it was a little prop flight to Seattle. We kept it pretty low, just skirting the tops of the Cascades, providing an incredible view of Mt. Rainier. It seemed that I could reach out the window and touch the breathtakingly immaculate white mountaintops. There's something so sexy about the way the mountains rise with their voluptuous curves and how they stand so tall against the horizon. Coming into Seattle, the Puget Sound nestles the downtown skyscrapers, and hosts mountain-topped islands in the distance. It is hard to imagine a more incredible landscape, all within the boundaries of a single state.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Marvelous Massage

Some may think it a luxurious indulgence. Some may accuse massage enthusiasts of narcissism. Some have been known to suggest that paying to have a stranger connect with one's bare flesh is creepy. It is none of these things. Massage is exquisite. Massage is luscious. And with the combination of increased age and the way I've been pushing myself physically, massage is absolutely indispensable.

Sunday is the long run day. We usually take a circuitous route through several neighborhoods so that we can put in about 10 miles before we arrive at Starbucks. They know it's Sunday at the local franchise when EG and I rumble in, sweaty and breathless, at about 9 A.M. We order up the usual - in warm weather the iced quad espresso, in cold the venti black-eye. Yes, the marvelous numbing effect of caffiene is appreciated. For 20-30 minutes we chat or visit with the Starbucks regulars, and solve the world's problems. Then it's back out on the road.

Oh the creaky knees! Oh the reluctant heart! They thought we were done, but it's 2.7 miles back home (the short way) and we're pushing our tempo with the biggest part of our run behind us. Sometimes, in our glutton-for-punishment mindset, we'll even take the long way to eke out a 1/2 marathon distance.

Yes, it's an accomplishment to have done this before 11 A.M. on a Sunday. We can move on with our day and forget about the need to exercise, because surely 13 plus miles were sufficient. But the skeletal system doesn't forget.

Blessedly, thankfully, fortuitously, we had a massage planned for last Sunday evening. Our LMT comes to the house to do his magic. 75 minutes of pulling, pushing, and stretching and I leave the table feeling better than good, I'm standing taller. The spring is back in my step. I feel lighter. Deep-tissue, sports massage, whatever combination he uses, it literally takes years off my body. This is not a luxurious, narcissistic indulgence. This is as essential as oxygen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Home Sweet Ouch

How I love living in my Florida home! And this week I have actually lived here. My week at home arrived in a timely manner too. With spring, the yard calls me, and the swimming season officially begins.

Frolicking near the Fountain

Chillin' in a Chaise
Maintaining the tropical foliage requires a good bit of pruning and preening. Dangling precariously off of a ladder I rein in the renegade branches of the crepe myrtle. Down on my knees I dig out the roots of the ubiquitous clover. Bending and stretching, I work my landscape into shape (and my body out of shape, thank you Advil). Florida has her mysterious ways of combining beauty and danger. The soothing bend of the palm tree bough, swaying in a warm breeze attracts many a vacationer. These soothing sights create some serious sores for the seasonal gardener. I was willfully attacked by a palm in my yard. Evidently, she didn't want to be pruned, so she speared me with a seven-inch spike. Right through the glove and into the index finger on my right hand.

The Plant of Death
Owwiee! As a righty, the use of that finger is vital to all recreational activities!

In appreciation for all things natural, we recently purchased this lovely bird feeder.
Okay, it wasn’t for our appreciation of things natural, it was for the amusement of our 2 cats, Hansel and Gretel. They love to window-watch, and we thought that birds frolicking near this feeder would be a great amusement for them. Maybe we need a sign near the feeder “Free food - Don’t mind the 2 black cats in the window…”
In all, I can't complain. 75 degrees, sunny skies, and it's still March. It's good to be home.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Definitely Better Digs

Okay, so when the hotels stink I complain. This one's nice enough that I feel homesick. Staying in a nicer place is what we do as a family. Instead of being 3,000 miles apart, we should be deciding who will get the ice from the machine (my favorite job as a kid) or who will phone the front desk for the wake-up call. So, here I am (in Ontario, California, MJ!)

Jacuzzi Jettin'

A Cozy Corner
Nifty Natural Light

Fancy Furnishings

Bodacious Bed
A Sweet Suite

If I didn’t like meat so much, I’d be a vegetarian.

The bloody, gory facts that surround the meat on my plate really do disturb me. The more I learn about the species-centric focus animal-for-food raising, the more I wish I could turn off my “meat tooth.” These unfortunate animals, born to be killed and eaten, are forced to live with no consideration to the quality of their short lives. Nutritionally, I am aware of the high-fat, high cholesterol and growth-hormone laden nature of meat. Yet even with all this evidence stacked against meat, I find I can’t turn away from it.

You see, it tastes too good. The barbecued ribs, the juicy steaks, the chewy pork chops, the thick hamburgers, the freshly-roasted turkeys with dressing, no amount of tofu can replace these. I know, because I tried.

A few years ago I had a horrible dream, too horrific to recount the details. Suffice to say it had something to do with ravenous cannibals and the tender flesh of my then-first grade daughter. My mind, in its mysterious and disturbing ways, portrayed the act of butchering in such detail that I can still picture it. Appalling. I took this as a sign, a big reminder of “do unto others” and other moral lessons. It was time for me to stop eating meat. For six weeks I just said “no” to meat. Morally, I knew I would benefit. Picking through the greens on my plate, I could hardly wait to reap the health benefits too.

Vegetarianism equated hungry and grumpy for me. Traveling as often I do, I discovered that the vegetables I ordered in unfamiliar restaurants generally were treated to the same preservatives and chemicals as the meat I had refused in part because of chemicals and preservatives. My choices for lunch and dinner were basically salad, starch, salad, frozen vegetables, starch, or salad. Salad that arrived in various shades of brown and grey did little to satisfy. Without the distraction of a little grilled chicken on top of the romaine or some crumbled bacon on the spinach, my taste buds drifted off, never signaling to my stomach or my brain that food had arrived.

I have compromised my moral standing for my gastronomic preferences, a fact that doesn’t make me proud. But at least I’m not hungry anymore.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Working Harder? Working Smarter? Working Better

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Running, a recent Barnes and Noble purchase, has provided me with some interesting data.

1. A person can expect to burn between 100 and 150 calories when covering a mile on foot, whether it’s a 4 minute per mile sprint or a 20 minute per mile leisurely walk.

2. A pound is the equivalent of 3,500 calories.

3. With each strike of a runner’s foot on asphalt the body has to absorb a shock equivalent to 3 times the runner’s body weight.

Basically, it’s a good news/bad news situation. Let us apply this math to my performance in today's Gate River Run.

1. This body burned between 950 and 1395 calories during the run.

2. That is the equivalent of 0.27 to 0.40 pounds of weight loss.

3. During the 9.3 mile run, my 40 year-old skeletal system had to bear the shock of 9,820,800 pounds of pressure.

So maybe running isn’t the shortest route to weight loss. It certainly isn’t the easiest. But this activity that was started as a way to reach our “fit by 40” goals has grown into something much bigger.

First it was the subscriptions to the running magazines, the GPS tracker, the heart rate monitors, the caffeine-infused energy gel packs, the custom-fitted running shoes, we were caught up in the hardware of the sport. Then it was the racing, with our pre and post race routines, our recruited groupies (thanks, MJ and Mom) and the growing stack of race t-shirts testifying our achievements.

But today I realized that it’s even bigger than that. The indefatigable throngs of all colors, sizes, shapes, religions and ages, racing through the streets toward a common destination - this is a metaphor too delicious to waste.

It’s not about my run. My time. My best. It’s about scanning the sidewalks for friendly faces. The high fives to the kids standing on the grass who seem to be itching to join the race. The octogenarian on her front lawn with a cowbell and a wave, cheering on the group as we pass. It’s about being there, with everyone else. We all share the same sun on our faces and the same wind on our skin. It’s the group dynamic. The being a part of something so much bigger than an individual.

With or without custom fitted shoes or special gel packs, aren’t we all headed somewhere together?

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Flax, Flux, and other 4 letter F words

Somebody I know turned me on to the product line of a company called Kashi.

How organic, granola, and good for me they sounded. And what's more, their stuff actually tastes good. So I embarked upon my relationship with their granola bars, a handy "gotta-getta snack" travel companion. Yummy and good for me.

Their breakfast cereals, Go Lean and its crunchy cousin. Double yum. Fills my empty morning tummy and leaves me satisfied mentally and gastro-intestinally. Protein, fiber, and everything that's right in the world, and all I have to do is pour it. No thinking required.

So when I saw their new cereal on the shelf I had to try it. I am, after all, a loyal Kashi customer, and someone who is absolutely committed to eating right (if it doesn't inconvenience me). I had high hopes for the Go Lean Honey Almond Flax combination. The nutty goodness of the almonds, the sweet natural honey, the omega acids, the crunchy satisfaction, and, of course, the flax. The husband was disinterested in the benefits of flax, thinking that anything that sounded too much like reflux was risky business. But I believe in Kashi, and whatever flax is, it must be good for me if they say so.

Apparently, flax is the health food equivalent of Drano. That stuff is seeking to clear the pipes with way more enthusiasm than necessary, like dusting the curio cabinet with a leaf blower. What a delicious sensation to sit on while riding aboard a fifty seat regional jet. I could hardly wait for the solace (and open windows) of the rented car I picked up at my destination.

I share this information not for the indulgent chuckle of an extended fart joke. That stuff isn't quite as funny as it was when I was 12. Well, it's still funny, but I share this as a warning. That flax stuff means business.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Pump...You Up

It may be a little late in life for this to happen, but I realized today that I have muscles. I was at the Y for my regular beating with the personal trainer. 5'2" of pure evil, she is, and I curse her name for days on end after each appointment.

Seated overhead presses today, with 15 lb. weights in each hand. 3 sets, 15 reps per set... they added up quickly.

Sometime during the 3rd set (I was halfway between hell and purgatory by then) she told me to look in the mirror. This is something I usually avoid while at the gym. I go there with bedhead, sweat like a swine in mating season, and wear way too little clothing to purposely spend time examining my reflection. "Look at that, the muscles are working," she said, and then reminded me that I still have 5 more reps.

Oddly, there were muscles working, and odder still, they were attached to my body. I could see them, struggling to show their form, slowly being liberated from their suffocating under 40 years of transfats and all-carb diets.

There's something so basic, so "animal instinct" about it. The jocks are supposed to be the dumb ones. We Brains have better things to do than sweat and lift heavy weights. They're called "dumbbells" right? But sweating and lifting may be the smartest thing I can do now that I'm 40+.

Will I ever become buff? One day I may free the six-pack from beneath the jelly rolls, but the Iron Woman title is safely in the hands of someone who hasn't inherited the genetic disposition for Livin' Large.

I am sort of liking this working out thing, though.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Illinois Seminar Run

The chimes of mediocrity at the Clock Tower in Rockford, Illinois were just the beginning of a weeklong crescendo to Springfield Illinois's Signature Inn.

I am here to present myself as a positive professional, a representative of a national company built upon a strong belief in the best interests of educators. Teachers are invited to come, to open their minds (and their wallets) in order to further the learning of their students, an act of selflessness that entitles them to some respect, I think.

And what of the staff and presenters? For better or worse, we must come out on the road to connect with the teachers who can make the changes in the classroom. This means forfeiting family time, losing leisurely hours lounging at home, and hobbling from one hideous hotel to the next. But even we, the sturdy road warriors, have our breaking points.

Interesting bedding entrails.

Soiled seating for the seminar.

The slashes in the sheet.

Bloody blemishes on the blanket?

Curious curtain contamination.

New wallpapering technique?