Aches and Pains

IMG_2096The moment I try to move, every muscle in my body protests. Getting out of bed or up from a chair, bending, going down stairs. Ouch, ouch, ouch! If I sit still for a few minutes, I almost feel normal until I try to stand. The cause of this betrayal is not hard to pinpoint. I was showing off at the gym yesterday.

We go to the gym at 5am most days for a regular circuit of machines, and sets of sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, and free weights. At that hour there aren’t any group classes, so I’m on my own. While I prefer to think I’m being consistent, I sense I’m easing up on some of the weights or the number of reps, compared to how I exercised when I had a personal trainer. When I was new to the gym I wanted to learn how to use the various machines, and a personal trainer was a great start. But when there is no longer a coach telling me to run faster on the treadmill, or do more squats, I have tended to be less intense. Sure, I’m there regularly, and that’s got to count for something, but I may be substituting a memory of athleticism for the actual thing.

I used to run outside. Miles and miles after work, and races on the weekends. But now the only running I do is on a treadmill. Not terribly fast, but with an incline to make it more challenging. While I was just finishing last week, a gym trainer asked if I’d like to come to a complimentary group exercise class on Saturday. I had been thinking about taking the class for some time, but hadn’t acted, so I thought, this is perfect! I’ll try it for free and see if I like it.

When I showed up for the class, I was clearly the oldest person there – by a lot – but I thought, he wouldn’t have asked me if he didn’t think I could do it. I was fitted with a heart rate monitor so that my stats would be displayed on multiple screens in the room along with the other class members. Feeling a little competitive and determined to keep up, I did everything the trainer asked. Kettle ball swings, squats, push-ups, sprinting on the treadmill, rowing with one arm, and then the other. When I wasn’t looking at my heart rate on the screen, I saw my bright pink face on the mirrored wall. Near the end, my thighs were already starting to hurt.

I don’t want to race, or enter a body-building contest, I just want to stay in reasonable shape and stave off the dreaded wiggly upper arms. But it seems, the older I get, the more work is required to “maintain”. So I was back at the gym this morning, a bit chastened and hobbled, trying to work out some of the muscle pain. Oof!


Spring Color


IMG_2074After all the rain, this week feels like the payoff. Trees are budding and flowering; daffodils and tulips are blooming. It’s a riot of color that makes me smile as I walk through the neighborhood. I stop at one flowerbed to take a closer look because it’s got something rare: violets. I hardly ever see violets anymore, but here they are clearly planted on purpose. Violets bring back lots of memories, including a bizarre woodland escapade.

My mom loves violets. When I was growing up, our garden always had them, strewn all over the beds; some solid purple, and others a mix of purple and white. Violets would also pop up in the grass, or next to bushes, not unlike the way dandelions punctuate a lawn. There were so many violets, we could pick a big fat bouquet, and never seem to get them all. Grandma also loved violets, so any time she visited us in the spring, we made sure to have a vase of them in the kitchen.

The house I grew up in had lots of plantings that were well developed when we moved in. We hardly ever planted anything new in those beds, but mom did lots of thinning and replanting, especially of the monkey grass which grew all over everything, and the day lilies. However, there were a couple of notable plants we added to the garden.

We visited Bernheim Forest, south of Louisville, one weekend, strolled through the shaded paths, and admired the plants that thrive in the forest. Tucked in the understory was a Jack in the Pulpit – an interesting looking plant, kind of like a lily, with a leaf forming a protective “roof” over the flower. And near by was the unicorn of flowering plants, a rare white violet. It was surrounded with other violets of the normal shade, but we’d never seen a white one before.

I don’t know what came over us that day, but we dug up the Jack in the Pulpit and the white violet, brought them home, and tucked them into a shady spot in our garden. They survived the move and looked like they had always been there. Each spring when the Jack in the Pulpit unfurled, and the white violet reappeared, I wondered if that siren wail in the distance was meant for us.

April Showers

IMG_2065There’s a terrifying rumbling that travels back and forth above our kitchen, punctuated by the sound of flames and a giant cooking pot. Are the angels bowling? Or making a stew? No, it’s the roofers, into their third week of the second phase of putting a new roof on our building. This project started in the fall. Too late in the fall, it turns out, because they weren’t able to finish. So we waited out the winter, and now, it’s back to roofing.

Since we live on the top floor, we are able to experience this miracle up close. We know they have a bubbling cauldron of hot tar – we have to close our windows to keep the stench out. They aren’t actually bowling up there, but must be ferrying supplies across the roof with a wheelbarrow. Other things are smacking the roof with loud thumps. I visualize the extreme gym work-outs where you flip over giant truck tires. Normally, the roof work would happen during the week while we’re at work, but we’ve been getting a lot of rain, so they’ve been coming on Saturday’s to catch up. Lucky us.

Maybe the amount of rain is normal for April, but it has seemed unrelenting. Perhaps it’s payback for a winter without snow; gray days, sheets of rain coming down fast and forming massive pools in the street. As a transplant to Chicago, I recently learned about the “Great Chicago Flood.” Twenty-five years ago, 124 million gallons of water from the Chicago River breached a wall and filled underground tunnels and building basements throughout the Loop, shutting down some businesses for weeks. Since I’m frequently in an underground train station, and the Pedway, it’s an uncomfortable situation to consider. On really rainy days, underground train stations are wet. In part, because it comes down the steps from the street, people carry water in on their boots, coats, and umbrellas, and some of the wall seem to weep.

At home, when it rains, our terrace can fill up with water, and I hold my breath, hoping it won’t seep under our sliding glass door. Part of the roof project is meant to address this by installing a new drainage system, so water from the roof doesn’t pour onto our terrace. That will certainly make me feel more secure. Meanwhile, we alternate between rainy days, and days with enough sun for roofing to continue. Maybe the guys on the roof should build an ark.

What to Do

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 2.40.28 PMEvery once in a great while, I get all caught up and find I have nothing to do. Nothing pressing, nothing due tomorrow, nothing that anyone is asking for. Nothing. I guess most people would shout woo hoo! and run out to play, but not me. I’m momentarily transfixed. Am I forgetting something? What am I going to do today?

It seems like I spend so much time working (both at home and the office), that I don’t know what to do with free time. A sad state of affairs. I should be able to blow off steam, soak in my surroundings, or just veg out. But it’s never been that way for me. I’m a planner. I enjoy thinking something out and then getting people in motion. A trip, vacation, or dinner. Maybe I was a border collie in another life.

I think planning has served me well, so it’s hard to turn away from it so easily. Yes, I brought umbrellas if we might need them. Yes, I have maps and a list of restaurants. When our kids were small, good planning meant I always had tissues, lots of extra napkins, a change of clothes, and entertainment in the form of toys/books/food. I could have been a contestant on “Let’s Make a Deal” when Monty Hall picked people out of the audience and gave prizes if you had some unexpected item in your bag. Hard boiled egg? Check! Pez dispenser? Check! Coloring book? Check!

Of course, I’ve thought on occasion, that my planning lets everyone else off the hook. They don’t need to think of the details, because they know I have it covered. OK, I see they appreciate me, but I’m also an enabler of sorts. So I’ve learned to ask for help. Will you remember where we’ve parked the car? Give me your ideas for the menu. Proofread this for me please!

I have also mellowed a bit, and find it possible to enjoy a TV show without simultaneously doing a chore. I can be spontaneous in response to other people’s suggestions. I sometimes stop myself from running through a “what if” checklist before I leave the house (what should I be bringing that I might possibly need). I’ve even taken the tack on some trips that if I’ve forgotten something, I can buy it where we’re going. I mean, really, unless I’m flying into outer space, I’m pretty sure there’s an ATM and a Target.

So, how about enjoying this lovely day without a plan? I might just take a walk and see what happens. I’ll try to avoid herding total strangers.

Buried Treasure

IMG_2045After nearly two years, we’ve finally painted our condo, and are going to unpack the last moving boxes to put up art that has been languishing in storage. Each box is a bit of a surprise since we failed to write the specific contents on the outside. We pull out a piece, freeing it from paper and bubblewrap, and there’s the “ah!” of recognition along with the flash of memory.

A framed picture of the family on the kids’ first trip to New York City. We’re smiling and the kids are goofing around. Somehow I’ve completely masked my fear that we might lose sight of them in the throng of Times Square.

Water colors painted by my father-in-law. These are precious family heirlooms that we’ve had in every room of our various homes, depicting laundry lines, boats, kid’s faces pressed to a window, rows of houses.

Art fair finds that continue to make me smile: a trio of quilt squares, a super-close-up of a water plant, and a multi-media collage of the stone tower in Rockford Park to help us remember Wilmington.

A lovely picture of birds made from intricately cut paper – a gift from our Vietnamese exchange student/daughter.

Pen-and-inks and acrylics my husband has made: beautiful works that were created on our dining table. After finishing most of these, my husband would ask our daughter to tell him which way to turn the canvas – which way it looked best – before he’d sign in the corner.

Of course, the challenge is to figure out where to hang everything. We have open wall space, but don’t want to crowd too many things together. And which combination of things look good on the same wall? Our inspired idea was to put up a shelf or ledge where we could lean many pieces, and potentially rotate the selections. After making it through the installation process of measuring and leveling the two shelves, we are thrilled with the result.

I’m aware that there are other boxes I am not unpacking. Photo albums with everything from black-and-white prints of my grandmother and grandfather, to slides depicting my youth, to my children from birth to high school graduation. Sometime after that, everything seemed to shift to digital. It would save a lot of space to have all these photos scanned, but those treasures may need to wait for another spring.