My kind of lawnmower

August 21, 2016

When I was little, my nickname within our family was Piglet Moon. At one point it was lengthened to Piglet Moon Who Likes to Help Daddy with the Grass. Not that I actually went by that name on a daily basis – I’m not sure whether anyone actually called me Piglet Moon very much. But I was at that age when children actually do enjoy helping with house and yard work.

Daddy used an electric mower, which to me was loud and kind of scary. I think anything loud was scary to me at that age – I was particularly scared of some public toilets that flushed very loudly. I probably also had absorbed some of my mother’s fear of what could happen if something went wrong with powered tools and appliances. I do remember at least once that my father ran over the mower’s electric cord while mowing and sliced it in two. I wasn’t sure whether one could be electrocuted that way, but I didn’t want to find out.

When I was big enough to push a mower, I decided to haul the old reel mower out of the garage. It hadn’t been used in a long time and it was probably a bit rusty, but it did cut grass, as long as the grass wasn’t too high. And there was no noise, and no cord to worry about. Eventually I also learned to use the electric mower, and discovered it wasn’t so scary. But I retained a liking for the quiet and simplicity of the reel mower.

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Back on my bike

July 9, 2016

I rode my bike a lot when I was growing up. My bike was a single-speed 20-inch with baskets in the back. It wasn’t fast, but I could carry a load of books back to the library and come home with a bunch more. On Saturdays I could ride from one garage sale (which I knew as a “tag sale” growing up in Connecticut) to another around town, occasionally buying a used paperback or jigsaw puzzle (as long as they could fit in my bike baskets).

Often I just rode my bike for the fun of riding it. When I was a teenager, I got a full-size bike, with three speeds, and I could manage hills better, but I still struggled to keep up on weekly bike rides with the local American Youth Hostels group. I dreamed of someday getting a ten-speed bike.

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Books: Calico Joe

February 23, 2015

This is not really the kind of book I was looking for to listen to on my iPod. I used to listen to books on tape while riding my exercise bike, but changing technology has put an end to that. I hadn’t thought I had any interest in strapping an MP3 player to my arm as so many people do at the Y, because I had no interest in listening to music while exercising. (The classical music I enjoy just doesn’t have the driving beat that goes with pushing yourself physically.)

Then recently it occurred to me that these days you can listen to books on an MP3 player. Our library participates in a service that makes more titles available to me than just what is owned by our own library. Surely there must be enough out there to motivate me to get on the bike so I can listen to another installment of a gripping story.

It turns out there is less out there than I had hoped, at least of the sort of story I enjoy. I don’t mind a certain amount of violence in mysteries and thrillers (pretty hard to have a murder mystery without some violence) but not as much as a lot of books have these days. I have no interest in most romances or any vampire stories.

But I like John Grisham’s writing. Most of it, anyway – I did not enjoy A Painted House. The description of Calico Joe indicated it was about baseball, which I’ve had little interest in for the last forty years, but as a young child I loved it. I borrowed books from the library about children playing baseball, I slowed my steps passing the baseball diamond on the way home from the pool if there was a game going on, and I practiced hitting a softball in the back yard (hard to do, though, without anyone to pitch it to me). Besides, there was some mystery involved in the story of Calico Joe.

I did enjoy the book. It is well-written, giving out information bit by bit about what really happened when narrator Paul Tracey was 11 years old in 1973 (when, as it happens, I was also 11 years old). It’s about family, and about behavior that can destroy family relationships. It’s about the need to tell the truth, and about the pride and fear and stubbornness that can make it so hard to let the truth be told.

And of course it’s also about baseball. Enough memories of my onetime love of the sport remain that I enjoyed even the descriptions of games. I knew nothing of most of the players mentioned, but Grisham is a good enough writer that my ignorance didn’t get in the way of appreciating the story.

But it’s not such a gripping novel that I felt compelled to ride my bike just to hear what happened next. I did feel compelled to ride it enough to finish the book before having to “return” it to the library, but I really want to be exercising every day that time permits. The library director tells me that soon many more titles will be available, so I look forward to an expanded selection.

Back in the (bicycle) saddle again

October 26, 2014

When I was growing up I rode my bicycle everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. I’m not sure why I didn’t ride it in the younger grades, maybe it wasn’t allowed. By the time I was in middle school, I carried my violin case to and from school every day and that just doesn’t fit in a bicycle basket very well. (There were days I wished I had chosen to play clarinet.)

But I rode it to the library – a trip I made often. I rode to the grocery store, the drugstore, the bookstore (my favorite), and the swimming pool. On summer weekends I went to yard sales (or tag sales, as they’re known in Connecticut where I grew up), trying to get to as many as I could find on a big circuit around town. Sometimes I just biked for the fun of riding, without going anywhere in particular.

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5K in 33:26

August 4, 2013

For months I have been preparing for yesterday’s 5K race, hoping to beat my time from last year. Until last week, though, I remembered wrong how long it took me last year, and thought I just needed to finish in about 36 minutes or so.

Then I went back and checked last year’s time: 36 minutes, 29 seconds. How had I managed that? (I remember being equally surprised last year when I was told my time upon finishing.) My best time in my recent runs averaged about eleven and a half minutes per mile.

That would put me under 36 minutes, but not my much. What if I couldn’t push myself nearly to exhaustion as I did last year? (Last year I ran with someone who kept pushing me to keep going, and it was easier to put my energy into complying than arguing I couldn’t do it.)

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A walk in the park

June 23, 2013

I had three reasons to walk to the arboretum yesterday. First, I wanted to log more miles for a walking contest we’re having at work. Right now the team I’m on is in the lead, but another team has been closing in fast, and the contest ends this weekend.

Secondly, I wanted a better look at the labyrinth my son had been working on yesterday morning, helping another Boy Scout with his Eagle Scout project. And third, my Daily Challenge for yesterday was to take a walk and take some pictures.

It’s at least a mile to the arboretum, which boosted my miles for the day to 5.75 (along with my running at the Y and walking the dog). With all the boys and trucks cleared away from the labyrinth, I could enjoy the peaceful experience that it was meant to provide.labyrinth

I don’t know where they got the plans for the labyrinth, but it looks like a medieval type design, though I’m not sure if it’s a 10 Circuit, 11 Circuit, or some different variation. I didn’t think to check my pedometer when I started, so I’m not sure just how long the circuitous path is, but it took several minutes to walk (and I only did the walk in; leaving, I didn’t follow the path).

Then I also had to take a picture of one of my favorite objects in the park. I don’t get that far from home walking the dog (last week I tried walking farther than usual and she got so hot she lay down and refused to move). But if we ever get to the arboretum together, I’ll have to take her here:hydrant


Above average

June 21, 2013

On my fiftieth birthday, I started working out regularly at the local Y. Other than for a while last fall (after twice getting nauseous while working out), I’ve kept it up pretty well, working out three times a week (except when I have schedule conflicts, which is probably about twice a month).

For over a year, I’ve been wanting to get a personal fitness assessment done, to have some idea how well I was doing and to set some reasonable goals to work toward. But it seemed that every time I decided I was going to sign up for the assessment, I’d get hurt, or a cold, or something else that kept me from feeling my best.

Last week, I made up my mind to take the test. When offered an appointment either the next day or this week, I jumped at the chance to take it the next day – before I could get sick or hurt or something. Friday evening I took the test, and I got back my results yesterday.

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Runners who inspire

April 25, 2013

Last month I came across an article about a man who had recently won a marathon. I’m not sure which is more surprising – that he did so while pushing his six-year-old daughter in a stroller, or that he did it despite suffering from terminal brain cancer.

Iram Leon sometimes gets disoriented during a race, vomits, or blacks out. But he runs because “When I’m in a race, when I’m climbing a hill, for a few moments it feels like I’m pulling ahead of my problems.”

Another inspiring runner is Anne Mahlum, who was the closing speaker at the software conference I attended recently in Philadelphia. She had started running as a teenager, and found that it helped her get through a difficult time in her life.

Ten years later, she got the idea to start a running club for some homeless men, after several days of exchanging brief greetings with them as she ran by them. People told her that homeless people don’t run, but the men who joined her club disproved that claim.

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5K in 36:29

August 11, 2012

About twenty-five years ago I ran a 10K race. I wasn’t a fast runner then, and I’m a good deal slower now at age 50. But I achieved one things in this mornings 5K race that I didn’t manage then – I did better than the goal time I had set for myself.

I had been training for a good deal longer back then, and I had hoped to average an 8 minute mile. I don’t remember what my 10K time was, but I know it was well over 49.7 minutes.

I just started training for today’s race a couple of months ago, after not having run at all since my mid-20’s. At first it felt discouraging to be so much slower than I used to be, and I imagined what a pathetic old slowpoke I must look like to anyone watching me jog past, breathing hard even at such a slow pace.

But once I could jog over a mile without having to take a break to walk and catch my breath, I started to find some of the satisfaction I remembered from the activity. I’ve never been good at any sports, lacking speed, strength, coordination and – most important – interest.

I did try really hard to get better at basketball my senior year of high school, after having a friend at camp during the summer who encouraged me to play. But getting my arms and legs to work together for a lay-up shot was more than I could manage, no matter how many times I tried.

The nice thing about running is that it doesn’t require much in the way of coordination. As long as I can keep putting one foot in front of the other, I’m making progress. Of course, I don’t always succeed even at that. Two weeks ago, I tripped on a crack in the pavement and fell face-first. But at least I’m persistent. I got up and finished my run, oblivious to the blood dripping down my elbow.

And as I find myself tiring and my breathing comes harder, I know that I can still keep pushing myself forward. I never questioned whether I could finish today’s race, only how long it would take me. The last three runs (or should I call them jogs?), I finished 3K in 24 minutes. I hadn’t gone as far as 5K, and figured my speed could only go downhill after the first 3K. So the best time I expected for today was 40 minutes.

That’s probably about what I would have done if I had been running on my own. But this morning I ran alongside a co-worker, Steve, and his wife for most of the course. Near the end his wife must have gotten a burst of energy because she took off ahead of us. I’m sure Steve could have matched her stride (if not for a recent injury, he estimated he would have been doing a 7-minute mile).

But he stayed with me, constantly encouraging me. Near the end of the race, another co-worker, Jeremy, who had finished already, came back and jogged with us to encourage me also. At the time, I thought I would have preferred to run in silence (except for the sound of my labored breathing). But I probably did push myself more with them on either side of me than I would have on my own.

I did get a nice burst of (relative) speed the last fifty feet or so, and crossed the finish line looking (I hope) less exhausted than I felt. Steve had been telling me I’d finish in well under 40 minutes, but even so I was surprised when he told me my time.

Now I have to decide what goal to set for next year’s race.

History of my least favorite class

July 31, 2012

Like many avid readers, I hated the one class in school where my academic brilliance did me no good – Phys Ed (or, as we called it back then, gym class). I had always thought that school was supposed to be about academics. So why did they make us do stuff that depended on innate abilities rather than study? Of course, I eventually realized (probably when I was in college) that my success in school had a lot to do with my innate abilities. It was just that mine happened to be intellectual rather than kinesthetic.

I had always assumed that formal physical education was a fairly new phenomenon, its need created by widespread use of technology such as the automobile and television. After all, people always talked about how active children used to be before TV, and television ownership only became widespread starting in the 1950’s. (Of course, today people talk about how active children used to be before video games.) Before that, children played outside more, worked harder at chores, and of course everyone walked a lot more.

So I was surprised to learn that physical education classes go back to the first half of the nineteenth century. My interest was piqued, to begin with, by an article I read in the Smithsonian while exercising yesterday. I don’t generally read articles about sports, but I read the Smithsonian cover to cover (which takes several sessions on the elliptical machine), and this month’s issue – not surprisingly – has several articles about the Olympics. One is about the origin of the modern Olympic games, and the sentence that surprised me was this:

When the Crown began mustering its youth to serve in the Boer War, it discovered that large numbers of Englishmen were in poor physical condition. 
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