they reflect who we are

I just got back from a walk with my dog. It’s warm out, and I know she’s thirsty, and probably hungry.

So am I.

But she’s too hot and tired to go to her dish for water.

Same here.

We both came and sat down. I sat on the couch. She likes to sit next to me on the couch and snuggle — but she didn’t do that.

She’s so hot and tired that she went straight for the floor, sprawled on the hardwood at my feet, taking those deep breaths. A lesson in breathing from the diaphragm.

Dogs are such a reflection of our own lives. First they’re babies. Then they are grown babies. Then they are old babies.

How many blogs can a guy write about his dog?

How many blogs can a guy write about his dog?

One more, I guess.

This one, Jackie Mudpie, has been sedentary these winter months.

I’ve taken her for walks a few times, but many cold or wet days I’ve walked in the mall — while she has spent her time in various stages of meditation on the living room couch.

And now, on a warm Sunday afternoon in late February, as I get outside for a brisk walk, I’m one year older.

In dog years, she’s aged much more.  She’s seven years older — a bit flabby, out of shape, and dragging.

That’s okay.

I plan to give her lots of exercise these next few weeks.  By June, she’ll be chasing birds again.

And in July, I won’t have the heart to expose her to the heat — so she’ll be back on the couch.

A dog’s life.

busting my ass

Just took a great walk this afternoon — getting in my 10k steps on a snowy day.

Before I left, I put several logs on the fire so that it would be simmering nicely upon return.

catawba snow
Catawba College, snow

I had already been outside a good bit, and my feet — covered by a pair of thin socks and damp tennis shoes — were wet and cold. So I transformed that situation by putting on two pair of thicker socks. All was good.

The snowflakes were large and steady, and it was all very beautiful.

I had the idea it would be nice to take a little detour, off the sidewalks, and onto a little road that goes through a section of woods — a particularly pretty street that I enjoy quite often.

Except in order to get there, I walked across the parking lot next to the Catawba College football stadium — and this is where I fell and busted my ass.

Luckily, I landed on the most padded part of my body. I noticed a bit of general pain from head to buttocks, but mostly I hurt my pride, not body.

After retrieving my hat and getting up, I headed home, feeling much like an old fool and thinking I would finished the remaining 3,000 steps in the mall.

However, before taking off my coat, I called the mall and nobody answered the phone.  A couple of inches of snow had rendered it closed.

In fact, many things are closed. The banks closed. I arranged to meet someone at the local coffee shop, and it was closed.

“Better get back on the horse,” I said to my wife — and I re-entered the snowy outside and finished my steps, sticking to the sidewalk.

A few thoughts:  When snow and ice is involved, stick to the sidewalk or road or path. Avoid parking lots. Walk while God is busy — during the most active part of the snowfall. Before the walk, bring in lots of wood.

I occurs to me that “busting one’s ass” can have two completely opposite meanings.

Working hard, studying hard, getting a lot done, creating something amazing.  When you “bust your ass” in order to do these things, it’s good.

But walking on a slick parking lot, going down, and actually busting your ass, is — momentarily, at least — more of a negative experience.

Could each day be a work of art?

I had a pretty good day today.

First, after coming downstairs, I put a kettle on the stove for coffee.  While I waited for the water to boil, I went outside and gathered wood.  As I sit here, at 9pm, that fire is still doing quite nicely.

While the fire began and the coffee brewed, I made a large omelet with two kinds of cheese, mushrooms, and onions.  Alicia and I shared this.

After that, I think I surfed the web for a few minutes and checked email.

Then I read a short story called “YoungThing,” by Nuruddin Farah, in a recent copy of the New Yorker.  It was a sad story with considerable suspense about a young boy in Somalia who had joined a terrorist cell.

Then my daughter called in a panic.  She had to be at work and her car had broken down.  I dashed off to get her and as I drove down Innes Street my cell phone rang.   She had solved the problem.  She had run out of gas and was now back on the road.  It’s impossible for me to judge this behavior — since I myself ran out of gas just two days ago — on Thursday evening, a cold night — and Alicia had to venture out in the night with a gas can.

In the early afternoon, I went for a walk with Alicia and Jackie Mudpie (our dog).  We walked in the woods where it was peaceful and scenic.

Upon return, I got a phone call from Tapi — our family’s exchange student in 1973, and a college roommate after that — and one of my oldest, dearest friends.  We talked for a while about all kinds of stuff, including life, children, health, parents, yoga…

Then, I visited my Mom.  While there, sitting in her room, I read a tender piece by Joyce Carol Oates in that same copy of The New Yorker.  In “A Widow’s Story” Ms. Oates recalls the week in February of ’08 in which she lost her husband.  Her details are true and vivid and it breaks your heart.  Then I fed Mom part of her dinner.  Chicken.  Potatoes.  Gingerbread.  She ate, and drank, and never opened her eyes.

After that, I went to the mall and finished my daily 10k steps.  Ran into Keith and Carol Earnhardt, some good folks I haven’t seen in awhile, and enjoyed catching up. We talked about Christmas and business and children and pizza and beer.

Came home and had a bowl of soup and an avocado.  For dessert, I had a piece of toast with peanut butter and honey.

Currently, I’m sitting on the couch by the fire.  The dog is sleeping beside me, pressed against my hip.  In the kitchen, I have a cup of tea brewing.

There was some talk in the local news recently about whether a pair of underwear can be a work of art.

What about a day?  Can that be a work of art?

What if we lived each day as if it were a new work of art, and each moment of that day as if it were part of the work?  Whether we think of it that way or not (and I certainly have not done that, most of my days), that’s really what it is.

the smaller the space, the longer the walk

At the end of this month, I will complete my second year of walking 10k steps each day.

My record is nearly perfect, although I admit I’ve fallen a few steps short three or four times (and always compensated for it the following day).

I think all of these imperfect days were in 2009.   In 2010, the compulsiveness of the behavior has increased.

Most days, it’s quite easy to do.  Some days are more challenging.

Which brings me to my point — a profound, existential, obvious awareness:  the smaller the space, the longer the walk.

Last night, I had quite a bit of work to do and finished late.  I had two thousand steps to go.  Ordinarily, I would have walked down the street, or around the campus, or around the block — and it would have been a piece of cake.

But it was raining hard, so I walked around the couch many, many times.  Sure, there was TV — but it seemed to be a long ways.  And it seemed to take a long time.

Tonight, I walked in the mall while listening to a book.  There was a smattering of Christmas shopping in progress, which does offer some entertainment.  There are people to greet.  There’s the holiday merchandise to notice.  But it’s still a confined space that’s not all that interesting — and it makes for a fairly long walk.

When I’m outside, the 10 thousand steps fly by in no time at all.

The smaller the space, the longer the walk.

One could argue that 10k steps is 10k steps — no matter where — and that it’s the same amount of walking.  One could argue that it’s only my perception that is different.

But perception is all I’ve got — so I’m sticking to my story:  the smaller the space, the longer the walk.

I’m pretty sure this could be applied to all areas of life, but who’s got time for that?  Who knows, it might even be in the Tao Te Ching (although Lao-tzu certainly would have said it better).

Tonight, while walking, a gentleman remarked to me that it was cold outside.

“It’s getting down to 27 tonight,” he said.  “That’s cold!”

I agreed.  I was wearing a sports coat that was perfectly warm earlier in the day.  But the sun had set and it was no longer sufficient.

“I’m gonna freeze walking to my car,” I said.

cold weather
cold weather

This prompted me to look at the weather forecast on my phone for Fairbanks, Alaska — which is where my dear daughter, Sarah, now lives.

It was 22 below, and predicted to be 34 below later in the evening.

Reality has more to do with how we see things than with the things themselves.

NOT walking the dog

According to a study, reported here:

•dog owners who walk their dogs are more healthy than dog owners who don’t walk their dogs
• dog owners who walk their dogs are more healthy than people who don’t own dogs

Here’s my question: What about dog owners who do walk, but without their dogs.jackie

In the fall, spring, and summer, I walk my dog quite often.

But in this heat, with all that fur, she just can’t handle it.

Sometimes I walk a mile or so and and see that she’s hot and exhausted. So I bring her home and finish my walk without her.

Sometimes I walk very late at night, when things have cooled, and I take her with me.

Sometimes I leave her at home altogether.

But I still walk.

How would dog owners who walk — but without their dogs — compare to dog owners who walk with their dogs.

In other words, do the benefits come strictly from the exercise, or is there something else, in addition, about spending time with a dog that makes people weigh less, have lower cholesterol, and have lower blood pressure.

Is there a study for that?

Alzheimer's: walking for memory

Usually, I start my day with yoga, and then walk later in the day or evening.

Today I walked early, in the Alzheimer’s Association 3 mile Memory Walk.

By the time I got home, in time for lunch, I already had nine of my ten thousand steps for the day.

Click Here to Donate

It was a fun morning.

I went with Glenda Dyson. Her mother and mine are dorm mates in the Alzheimer’s unit at Carillon Assisted Living.

Glenda is also a customer of ours.  She advertises her store, Just the Thing, in Coffee News.  Just the Thing carries educational games and toys for children — and for their teachers and parents.

I first met Glenda when I was technology facilitator at Rockwell Elementary School.  She taught kindergarten.

Interestingly enough, another woman in our little group of Carillon walkers was also a former kindergarten teacher.  She taught 32 years and said she would have taught a few more years but retired so that she could spend more time caring for her mother.

Kindergarten teachers have the extreme patience and kindness that make them particularly good at taking care of mothers with Alzheimer’s.

In some ways, a person with Alzheimer’s is not unlike a small child.

Besides raising money for The Alzheimer’s Association, in order to find better treatments and hopefully a cure for Alzheimer’s, the value in a walk like this was the sheer emotional support it offers those going through this.

At least that was helpful for me.

A three mile walk gives you a little time to compare notes.

For example, I found that I’m not the only one who knows what it’s like to visit the ER three times in four days (and four times in two weeks) because a mother fell and hit her head.

This happens to a lot of people.

I will say that the pace was a little brisk for me.  I thought I walked pretty fast, but I don’t.  These ladies walked at a clip that had me huffing and puffing.

In the Alzheimer’s unit, women dramatically outnumber the men — presumably because they live longer.  Maybe they live longer because they walk faster!

long walk

and half again

that’s where
you’ll find me

between a high lake
and a low stream

on a path
of wet dirt

around the curve
near a blast of sunset

a memory walk

Took a pleasant walk tonight, right after dinner.  I needed a couple of miles in order to complete my daily 10k steps.

It was a perfect temperature for walking.  The soft rain kept people inside, and made the evening dark and quiet.  The slick streets reflected the glow of the street lamps. I remember seeing two students walk through the campus parking lot with umbrellas.  Other than that, I had the streets to myself.

Sometimes when I walk, I listen to audio books.  Sometimes I walk with my wife, or my dog.  But I often walk alone and listen to the sounds of the city, or the woods, and give myself space to think, or not think.  It’s good for my spirit, and better for my head, if I enjoy the time away from noise (especially my own noise).

I love walking this time of year.  When it’s too cold, or too wet, I walk in the mall, or even Walmart.  If it’s hot, I walk late at night, usually on dewey grass, after the earth has cooled.  But April, for me, is far from cruel; it’s one of those perfect months.

Usually I’m quite eager to hit my 10k steps goal each day, but tonight I watched the latter half of Glee with my wife and daughter and didn’t feel particularly enthused about rising from the couch and finishing those steps in the rain.  But it’s a compulsion, and I did it.

It was one of those days.  I had worked a good bit, driven to Mooresville to drop off papers, driven to Kannapolis to pick up my car, and visited my mother twice, briefly, in the Alzheimer’s unit at Carillon.  While there, I also had a nice visit with my neighbor.  We’ve lived only a few feet away for 24 years, and she recently moved into the assisted living.  Today’s conversation is probably the longest one we’ve ever had.  I also had a few rather knotty conversations with siblings and health care folks.

As I walked tonight, I was thinking about my mother, whose dementia, for various reasons, has progressed quite rapidly these past couple of weeks.

The thought that came into my head was a book, and a memory.

It’s a common memory, one shared by millions and millions of people.

I remember, as a child, sitting beside my mother on the living room couch, listening to her read me a book — The Little Engine That Could — one of the most popular bedtime books ever read to children by their mothers.

It occurred to me that she set a good example of a little engine that could.

Me?  I’ve had it easy and complained a lot.  But she grew up poor in a Great Depression and World War.  Her parents spoke with an accent.  She had a somewhat ethnic name before ethnic was fashionable, and lived above a downtown store, before that was fashionable.  She once told me that her parents never took a vacation.

She had some ability and fulfilled her potential.  She was a star student and a star reporter.  She raised a large family.  Those who know her would confirm that she was a workaholic.

She’s a person who, when her mother had cancer, would take her to see her sisters in Latvia one last time.  Visiting relatives in the Soviet Union in the 70’s required a bit of scrutiny — and passports and visas, which they did not have.  And because she couldn’t wait weeks to get them, she would go to Washington D.C. and knock on doors and return in three days, with passports and visas.

She’s quite weak now, and has virtually lost her ability to speak.  But she still moves around as much as she can, shuffling through the halls of Carillon, investigating every nook and cranny, speaking to others who are similarly afflicted with Alzheimer’s, offering to give those in wheelchairs a helpful push.

Last night, as I slowly walked the halls with her, watching her point at various pictures and rooms and books and papers and people, I couldn’t help but to admire her energy, her desire to keep moving in such a confined but seemingly vast space.

And tonight, as I walked down my street, noticing, across the vacant lot, in the distance, that home I grew up in, thinking about her and how she’s declined so quickly in recent weeks and days, I enjoyed a vivid memory of her reading me that book she and so many mothers read their children, and realized that she was and still is the one who really lives up to that creed:  “I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can.”