Assistive Technology and Being a Grown Up

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I genuinely, no kidding, need assistive technology to be a grown up. I’m 47, so I was in my thirties before I had A) the technology, and B) a system to help get around this. It is not always perfect, but this helps.

The technology means I have beepy reminders to do things. I use these for everything from making my bed and washing the dishes to making sure I work on contracts for clients and keeping up with relationships with people I care about.

Thing is, as anyone who has this problem knows, beepy reminders are not enough. You’ll go down a rabbit hole chasing something that isn’t important pretty quick and still not solve everything.

I have to combine this with a pretty strict schedule. If I don’t stick to it, my llfe falls apart. My schedule would seem crazy and oppressive to someone who doesn’t share my issues. It deals with bedtimes, when to do paperworky stuff like calling for and scheduling appointments and doing bills, making sure I get enough exercise, making sure I take some time to do something chosen at a whim, making sure I contact people that are important to me or doing the shopping and even scheduling opportunities for naps (I need a lot of sleep)

It helps a lot. I find I need something from the store? Its goes on the list for my scheduled shopping day. Barring an emergency, I only shop then. I get a bill I need to deal with, or some other taxy-kinda thing? It goes on my pile for Paperwork time. (Filing Time comes after Paperwork time). Tasks are broken down into very small units and I’ll think ahead to plan out what is needed for each step of a task to make sure I have what I need for the task before I go on. And yes, Plan Tasks has its own place on my schedule.

Thing is, if you see me in an office situation, you’ll think I’m really organized and together. I worked for a man for THREE YEARS who thought I was really organized and had this great memory until he played a joke on me before my last day, asking for some work I’d never agreed to do. I didn’t catch that he was being outrageous and goofy because I was automatically going to my computer to look up what I’d agreed to do and see what progress I’d made on it. He was surprised when I confessed to him that I had a system to take care of stuff because I get so distracted and can’t remember things.

Some people can just DO this stuff. My mom can. She sees dirt or clutter, and she just CLEANS it, and doesn’t get distracted. I can’t do that. it isn’t NATURAL to me, so I had to develop some very rigid routines to take care of it instead. To someone who does not have my problems, it probably seems like a terribly regimented way to live. In some ways, it is.

But the house is clean (enough), I get enough exercise, bills get paid and paperwork followed up on. That things get taken care of is better for me than the anxiety and confusion I experience when I do not have these rigid systems in place.

The Mareli List and Not Exactly Resolutions

What is the Mareli List, Anyway?

My husband has this mental list he calls his Mareli List. It is named after his maternal grandmother and is from her custom of how she looked back on a specific year. To the end of her life, she always looked back trying to find things she had never done before. They could be big or small, but she made a specific effort to do new things. She had just turned 90 when she passed away, so this means that she lived a pretty rich and varied life.

2015 has been a good year for me in terms of my Mareli list. In no particular order, I:

  1. Learned to do a flip turn.
  2. Swam in 50-degree water.
  3. Swam 2 miles in open water
  4. Swam 2.5 miles in a pool
  5. Swam across Boston Harbor
  6. Rode a Segway.
  7. Visited Bermuda
  8. Visited Cape Liberty and saw the Teardrop Memorial.
  9. Took a salsa dancing class
  10. Took a class in how to make cupcakes.
  11. Saw the Statue of Liberty in person.
  12. Learned a new method of knowledge management (Knowledge Centered Support, or KCS)
  13. Konmaried the house.
  14. Negotiated with an airline for a better flight.
  15. Visited Mt. Vernon
  16. Visited Ferry Farm. (I mean, I grew up on the land, but I’d never visited the historic site)
  17. Tried Glendronach Scotch.

With these things in mind, and feeling like I had a decent year, I’m looking on to the next year and what I want to do with it.

Not Exactly Resolutions for 2016

marelilist-1I know some people don’t like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, and ya know, I get the point. Often it’s some self-improvement thing that people approach as something they oughta do, but without any real serious plan or genuine purpose. Lose weight, get their finances in order, or whatever – it’s not something that’s really got a plan behind it.

My resolutions are more goals than any real attempt at habit change. I’m sure good habits will happen during this process, but this year, I have more specific things I want to do or accomplish. In no particular order, I want to:

  1. Implement KCS at my office.
  2. Write the first draft of a novel starring three middle-aged ladies.
  3. Swim 6 miles in Lake Mephremagog.
  4. Knit myself one or two sweaters.
  5. Travel cross-country by train.
  6. Swim from Alcatraz island to Aquatic Park without a wetsuit.

This is a good mix, I think. I have professional goals, I have physical goals, and I have enjoyment goals. One of the habits I am going to have to develop better along the way is the habit of consistent over heroic effort. Some of this stuff will require something in the way of heroic effort, but that won’t sustain what I want to do in the long run. It’s going to be the dailyness of plugging away at it that will get me there.

Unsustainable

I lost about 20 lbs.

And I quit even though I am hardly at a weight that would make anyone flipping out over body size happy.

I quit.

No, I didn’t quit because I’d reached a goal. And I didn’t quit from lack of willpower or anything like that. I stuck to what I was doing for about four months. I was seeing plenty of results.

But I have found calorie counting intrusive and unsustainable. Also, obsessive-making. I didn’t realize how much so until yesterday morning coming home from the gym (yes, I work out every morning, yes, I do a pretty intense workout, no it’s not going to automagically make me skinny) and was musing on meal plans for the day when my husband commented, “If you have to diet, why can’t you go back to No-S?”

“Why do you say that, sweetie?” I asked.

“Well, is your goal swimming long distances, or calorie counting? I think the calorie counting is interfering with your real goal.”

He was right. Now, when I do the calorie-counting thing, I don’t, say, eyeball a portion and guestimate. I don’t even use measuring cups. I measure using a scale and measure to the gram. Then record it. Recipes? I measure all the ingredients, then portion it out.

This is unsustainable. And no, my goal is not to be skinny, but to trim down a little in the hopes of speeding up swimming. But, yeah, the swimming is the real goal.

It brought me up short. While I don’t want to overeat particularly, I certainly don’t want to make a hobby out of tracking every gram that goes into my mouth, either. And as an athlete, I do have some level of concern about how I am fueling my workouts. Which basically means a lot of lean protein, whole grains, fresh veggies and fruit. Nope, that’s not going to make you automagically skinny, either. But the point is that while permasnacking isn’t good for me, eating meals totally is.

The balance for that for me is using the No-S method. No sweets, no seconds, no snacks, except sometimes on days beginning with S. Cake on a close family member’s birthday? Bring it! Sure, the carrot sticks are great, but for goodness sake, have a sandwich with it. Eat a hearty breakfast after that long swim. Just, don’t spoil your dinner by snacking, but wait until it’s mealtime.

For me, it’s sustainable. I prefer larger meals to snacking, there’s a lot of clarity to it and it’s not something that gives me the creeping horrors when contemplating doing it the rest of my life.

Creation and Re-Creation

Yet another 750 Words.

I have this challenge going with myself in terms of daily practice. I’m trying to write 750 words a day every day for a year. I may or may not wind up doing it, but I figure if I fail, I will still have regularly and consistently practiced my writing more than if I had not set this little goal for myself. So, there’s no real down-side to it.

However, a year is way the heck too much to face. I’m breaking it down month by month, and the site I use to track my words makes it very easy with monthly challenges. Each month you can sign up or not for it. If you do it, you get your name on the Wall of Awesomeness. If you fail, you have your name put on the Wall of Shame.

My name has been on both walls before 🙂

As an additional little spur, when you sign up, you can set a reward and a punishment for it. Mine for this month:

•    If I succeed, I will… treat myself to a new bathing suit

•    If I miss a day or more, I will… swim 4000 yards in one session.

In retrospect the failure one is a little dumb. My next Really Long Swim is probably going to be 4,000 yards whether I succeed in writing every day this month or not. And the reward is also kinda silly. I own one good workout bathing suit and I really should own two — just to switch out between workouts and make them last longer, ya know.

I am very happy with how I spent yesterday evening. I spent about an hour knitting. It was wonderful.

So, all this doing, doing, and doing I’m doing. Goodness me, why is this such a big deal?

I think it is at least in part because I’ve become more keenly aware that I am not immortal. For all that I take pleasure in video games, I’d rather leave behind a sweater and written material than I would hours of playing a video game.

It’s not that I think pleasure doesn’t count or have its place. I do. My general make-up is probably more pleasure seeking than most (You guys do realize I swim because it’s one of the few exercises I find fun, yes?) and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. But I think that, for me at least, when the pleasure intersects with the productive, it seems like a better way to spend a limited life.

Productive is a funny thing, though. Think of the term “recreation.” You break down that term and it’s re-creation. You’re re-creating something (probably your physical and emotional center) and if you don’t do that, you’re not maintaining your SELF very well.

In thinking about it, I wonder if “fun” is even a good term for when I am actually joyfully in the moment. I find those moments when I am teaching a class, or writing a piece, or when I get a new client as much as when I am knitting a sweater, swimming or sitting on the deck of a cruise ship watching the sun come up.

And except for when I am sitting on my butt staring out over big water (something I do love to do immensely) most of what I’m talking about is less about re-creating than about creating. I’m sure if I were a fictional character, that my fondness for creating and my pleasure in sunrises would be some sort of metaphor the author would use to indicate character traits.

Speaking of doing and creating, I have a busy day today. Need to get all dressed up to see a client, do some shopping, and write some articles for another blog I do. But, of course, I need to get in those seven hundred fifty words, and I’m still about a hundred words short.

Word count, I think, might be great for getting you to sit your butt down and write substantial work, but I also think that trying to hit word count can make you write a fair amount of drivel as well. Then again, the drivel can be edited out, and you can’t edit unwritten words. So writing volume has to count as well. Right?

How do you re-create? Does it involve creating something? Or does re-creation for you require stillness? I expect my frantic need to be doing and making would be the despair of a Zen master!

An Excerpt from “Screw Skinny, Get Fit”

Mis-assigning Virtue

Often we associate virtue and physical fitness. Blame it on the Spartans or Romans if you want, or blame it on the Puritans. But because exercise can be hard or painful, we can associate it somehow with virtue.

Muscle mags are probably some of the worst offenders for this. You’ll find lots of articles sneering at fat, lazy slobs and a great deal of self-congratulations for a great physique and by implication, perfect health. Sometimes it can be hard to wade through them to get to some genuinely good information.

Being physically fit isn’t a moral imperative, nor is being healthy. There are lots of reasons why being more active is good and they’re discussed all through this book. You may have a million reasons to do what you do (or don’t). Since you’re in charge of your life, you get to decide this.

The human body did not evolve to be sedentary for long periods of time – true enough. Many people find regular movement has the benefits of mood improvement and an increased sense of well-being. Many people also find that hard, punishing exercise just makes them depressed and wanting to quit. Plenty of people have it worse than that, and punishing type exercises is emotionally triggery. Amazing what some high school gym teachers can do to discourage health and fitness, innit?

The reality is, yes, you do have to put in some maintenance on your body for it to perform well. The reality is also that you’re under no moral obligation at all to become an athlete if it doesn’t suit you. The reality is that you’re under no moral obligation to maintain your body, either. Obviously I find being active desirable, and I do genuinely believe it leads to a greater quality of life, but I’d be the last person on Earth to choose whether or not it does for you.

A great deal of finding out what’s going to make you more fit and feel better will be a constant series of corrections. This will be a pretty fluid boundary as well. If you stop exercising, you’ll find your light workout from your fit days will feel terrible to you. While consistency is ideal, don’t be a fool. You’re not doomed to a lack of movement because you have your exercise ups and downs.

You don’t owe the world “pretty”

Part of the reason, I think, that women are encouraged to exercise and “get fit” is a bloody lie. It is not about getting fit. It is about the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to be pretty. If it helps, I’ll let you off the hook. You don’t owe the world physical attractiveness, so don’t let anyone tell you that you do.

Don’t let people use fit as a euphemism for pretty. There are plenty of physically fit Olympic athletes who would not be picked for modeling contracts. Challenge people when they try to map pretty to physically fit, and maybe we can chase that idiotic canard out of the English language. Except in the most extreme of cases –more to do with malnutrition, you cannot tell either physical fitness (for whatever value of fit you’re discussing) or health from appearance. Being strong and healthy might do things you like to your appearance, sure. That’s dandy, but what it does to your quality of life is far more important.

Your value as a human being is not about how many people want to fuck you. Sorry for the bluntness, but that’s what it boils down to. Don’t buy into that nonsense. Yeah, yeah, people talk about biological programming, but men are biologically programmed to rape any woman that smells like she’s ovulating, too. Five men in six have never committed a rape at all. Let’s not act as if we don’t have minds and wills, too, okay?

Making a disconnect between “unpleasant” and “good”

You might have gotten the idea from gym class. You might have gotten it from someone who was trying to teach you self-discipline, but kinda went overboard. But you might be thinking that if it hurts and it is difficult, it must be good for you.

Nonsense.

Exertion and challenge is one thing. I’m all for challenging oneself a bit during an exercise session, mind. Just don’t be an idiot about it. There’s a serious difference between challenge and punishment.

Self-discipline v. self-punishment

I’d be the first to say self-discipline is important. Except, I wasn’t. Would you believe other people have said it before me? No. Fine…

But yes, getting into the habit of being physically active when you have been sedentary for a while does take a fair whack of self-discipline. No-one is excited about their workout every single time they do it. In fact, there are many days when the best thing I can say about my workout is that I did it. Sure, sure, sometimes it feels glorious and wonderful. Other times, I plod.

Ultimately, what matters is not that I felt glorious or that I plodded through it. Nope. The important thing is that I did it. My body will not care how I felt about it, but muscles will be stronger and the heart will be pumping better because of the work I put in.

There’s a difference, however, between self-discipline and self-punishment. Even if you hate working out, it is not supposed to hurt. If you’re going for any sort of pain, it is because pain is your kink, not because your body needs it to get a good workout or enough movement to stay in good shape.

I won’t even push the “hurt so good” feeling some people (including me) sometimes go for. You don’t have to do it to get a productive workout. People who do it are going for an adrenalin high. You don’t have to do this to get fit. Some people just don’t get this feeling, and it is okay. While you do need to move your body to keep it in working order, anyone who says it has to hurt is a little maso. If you’re not, you can safely ignore them.

Now, that’s not to say that challenging yourself a little is bad. Challenging yourself some is a good idea. It’ll keep you interested, and boredom is often a problem with exercise, especially among geeks. I think it is no accident that when we do work out, we tend to gravitate towards sports that can be translated into a lot of math like weightlifting, or tend to be very physically technical, like martial arts or swimming.

Goals, Strokes and Intervals

I’ve got a goal this year of reducing my swimming time from around a mile in 56 minutes to a mile in 40 minutes. I’m doing it because you should be able to do that comfortably in a pool before you start doing open water swims.

Swim workouts, like any workout with athletic improvement in mind, need to have some changing up component to it to keep the body challenged. If you do the same thing every time, it becomes a lot easier. Easy is often a legitimate goal, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not my particular goal.

So, I do some things to ensure changing up. Swimming sees its best improvement when you swim intervals. This means you’ll swim a distance as hard as you can, then another distance at an easier pace, switching things up throughout the workout. Yes, even marathon swimmers do this to train, even if steady is the goal when they get out on the open water.

For the past couple of weeks, my workout was either 1,000 yards or 1,200 yards swum in units of 100 yards with a length of breaststroke up, then swimming crawl back, then breaststroke up, then backstroke back. I’d sprint for the crawl because it’s a fast stroke.

As an aside, no the stroke is not actually freestyle, even if people often call it that now. Freestyle is an event in a swim meet, not a stroke. It is called freestyle because you are free to swim any stroke you wish. Most people choose the front crawl because it is the fastest stroke.

This was brought home to me when I was about six or seven at a swim meet. The event was the 16-18 year old men’s freestyle. We were swimming against a team that wasn’t quite as competitive as we were, and the Romagnoli boy swam the event *gasp* butterfly! The younger kids, including me, were freaking out, thinking that he’d be DQ’ed (disqualified) for swimming the wrong stroke even if he DID come in first, when the coach laughed and pointed out that freestyle means you can swim any stroke you want. Butterfly was a bit of a risk for the event, but he was very strong fly swimmer. Why not go for a challenge?

So, the stroke that you think of as freestyle is really the front crawl, ‘kay? And it’s a LOT faster than other strokes.

Those sets I was swimming, breast, free,* breast, back?

Today I decided to switch it up and swam free, breast, free, back. Instead of half my distance being breast stroke, half my distance became the front crawl. That 56:30 mile I’ve been side-eyeing? Today it was a 52:11 minute mile. (That was my pace, mind. I didn’t swim a whole mile).

So, why not just switch entirely to freestyle, right?

Wrong.

I could, but it wouldn’t be a great idea. That’s asking for a shoulder injury, and I’m not just doing this to get faster. The real reason my butt is in the pool is to get an efficient workout (swimming is good for cardio and full-body strength), and switching up the strokes means I work different muscle groups.

The other reason? That’s a little more embarrassing. I can do about 100 yards of the crawl before I get tired. The plan is to start working up to longer and longer distances of a single stroke as I get in better shape. My sets will stop being essentially a length of a particular stroke as I work up.

But there’s a lot to be said for essentially sprinting a length, then swimming another a slower stroke and alternating. That’s good, solid interval training, after all.

I also reached a goal today. I’d decided to try to swim ten miles in thirty days, and reached it about seven days early. I think my next goal needs to be a tad more ambitious. Since I swim a bit over half a mile a day, I think I’m going to make it a goal to swim 15 miles in the next thirty days. That’s more or less presuming I stick to my usual schedule, and a little bit over, so that I am going to have an impetus to bump up my yardage per workout in the next week or so.

Anyone else have any goals — fitness or not? I’m curious what people are challenging themselves with!
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* Yes, see, I think of it that way, too!

We’ve Got a Long Way to Go

Swam 1200 yards in 38:17 today.

This is slightly disheartening. I need to be swimming 1800 yards in that amount of time by around August 2016. And in the short term, I’m really not getting any faster. In fact, I seem to be getting slower rather than faster.

I keep pointing out to myself that the reality is that I need to be in the pool moving for half an hour five days a week. That’s the baseline and what I need for my health. Any sort of open water swim or anything like that is only useful if it’s going to keep me motivated and interested. If it gets me not working out, or burning me out, it’s not useful. It’s actually detrimental.

That said, I do want to do the Alcatraz swim. It sounds cool. I’ve been reading some open water swimmer accounts — things like accounts of swimming the English Channel. They’re pretty cool, but I am wondering how much good reading these accounts is really doing me. A Channel swimmer is the elite of the elite, my friends. It’s like the Everest of swimming. In point of fact, considerably more people have successfully reached the summit of Everest than have successfully crossed the Channel swimming. (I think it’s like a factor of five to one)

So, comparing myself to these people and their training could be inspiring, but it could also be unrealistically discouraging.

I’m a solid, strong swimmer. No doubt about that. Compared to the general population, I’m pretty damn good. But to do the Alcatraz swim, I can’t be comparing myself to the general population. I need to be reasonably good even by competitive swimmer standards.

The reality?

I’m slow as hell. That’s a problem when you’re dealing with tides, currents and other things that you cope with in open water swimming. I don’t mean like, a problem where the pace boat and crew are going to get bored type of problem. I mean like an “It can kill you” problem.

So yeah, looking at my increasingly slower times over the past couple of weeks does have me wondering if I can even DO this. Should I be dropping back to just swimming for half an hour every weekday morning and leaving it alone?

I could. I really could. There would be nothing wrong with that. I’d be getting the exercise my body needs, which is the whole point of me getting up at five in the morning to head to the pool.

And…

I don’t want to do that. I totally don’t. A mile and a damn half, even if it is in cold, open water with strong currents seems too damn doable for me to be able to let go of that. I doubt like hell I’d ever make a Channel swimmer, and that’s okay. It’s just that this seems too logically reasonable to let go of.

Then I look at my swimming pace times and wince and wince and wince.

It’s so early in the training, though. I mean, I just decided I wanted to do this a month ago, and I gave myself two blasted years to train for it. Maybe next year, if I haven’t improved enough to be reasonable, I could consider giving up, but it’d be silly to do so now.

What I’m really hoping is sometime in October 2015, I’m going to look at this entry and laugh my head off at how silly I was to be discouraged in a small backwards blip in the data. But the only way I can get there is to keep going.

That doesn’t entirely stop me from growling at my watch right now, or pushing to keep up with the lean, surfboard of a guy wearing flippers in the lane next to me, or wondering if I should be pumping iron to get my strength up, or feeling jealous of the dolphinlike grace of the kids doing their swim team workout in the lane on my other side.

I’m not even thinking about the cold showers and baths I’m going to have to start taking to get acclimated to cold water. I blot out the thought of marine life and possibly being attacked by a shark or seal.

I’m not even at a point where I need to even think about such things. I need to keep my eyes on 1800 yards in 40:00 minutes.

And in the words of Li Sheng, “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Harder than Heroic Effort

I’m not good at what I can only call a “tedious slog.” Short-term heroic effort? Hell yeah. Got that down and buddy it can be impressive.

There’s a downside to that. You’re either going all out, or you’re… Well, not. Going, that is.

What I am generally not good at, though I am trying very hard to learn, and getting better at, is patient dailyness. I can do the Big Huge Thing towards goals, but doing a little bit every day is much, much harder.

The problem is that over time, that little bit accomplishes much more than the periodic heroic efforts. The person who goes from no exercise at all to a marathon isn’t actually in better shape, long-term than the person who takes a walk every day. The person whose house goes from complete chaos to sparkling clean and staged for a real estate agent to show isn’t going to have a neater home, overall, than someone who does a little bit every day. The student who pulls the all-nighter doesn’t write a better paper than the student that breaks that up into increments, does a bit of writing every day and then goes on to do a bit of editing every day until the job is done.

I was in my late thirties before I really got started with the continual small effort thing v. Heroic Effort. It started with housework, which is really a fantastic place to start. I wanted a neat house, but nothing outrageous was really riding on it. Totally low-risk, which was perfect for this. I did a little bit every day, and forbade myself to put heroic effort into it. Over time, yes, my house is rarely more than fifteen minutes to a half an hour away from being okay with guests, and I wouldn’t die of embarrassment at any drop ins. When spaces get cluttered (a home is a dynamic process, not a showpiece, after all) I really do dedicate small amounts of time over a period of days to take care of them.

Where I am trying to apply this now is exercise. That’s a whole lot harder. For all that I am hardly slender, I do get interested gaining physical skills. You only have to look at a list of the physical things I’ve been into to realize that I’m all about the technical and easy to obsess about — dance, martial arts, swimming… They’re all activities that have a high level of technique, and experts at these activities really do dedicate hours a day to it.

But while the technical aspects are enough to keep me interested, my real goal isn’t mastering X skill. My real goal, as it pertains to exercise, is just to DO it for a half an hour to an hour a day five days a week. That’s IT.

I was thinking about it this morning when I was trying to decide if I wanted to swim today. I already did my M-F swims, but I was wondering what a mile would feel like and thinking, “Yeah, I have time today, I oughta try that!”

In reality? No, I shouldn’t. Not because it would be bad for me to swim a mile today. It totally wouldn’t. But it would be bad for me to give in to the obsession only to become tired of it next year. I need to be in the pool next year, too. This isn’t something like getting obsessed with Tudor history or lace knitting where I can put it down any time another shiny obsession takes my fancy. Working out can’t really be a hobby for me. For physical maintenance, I need to damn well be active for half an hour a day five days a week. I don’t even have to put Heroic Effort into it. I just have to show up and move.

Which circles back around to the consistent, daily effort. There is another thing that’s helping me learn that. You notice that I’m posting a lot more to my blog than I used to. I don’t post every day, but I do many days a week.

The reason I do is another small, daily practice. I write seven hundred fifty words a day as an exercise to keep my writing skills up. Some of those writing sessions are really more stream of consciousness pieces to write SOMETHING to get in my word count. But notice that as I do it consistently, the more valuable essays and stories actually happen.

It is the small, consistent, daily practice that builds up better into a lifetime of worthwhile work if you can make yourself do it.

Whoda thunk that it’d be harder than Heroic Effort?

Inspiration and Looking Good on a Cereal Box

If you’re into an activity, you probably have people you look up to. You know, role models. And, of course for swimming, I do.

…p

One of them, I do have a hard time really calling a role model. No, not because of anything bad. I grew up around the corner from him, and he’s a little younger than me, so I mentally tagged him as a kid until well into high school when he got a LOT taller than I am! Jeff Rouse went to the Olympics a few times in the 1990s and won several medals.

I remember him as a skinny little kid regularly winning at backstroke in the Ferry Farm pool. We were on the same swim team, but I was never a particularly fast swimmer (I got a second place ribbon in back stroke once) and gave up the sport after a couple of years. Jeff went on to be a highly successful competitive swimmer. And that’s not the impression that I was left with, either.

Jeff taught me that you didn’t have to be a jerk to be a successful competitive athlete. Even when other people were being horrible to me, Jeff was always gentle and kind.

And he’s the sort of athletic role model you see often in the magazines.

The next swimmer who really caught my attention was not an Olympic athlete, and wasn’t someone young and hot that they’d use to sell cereal and razor blades. He caught my attention in the spring of 2007 because of the swim he was going to attempt.

He was going to swim the length of the Amazon River.

Friends, Martin Strel is insane.

He’s a distance swimmer. He didn’t exactly start with the Amazon, but he did a lot of crazy, long-distance swims before he did this one. He survived, but just barely. There were many days when he was doing his Amazon swim that when I was faced with a workout I didn’t want to do, I’d be telling myself, “Woah, Strel is swimming with piranha and goodness knows what else in the hot sun from dawn to dusk. I can take twenty minutes on my lunch break and knock out 800 yards, for pity’s sake!”

He also made me realize that being physical wasn’t just the province of people who wanted to look like models, nor is being active going to automagically make you look like one. There are other reasons than wanting a specific appearance to be physical, and they’re just as valid as the ones you see in magazines trying to make you feel insecure enough to buy their crap.
The person I look to most these days as a swimming role model swam the English Channel several times, swam the Bering Strait during the Cold War, swam a mile in Antarctica, and survived swimming in below-freezing waters in Greenland. Lynne Cox a freak of nature in terms of cold water survival, and I have no real intentions of trying to reproduce any of her accomplishments. (Well, *maybe* the Channel swim, if I do the Alcatraz swim and don’t chicken out due to fear of the marine wildlife. I have a great imagination and visualizing sharks and seals bumping into me in the damn pool is bad enough!)

Again, she’s another athlete no-one’s putting on cereal boxes even though what she does is so hard-core and scary that few people can even SURVIVE what she’s done. She’s taken swims in waters so dangerous that fishermen in the area don’t even carry life preservers because once you’re in the water, you’ll die of hypothermia before you can be fished out.

I’ll certainly never win an Olympic gold, swim the Amazon or swim in Antarctica. Honestly, I don’t even want to. But in the case of each of the people I’ve mentioned, they got to where they did and accomplished what they did from steady perseverance. Jeff had some serious disappointments before he got that backstroke gold. Strel trained for three years to do the Amazon swim and nearly had a heart attack towards the end. Cox kept going in Cook Strait even though storms slowed her down enough that she was swimming in shark territory in twilight* to get it done.

Honestly? I don’t have that level of sticktoitiveness. For my own modest goals, I don’t even need it. But do I ever say to myself, “Lynne Cox kept swimming during shark feeding time. You can get up and get in the safe, warm pool for half an hour today, can’t you?”

You bet I do.

 

 

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* Sharks tend to feed at dawn and dusk

Mascoma River Greenway Route Tour

So, here I am on a disused train trestle bridge having my hand held like a daggone three year old while my heart is trying to pound through my chest and I can’t stop myself from looking down through the gaps in the trestle to the Certain Death below.

No, in Real Life, I was in almost no danger. The ties were less than a yard apart and were mostly steady. Even if I’d fallen, there was no way in the world I would have fallen through ties that close together and strong enough to hold a train. Ah, irrational fears. Silly me, I thought to mention my fear of strange dogs to the organizer of the Mascoma River Greenway when I went on a tour of the prospective route. What I did not mention was my strong distaste for unprotected heights.

Lebanon, New Hampshire, never let it be said I do not love my adopted city. Virginian I may be, but I’m doing this for you, Lebanon. You need a greenway.

Most of the work for this greenway has already been done. See those railroad tracks? Railroad tracks mean a graded rail bed, and a very strong fill. You need that to support the locomotive. As you will see in this series of pictures, we do not have intercity rail to any great degree in rural New Hampshire. Like most of the rural US, we drive when we want to get somewhere quickly.

So, there’s all this work that was done at least fifty years before I was born, and that work still stands. The cuts and fills are still there, the structure of the bridges are still quite sturdy, despite Miss Scaredy Cat having trouble keeping her heart rate down going over one of them. This means all we need to do is get those rails up and make the surface smooth enough for bikes. Smooth enough for a bike means smooth enough for a pedestrian.

Lebanon is full of enthusiastic bikers and walkers. Many of us move here because we like The Great Outdoors, we’re relatively health-conscious, and most of us would just as soon keep down pollution using green methods of transportation.

Enthusiasm for safe and pleasant walking or biking, as well we recreation areas, can be seen even among the improvements put in by locals. At the beginning of the Greenway, just outside of the tunnel under Hanover Street, a young man chose to create a “pocket park” as an Eagle Scout project. As you can see, it looks wonderful and is a great place to hang out and enjoy a little piece of the Mascoma River.

There is also local support for the Greenway. As we were walking on the stretch of the trail between High Street and Slayton Hill Road that is open to the public, we saw an elderly local, cane in hand, who urged us most emphatically to get moving on the project, as she’d like to see it completed!

While we do not have the extraordinary work that would be required were we to be starting from scratch, there is still (in my own profession’s parlance) a non-trivial amount of work to do. Check out the picture to the left. As we crossed over the bridge over Slayton Hill Road, we moved on to the areas of the trail where the rails are still lying disused. See the trees growing up between the rails? Since the railroad hasn’t been active for a long time, plant growth is taking over. However, Greenway. This means that while we need and want a place to walk and bike, we also want plants and growth around us. This is intended to be a multi-use trail that will retain the natural beauty that our area has in such abundance.*

There is serious evidence that even the parts of the Greenway which have not yet been properly constructed are being used by residents. There are clear paths beside most of the overgrown rails and informal access points worn smooth by many feet. Even in advance of the trail opening, it is being used, telling us that improvements in walking or biking conditions would open it up to even more pedestrian and bike traffic, safely away from busy roads.

The estimated cost of the project is $2.1 million. Yes, that’s a fair amount of money to raise, but the payoff in terms of walkability, property values and safe, green transportation will be worth it.

You don’t think so?

How would you rather get somewhere?

I took the picture on the left today as we were walking over the 89 bridge. I know how I’d rather have gotten to the movie theater or Price Chopper!

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* In fact, though I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to show it to you, I saw quite large and beautiful deer bound across the trail we’d just crossed towards the end of our hike.