things I love that keep me going

I’ve written lots of  emails to lots of people in the last few days, many variations on the theme of hitting reply in response to the query, “How are you guys, really?  I mean, I know you’re okay, but can you just write to me and let me know you’re okay?”  I’ve written to people from long ago and far away, and people near and dear.  Neighbors and old ski racer friends and grade school buddies and college roommates and bridesmaids and siblings and everything in between.  I even heard from a woman I don’t actually know, but who worked with a friend and remembered that I live just across the river from Boston.  It’s been that kind of week.

In the midst of it all (and boy, there were parts of this past week that were a serious black hole–we all spent way too much time hitting refresh on boston.com, too many checks of the twitter feed) I had to get myself out and about, even with my gimpy heel, to smell spring and visit my favorite haunts.  I didn’t have any owl sightings, but did collect some photos of a few more of my favorite things.  Here are just a few:

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I love libraries.  I’m beyond blessed with libraries in my home town.  Here’s the new addition to the main branch (isn’t that an oxymoron?), just a block  from our house.  It’s really beautiful at night, when it’s all lit up–a glowing gift to my fair city. My favorite example of my tax dollars at work.

Oh, and those are Dawn Redwood branches.  Yep, I’m also rich in Dawn Redwoods in my neighborhood.

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This is the original main entrance (you can see the new addition to the right.)  I love that they made the entry space into a lovely room with a big oak table and these glorious arched windows.  I also love that the former front steps have become a place for the high school kids to hang out at lunch, after school, after sports.  Those steps beg to be hung out upon.

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As if my fantastic public library wasn’t enough, I get to walk by this little sidewalk library almost every day as well.  I don’t know what the deal is, but sometimes I just bring books and stick them in, when the offerings are getting slim.  Which is hardly ever.  That’s a well-thumbed copy of Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, on the far left.  I love where I live.

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This is my favorite house in my home town.  It’s a couple of blocks out of my way from pretty much anything I tend to walk to, but this time of year, I go out of my way on a regular basis for this display.

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Not a great photo, but this little architectural sliver is just a half a block from home, and this view always makes me smile.  It’s even better at night, when Memorial Hall is lit up and the GSD is aglow.  Plus it’s a shortcut.  I loves my shortcuts.

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I’m a sucker for amusing architectural details. The tops of the fence posts in this little vest-pocket park boast snails of all sizes.

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I’m pretty sure that the first time I took a picture of this, I was a sophomore in college.  I had a Pentax Spotmatic that I had to manually focus. I also had to decide what the f-stop should be.  Cell phones with cameras, how did we live without them? For the record, this hand has been pointing the way to Bow Street for as long as I’ve lived here.  I’m seriously thinking about taking some white paint and touching it up a tad.  Would the current inhabitants mind?

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Onward and upward, in my home town.

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my little hill of beans

I can’t let a whole week go by before I write a rebuttal to my own last post.   Talk about picking the wrong group to go all snarky on. Marathoners, for crying out loud, who find the motivation to make their dreams come true by being willing to put in the time and effort—it sounds so simple, and is so profoundly difficult.  People who get up in the dark and the cold, whatever the weather, to log the required miles, week in, week out.  People who show up at the start for each other, who bond with folks who happen to be going the same speed they’re going, up Heartbreak Hill and down the other side.  Hurrah to them all, I say.  And that something north of 5,000 runners didn’t get to cross the finish line yesterday, because some twisted nutjobs thought it was a good idea to spread shrapnel and mayhem, and maim and kill innocent people…well.  My bad, and then some, for being a cynic towards a cohort of athletes who deserve better, every day, but particularly in the aftermath of yesterday.

 

I realize that a bunch of runners getting sidetracked from the last few hundred yards of a 26.2 mile race isn’t the thing that should make me weepy, nor is it even close to the saddest thing that happened in Boston.  That a boy ran to hug his father at the finish, then ran back to be with his mom and sister, with no notion of the danger they would face on the other side of the barrier…that’s tragic.  That another victim was a daughter of someone who works at the same campus as my beloved…that feels way too close to home.  That my friend Jennifer spent the weekend with us, and that I teased her about treadmill training and nudged her about eating my sesame noodles for carbo-loading purposes, and that my husband drove her downtown in the morning and put her on a school bus headed for Hopkinton, with no notion of how the day would end…suffice it to say, I have never, ever, EVER been more relieved to find someone at my back door than I was when I heard the joyful voices of Jennifer and her son and his friend, who together had scooped her up at the finish and whisked her back to our house, arriving with flowers and cheers, and with no clue about the tragedy they’d just escaped.  Those are the kind of tears that come with the relief when, finally, you can breathe again.  Later on, for me at least, came the tears that flow from the heartbreak of  stories that are beyond the known boundaries of sadness.  Who could have guessed that a day so full of promise, so lovely and so happy, could end by hurting so much.

 

And here’s what yesterday kept telling me, over and over: my problems don’t amount to a hill of beans.  I am so lucky, on so many fronts.  I keep telling people that what I’m dealing with could be so much worse—and on a day like today, that seems like the ultimate understatement.

 

I’ve read stories of heroes who made tourniquets out of lanyards and t-shirts, who offered transportation and cell phones and beds and breakfasts to those in need.  I’ve listened on the radio to runners who vow to come back next year, and the year after that.  I even got to high-five a couple of marathoners (made recognizable by their yellow and blue windbreakers, this year’s color scheme, as well as by the medals around their necks) on my reservoir walk this morning.   I am in awe of the true heroes, and their amazing  resilience.  And despite my love of sports with higher thrill-to-exertion ratios, I aim to be more like them, now and forevermore.

 

Amen.

survival of the fittest

It’s the second week in April, which in my hometown means it’s time for a new sort of tourist to start showing up.  While the rest of the year provides my neighborhood with a predictable mix of college-visit families, foreign tour groups and random history buffs, April brings a more curious breed of out-of-town visitor—ones clad in windbreakers and nylon pants, sporting high-tech watches and high-end running shoes.  They have a certain lean and hungry look about them, and are slim as broomsticks, impressive in their lack of body fat.  They are marathoners, and they’ve come from all corners of the earth to the mecca that is the Hopkinton-to-Boston annual 26.2 mile race.

I usually first notice these ultra-fit tourists in Harvard Yard, wandering around with their noses in guidebooks, while simultaneously balancing on one foot and stretching their quads. They’ll soon be even easier to spot, once they’ve been to registration central and picked up this year’s official outerwear and complementary backpack.  Come Monday afternoon and evening, we’ll see them tip-toeing up the stairs from the subway, some still wrapped in their tin-foil blanket, gingerly making their way to their post-race dinner venues.

These freaks of long distance mileage have always made me feel a bit sub-fit.  By way of defense, I’ve always considered them a bit obsessed with a sport that tilts in the wrong direction on the thrill-to-exertion scale (see: alpine skiing!  Where gravity is your friend!)  But the truth of the matter is that I once liked running, when my knees were more obliging.  I even had notions of running a marathon, back before I blew out my ACL, tore my MCL, pulled my LCL, and ended up with nothing after reconstructive surgery but a tidy rim where my meniscus used to be.  From those days on, I’ve been running-compromised.

These days, it’s that much more frustrating, to see these lithe bodies and not feel like a lesser version of the human race.  After my knee surgeries, I used to watch in jealous fascination as by-passers’ knees flexed and squatted and leaped up steps, two by two; I now feel that jealousy toward whole human bodies as they move through space, any old way.  I’m weary and out of shape, as un-fit as I’ve ever been.  And on top of my fussy knees, or rather down below them, I have something painful going on with my feet that may be a side effect of the chemo, or may be garden-variety plantar fasciitis, who knows which?  Whatever it is, it’s making me feel about 30 years older than I am, and it just plain sucks.

Having this annual stream stream of uber-athletes passing through town is just one more reminder that I’m in the middle of something that I can’t wait to put in my rear view mirror.  It’s also reminding me that I have lots of work to do here, to get back to my regular self—the one that I had a brief visit with, last week, when I went skiing before radiation started.  My treatment program is pretty passive, beyond getting myself to my appointments on time.  The active part will kick in before long.  Maybe not soon enough for me, but like so many elements of this adventure, I don’t get to decide what happens when.  I just have to be ready for whatever comes next, whenever it gets here.

* * * * *

I’m on the radiation roll now.  Every weekday, at 9:30AM, I’ll be going in for what amounts to a prolonged x-ray session.  It’s mostly about getting me in the right position on the table, lined up properly under the equipment.  The whole process takes under 15 minutes.  In and out, and on with my day.  I’ll tell you more about it later on.

And now for something completely unrelated

Long story short: one of my freshman college roommates reconnected me with another, longer lost roommate (lost to me, at any rate), and from that came a request to write a book review. I’m petty sure my zip code had something to do with the assignment, or at least the notion that I might be interested. You’ll understand why when you see the title of the book.

As with so many things that have happened in the past few months, this was a good distraction from my currently scheduled programming. And distractions, I’ve come to appreciate, are a good thing, in times like these.

Here’s the link to my review. And if you have a minute, click around and peruse the rest of the site–it’s got some great features, interesting reviews, essays, etc.

http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/harvard-square

Enjoy!

An appointment with springtime

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When I was a sophomore in college, I took a course that met in the basement lecture hall of a dusty old art museum.  It was the sort of  natural light-less space that was perfect for slide shows, but not very good for anything that had to do with actual life—particularly life in the spring, when everything is busting out all over. I remember one of those days, when the temperatures had risen, the magnolias were in bloom, and the last place any of us wanted to be was in that windowless space.  As my professor began his lecture, he started with a story about his own undergraduate years, and a class he attended in the very same room, on a day very like that day.  He recalled having bestowed upon him what we were probably all wishing for: his professor walked in and announced that he had “an appointment with springtime,” and then promptly walked out, leaving his roomful of students bemused and delighted. Did such things ever really happen?  I hadn’t even thought to wish for such a gift!   I was jolted back to reality when I heard my professor say, “Sadly for all of you, and since we already missed a class last week, I will soldier on.  Forgive me.” So we all pulled out our pens and notebooks and soldiered along with him, wishing, perhaps, that he hadn’t told us that story.

I didn’t get an unscheduled appointment with spring back then, but I did squeeze one in this week.  I’d been looking at the weather forecasts for days, scouting out which weekday, if any, might be worthy of sneaking out of town and heading up north.  My objective was not magnolia blooms or warbler sightings, but a taste of the springtime version of winter: one more day of skiing on my beloved Wildcat Mountain.

I know, I know.  It’s been an endless winter, by all accounts.  And it’s been hanging on with a death grip around here, leaving us with endless little snow events, slippery sidewalks, and snowbanks that refuse to melt away nicely.  But despite all that, I was still feeling like the ski season had passed me by.  In December, I was recovering from surgery; in January, I was getting a handle on the whole chemo business.  I got a couple of runs here and there in February and March, but no days at all on my adopted-by-marriage home mountain.  Before I knew it,  one look at the calendar told me that my chances for sneaking in a mid-week spring skiing day were winding down. Radiation, which begins next week, is a Monday-through-Friday commitment, and our upcoming weekends were already spoken for.  It was now or never.

Which wasn’t to say that what I would find up north would be all slush bumps and soft snow.  It’s still wintertime in the White Mountains, if you go by the snowpack and the frigid temperatures leading up to my hooky day.  Nevertheless, I was banking on a predicted warming trend, clear skies, and the wonder that is the sun kissing the north side of a New England mountain, come April.

Seriously, why does anyone ever bother to go skiing in the east in November, or even December, for that matter?  The light is so flat, the cover is so thin, the few trails that are open are crowded, and what sun there is disappears from the trails, if it ever even hits the trails, by lunchtime.  It’s just so depressing.  You need to get some sunshine on your face as you ride up the lift.  And the only way you can get it is to go skiing later on in the season, when the sun rises higher in the sky and stays there for longer.

Which is what I knew I would get.   Seriously, is there anything so lovely as a blue sky day in April?   And honestly, is there anything as delightful as mid-winter conditions and springtime sunshine, all at once?

Here’s what I was treated to:

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This is a view from the top of the Wildcat Trail, looking across Pinkham Notch at Mount Washington.  That big bowl in the center is the famous Tuckerman Ravine.  The US Forest Service’s reported avalanche danger was rated “considerable” on this day for natural events, and “likely” for human caused events.  And yet, in another week or two, there will be hundreds of people hiking up to ski the ravine.  Wildcat is so close by, it feels like you can reach out and touch it.  The spot where I took that photo from is where my sweetie and I want some of our ashes to be spread, when the time comes.  We  have a number of friends and family who have similar notions, and we know of a few folks who are already there.  We’ll be in good company.  Plus, it’s a gorgeous spot to hang out, for the ages.

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Sunshine on spring snow.  Two things you hardly ever see, all winter long, from this vantage point–the trail under the chairlift gets no man-made snow this high up, and the sun doesn’t hit this stretch at all until mid-February.

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This little guy is my husband.  Isn’t he adorable?  A big blow-up poster of this old marketing image hangs upstairs in the Wildcat base lodge, on the way to the bathrooms.  I give it a little pat every time I pass by.  The 2-man gondola is long gone, but the view of Mt. Washington remains unchanged.  For the record, my mother-in-law did some photo-shopping on this image, circa 1959; John was not actually at Wildcat when the photo of him was taken.  I suspect some literal cutting and pasting was involved.  Needless to say, this explains our love of this place, not to mention our lifetime passes.  I joke that when we got married, I just traded one cold windy ski area (Sugarloaf, in Maine) for another.  But the truth is, almost 30 years later, I’ve got a lot more miles on trails named Lynx and Catapult and Bobcat than I have on Sugarloaf’s Narrow Gauge.  That’s saying something.

* * * * *

So, I got my happy spring day, and then some.  And even though my knees complained and my weary thighs felt like Jell-o, it was a day that nourished me, by giving me exactly what I needed:  A day in the sunshine, a day at one of my favorite places on earth, a day to swoop down the trails and feel alive.  And normal.  And like me, or the me I know myself to be–not the one I’m currently seeing in the mirror.

Now I’m back home, where I will be icing my knees and gulping down Advil for a bit, to make up for my late season ski outing.  The good news is my knees still work for treks around the reservoir.  My sweet little screech owl was all puffed up in her hole this morning, as if to point out to me that the sun is shining on high for her these days, as well:

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There she is, up high in the triangular hole.  The wonders of cell phone cameras, despite the lack of a good zoom lens.