Category Archives: health

Still Waiting for Post-Race Euphoria

The medal and post-race free pizza weren’t the real reward for finishing Sunday’s half-marathon. The best gift was what I learned about my son Marshall along the way.

This is not a post about endurance sports. I promise.

Remember, in my day, once we grew out of kickball and four-square, sports for girls weren’t all that common. Anyway, I did music. As an adult, thanks to the hours spent watching my kids’ swim team practice, I did learn to swim. So when I exercise, laps are what I do.

But Sunday I walked the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon . (The half, I hastily add.)

FullSizeRender (12)What on earth for? I wish I’d kept the answer in mind during the race, because when surrounded by thousands of serious and spandexed  marathoners (Knoxville is a qualifying race for Boston), it was easy to feel like a lowly slug in comparison.

YES, those are fatal words, those last two, and it continues to be my goal to eliminate them from my mental vocabulary. But that’s another post for another day.

So, why the walk? My motivation was clear back in December when I decided to train for it. First, the osteopenia (pre-osteoporis) had gotten much worse since my last bone density scan.  Swimming doesn’t help that; serious weight-bearing exercise does. Making myself walk before my pool laps seemed a safer idea than taking the meds my docs recommended.

Second, I dread winter. I have several chronic illnesses, and illness isolates. I needed something to look forward to, a forced focus on spring. My husband dreams of his garden; I needed something more tangible. Training for an April half-marathon wouldn’t cost anything except better shoes, and I could multi-task on the track by listening to podcasts to ramp up my French, another goal.

But the real clincher for mother-me: I wanted to challenge my very busy son Marshall to get more exercise. He shot a challenge right back: he’d sign up if my husband and I would go see a financial planner to discuss pre-retirement planning, something we were about as enthusiastic about doing as going to an endodontist.  But we did, and he did (OK, not necessarily in that order), along with his wife Shannon and my husband, and the rest is history.

We trained, we stopped training due to various injuries, we trained some more. The weekly long walks (9 miles around the track? are you kidding me?) seemed interminable. But we made it through the Hal Higdon half marathon program I found online. More or less. I made it through winter.

And Sunday at 4:30 AM (my time) we got up to go race. And despite my joint issues (psoriatic arthritis) and the reactive hypoglycemia I also live with which can bottom out my blood sugar if I don’t eat frequent careful snacks  (NOT the Powerade and energy GU the kindly volunteers gave out en route which in my case could be disastrous), we finished.

Well, I completely forgot that just-finishing was all I’d hoped to do. (Some days, more than I’d hoped to do.) When I saw all those runners sprint home, I felt like, ‘hey, all I did was walk.’ I forgot WHY I did it in the first place. So, this reminder to self. I walked for health. I walked to show myself that just because I have illnesses and am nearing 60 (both my parents died in their 60s), life isn’t over. I walked to fight back against the near-crippling anxiety (ok, and depression) that too often want to paralyze me.

And I did all that. Plus I got the t-shirt, the goody bag, the cheers in Neyland Stadium when we crossed the finish line. Oh, and that free pizza.

marathon medal

But I also received one unexpected and much more amazing gift.

During those 13.1 miles I discovered I have an eldest son who has a heart as tall as he is (six feet).  Through the entire walk I witnessed him put aside every one of his own race ambitions and become our family team’s spirit and cheerleader. He and his wife Shannon could have finished long (long!!) before my husband and I. But, no, he stayed with us, encouraging me on, urging (ok, insisting) that I eat, even and especially when I hit that “leave me alone, I’m not hungry, I hate eating, go AWAY!” growling stage of the hypoglycemia that hit hard around mile six. He swallowed his impatience when we old people took stretch or port-a-potty breaks. He stayed level-headed and upbeat throughout, insisting when I suggested he and Shannon go on ahead, “no, we trained as a team. We finish as a team!”

So we did. Walking four-abreast into his beloved Vols’ Neyland Stadium to the cheers and applause of the kindly spectators who still remained.

That’s a lot to get out of one walk. That’s kind of euphoric enough, if I think about it. Here he is, my race hero, Marshall, with his wife:

FullSizeRender (11)


Though now I am kind of wondering–how hard would it really be to run it next year?








National Celebrate the Wrinkles Week

Guido_Reni_-_Portrait_of_an_Old_Woman_-_WGA19292“You don’t look old enough to have a son who’s almost 30,” the radiation tech told me yesterday when I went in for a repeat mammogram.

I would have hugged her, except I was pinned to a machine. They were definitely the best words I’d heard all week.

(OK, the “all clear” from the doctor afterwards was pretty nice, too.)

My question is, why does it matter so much? We–I–pay lip service to the politically-correct and mentally-healthy stance that looks don’t matter, that the aging/aged face and body is as beautiful as the youthful.

But do we mean it? Do we mean it when we’re looking in our own mirror?

“Aging well” should refer to how physically active and independent a person is as they approach whatever number we now define as “elderly.”old-man-1208210_960_720

But don’t we usually mean the person looks young for their age? Is wearing well? Is maybe a tad less wrinkled and saggy than expected?

Given that many of us in this well-nourished country may well live into our nineties, don’t we need to think hard about what we’re going to look like as we get there? And appreciate that? Because who wants to spend the remaining however-many decades comparing the face in the mirror to the one we had at 18? Or worse, to the faces of the twenty-somethings we see on television or in front of us at the grocery store?

I think I’m declaring this National Celebrate the Wrinkles week. old woman.jpeg




How do you eat apples? Are you a peeler? Or, like me, do you eat every shred, skin and all, and feel cheated if some zealous hostess has removed it? (In a pinch, I’ve been known to eat carrots straight out of the bag, with a little hasty rinse. Confessions of a carrot addict: topic for another post.)

It takes effort to peel away skin, yes? Remember that gruesome description in Jan Karon’s first Father Tim novel about the woman in the burn unit whose scarring skin had to be sliced off, infinitesimal layer at a time, in a procedure known to make the staunchest nurse blanch?mitford book

That’s how hard I think it can be to correct depression on your own. Nearly impossible, that is, because that dark, “nothing-works-out, I’m-no-good, there’s-no-point” sensation can take over the veritable soul. Become one’s very being, and how hard it is to step outside that?

There are apparently apps that help you replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Hello? If it were that easy, don’t you think I’d be the Joan Rivers of the cove by now?

I guess that’s why they call depression a mental illness, with emphasis on the illness: you can’t talk yourself out of having a fever or a broken foot, either. Though I’ve tried the latter, walking around for a few days before a doc called back to say they’d misread the x-rays and to get off of it pronto.

But I don’t like that term. It still conjures up images of barred windows and wild-eyed patients. Of Bedlam. And if I, over-educated 21st century creature with plenty of experience of “soul sickness” still hear those echoes, is it any wonder there’s a stigma attached in society in general?

Time to end the shame. Time to help peel away the layers of shaming, discrimination and fear associated with having any sort of mental illness. So that we aren’t doubling the pain of those who are already suffering.




Surviving January

The view from my desk:
my desk

Hang on: is that a Starbucks sign up there?

Well, yes.  Confession time.

It’s January, and that doesn’t just mean dicey weather and post-Christmas doldrums. It’s the month this cup,starbucks cup

bought last month as a gift to, well, myself, gets me free coffee every single day. OK, not ‘free’ exactly, since I did pay for it up front. But the frequency of my visits mean I’ve more than made up for the original investment. Especially when you consider that at this, “my” Starbucks, refills are plentiful and courteously given.

Now, I can’t say enough about the friendliness of this particular store, so I’m going to save that for another post. Instead, back to that word, “investment.” Because this cup is one.

How so?

I’m really quoting my husband and a couple of friends on this, but–having this cup is one of my best tools for warding off winter weariness. A malady all-too-familiar for those  of us who work at home and/or deal with chronic illness and/or depression.

Because I bought it in the first place, my thrifty self wants to make having it worthwhile. Therefore, excuse, even encouragement to go to Starbucks! Which just happens to be close to the pool where I swim. So, encouragement to do those laps! (So I can reward myself with going to Starbucks.) Even when the temps are in the teens, as they were this week. Even when the pool heater is broken, as it’s been for the last couple of weeks. And–even when the outside doors to the pool are propped open because of other equipment issues, as they were yesterday when it was sleeting, snowing, and generally being less than optimal conditions for an ”outside” swim.

And regular exercise, you already know, is a key part of any battle against depression.

Finally, there’s the reality that being a regular at pool and coffee shop means I’ve built up community of sorts. Which means I get the added benefit of socializing: a real gift when you work alone at home and live in a remote mountain cove where the nearest neighbors are–trees and more trees.

Let me quickly add that I’m not here surfing the Net. I’m working–(writing, that is, and whether this is “real work” or not is a subject I could waffle on for days. And do)–. And something about having just enough background noise makes me concentrate in a way I sometimes can’t at home, where I fight the compulsion to tend to any number of more-tangible, “more necessary” tasks than writing seems to be.

Anyway, that’s my confession, and I’m sticking to it. At least until next week, when January ends. When I’m going to have to come up with a new excuse for frequenting my satellite office.

How do you get through January?


The Fictional, or the Non?


Mrs. MikeYesterday after I’d sent in my column for the Sewanee Mountain Messenger, a review of the classic YA novel, “Mrs. Mike,” by Nancy and Benedict Freeman, I entered the first moments of what will likely be an off-again, on-again battle against winter weariness.

I felt the more ashamed of that state because 1) after all, up till a few days ago, I’ve been able to wear shorts. And 2) because of  Katherine Mary O’Fallon, aka Mrs. Mike, the 16-year-old sent from Boston to Calgary to convalesce from pleurisy (trains run south as well as north: you have to wonder why her mother didn’t put her on the Southern Crescent for Florida.) Who promptly marries Sargeant Mike Flannigan of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And travels with him by dogsled far, far north into a land where the Northern Lights play and snowshoes are a more familiar sight than bare toes.


cold canada

So much for convalescing.

Except that oddly, the young Mrs. Mike does. In fact, she thrives on the challenges endlessly thrown her way, including the bitter cold and an almost endless winter.

Now, how can I complain about our paltry 22 degrees?

Thus discouragement deepened.

Then my daughter pointed out that though “Mrs. Mike” is based on real people and a true story, it is, none the less that: a story. Written down. With who knows how much edited out. Including, perhaps? moments–hours? days?–when the isolation, the cold, the bleak, seemed too much for her, too.

Rather like that other intrepid survivor of another wilderness, Laura Ingalls Wilder. We know from Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, that Ingalls left out a great deal, including the death of a baby brother and the time Pa sneaked them out of town to avoid paying the landlord. Apologies if I’m bursting your Little House bubble, but–there were a lot of grim moments in the Ingalls household. Moments possibly not conquered by Pa’s fiddle-playing or Ma’s smile. Moments when things just remained, well, grim.



I could pretty easily concoct aka write a version of winter life here which portrays me gliding through obstacles like cold and chronic illness with as much of a feisty and maybe even humorous spirit as Mrs. Mike. And who would know the difference?

Well, unfortunately, I would. Because I live in the non-fiction, non-photoshopped version. But maybe I can figure out a way to step through the looking glass into the other?





The Long and Winding DYI

Are we out of our minds? Why would a full-time, overworked attorney for DCS and his non-green-thumbed, non-handyman, several-chronic-illnessed wife take on the landscaping of their entire homesite?

A home currently encircled by deep clay ditches (“just call me moat”) dug by guess-who, awaiting the purchase and carting in (us again) of large shrubs and groundcovers.

With winter finally deciding to show up so everything we dig is wet and heavy and…oh, this is going to last from here to eternity, and there are times I lean on my shovel ready to rest for at least long.

Today’s project was moving gravel from its massive pile down to the in-process walkway. Shovel from pile to truck. Shovel from truck to cart. Shovel from cart to walk, which had first to be laboriously hacked out of hard clay, then tamped down and covered with landscape cloth.

IMG_0734 (1)

This is not fun.

Why are we doing it?

Well, no one else has volunteered.

But really, it’s no more insane than anything else we’ve done with our lives. Homeschooling in an era when no one did, for instance, in a town where no one did, and continuing on with it despite financial bare-survival and some in-house obstacles that would have felled Paul Bunyan.

Moving to undeveloped mountain cove land to raise said children, garden, goats and chickens, decades before online farmers’ markets and locavores were even dreamed of.

The children? They turned out great. So what back then sometimes felt like an insane commitment to homeschooling was maybe not such a bad idea after all.

Maybe in a year? two? I’ll be saying the same of the landscaping project.






Supersizing Us

Facing a longish drive home after a day in Alabama heat helping our son and daughter-in-law move into their new house, where does the imagination naturally leap?

You got it right first guess: the nearest frozen-something store.

yog coneSuper-friendly clerks welcomed us with smiles into their spotless frozen yogurt shop and explained the procedure to us novices: choose a cup size, chose a flavor or two or three, then roam the range of toppings, everything from crumbled oreos and all else chocolate

fro yo 2 to fresh raspberries and every other berry,

with brownies waiting at the end of the line. The super-helpful clerk then offered the fact that the average filled small cup weighed in at around eight dollars.


I pulled my jaw back up. All this was a long way from my usual Piggly-Wiggly low-fat vanilla, $2.49 or so a box, and who cares if it’s a little freezer-burnt by the time I finish it off?

We browsed the nearly two dozen flavors, sampling as many as allowed.fro yo 1

I can personally recommend the blackberry cheesecake with a side of creme brulee. (Strawberry cream cake–too sweet and with an after-taste; southern pecan–awesome, but not refreshing enough after the day we’d had.) James settled on green apple sorbet (I prefer my apples straight up), blackberry, and something dense and chocolatey.

green yog

Time to find the small cups and get started filling, but–we couldn’t find them. After a prolonged hunt, we decided that the tub-sized dishes in front of the swimming-pool-sized dishes must, by default, be the “small.”

Which is when I was ready to flee to McD’s, where a cup of plain vanilla something costs about a dollar and is just the right size (legitimately small) to refresh without spiking glucose levels sky- high.

Standing in front of the array of soft-swirl machines in my usual dither, I did the math. At forty-nine cents an ounce, an eight dollar “average person’s” small size is something like sixteen ounces of fro-yo and toppings.

That’s a heck of a lot of frozen yogurt.

Especially when you consider that every ice cream box I’ve ever read states that an actual serving is a half cup. That’s four ounces, if you’ve forgotten your second grade math text with its cute line drawings of cups, pints and quarts.

The shop’s “small” cups, by my calculation, would contain eight half cups. Eight times an actual serving? And even if, like most people, your home serving from a box is more like a cup than half that, that’s still four times what’s listed.FullSizeRender (3)

Then consider that most of us can’t resist 1) swirling their soft-serve above the cup or cone,

yog swirl


not to mention 2) piling on the add-ons till they’re visible, i.e. again above the line.yog with toppings 2

How many servings would that make? I shudder to imagine.

I guess it’s no news that we prefer instant delight to health, but it’s still startling to see the process made not just so easy, but almost inevitable.

Not to keep you in suspense: James and I startled the clerk by weighing in our cups at more than considerably below the average. Kind of super-below.

I have to admit, it tasted heavenly. I’ll certainly go back someday, though only if I’m feeling willpowerful– and have the image of that pitiful half-cup firmly in mind.