Smorgasbord of Snow Shots

17 02 2010

It’s been seven days since the final snowfall of Washington’s big blizzard.  Last week at this time our front porch looked like:

From the inside we saw:

The view out the back on the deck:

During the height of the blizzard, we found a poor squirrel cowering on the deck railing, looking very much in need of shelter:

The deck has a pergola over it, and the snow made an intriguing design on it:

It also made an amusing pattern on a couple of lone Black Eyed Susan stems:

We weren’t sure if we’d ever get mail again:


Fast forward seven days.  Yesterday I hiked the woodland trail adjacent to our neighborhood:

The creek that runs beside it was rather scenic:

The trail mostly has two paths running through it.  One (on the left below) is used by cross country skiers—two very narrow very straight parallel lines.  And then there’s the foot path (right, below), up to two feet wide of packed snow:

If you venture outside of that, you’re likely to sink up to your knee in snow:  (I found the limited width to be quite constraining, wonder if my stride is abnormally splayed.)

There were lots of animal footprints:

No rest for the weary on the benches:


We’re thinking about taking bets on when the last bit of snow will melt.  March?  April?  May?


Taking a Chance on Me

15 02 2010

In honor of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month in March, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation is sponsoring a Ready Set Shine campaign, encouraging everyone to venture outside our comfort zones.  For some people that might just mean venturing out of the house.  For some, it may mean fulfilling a lifelong desire such as sky diving.

It’s got me thinking about times in my life when I took on challenges that made me nervous….


My husband has always wanted to take the family on a European tour.  He wanted to share London and Paris with the boys, and he himself had never seen Italy.  Timing was tricky; the boys needed to be old enough to appreciate the sights but not so old that their summers had become scheduling nightmares with their own stuff.

My multiple sclerosis diagnosis brought its own complications, as we worried we might be facing a countdown to immobility.

We took the plunge and booked the trip, most of which was part of a tour.  We scheduled extra time at the beginning in Rome and at the end in London when we were on our own.  I’m generally nervous about slowing my family down when the MS fatigue sets in.  Having to ask for a 15 minute breather or encouraging them to proceed while I sit something out is bad enough.  But to be on a tour group seemed even more challenging.

We went and I survived.  In some ways it was worse than I imagined.  I didn’t sleep terribly well at night due to the unfamiliar beds, unusual sounds and strange surroundings.  And the heat in Italy was worse than I anticipated, which contributes to my lethargy.

But the truth of the matter is, when I think about that trip, the first thing I remember is not how exhausted I was.  Rather I recall the marvelous adventure we had and the wonderful sights we saw together.


Then there was the time I decided to volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity build site.  I didn’t know any fellow builders, and I’d never done any construction work.  But I was curious about home building so showed up for the adventure.  The “regulars” were eager to get me involved so set me to work.

Before lunch I had ruined a perfectly good, very long piece of wood by cutting it too short.  Before the day was over it was clear that I could hammer in one nail to every four or five the girl next to me was doing.  And the next day when my body ached so badly I could barely get out of bed.

In the end, I didn’t go back.  I decided I could learn about home construction in other ways.  But I did sign up for exercise class to whip this old body into slightly better shape.


The MSF is probably right.  Now would be a good time to stretch myself in some new way….Hmm….

(Regular) Sensory Perception

27 01 2010

Since we upgraded to the Wii Fit Plus disk last month, I’ve been back in the saddle on the Balance Board again.  They’ve brought out new versions of Table Tilt and Balance Bubble, which are two of my favorites from the original.  They’ve added an obstacle course and a Segway impersonator, which have challenged and exasperated me.

But my current infatuation has been the bicycle ride.  You steer by manipulating the remote and you generate forward progression by stepping on the Wii board.  Unlike the running activity, in which you can only go where the game chooses to direct you, with biking you’re free to explore Wuhu Island as you wish.

I’ll never forget I’m doing all this on a cartoon island projected on my television while I manipulate white, plastic props, but I do enjoy the realism they have injected into the experience.  When you ride through grass or sand, to maintain your speed you have to step noticeably harder (faster?) than when you’re on a paved road.  Sound effects that resemble cruising through sand or on grass provide audio reinforcement to further drive home the sensation.

When you’re going up a steep hill, you can ease the effort by weaving back and forth just as you would on a real bike.  (Though with the rather awkward steering mechanism you must be careful you don’t send yourself careening off the side of a mountain.)  Little beads of sweat fly off your character, bolstering the biking impression.

When you pick up speed going downhill you can stop pedaling (stepping) and just enjoy coasting.  And if you start going too fast and are in danger of veering off the path into the stream below, they have provided front and rear brakes on a couple of the buttons.

It’s always bright and sunny on the island.  And after I had cruised around for a LONG TIME looking for that last flag (SPOILER ALERT: The one in the sand pit beyond the tunnel you come to after you’ve crossed the two skinny bridges was the one I spent ages looking for) I’m not sweating profusely but I’m feeling pretty warmed up.  So I was really amused when, after ascending a steep and challenging hill, my path led me into a shady tunnel.  I instantly had the perception of feeling COOLER, a refreshing break from the fierce rays of the sun.  But unless Nintendo has found a way to tap into my house’s HVAC system, I know they’re just messing with my mind.

Calorie Counting

13 11 2009

When we recently visited the kids at college, we were eating lunch in a booth at a diner.  I shared a bench with my husband.  He said I was surely excited to see my kids as I was constantly tapping my toes, bouncing my legs up and down, driving him slightly batty.

In fact, delight at seeing my children may have been part of the reason for my boundless activity.  But there are two additional reasons I seem to harbor a wellspring of excess energy.

First, if I sit or lie still for two long, when I get up I am so stiff.  Sometimes I just feel inflexible while other times I walk with an annoying spastic gait for a few steps trying to get the muscles in gear again.  Better to keep moving and avoid such consequences.

Second, I stumbled across a book called The Fidget Factor: The Easy Way to Burn Up to 1000 Extra Calories Every Day.  It lists, for every activity imaginable, how many calories you burn per minute based on body weight.  Consider the calories burned per minute for a 130 pound person doing the following activities:

Stretching rubber band between fingers 1.2rubberband

Surfing the internet 1.2

Twirling pencil 1.3

Gift wrapping 1.5

Sitting, tapping feet 1.9

Clearly, we’re going to need to take it up a notch if we’re going to get anywhere.

Ping Pong 4.1

Showering 4.1

Shoveling snow 6.3

Rappelling 8.3

Digging ditches 8.8

Removing slag at a steel mill 11.4

Jumping rope, 145 turns per minute, women 12.3

Weighty Matters

31 10 2009

Fitness instructors, I’ve found, are a fairly flighty bunch.  I’ve had four teachers in four years.

The yoga lady lasted the longest, but she left because she hated the way the floor smelled in our new room.  The Pilates guy just disappeared.  Actually, I wasn’t sorry he left, because, though I’m sure it was all innocent enough, he was a little too “hands on” to suit me.  The body toning trainer, who worked for the census bureau, got busy gearing up for next year’s census and had to give up her evening job.

So now I’m on number four, also body toning.

Each instructor has emphasized: “Listen to your own body.”  “It’s not a competition.”  “Don’t compare yourself to others.”weights

Sounds okay in theory, but aren’t we all constantly evaluating other people?  Their appearance, their intelligence, their personality, their size—as in, what size weights they use?  Our class spans the interval from three to eight pounds.  I fall somewhere in the middle at five pounds.

When the teacher announced we’d be doing our exercises slowly at the next session, the gal next to me, a veteran, warned me to bring three-pound weights.  I heeded her advice, but as class started they felt like feathers in my fingers, and I anticipated the session would be a breeze.  Sixty minutes later I was sprawled out on the mat and my three-pound weights felt like they were bolted to the floor.  Going through the same exercises we do every week, but doing them very slowly, is a killer.

I went home and collapsed.

Walking on Sunshine

23 09 2009

Having taken the summer off, I’m busy walking with my neighborhood buddies again.  We walk Monday, Wednesday, Friday.  There are actually three groups out during the 8:30 to 9:30 hour.  The bus stop moms walk after the school bus picks up their elementary age kids.  These younger moms spend most of their time talking about education issues.  I belong to the have kids in college group.  We talk more about health related things.

walkerThe senior citizens group is a pair of women, both widows, who’ve been strolling through their mornings together for twenty years.  They have either figured out all the education and medical stuff or given up trying because they talk about stuff like picking up men.  At 9:00 a.m. in our neighborhood the choice is pretty limited—lawn care guys, fellows who drive the garbage trucks, home re-modelers—but these women have their radar on.  Good for them!

Tuesday and Thursday, if I walk, I walk alone.  It’s good to have time for personal contemplation.

And on the weekend my husband and I walk together.  That can be frustrating because he always wants to go someplace new, and he never wants to just turn around to get back home.  We have to make some kind of a giant loop.  I think it’s a guy thing.  We tend to take very long walks on streets with tons of traffic.

Using the Wii to Learn to Ski

29 08 2009

I have a Wii Fit program to motivate me to exercise when the weather’s not conducive to outdoor activity.  And yes, I do some of the muscle strengthening, yoga, and aerobic exercises.  But the activities I really enjoy are three of the balance games:

  • Balance Bubble: Shift your weight to guide your character down the river.  Avoid the river banks and the circulating bumble bees.
  • Table Tilt: Change your center of balance to roll balls on a simulated table top, dropping them all through holes in the table.
  • Ski Slalom: Lean forward to accelerate, left and right to maneuver through pairs of flags.

I don’t want to suggest that I am addicted to these particular “video games with a physical component.”  But it would be safe to say that I’ve done them many times.

My husband, on the other hand, tunes in once in a great while, skis down the hill a few times, and that’s that for several more weeks.

wii-fit-skiWhat vexes me is that in those few downhill trips, he manages not only to break into the top ten scores list maintained by the computer, he walks away with  TOP BILLING!  I’m exasperated that it’s so easy for him.  On the other hand, just seeing that top score displayed there with his baseball-cap-wearing face on it inspires me to ratchet up my game.  Whereas before my times had stagnated and I could improve no more, suddenly I find myself thrilled to pick up speed and then beat his first place score!  And then, slowly but steadily, he drops down the leader board–second, third, fourth…By the time he’s seventh or eighth I’ve pretty much mastered my newer, faster technique and in short order I eliminate him from the list altogether.  And then I find myself stalled again…until he waltzes in and ups the ante.

This cycle has gone through several iterations, but neither of us could reach the Final Frontier: a FOUR STAR RATING awarded by the computer.  But yesterday, all by myself, with no motivation from him, I broke the 50 second mark and got FOUR STARS!  Take that, big boy!  (I better not say too much.  Next time he gets on he’ll probably beat 45 seconds.  Aargh!)