Friday, January 27, 2006

Animal communication

Mary Beth’s comment brings back vivid recollections of a cat I had years ago. She was named Walden to pay homage to the part of Massachusetts where I lived at the time, and also because she was a bit simple. A simple life, in many ways.

Walden took as her mode of communications a small stuffed snowman finger puppet that someone gave me one Christmas. Mr. Snowman sat on the mantle in the living room, but every day it seemed, I would find him face down on the floor. Finally, I gave in and allowed Walden to claim Mr. Snowman as her own. It was then that I began to suspect that I might have underestimated her intelligence.

On the occasional day when I was home at eleven in the morning, kitty Walden would go hunting for Mr. Snowman and beat the stuffing out of him. She would throw him in the air, leap up and catch him between her front paws, then kick his belly with both hind legs, claws extended. Ow.

Mr. Snowman was not only her favorite playmate, he also became a mechanism for communication with me. When Walden was hungry, there would be Mr. Snowman, face down in the food bowl. And every evening at my accustomed bedtime, she would pick up Mr. Snowman, bring him into the room where I sat, and drop him at my feet. Then, like Mary Beth’s old cats, she would lovingly sing us all to bed.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Missing parts of my brain

The good thing about having a laptop computer with high speed access and your own blog is that you have extra processing capacity and storage….outside one’s own feeble brain. If I want to remember something, I send myself an e-mail. If I want to think something through, I blog. If I want to touch base with someone I love, there is always e-mail. If I need to expand my horizons, Google is there for me. My computer and the internet are vital links to a whole wide world beyond the small, sometimes parochial, town where I live and work.

Oh, the sadness! Oh, the woe! that piles on day after day of constrained, restricted, intermittent internet access. Some people find e-mail a burden; for me, it is a lifeline. But entropy is the way of the electronic world as of every world, and we have been down, disconnected, debilitated and depressed at home and at the office for about ten days. Not sequentially, but intermittently, and that is almost worse.

Today, Saint Keith and his acolyte Chris came to visit at the office and at home, and I do honestly believe that the wireless networks are working. Going to work. Soon. Really. I believe it.

Technical glitch begat dark cloud, which the radio signal could not penetrate. It’s mythical and mystical, and—-we trust—-it is almost beaten.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back in dogland. Toby continues to grieve for Max, as we all do, but it is Toby’s job to carry emotion in our little mixed-species family. I honestly do not believe that Toby wants to be the number one dog. He wants Cassie to take on that role, but he knows she is still growing into it. It’s transition time here on our Vermont hillside. We are getting better, getting older, decaying and exploding, all at the same time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Max was a good dog

I wrote this on October 31, and then the miracle of steroids gave us another two and a half months to say goodbye. Last Friday, I took Max for his last trip to the vet, although I did not post this until later when the first wave of grief had passed. We were both surrounded by friends. Friends who talked me through a very hard decision, and friends who stayed with him to the very end, as I could not.

We are all bouncing back, although I have been surprised at the puppy’s distress. She knew him only three months, but she learned her job. Toby purely grieves, but he is eating again now. We miss Max, but we are learning new rhythms for life after Max.

I’m sorry to say that the photo I mention at the end is not available in digital form, so you will just have to imagine Max and Toby herding the border collies. But here is one of Max lecturing, his favorite pastime.

Yesterday, he had even more trouble walking than has become usual. A dozen times I had to help him stand up, and often his back legs collapsed again immediately. There was a note of panic in his whine as he struggled to pull himself forward on powerful shoulders, scrabbling for traction. We have bought a few days by putting rugs down over the slippery wood floor.

Last night, he couldn’t get up and peed in his bed. I panicked when I saw blood where he peed, and called the vet, only to call back when I realized that he had torn off one entire toenail trying to get up. How frantic do you have to be?

This morning he was quiet and regal, out for a last walk in the back yard. He reminded me that a dog who cannot bear to poop on a leash or even within view of anyone he doesn’t love really is not a dog to lie in his own waste. He wasn’t hungry, not last night and not this morning. Neither was Toby or even baby Cassie.

People always say you will know when it is time to let go. I have always believed it and lived through it with other loves, animal and human. Still, I was afraid that with my dear Max, my selfish wish to keep him with me would overwhelm my ability to see when the moment had come. This was not the hardest thing I ever had to do—those had to do with men in my life—but it was very, very hard to let Max go.

Max was a foundling. I don’t know when he was born or what happened the first nine months or so of his life. I first saw him on the Staten Island Ferry, barking his fool head off at the ferry workers who were trying to convince him that Manhattan was not the place for a puppy. He had apparently made the rounds of the ferry, bumming cookies off passengers who, soft for dogs, carried them always in their pockets. I was standing on the upper deck, wearing a purple raincoat and flirting in a half-hearted way with one of the deck hands. “I like that dog,” I said. In the way of men, he puffed out his chest and said, “I’ll get him for you.”

But I was on my way to work and the ferry had left the dock. I made arrangements with the man. Later, I cut my day short and stopped in at the ferry office to pick up my new best friend. When the deck hand slipped a rope over Max’s neck, he walked home the mile to my house like a lamb. Clearly, someone had trained and loved this dog.

The next day, he ate a sofa.

His worst prank, though, was the day he took the bag of worms I had bought for the garden and thoughtlessly left by the back door. How hard do you have to shake a bag of worms, I wondered later as I tried to re-hydrate them and scrape them off the lower cabinets on either side of my little galley kitchen, how hard do you have to fling worms to make this happen?

He wasn’t perfect. He had an unfortunately strong prey drive, which has meant the deaths of several cats including one I loved dearly. He knew it was wrong, but he truly could not help himself. “Max thinks cats are snacks,” I always used to say.

And later, when we spent hours every day in the park in Brooklyn, I often thought of writing an article about the words we say so often to our dogs that they inadvertently take on the impact of commands. For one therapist in the park, it was “Rudy, self-soothe!” For us, it was “Max, don’t lick that baby!”

It was always enthusiasm that got Max in trouble. He loved people, all people. In those early days when I used to wonder where he came from and how anyone could have given him up, we would walk the esplanade on the north shore of Staten Island. People often commented on how beautiful Max was, and occasionally he would take off, dragging me behind as he tried desperately to catch up with a black person, particularly if there was a small child or an open car door in the picture. Can’t you just imagine the young family who found themselves unable to manage a nine-month-old rowdy German Shepherd puppy, particularly if they had small children, who decided that the best solution was to drop him at the ferry where everyone knows that the guys are a soft touch for dogs?

As my brother put it on that first day, “You won’t ever go anywhere alone again, not the bathroom, not anywhere.” I haven’t. I have had more dogs—up to four—and fewer dogs—down to two. We made an unsuccessful move back South, then moved again back to Brooklyn. From there we watch the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center. We moved to Vermont, where we have all been happy, especially Max and Toby.

Toby is the dog that has loved me more dearly than I ever expect to be loved by anyone in my life. And I love Toby. But it is Max who has the first, best dog claim on my heart, stronger even than the claim of Bruno, who was my father’s dog when I was a baby and who watched over me like a guardian angel until I was eight and he was almost nine.

Max was about eleven. He had a good life. When he was four, he and Toby stayed a couple of months with my mother, who knew it would break my heart to give up my dogs while I was between houses. Grandma spoiled them both, but particularly Max who never after that could come into the house without asking for a cookie. She laughed when Toby tricked Max out of the choicest spot on her bed, and she took them both, alternately, to obedience school, chuckling when people couldn’t figure out why her big dog looked different each session. Such a big dog for such a small woman! Max did not graduate, his interest in his world overwhelming his intellect and his willingness to come when called. He knew when he disappointed anyone, but would come over and lean his head against a thigh and talk about it.

Ah yes, Max was always a talker. He would discuss, he would scold, he would lecture.
When he was five, he had a hip replacement. With a foundling German Shepherd, hips are always a concern, and both of his were so bad that the doctors had a hard time deciding which one to do. He lectured them the whole time that they put him through the tests, including one that had him walk on a floating plate. In the end, they flipped a coin, did the operation, and he was up and walking in his crate the same day. A week later when he came home, he was like a puppy again, so happy to be able to walk without pain. The doctors advised doing only one hip; with his powerful shoulders, he gets the stability of a triangle, they explained.

That operation made me decide to buy Cassandra rather than taking a risk on another foundling. Cassie will have other challenges to face, as will I. As Sir Francis Bacon put it, “He who has a wife and children has given hostages to fortune.” I’m sure he meant to include she who has dogs.

The operation also bought me six more years with Max—the Brooklyn years (“Don’t lick that baby!”) and the Vermont years. This photo is one of my favorites of Max and Toby at dog camp, relaxing after herding (yes, herding!) border collies in the Little River. Toby did most of the chasing, and Max lectured them. It was around then, sitting on that river bank, that it occurred to me that we could live in Vermont. We have all had a good time here, barking at turkeys and digging up moles, porcupines and skunks notwithstanding.

If at the end of our lives, people can say that we lived well and were good representatives of our species, well, that’s the best epitaph of all.

Max was a very good dog.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Radical redesign

Why not radically change the way you behave toward others, dear Leo? You are in the process of orienting yourself toward establishing relationships that are more fraternal, with far fewer risks involved. This wasn't the case before. When you don't try hard to seduce and impress, your audience claps louder. Haven't you noticed?

My horoscope for January 14, 2006. Sounds right. Don’t know what it means. It is probably worthwhile to stop and think about what I would be like if I were completely different.

If I could, I would be less ruled by moods.

I would be kinder to everyone. (First, I wrote “nicer” but that word has overtones of rigid, brutal social judgment to anyone from the South, intimations that you will do what is good for another person no matter the cost to yourself. I choose a different word and a different rule of life.)

I would have a stronger sense of my own right to my own world and my own decisions. (Less engagement with people who try to further their own agendas without regard for others, more workarounds.)

I would really, really forgive all the old hurts.

I would continue to ask forgiveness for all the hurts I have caused, but I would accept that forgiveness is a gift, not something I am entitled to.

I would stop reaching out to people who see me only as a role, any role. Why can't I stop? Don't I get the message?

I would simplify my life even further, getting rid of more and more excess stuff.
I would find a church again and get involved.

I would dance more.

I would take better care of myself.

Maybe I will. The thought is the first step, then comes prioritization—since I truly believe we can only work on one or two things at a time—then strategy. The queen of behavior mod and a change junkie, I can do many things, but the first step is the radical redesign.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Structured networking

A tool for all kinds of situations. Just as when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, when you master this tool, it seems to apply everywhere. Here are the basic steps:
Figure out what you want and write a script.
Call ten people a day and ask for their help.
People will be helpful. When their advice works for you, circle back and thank them.
Offer to respond in kind.
Keep notes, keep expanding your list, keep calling.

That’s pretty much the outline. I learned to do this in the context of job hunting, under the general heading of “Looking for a job is a job.” My counselor reviewed my script, then insisted that I make those ten calls a day, which really doesn’t take very long once you have the script and a list of people to call. A shy person, I went in kicking and screaming, but I didn’t have a lot of alternatives.

I was blown away by how helpful people were, how much more helpful they wanted to be. My script wasn’t even particularly focused. It went something like this:
“Hi, I don’t know if you remember working with me on ___ project. I have been working in credit analysis—both for bond deals and bank lending for the last several years—and I am thinking that I would like to do something a little different. I like the analytical part of my job and the human interaction. I wonder if you have heard of anything that you think sounds creative and interesting, something that would use my kind of skills?”
And later in the conversation, “Can you think of anyone else that I should talk to?”

Depending on the person, I might disclose that I had just been caught in one of the waves of layoffs that battered Wall Street in the nineties, but I would note that the most important thing right now was finding the right opportunity—that I was fortunate to have a little time now to look for what I would like to do for the next few years. When I started writing the script, I was furious at the counselor. After all, the truth was that I was desperate for a new job. But by the time we polished every word of the script, I believed it. And I was able to approach the people I called without pressuring them, to assure them that I was delighted to have this opportunity to catch up with them, and that I valued their suggestions.

The hardest part of structured networking is getting your head straight in the first place. You don’t have to believe the story all day long, but you do have to believe it for the hour or so it takes to make ten calls a day. You don’t want to pressure the person in any way. You don’t want to ask for a job or an interview or even an informational interview. You just want them to apply their creative intelligence to help you expand the number and quality of opportunities available to you. You don’t, after all, want to have to rely on the dreary postings in the newspaper, and you don’t have to.

When you wrte the script—and even more when you review it with someone who can help you polish it—you will see all your secret insecurities come out.

“But people won’t want to help me.” Actually, people love to help.

“No, I mean, they won’t think my skills and talents are adequate.” Maybe, maybe not. Start with the ones you have confidence will want to help you and work up to the cold calls. You will be needing to make cold calls, and it will not kill you. It’s only ten a day.

“Ten sounds like a lot.” Okay, start with five. But the more calls you make in a day, the faster you will get to a wide variety of opportunities to change your life in a positive way. Some days you will hate to pick up the phone, just as some days are tough on any job. But now you are working for yourself and for your future. So pick a minimum number you can live with, and get moving.

“I don’t think there are any jobs out there.” Oh please. Get real. There are always jobs. If you are willing to do some networking, there are more jobs. If you are flexible enough to consider consulting and short term opportunities, worlds open up. The downside is that it may seem you are always looking for a job; the upside is that you don’t mind so much because you are always expanding your opportunities.

“I don’t know enough people to call.” Talk to everyone. The other members of the nonprofit board you serve on, the other mothers in the carpool, the soccer coach, the guy you run into at the dry cleaner, everyone you ever worked with, old school friends. You don’t know who they know until you ask them. Many, many conversations take a turn at “Well, actually, I do know this one guy who said something about….”

“I just don’t think I can do it.” Okay, so your shyness is more important to you than finding a job that makes you happy. Your choice. But do you think you could write the script? And once you do, ask yourself whether you think you can make a few calls. Make a list of who you would call if you felt strong one day. Say your spiel out loud until it doesn’t sound stupid to you any more. Then one day, you will pick up the phone and ask for help from friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers. And you will be amazed that you ever let shyness get in your way.

There are a few important guidelines. Don’t whine. Don’t pressure. Do say thank you. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your ideas. And when something pays off, call back the person who gave you the lead and say thank you again. And don’t be surprised when in a few months, your phone rings, and you hear, “Hi, I don’t know if you remember calling me…but now I am looking for some new opportunities….”

That is structured networking. I grant you that learning it is painful, but it is a skill that can be applied to all kinds of needs. Now, whenever I need anything (where to find a good puppy kindergarten, who should I ask to paint my house, what innovative programs in workforce development can we develop, what seminars would be interesting to the business community, how do other single women manage large household tasks, what can be done about an obstreperous board member, why can’t I keep staff….and so on), I just ask everyone I know until I generate a robust range of alternatives. What a difference from relying on my puny brain!

Structured networking is good, I think, for a shy person, because it gives us a controlled way to tap into the riches of the outside world. At the same time, I think it would help an extrovert to focus on the goals of interchange. By marking progress against an objective, an extrovert would be able to take that social interchange that is so easy and focus it on a desired outcome. I’m just guessing that for an extrovert, the organizational parts of the process might be harder and the calling easier.

In any case, according to my outplacement counselor, this is a technique that works for a broad range of people in all kinds of situations. After kicking, screaming, and trying it, I know it works for me. I came out of my first, supervised experience with structured networking with two exciting job offers, numerous interviews, a lot of very interesting conversations with people I didn’t know, a lot of wonderful reconnections with people I had not seen in years, and a new confidence in myself and humankind. Not bad for ten calls a day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Who’s teaching who?

An old friend and I have started back up an e-mail correspondence just recently, and she writes happily, “

OK, bed time. We have way too much going on, and still not enough hours in the day. I hate that! I WILL write more, I promise. It's just WONDERFUL to be back in touch with you!!!!

This is a woman with the gift of being happy, married to a man with the gift of taking on the world on his own terms. Job transitions have her thinking about making some life changes, and she imagines that I have some wisdom to share. I do, but some of it gets handed back, since it came from the two of them. Since I make a habit of keeping my friends anonymous in this blog, let’s call my friend Doreen and her husband Douglas.

I met Doreen at an arts camp in Maine, a spectacularly beautiful place where I had retreated to make pots for three weeks, while she made baskets. We had a bond immediately. Neither of us, for the life of us, could fathom the intensity with which our classmates viewed the search for the perfect “vessel.” It took only a hint of the v-word to send us into giggles.

It was a period of weird and wacky life connections, too. Doreen had gone to high school in Cincinnati with a guy I was seeing at the time, and also with Sarah Jessica Parker (not that that matters to any of us but I wonder what including a celebrity name will do to my blog stats). I was taking pottery lessons from a potter who was having a feud with my pig farmer cousin in Georgia. Doreen and I took a day trip one day, and we visited a fort in Maine that is built on the identical plan of one near Savannah, where my mother grew up. Maybe that fort is a metaphor for our lives, two identical plans executed in worlds far apart. Me Southern and shy, her Jewish and bubbly.

We remarked that day on the poignancy of fortifications of such exquisite design, but both outdated by advances in armaments. The invention of spiral bores in rifles made their walls vulnerable in unforeseen ways, and they had to be abandoned. It was not, thank goodness, necessary to abandon our lives as we went back to the real world of difficult jobs.

Doreen also went back to Douglas. She had told me stories of his rather unusual approach to life, and also his zest for life. While we were potting, weaving and giggling in the woods, Douglas was on a bike tour to China. Listening Doreen talk about Douglas, it was one of the times that I recognized that when people are really in love, they see the other person as absolutely unique, as if he or she exists with an extra dimension. They even speak the name differently, with a kind of hushed expectance. It’s a dead giveaway, just as one of the ways you know that someone is checking you out is if they ask your age.

The one that really got my attention, though, was the description of Douglas recruiting a new secretary for his office. It was a tough market, it seems, and the usual routes of advertising and interviewing had not worked well. So Douglas wrote up a resume for the office and went out into the crowds at rush hour to try to get more applicants, maybe ones that were happy at their jobs and hadn’t even considered a new opportunity. What an idea! If something is not working, change the approach. Don’t settle for what you can get, change the rules. When I went back to my difficult job and difficult boss, I changed my approach. And I have remembered that lesson.

One of my favorite true stories of how people really manage life transitions—as opposed to how we all think we do it—is the story of how they decided to get married. “It was a slip of the subjunctive,” says Doreen. “One day he said to me something about when we get married and I almost dropped my teeth.” But it was too late to take it back, or he really didn’t want to, and neither did she. They were married in a garden, as Doreen put it, “of late blooming flowers.” And they were happy. She has a gift for happy, and he has the sense to organize her into his life.

A couple of years later, I saw Doreen briefly at the airport. She was on her way to Russia. She was so excited about the trip, but it was the first time she was leaving her baby son. I think it took a lot of courage to make that trip. Not long after that, Douglas and Doreen moved from the northeast to the South, a dramatic cultural change on so many levels.

And this is the woman who wants to know how I have gone about making big changes in life? I have watched her and learned from her, among others of my dear good friends. There are some specific skills I learned, too, like the value of structured networking, a lifesaver for the shy person. It gives you a tool for being outgoing when you really would rather not. And I am told that for the outgoing, it can offer a way to organize all the information that you gather without even thinking about it. Maybe I will blog about that tomorrow.

Oddly enough, Douglas’s parents live in the same retirement community near Burlington as one of my best friends. So perhaps I will have visits from Doreen and Douglas and their children to look forward to, as I also enjoy J’s visits to Vermont with his daughter and his girlfriend. I could end up with more friends in Vermont than I had in other places I lived. Ain’t life weird and grand?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Because we can

A friend of mine, lets call her Jay, asked me a question at a Christmas party, and I have been chewing on it in the background of my mind ever since. At least I guess I must have been, because I woke up yesterday, or maybe it was today, with an answer.

This question is pretty intense for a woman that I only know slightly, and with whom I don’t always feel I have much in common. I struggle not to be too casual in dress; she loves shoes and gets manicures. She is social; I’m an introvert. She has a grown son; I love my dogs. But we are both of an age, and we like each other. More than once, casual conversation has abruptly shifted, and we find we are talking about things that matter to us deeply, things that usually take a lot more care to introduce into polite conversation. Things like mental health and what it is really like to be a woman in the predominantly male world of finance and our shared love of hands on home improvement and our bemused appreciation of men.

“Why is it so hard for me?” she wants to know. This is not an insecure person, and I understand that she is not asking “Why doesn’t anyone want me?” She is bright and beautiful and funny and good company and financially secure. She is asking a different question, and I am flattered that she considers that I might know any part of an answer. The fact is I have the same question: “What is wrong with me that I think it is okay to live alone? Shouldn’t I want someone in my life? Shouldn’t I want people closer to me? Am I being too hard on the people who love me? Am I shutting out relationships that might bring joy into my life? Have I failed to grasp the tradeoff between working on a relationship and avoiding loneliness?” She is asking the question in the context of an insistent potential lover, while I am not--at least not at the moment--but I can see that my question is what has kept me in bad relationships.

Even at Christmas, I knew part of the answer. If there is no magic, if there never has been that spark of connection in the attraction to the other person, it’s not worth it. Relationships that start with magic are hard enough to navigate, and we are long past the age of arranged marriages. I am grateful that it is not now as rare for women to live alone. When I was first divorced twenty years ago, I had to work hard to accept my new state. As a good southern girl, there was very, very few single women in my extended family who weren’t perceived as having a little something wrong with them. It took a long time for me to decide I would rather have something wrong with me than stay in a bad relationship, and I have repeated that wrenching decision a few times now.

Eventually, I may get it right. It seems that the challenge of my lifetime is to learn to let go once the magic has receded. Despite my deep fears that I give up too quickly, the truth is that I give up far too slowly. Too little self respect or over-responsibility for the other person keeps me stuck until I wake up one bright morning and realize that I can just walk away. That’s what I am trying to learn. Again and again. Still.

Why do I live alone? Because I can, at least right now. I can afford my own house and I can pay my bills As life goes on, things change and I may not always have this luxurious option. I may need to have a roommate.or move to lower cost housing, maybe even give up my well loved dogs. For now, I am happy.

There are downsides to living alone. Aside from the expense, there isn’t anyone to share chores, and it often takes me a long time to figure out how to accomplish some household projects. At the end of the day, as we would say on Wall Street, it is a business decision. Do I give up what I have for a risky prospect? These kinds of decisions take analysis of pros and cons, then a leap of intuition and faith and love.

When I married at nineteen, I made that leap. It paid off big time. I had several years of joy before things changed, then a few years of struggle to accept that my world had changed. Would I make the leap again? In a heartbeat. But only if the magic is there.

I am pleased to say that one of the things I love about Vermont is that I see hints and whispers of magic everywhere. Almost everywhere I go, I meet interesting men that show real promise. Nobody yet for whom I would give up my current life….well maybe one. Or two. The riches of possibility enliven my life. And if nobody comes along, the downside is that I live alone in the luxury of my own home until old age or illness requires otherwise. The long term future I imagine is an apartment or one-room house, but as age advances, I may have to live closer to services and dogs will become increasingly problematic.

To answer Jay’s question. Why do we live alone? Because we can. Because we are financially and emotionally secure enough that we have that option.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Love thy neighbor

I love my neighbors. I really do.

Right now I particularly love the guy up the road who plows my driveway. Only last month I learned that he plows only for me and the guy on the other side of me. Still, for a guy with his own excavating business and a couple of small side jobs, you could not ask for a more committed and responsible service provider.

I am a happy customer, whose response yesterday tipped over into sheer joy and exhilaration. I have been struggling with a big pile of ice in front of my garage, and after days of shoveling and chipping, I gave up, leaving a barrier the size of three stacked speed bumps—or sleeping policemen, as they would say in Jamaica—still blocking the entrance to my garage. When I came home for the puppy’s lunchtime break from her kennel, it occurred to me that if I left the garage door open then the plow guy might be able to whack the icy barrier. Or shove it. Or something. I even thought about placing a phone call, but, as usual I got distracted.

When I came home last night—oh, joy!—it worked. There was a clean, flat surface where three policemen used to sleep. I drove my car into the garage, closed the door and called to leave a message that I am sure my neighbor and his family will giggle over. Why shouldn’t they giggle? And why shouldn’t they share my delight that I have figured out one more little thing that—with my neighbors’ help--makes winter in Vermont a little easier?

I am also pretty fond of the couple down the road who brought me the most spectacular platter of Christmas cookies that I have ever seen. Something of a cookie snob, I was impressed with the variety of shapes, the amount of detail work, and the use of real butter. We cookie snobs can tell. These are people I have met once, but in Vermont proximity can be enough to make neighbors, and thoughtful care and simple kindness are often offered without thought of return.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yankee ingenuity

I’m trying something new. Not, you understand, because it is the New Year. I am an innovation junkie. I just love trying something new.

My friend Mary just returned from a scary surgery in which a golfball size tumor was removed from her brain, just behind the bridge of her nose. Death and blindness averted, she is enjoying the fact that her exceptional fitness has enabled her to bounce back. And to what does she attribute this exceptional fitness? Walking.

Mary walks several miles a day. I wish I could remember exactly how many, because you would be impressed. She walks in the morning, at lunchtime and in the evening. If you are in Montpelier at midday, you may see Mary logging miles. But in the morning she walks at home.

In casual conversation at some Rotary event or another, I asked Mary how she manages to fit in so much walking. I really like to walk, but when I wake up it is dark and by the time I feed dogs, sit under the therapy light, do Pilates, answer e-mail, read horoscopes, blog, make breakfast, wash and get dressed...well, not all of those even get done every morning.

“I walk at home,” says Mary.

Still not getting it, I ask another way, “But isn’t it dark?”

“No, I walk in my house,” she says. “We have TVs in the kitchen and in the living room, so I turn them on and open all the doors and I walk in a circle around and around my house. Then I turn around and walk the other way.”

“Doesn’t it wear out your floors?”

“Silly, I wear sneakers!”

Worth a try, I say. So this morning, after doing Pilates under the therapy lamp (another experiment!) I set the timer for twenty minutes and tried it. If I open the doors to the bathroom and the study (normally shut off for dog control and heat retention), then I can walk in a circle around and around my house, although I suspect that my house is somewhat smaller than Mary’s—one TV covers the territory. I have taken to recording the morning news so that I can fast forward through ads and seemingly incessant coverage of high school hockey, and now I actually feel informed about Vermont events, or as informed as Channel 3 can make me.

But back to the walking. It works great. I go around in one direction five or six times, then when I start to feel it in my hips, I go the other way. I switch the remote from hand to hand. The doggy barriers just add variety. Either I jump them or I shout “Excuse me! Excuse me!” and they comply. I add in a little bending and stretching to pick up yesterday’s dog-shredded items for more variety. Toward the end, I bend to get a pan out of the cabinet, eggs from the fridge, and lifting my knees high, keep walking back and forth, back and forth. By the time breakfast is ready, the timer goes off. Twenty minutes walking, finished!

Minor adjustments are required. I am a little worried about my living room rug, a good Oriental that is a relic of the days when I had more money, so I will put down some runners. Somewhere along the way, the puppy snagged the goats milk soap in the bathroom, from which she is normally shut out. The total schedule needs to be tightened up a bit—it is almost time to walk out the door and I still am in my jammies—but there is promise for this indoor walking.

Thanks, Mary!