Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dastardly Duo of Destruction

Upon my return from the gym this morning, I encountered Benjamin in an agitated state, rifling through his school bag. When I inquired as to the difficulty, he replied that he couldn't find his gym membership card, and had been looking for it for the last 10 minutes. Since the last place either of us had seen it was on the bookshelf that Creamsicle uses as her bridge from the living room to the rest of the house, I became suspicious. My initial thought was that she had knocked it off sometime in the last day, and Miikka, ever willing to destroy found objects, had taken his teeth to it. And what do you know, I was right. After Benjamin left for the gym, and I promised to keep looking, I found the card, or what was left of it, on the porch.  Miikka must have carried his trophy out with him at some point when we weren't paying attention. He was in and out so much last night, that it would have been fairly easy for him to do.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I didn't watch or listen to the State of the Union last night (would have had to stick the TV antenna out the window to get a signal) - I can't stand all the applauding and all the meaningless political rhetoric. So I have nothing to say about that.

I didn't go to the gym this morning, because I am fighting a cold and decided that an extra hour of sleep would do me more good than going running. Since I made it to work, after feeling like I might not when I went to bed, I guess that strategy worked. But it throws my whole morning pattern off when I don't go in. I am generally a morning person, which for me means that I am awake and functioning as soon as the alarm goes off, but I have found that going to the gym greatly helps my attitude and ability to think straight too. No surprise there, I guess, since there have been plenty of studies and anecdotal evidence that exercise helps brain function. Anyway, when I don't go to the gym - like on weekends - it takes me a lot longer to get moving and feeling normal.

The sun is out and it is Wednesday. I have a job and a house and a loving family. So I guess all is right with my little world (apart from the nose blowing and coughing...)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nap please

I think naps ought to be a part of every working day. Yes sirree, a nice little nap - I could have a pillow and a blanket in my desk drawer and just stretch out under my desk for 20 minutes after lunch. Sounds good to me. Too bad America is all about "productivity" instead of making work enjoyable.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pet Peeve

Here is my pet peeve of the moment: politicians who say that "the American people have spoken" about any and all issues, as if the American people could agree on any one thing.  They can't. Not about what kind of soda to drink, or diet to try, or car to buy. This peeve is primarily a failing of Republicans, because they are the ones who are supposedly the party of change now (ha! don't get me started on that claim...). Most of these claims are about issues that poll 52-48 or something similar, which means that almost half of the American people have spoken in the opposite direction. So, Mr. Boehner, when you say that "the American people" want the new healthcare act to be repealed, you are wrong. Some of the people do, but some of us don't, and we are Americans too, unless you plan to take away our citizenship for disagreeing with you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Revelation of Freedom

I had a revelation this morning at the gym, one that you might consider rather belated, given how often I exercise these days. It happened like this: After I did my running on the treadmill, I switched to an exercise bike for a cool down and to stretch out some of the muscles that get tight when I run. While I was pedaling, I was reading a weight-loss/healthy eating magazine that someone had left. When my time on the bike was done, I wasn’t done with the magazine, so I considered staying on the bike until I finished. As I waffled over this, I realized that I don’t need any more exercise tips, I don’t need external motivation, I don’t need any tricks to make me eat more vegetables or drink more water. I already go to the gym 5 or six days a week; I never take the elevator at work; I take Miikka for walks 4 or 5 days a week (when the weather isn’t awful and it isn’t too dark); I play tennis a couple of times a week. I drink lots of water, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and (mostly) avoid sweets in excess. All of these good habits are already internalized. I am not sure why it has taken so long for this realization to penetrate my brain. Maybe because I am surrounded by a culture and media that is constantly telling us that we can never be thin enough, that we should eat the Double Down sandwich one day and telling us that we have to cleanse away the toxins and eat nothing but spinach the next. Maybe because even though I have been working out consistently over the last year, I haven’t lost any weight, and (if you follow all the fitness magazines and weight-loss advice) that must mean I am doing something wrong. 

But I can be free of that self-doubt. I already know what I need to do to be healthy; I already do it. OK, so I haven’t lost weight, but I have been gaining muscle, and maybe, just maybe, I am at my healthy weight. Yes, I used to weigh less, but I was younger, didn’t do any weight training (so, less muscle) and wasn’t on the medication I am now (with weight-affecting side effects). This is a hard thing to accept sometimes, that I will never be skinny like a movie star (of course, many of them are probably under-weight, and about 6 inches shorter than I) because that is what society tells me I should be, but now I have the certainty that I am already doing the right things. I just have to trust myself. Besides, Benjamin thinks I look pretty hot as I am, and how can I be upset by that?

This revelation didn't occur without any groundwork.  I have been reading several blogs that have helped me to reshape my thinking about my weight and my view of myself. All of them focus on self-acceptance and learning to tune out the harmful messages we get from society and the media.  The three most helpful have been:
  • Already Pretty - a fashion blog, but one that encourages you to learn to love your body and try to dress in ways to accentuate your positives.
  • Weightless - hosted by Psychcentral, this blog focuses a lot on eating disorders and fixing bad body image and helping you to change damaged thinking.
  • The Next Hundred Pounds - written by a professional opera singer who has lost a lot of weight and blogs about the challenges and rewards of changing her lifestyle.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A change in perception

It is amazing how your perception of an activity can change over time. When I started going to the gym on a regular basis last January, I felt good if I made it 3 days a week, 30 minutes at a time. Now, I generally try to go to the gym every weekday for 45 minutes at the very minimum. The change didn't happen over night - it took months of dragging myself out of bed, of bickering with myself in my head about why I should just stay home, of making myself get on the elliptical machine. When simply showing up became routine, I found a new way to push myself, with a trainer. I still had days when I couldn't face the gym, but mostly, I made it. The important key here is that I did keep at it. Over time, as my body got stronger, as I felt the benefits of the regular practice, I came to crave my morning exercise, so that now, when it is 17 degrees in the morning, and staying cuddled down in my warm bed seems preferable, I get up without much of a struggle. Because I know I will feel better if I go, because I want to push myself, because I want to get stronger.

This is a good lesson to learn, and it is one that can only be learned through doing. No one can just tell you this, as I am doing, and magically make you believe it. You have to go out and do the thing that needs to be done to learn it in your bones. It works for anything: not a good reader? Just try to read a little bit more every day. Not a good cook? Try to make one thing a day, or one or two meals a week. Just try. Keep at it. Eventually, if you are committed to change, it will come. You'll be amazed at what can happen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Eureka Springs part 3

On Christmas Eve, we drove out to War Eagle Mill, a working water-driven grain-grinding mill. If you have been following me for long, you know I love baking, and you know I can be something of a food snob, so it was a given that we had to visit the mill and get some flour and other grains. I bought bread flour, wheat flour, soy flour (haven't used that one yet), blue cornmeal, and regular cornmeal. Whew.

The War Eagle river as it passes the mill.
 It was a cold, gray day, but the water was still, and the mist made everything seem like it was out of a fantasy novel or something.

An honest to goodness grinding stone.
We had originally planned to eat lunch at the restaurant at the mill, but it was only a little over an hour or so after our latish breakfast, so we just walked around the mill for a bit, taking pictures.

Water wheel!
 I love seeing things done the old way. Yes, technology is pretty much necessary to feed the billions of people on the planet now, but somehow, foods grown and processed in ways that our ancestors used for thousands of years just seem to taste better.

Plus, the machinery just looks cooler. I mean, if your grain is ground by an electrically operated machine, you don't get to look at the water wheel turning, at the water falling in crystal droplets...and you don't have the chance that beavers will chew up your wheel (apparently that was a problem with previous wheels. Who knew!).  This is one reason (the coolness, not the beavers) that I really like the steampunk aesthetic and the maker's movement. It is all about seeing how things work, being able to work on machines yourself, fix problems, being intimately involved in what you are making and using. And it has cool gears.
All dressed up and ready for Christmas Eve Dinner
Anyway, Christmas Eve we had a lovely dinner at the Grand Taverne in Eureka Springs. I got tipsy in front of my mother, which was odd, and made me giggle a lot. We had a tasty buffet breakfast at the hotel on Christmas morning, complete with chocolate fountain, and a few tiny snowflakes to accompany us on our way back to Little Rock. I thoroughly enjoyed Eureka Springs and surrounds, and look forward to going back at another time of year. We passed through the Boston Mountains on the way home, and it looked like there is probably some good hiking up there...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Eureka Springs part two

We went on a couple of side trips while we were in Eureka Springs, mostly just to see that part of the state.  The one place I really wanted to go - the replica medieval castle that is being built in the countryside - was closed for the winter, but that just means we will have to take another trip up that direction later in the year. Instead, we stopped at Thorncrown Chapel on our way out to view the Pea Ridge National Military Park.

The chapel is pretty cool, just out on the side of a hill. It would be an awesome place for a wedding, but they don't really want to be a wedding chapel, so they don't allow many. Too bad. I'd love to have such windows when I go to church, and such a view. Might take my mind off the sermon though.

The weather that day was lovely, clear blue skies, cool - just as it should be in late December. And with all the leaves off the trees, we could see forever.

After you go over the hills, there is a flat, prairie-like area, with long vistas and a crumbling house. 

I got a new DSLR camera for Christmas (well, it was a Christmas gift, but I started using it in November). It is so good that this picture is taken from a moving car. If I hadn't been the one to take the picture, I don't think I could tell, can you?

I didn't really take any pictures at the battlefield. There was a good interpretive center, and if we had been so inclined, a long self-guided driving tour around the area. None of us are Civil War buffs, so the interpretive center gave us enough history for the afternoon. Even after seeing all the displays and information, I still have a hard time imagining the nightmare conditions of a Civil War battle.

Tomorrow, Christmas Eve at War Eagle Mill.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2011 TBR Pile Challenge

Sorry - a quick diversion before I return to my trip to Eureka Springs.  I have decided to join a 2011 book reading challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader - check out his site for the details. The quick summary is that I have to pick 12 books and 2 alternates from my to-be-read bookshelf or list that have been on said shelf or list for more than a year and then read them. To make it official, I make a list and then review the books as I read them. I decided to stick to books that I already own, because I have plenty of those to choose from, and I really need to make room for more books. Here are my choices, in no particular order:
  1. My Antonia by Willa Cather
  2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  3. PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon
  4. New Europe by Michael Palin
  5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  6. The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck
  7. The World We Have by Thich Nhat Hahn
  8. Judgment Day by Penelope Lively
  9. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  10. A Princess of Landover by Terry Brooks
  11. A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman
  12. Traveling Mercies by Annie Lamott
Alternate Titles (in case I just can't stand something on the list or some other such)
  1. West with the Night by Beryl Markham
  2. The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson
In theory, this should be a pretty easy challenge, since I intend to read at least 100 books again this year, and hope to read as many as 110. But, life has a way of making other plans, and a couple of those are pretty big and weighty (A Distant Mirror and PrairyErth in particular). We shall see. I will try to remember to post updates as I progress.
**Update: Links to all reviews are added to the comments. **

Monday, January 3, 2011

Eureka Springs, part 1

Crescent Hotel from the back, and down the hill.
My parents came to visit over Christmas, and to do something different and get out of town for a bit, we took a trip up to Eureka Springs. None of us had been there yet, and I was assured by several co-workers that it was definitely worth a visit.

From the front - well, it used to be the back, but now that we all have cars...
We stayed at the Crescent Hotel, but in a modern cabin/condo, not in the actual hotel building (so no, we didn't experience the ghost that is said to roam the building). We ate at the hotel a couple of times though - the Christmas Day brunch was very good - and met the two hotel cats, Casper and Jasper.

I can has Victorian mansion?
On our first full day in town, Benjamin and I walked from the hotel down to the main shopping street.  Along the way, we passed this house, which is for sale, and which I would buy if we won the lottery. I love the little turrets and the big balconies, and the color scheme. Oh, and the view out over the valley and hills. There are a lot of houses like this in Eureka Springs. I only include one here because this isn't an architecture blog, and I don't want to start drooling again.

See those stairs in the back? We went up those next.
Part of the path we followed was along an old boardwalk sidewalk that led down and then up some of the many hills. The streets are all pretty narrow and it is easy to imagine the town without cars at all. The Google directions to the hotel had us driving what turned out to be little alleys - we didn't actually go that way.  The way we did end up driving was still winding and full of narrow streets and 90 degree turns. Wow! I would not want to drive there in an ice storm!

The town is also full of neat stone walls - structural, not just decorative. This one used to shore up the hill for a house that has been torn down. You could still see part of the basement.

Of course, some of the walls were used for decorative purposes too. Careful Humpty! It is a hard landing.

A lot of the buildings had old advertisements painted on them. You can tell that the Coca-Cola sign wasn't the first to be painted on this wall.

Eureka Springs is home to one of only four surviving Carnegie libraries in Arkansas (the one in Little Rock was torn down in the 1960s. Tsk.) We peeked in the window, but they were already closed for the holidays. Ah well.

Tomorrow: Our visit to the countryside.