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Charlottesville Running Company: my favorite walk

The Charlottesville Running Company is running a weekly contest between now and Christmas. The following is my entry:

My favorite walk is down at Riverview Park.  This section of the Rivanna trail has everything from the roar of traffic to the almost quiet of the forest to the sounds of the river. Between the birds (including a flock of geese),  cicadas and the regular deep croak of a bullfrog, it’s never a quiet place, especially in the summer. The views are astounding: glimpses of the river, flowering undergrowth coupled with the rear entrances of businesses and derelict panel trucks that stare right at you. All of that is forgotten when you enter into the unusual sounds and sight of the 250 bridge.  Best of all I love the bit of that “runners high” I get towards the end,  an end that always feels like the beginning of something new and refreshed.

On the Path

I got an early start this morning when Sissy (the 15 lb min pin) decided enough was enough – sleep that is. So we were on the trail by 7 this morning. The Rivanna River Trail, that is. Just one part of my path here in C’ville.

We left Athens last fall, me after 27 total years there and Tommy after an whole lifetime.  The newness of C’ville is not wearing off or wearing thin still today.  Back some time ago I checked out in an effort to meet people here.  That led me to a walking group on Monday nights. The first night I showed up, at the Charlottesville Running Company, Marty says, “We’re doing 3 miles tonight; can you do it?”

I blithely replied, “Sure, I can do that.” Well, it was the hottest and muggiest day in C’ville so far this summer.  And… walking downtown C’ville off the mall is hilly.  I did make it but it was really rough!

The next week I took the 2 little dogs.  A couple of weeks later we walked down at Riverview park and the path has gone from there. We meet Marty for the Monday night walk and this week did the Thursday morning walk.  Weekends I head for the park and do over 3 miles there as well. So next week I’ll be up to 9 miles a week. Wow.

I’ve always said I don’t like to sweat and that is a very true statement.  The good news is that it is cooler and less muggy here than Georgia so it’s not as bad as it would be down south.  I used to remodel houses for exercise as I’ve never been a believer in exercising for exercising’s sake. Time moves on and now I can’t physically work on houses.  There’s still a lot I can’t do because of continuing physical problems, but by golly, I can walk!

Riverview Park is a nice little park that leads into the Rivanna River Trail which runs around C’ville.  Almost 2 miles are paved leading out of the park and all of it lies along the river.  There are spots where you can go down to the river’s edge so the doggies can drink. (They are then required to pull me back up to the trail, such good sled dogs!) There are spots where you don’t realize the river is there.

The path winds along in back backyards of homes and businesses. There’s a back hum of traffic, sometimes near and sometimes very distant.  Between the birds (recently including a flock of geese),  cicadas and the regular deep croak of a bullfrog. it’s never a quiet place.  Sometimes the rushing water can drown out everything else – oh, heavenly!

The sights are so varied! Sometimes you are in wilderness and then you come face to face with hulks of panel trucks parked in the back of an auto repair shop. Walking under the 250 bridge has become a soothing comfort for me – dampening the noise from above.  Sitting in the car on top was scary before since you can feel the bridge move.  Underneath, though, that is all a distant memory.

Everybody says hi as they pass and occasionally we stop to greet other dog visitors.  Mostly we stand to the side while I hold my dogs tightly and the passing pooches react or sometimes don’t react to the presence of my pair. This morning some sort of hound started hallooing immediately on spotting us.  He was still giving voice long after we went by.

The folks can be interesting to watch. Today I spotted a guy again who happened to end up in one of my pictures.  He talks on the phone his whole walk, making business calls and sweating.  Huh?  Another morning I passed a fellow who was creepily scurrying along with some sort of satchel.  Reminded me of that innocuous serial killer who’s always “such a nice, quiet fellow”.  Also seen and heard today was a real runner – no flat-footed jogger, was he.  (and really skinny, too; either obsessive or a competitor).

On my path in C’ville, just enjoying the variety and monotony of walking with my dogs.

View today’s photos below or  at

Life’s Little Lessons

A friend of mine, Eunice Spratlin, took a tumble last week. Unfortunately, her 80-year-old ankle didn’t hold up very well. Since she’s a big fan of my columns, I thought to write one for her. When I visited her, ensconced in a hospital bed in her daughter-in-law’s front room, she didn’t even give me chance to ask if she’ld like that; she just asked if I had already written one!

Well, Eunice, you have a place of honor this week in the Echo! Since I hadn’t written one in a while, topics were not hard to come by – deciding which topic was the hardest part.

I decided that a look at life’s lessons was appropriate for her and me and for my mother who was also hospitalized last week.

I’ve been remodeling bathrooms at my house for 7 months now. Some wise person years ago put the bathroom in my 100-year-old house in the largest room and lined up the fixtures against the back wall. One has had to walk over 13 feet from the door to get to the “throne”. A bizarre thing indeed, not to mention really revealing since you could almost see that toilet from the front door as well.

This oddity did make it possible for me to divide the room into two bathrooms – one of those desperately required features of house in which my husband lives.

I took the slow week of July fourth this year to finish up this project that has been dragging on so long now.

I’m a firm believer that things in this life happen for a reason and it’s up to us to find opportunity in disaster and tragedy. The disaster last week? Let’s see, heat, humidity, arthritis, asthma, bruises – no, not Eunice’s, not my mother’s who is also 80, but mine!

The list continues – plumbing leaks, sheetrock dust, dog hair, etc.

I had an arthritis flare up in my left hand after the heat and humidity got really bad and of course, asthma and allergies rose their ugly little heads due to sheetrock dust and the normal effects of no housekeeping during all this work.

Time for clean up finally, thank heavens. Oops, time for remembering why keeping a house clean all along is important. Yuk, chest and head congestion, fatigue, sleep deprivation. What a lesson to have reinforced!

Turning wrenches and tightening plumbing connections got harder and harder. Swelling fingers gave way to stiffness and then to amazement.

I’m not 80 – only 50! Living to my projected lifespan of 100 (due to genetics and the rapidity of medical advancements) seems incredibly painful and possibly undesirable.

Oh, but positive thinking requires a life lesson. In desperation, I grabbed onto the fact that arthritis certainly will be my constant companion from now on. Lovely thought.

So last week was training for me. Learning to live with the effects of aging. Seems I’ve been doing a lot of that recently. Hmmmmm…

Aging does has its disadvantages for sure. I mean, the pain of doing things I used to breeze through, taking twice as long to do other things and not feeling like I’m a genius anymore. You know, those usual effects of aging!

Oh, but the advantages!!!

I was telling someone recently that I wasn’t accustomed to making mistakes in my employment. They said, “What? You were perfect?” I said, “Yes, and now I’m just normal!”

The lesson learned from this little jewel? I no longer have to be perfect; I no longer have to give 150%. I can relax a little and enjoy life more. What a burden off my shoulders! Such a wonderful way to live!

Okay, so now that these lessons are firmly implanted in my brain, how can I renovate this whole house, establish a wonderful garden on my 2 acres, write the great American novel while making tons of money for my retirement and obvious disability that’s coming.

I mean, I gotta do it all now in order to get ready for my retirement, right?

Wait, relaxing, enjoying life – didn’t I just say something about that? Nah, must have been someone else’s evil thoughts. Gotta go – got a bathroom to finish and a house to clean!

Who Me, Organized?

I, like so many others, kept saying I would be glad when the election was over and things could get back to normal. Oops.

Normal, you know, like no more election news? In the middle of all this weirdness (electile dysfunction and no, I didn’t make that up), my life has suddenly ratcheted up into high gear.

Before the election I would decide the night before what I would be doing the next day. I did start using Microsoft Outlook as an organizer and appointment notifier so I would remember my once or twice a week duties, appointments and bill due dates. Without the structure of a full time job, I find I forget what day it is on a regular basis.

But, now! Some pending things have moved to the “got to do” column, other things have gotten busier, meetings are turning up more regularly and life is so much more full than before the election.

Such as appointments: The medical stuff has taken on a faster pace now. After bouncing from let’s try this, to no diagnosis, to medical test, to no diagnosis, to possible diagnosis, to wrong diagnosis, to wait maybe we were right the first time diagnosis and now to let me find someone for you and to my PCP (principal care provider for you non-HMO folks) saying he’ll give me a referral to whomever and wherever I want to go, I’ve now added whiplash to my list of complaints! When somebody finally stops calling me Miss MM (medical mystery), I will have plenty of background for an in-depth look at the state of our medical system. I promise it will be hysterically funny.

In the meantime, appointments, questions to the HMO about appointments and doctors, and calling the HMO to get them to pay whomever for whatever is a time-consuming and frustrating set of vignettes that occur and reoccur.

Add in the part time jobs; the printer, the paper, the planning commission and my so-far failed attempt at substitute teaching (I’m always busy!) takes up another chunk of time.

And I’m trying to weatherproof the house before it gets really cold—I’m never going to finish painting the last window I re-glazed some weeks ago.

Pending became reality with our karate school move now in motion. New digs are found because the old building will become just as much dust as the Waffle House next door that’s already been gone for several weeks. Don’t believe every thing you read, guys; the Waffle House claimed to be closing the Broad St. restaurant due to low sales. St. Mary’s offered them, and our landlord, enough money to shut down. Here comes a new nursing home entrance; bye-bye buildings.

So now I’m renovating new commercial space—actually, mainly planning renovation of new space so that volunteers can easily find tasks to complete when they have time. Planning is much harder than doing it.

Bits and pieces of web design work for several sites, housework (who me?), care and feeding of three attention-starved dogs, designing a t-shirt for screen printing involving copyright decisions, and —— the holidays.

At least the organizer software is keeping me paying the bills on time, though being notified in a timely manner does require one to actually input the correct info into the computer first. (So I’m a little distracted—at least I did realize the Crawford City Council meeting was last week even though my organizer let me know yesterday that it is scheduled for this Thursday. Yeah, I know that was my fault. Didn’t matter. I had a conflict that prevented me from going anyway!)

I think I’ve got the appointment thing organized now. I don’t know how to avoid ending up at the wrong address though. Perhaps if I was to actually ask someone where their office actually is I wouldn’t have ended up sitting in an empty parking lot last Friday for 20 minutes before realizing I was at the wrong building Perhaps..

OK, there’s got to be a point to this discourse. I like to try to make at least one valid point if someone is going to take the time to read this. Then again since I woke at 6:00 am again this morning (I hate the time change), maybe I shouldn’t be required to be so purposeful. Maybe I should just go “catnap” with my willing canine partners or maybe I should finish at least one of the brochures sitting in front of me.

And then again, maybe I should schedule entire weeks at a time in my organizer….Oh, well, the couch and doggies await!

Summer Vacation

One unanticipated benefit of living in the country is a feeling of permanent summer vacation. This I just realized today as I was picking the wild blackberries that line one side of our property.

As a youngster, I did spend time in country with relatives that owned farms years ago. I can even recall picking cotton at my great grandmother’s though I don’t really remember her. I can’t even remember actually picking berries as a child though I must have. Surely I picked berries during those years as well as cotton.

Now I’m spending my free time slowly picking berries, liberating my peach tree from its heavy burden/bounty and putting some walls and windows in that decrepit shed behind the house. All these tasks performed in the muggy, hot weather speak to me of long ago summer days when the world seemed so full of opportunity.

I can forget the pressing issues of grownup life out here. I can forget the necessity for making a living; I can forget the marks of time on my body; I can forget the hallmarks of that cruel (faraway) world. Time has slowed around me as I have adapted to the rhythms of country life.

We did some planting earlier in the spring: some Leyland cypresses for privacy, some azaleas for beauty, some morning glories for memory (Daddy used to wake me whispering “morning, morning glory”), and some caladiums for spot color in my “garden”. I’ve never been much a one for growing stuff. I’ve even insisted for many years that I had a brown thumb, that I would kill it if it couldn’t remind me to water it like my dogs do when they get really thirsty. (Beagles can really give you a stare that communicates!)

But now, I have found myself watering, watching and worrying. Seeing those sprouts come up from the morning glory seeds was a triumph quickly diminished when the deer decided they were tasty enough for breakfast. The caladiums have finally made an appearance without any special care or watering-a miracle in itself. The azaleas might last the summer. We’ve lost some of the cypresses as the drought has progressed due to less watering (we are trying to do our part to preserve the water table).

Our “grass” in the meadow that is our front yard bloomed beautifully white in the spring with some sort of ground cover but it all turned brown in May. It’s now looking greener with the recent rains we’ve had and we are grateful for the reduced growth since the riding lawn mower isn’t running.

I never imagined that sky watching would become a habit, that rain would be an occasion for porch sitting. I never imagined that I could care so much about the weather.

Especially in the summer. Although I was raised in North Georgia, I’ve always hated summers as an adult. Asthma doesn’t mix well with heat and I hate sweating. I spent many summers as a child in the swimming pool or lake: that’s a reasonable activity for a southern summer. Without a pool or lake, I’ve been huddling in my air conditioning since the mid-eighties until last year.

That summer I started working in the yard up there in at my last house. I love buying old houses because they usually come with automatic landscaping. There does come a point though when the yard starts taking over. Because of my decorating interests, I have been exposed to many magazine articles about gardens. I’m talking about decorative gardens, not the eating kind. It finally has started affecting me.

My first efforts at taming the overgrown views from my front porch were not incredibly successful. First, though I didn’t spend much money, I did manage to kill off some dollars planting in the heat of August. Secondly, I proved that I really couldn’t recognize poison oak. Of course, I did get my Girl Scout merit badge for plants; I used to be able to point out many things to be avoided. Since I’ve never broken out from poison anything, however, that knowledge has totally disappeared from my citified brain. Those tiny red spots on my ankle last year were a warning I managed to forget.

This year in an effort to start taming this new yard, I kept rooting around in hedges and flowerbeds before everything bloomed. I would spend 15 minutes here or there on the way to or from the mailbox. After one day when I had spent a fair amount of time pulling vines, I suddenly had a thought. “What if there was poison oak or ivy in those bushes? Did I even notice?” Well, the answer quickly appeared on my legs and arms. I am so grateful that I really am not very allergic!

I had my husband walk the yard with me that week and I was horrified to find I had been wallowing in all sorts of unhealthy stuff. That thought has effectively curtailed my weeding tendencies since then.

Besides a thorough coating of sweat (ick), I only gained a few scratches today gathering my juicy blackberries, ha, ha. I spent the time thinking about writing another column. It’s so easy to wax philosophic out here while listening to the birds, frogs and crickets. The country quiet is definitely tempered with a wide range of natural, soothing noise, once again awakening in me memories of long ago summer days.

Oh no. What if there were poison oak or ivy in amongst the blackberry thorns? Did I really forget to look again? Well, I think it’s time I quit writing now. Perhaps next on my summer agenda will be a thorough shower and a change of clothing. Oh, dear, now I’m itching!

Short and Sweet

After I returned from Japan, I kept threatening to write a book entitled “How to be tall at 5’2″. I wrote for a weekly entertainment magazine while in Okinawa and was always on the lookout for the zany, the odd, and/or the different to use in my humor column there. (I was going to compile those witty pieces into one volume with that title.)

The most obvious difference for me in Japan was the fact that at 5’ 2 ¾” I was tall!! Okay, let me rephrase that. I was taller than a large portion of the native population, men and women. All the cars were made for midgets over there, just as the roads were smaller, the furniture was smaller and even the trash trucks were smaller. I reveled in the feeling of being taller than someone (anyone).

Interestingly enough, the off-base housing we rented at first had been built post-WWII by the Japanese for the Americans and my kitchen cabinets were so high I had to use a stepstool to reach anything. The Japanese tend to assume all Americans all tall. HA!

I must admit, however, there really hasn’t been too many times when I wished I was taller. I’ve been fond of saying for many years now that the only time I wish I was taller was in the movie theater. I’ve been known to move three times to get a seat with no one in front of me so I can see the movie!

But now, among all the other changes I’ve undergone, I must tell you that I am getting tired of this tall world. Now I wouldn’t mind being taller. In my zeal to fit as much “stuff” in this new house, I have taken full advantage of the 10 ft. ceilings. I built bookcases and storage shelving from floor and desktop to ceiling in both my office and the hallway. (No, I still don’t have enough bookshelves.)

My new physical limitations have proven this to be, although an efficient use of space, a real problem for me. I can no longer look up. No, I don’t know what the problem is, but physical therapy didn’t fix it. I’m not talking a major problem here. If I was taller, it wouldn’t even be so evident (because I wouldn’t have to look up all the dang time).

Of course, I can’t paint ceilings and even have some difficulty getting to the top of the 10 ft. walls. I spent quite some time recently arranging books by author on some of the freestanding bookcases in the hall. Boy, was that a pain (literally) in the neck!

I’ve always found there are many things I can’t do, not because of a lack of strength, but a lack of a leverage. Sure I can pick it up, but lifting it (whatever “it” is) up to where it needs to be becomes a life-threatening situation (especially since I tend to spend inordinate amounts of time teetering on top of a ladder, a stool, a counter top, etc.). When one is short and not incredibly strong, one simply can’t easily do everything a tall person does.

Working on a computer has also been uncomfortable for years due to my short legs and increasing reliance on bifocals. At work I always feel like shrimp number one since adjustable chairs can’t be adjusted high enough for me. Here at the house I built a desktop 4″ lower than normal and so have found comfort for the first time ever at a computer.

But I can’t adjust the rest of the world so easily. I am always having difficulty reaching products on the higher shelves in stores. I frequently can’t see over the steering wheel and dash when cresting a hill in the car. (That was sheer terror while living in Tacoma, WA, years ago with those San Francisco-like hills). There’s even 2 spots on my dirt road out here where I simply can’t see!!

I have to fight the feelings of inferiority that occasionally come over me while standing and talking with tall people. I’m the shortest of all the 10 first cousins in my generation. Even my sister is taller than me!

And what is the point to this cataloging of “short” problems? (As usual, actually just to let me vent) No, no, really, this is all about aging. I’m not even 50, yet the physical limitations of aging are becoming evident to me. I’ve always been short and, no, it hasn’t mattered before.

I’ve decided that one’s life is defined by those words ‘can’ and ‘can’t’. Can’t is a four-letter word in my dictionary. I’ve spent years denying there wasn’t anything I can’t do. Now I have to look at my life as defined by can and can’t.

As a child and teenager, ‘can I’ was the key phrase. We are learning what is permissible and isn’t permissible in this big scary world. As parents, our job is to teach our children that they can. They can do whatever it takes to become happy, productive adults. Mama always told me I was just as good as any man—this was before feminism, remember—that I could….

As an adult, I learned over time that never saying ‘can’t’ was an important tool in getting along in this world. One can overcome almost anything as long as one says, “I can…”

In middle age we start running into limitations. All of sudden a 45-year-old man finds playing a casual game of football is not as easy as it used to be. A 42-year-old mother of 3 finds her attention to family and home has left her out of shape and dumpy. My husband has found that rotator cuff repairs remove most of the pain but limit activities. I find I’m no longer able to whip a house into shape like I used to before.

But, instead of just saying I can’t, perhaps it’s time to say “Can you help me with this? Can you fix this? Can you do this so I don’t have to?”

For it’s also time for another useful set of words, “Can I help you?” It’s time to use what I know for others.

‘Can I’, ‘I can’, ‘can you’, and back to ‘can I’. Funny how much life can be stuffed into those few words…

Look Ma. I’m on Steroids!

The good news is the medical establishment has come up with some answers for me and my neck/shoulder problem. One of the answers – steroid injections. And, yes, I am, at least for the moment, relatively pain free. The bad news is – the steroid injections.

The steroid side effects are many and have made my life very exciting recently…

So you know you’re on steroids (and, therefore, no longer have use of your brain):

When physical labor for 12 hours straight is the only way to avoid a panic attack;

When that physical labor includes gardening without brains, gloves or skin protection (I don’t see any poison ivy, do you?);

When that gardening takes place BEFORE the poison ivy/oak leafs out;

When the resulting case of poison ivy ends up requiring more steroids (oral) to prevent a full body breakout;

When normal impatience with those #%&@ drivers leads to abnormal road rage;

When the mouth won’t stop running;

When one’s vocal level increases about 25%;

When you have a fight with your husband who you never fight with;

When the need to itch and the need to keep moving result in many weird, private gyrations;

When you are unable to focus long enough to get started on a task;

When writing columns requires more word and sentence formation than possible;

When any waiting at a retail store is too much, leading to leaving and never accomplishing anything;

When you become incredibly articulate;

When you become unable to talk;

When you fall (literally) into the Chamber of Commerce meeting as if you were drunk;

When you feel super human one day and helpless the next;

When your mouth offends people (is that new?);

When housekeeping sounds like fun;

When murder seems to be an acceptable answer to your problems;

When you get too much done and run out of stuff to keep you busy;

And when time spent with a 13 year old and a 3 year old is absolutely the most fun you’ve had in months.

Once I get back to normal in a couple of weeks or so, then maybe Oglethorpe County will find out who I really am. I mean, I will get back to normal, won’t I? Oh, dear, but what is the definition of normal any way?