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Day 3 - Post Time Change

What was amusing in its newness on Sunday, and was dismissible as "rainy day gloom" on Monday, is officially here for the foreseeable future.  We have entered the darkness.  Why does this come as such a shock each year?  I think it's similar to how we can never actually remember pain.  We know intellectually that something hurt, but fortunately we don't actually remember the feeling.  Having the darkness of midnight descend at 4 p.m. is just that sort of experience.  I know each fall that it's coming; I tense a little as the leaves switch from gold to brown.  And then it's here and we're supposed to go on like nothing has happened. 

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This year I'm fighting back.  I won't fall victim to the urge to hibernate, surrounded by carbs and chocolate.  I won't lose my interest in my hobbies.  I won't spend all my free time sleeping and watching TV.  I won't be grumpy and short tempered with my loved ones on a daily basis.  And I certainly won't gain 15 pounds.  Not again. 

If, like me, you get "bear brain" as the days grown darker, you may find some of the steps I've chosen to take helpful.  The following are choices I've made after consulting with my doctor and reading Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seaonal Affective Dissorder by Norman E. Rosenthal.  I am most certainly not a doctor. 

Awareness is probably the best tool of all.  I know the danger signs and that gives me hope that if I see myself sliding into bear mentality, I'll be able to catch myself and make some changes.  On a more concrete level, I've purchased a Sunbox and try to spend at least a half hour in front of it each morning.   Winter Blues discusses what to look for in a light box and how to best utilize its benefits.  I suspect I'm not taking full advantage of mine, but I'm doing what fits my life.

Last year about this time my doctor handed me a prescription to walk "at least 15 minutes, as close to dawn as possible, every day".  The greater the exposure (i.e. longer walk, sunnier day), the greater the benefit.  Doing it early is important.  Exposure to daylight at any point in the day is better than no daylight, but researchers have found the benefits are greater the earlier the exposure takes place.   

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One of the things I've always loved about walking as exercise is that the only required equipment is a pair of comfy sneakers.  Depending on the length of the walk, a water bottle could also be a good idea.  I've added a map and my iPod to my personal list of required equipment, but these are icing rather than absolute essentials.  This week I purchased a little more icing: a pair of rain pants and a reflective vest.  I've already worn the rain pants twice, and I can't help but wonder why I never thought to get them before.  Gone are the days of soggy jeans slapping against my skin as I attempt to keep to my walking resolution.  Throw your soggy winds at me November, I'm ready!   The vest hasn't arrived yet, but I think having it will give me one less excuse not to get out there and walk. 

 
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The rest of my attack plan can be summed up with the words "be good to myself".  This covers everything from planning ahead so I have healthy, preferably unprocessed, foods on hand, to making plans in the evening, so I have a reason to look forward to the dark end of the day.  I've found this is a great time of year for taking adult enrichment classes.  I'm lucky enough to live in an area where there are numerous adult programs.  I also make a point of reading notices on the bulletin boards of libraries and coffee shops to see what one time events are coming up.

In The Geography of Bliss Eric Weiner discusses the preferred Icelandic method for coping with months of true darkness.  Can you guess?  Not surprisingly, it's alcohol.   If you have any non-alcoholic tricks for dealing with the encroaching darkness, I would love to hear them.  I'm also on the search for dinner recipes that can either be made in advance or freeze well.  Feel free to leave a link in the comments section.  Until next time, stay warm, soak up the sun and feel free to write yourself a walking prescription. 

The following video is included for the song, Willie Nelson's Bring Me Sunshine.  I double dog dare you to listen to it and not start smiling.

   

 


Hazy, Hot and Hungry?

Here in New England, Mother Nature appears to be throwing a real whiz-bang of a send off for summer.  If your idea of ideal summer weather is to "feel a bit like a Thanksgiving turkey when I walk out the door", as I heard one radio host describe it, the last few days have been sublime.  If, like me, you prefer the cooler parts of summer, the parts that are attended by the acrobatic antics of bats and fireflies, the last few days have been a reminder that "the end of summer" sounds much sadder than it really is. 

In honor of the season's symbolic passing (I realize it actually ends in a couple weeks), I've created a personal Best Of list for summer in Lexington.

I grew up in a town so small, that the police station was in the chief's house (his garage to be specific).  The center of town consisted of town hall, a historic church, a graveyard and just down the road a dump. I kid you not.  Our tiny town was smooshed between two much larger towns, the sort of places that had public buses and pools.  We knew entertainment was out there; it was just much farther than we were allowed to ride our bicycles.

So today, each time I announce on my way out the door that I'm going to walk to the yarn store, the library or the farmer's market I get a bit of a thrill.  Not only do I live close enough to town that I can walk there; Lexington actually has places worth walking to.

Summer in Lexington has the best music on earth - outdoor music.  I recently combined two things that are always better outside, music and food, by bringing my dinner to the Tuesday night concerts at the bandstand in Hastings Park.

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It's a beautiful bandstand, with lights in the ceiling and a staircase that folds away and gets locked up when not in use.  I can't blame them for locking it up.  I'm sure if they didn't kids would play on it and picnics would be held there...not that I know anyone who would have considered such a thing. 

My favorite part of the concert (aside from watching the games of catch going on behind the bandstand) was when the audience was invited to join in a march.  From toddling barefoot babes, to gray haired ladies relying on canes, a surprising number of people stood up and marched to a well known John Phillip Souza tune. I think it might be the song Monty Python used at the start of their TV show.   That evening, I watched from my blanket, a container of lasagna on one side and a scarf I was knitting in my hands, and thought about my Grandmother S.  She would have marched if she were there.  In fact, I knew the song from a cassette of Souza marches she had stuffed in my stocking one Christmas.  I never knew quite why she gave it to me, I'd never shown an interest in that kind of music.  As with most of my grandmother's confusing gifts, she seemed to be trying to share something from her childhood.  She was born on the fourth of July and early on thought the festivities were all for her.  I'm sure one of her many older brothers was happy to set her straight on that account.    Even once she knew better she still loved it: the picnics, the fireworks, the parades and the marching bands.

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I officially consider it summer when the Friday night Chamber of Commerce concert series begins. These shows are held in front of the Visitor's Center, just across from the famous Minuteman statue.  Each week it's a different band, but no matter who is playing, watching the young kids (and their parents) shake and shimmy right up front while the older kids run in circles around Buckman's Tavern is always a great show. 

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There are families who arrive with giant picnic baskets and make colorful islands of blankets as they meet up with their friends.  Others divide and conquer.  The mother arrives first with children and family dog in tow.  A little later, the father, often still in business attire, arrives triumphantly carrying a pizza box or two.   I'm always a little curious which of the two pizza places in town does better business on concert nights. 

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As the kids start getting tired from climbing trees and hiding from their parents, Mo's Ice Cream truck sets up shop.  This is the classiest ice cream truck experience you're likely to ever have.  It's always the same driver, who I assume is the Mo from the sign.  He's older, like a youngish grandfather and he never rushes anyone, even the four year olds who change their minds with each new picture they see.  I always get the Chocolate Eclair, and he always smiles, says "That's a classic" and hands me my treat with a paper towel around it.  That paper towel comes in handy if the evening is hot and I try to savor my eclair.  I must not be the only one who thinks highly of Mo, because his truck usually has a line, even though the concert is right across the street from Candy Castle. 

Yes, you read that right.  Lexington's candy store is called Candy Castle.  It has whimsical paintings on the windows of a Hansel and Gretel-esque ice cream castle.

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All summer they've had a sign on the door that makes me very happy.  I love that they even thought to offer it.

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A Charleston Chew is usually pleasant enough, but freeze it and it feels like being seven again.  Each bite breaks it into smooth edged chunks that soften in your mouth.  I don't have a great sense of taste, so texture is really important to me when it comes to food, and these have fun texture.

The first time I encountered frozen candy (aside from my own kitchen), was at an artsy movie theater near Harvard.  When I ordered my Junior Mints the cashier asked,  "Chilled or original?"  

    "What was that?" I really hadn't expected there to be any follow up questions to my order. 

    "Would you like that chilled or at room temperature?"  Faced with such an unexpected choice,what could I say but "chilled"?  

They were fun to eat, but without their characteristic gooey center, they just didn't seem like Junior Mints.  Peppermint Patties on the other hand, which are also chocolate coated, taste even more delicious when frozen. 

I probably should have made this Best of Lexington Summer list a bit earlier, ideally before the music series ended, but isn't that the way with summer?  It feels like it will last forever, and then suddenly it's gone.  That's OK, I'm sure fall will bring new reasons to take a walk into town, and more comfortable weather to do it in.

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Sign in the window of the Sweet Thyme Bakery.


Woulda Missed

One of the things I love about walking are all the sightings and discoveries that I would have missed if I were in a car or on my bike.  I've decided to start sharing these moments here, in the hope that they'll make you happy too.


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I spotted this happy fire alarm on a house in Newburyport MA.  Do you think someone hung out one of the windows to paint it on?  Maybe it was a rebellious teen, tired of helping paint the house.  In any case, I saw it, smiled and started humming Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy".

A bit off topic -  Is that "Mr. Noodle's brother, Mr. Noodle" from Elmos' World in the Don't Worry Be Happy Video?



The Longing

    Back in October when the darkening days were getting to me, my doctor said that the best thing I could do for myself was to take a walk first thing every morning.  I thought there was no way I would ever be able to stick to it.  Beyond the fact that I've never been especially successful at creating new habits on purpose, there was the fact that he said the walks needed to be as early as possible.  The ideal time would be around 6:30 as the sun became high enough to shine down through the trees and reach my sunlight deprived brain.  I was not a morning person.  I had never been a morning person.  I saw a lot of problems with carrying out this prescription.  

    The next morning my alarm clock went off at 6:15 and I hit the snooze button repeatedly until I opened my eyes enough to read 7:07 on the clock.  I jumped up, put a knit cap over my unruly hair and traded my pj bottoms for sweats.  A jacket and shoes later I was out the door. 

    Aside from a couple camping trips, the last time I had been outside that early in the morning was high school.  The morning air seemed cleaner, fresher, making everything look shiny and new. The birds were singing like a Broadway chorus and I had to admit I was excited.  The words to a Nina Simone song came to mind and I tried to hum it as I walked my neighborhood, nodding politely as I passed seniors leaving their tai chi session at the community center on my street.  How early had they gotten up?

    The next day with the first bleat of the alarm clock, my feet were out of bed.  Soon I was waking up before the clock even had a chance to break the morning silence.  There were the occasional wet mornings where I had to remind myself that I would feel better after my walk, even if that did mean coming home in pants so wet they stuck to my skin.  All in all, I was surprised at how quickly going to bed earlier, so I could wake up earlier and start walking became a way of life. 

    That all changed about three weeks ago when the whole world seemed to bloom at once.  When I started walking daily, I thought the winter weather would be tough.  It did take some planning ahead, but it was doable.  The spring pollen attack can not be mitigated by wearing long johns or my really uncomfortable, but warm, wool socks.  Unlike cold weather, I can't tell myself "It'll get better once I start moving".  I was reminded of this recently when I went out for my morning walk, and by the end of my street I had to turn around because I could barely see for all the eye rubbing and sneezing I was doing. 

    Allergies have always been a part of my life.  I know the drill.  I take the meds, I drink extra water, I sleep with the windows closed and I know better than to spend time outside in the morning when the pollen counts are highest.  I know this, but I don't want it to be true. 

    I'm surprised at just how lost I feel in the morning without my walking routine.  I wake up, eat breakfast and look around wondering what I can do that will create that same eagerness to take on the day that walking does.  At a friend's suggestion I tried meditation.  It lacked the physical satisfaction of feeling my body awaken and respond to my needs (such as sprinting across morning commute traffic). Even more importantly, I suspect meditation is a lot like whistling.  Once you know how to do it, you can't imagine how you ever couldn't.  But until that point it's incredibly frustrating.  

    I've tried reading, doing the crossword, quilting, even crossing chores off my to do list, all of which I usually enjoy, or at least find satisfying.  None of them fills the void.  And so I wait for a sign that it's safe to walk once again in the moring, for the pollen counts to move down from severe to manageable, or for my car to look black rather than an unearthly shade of yellow.  I know it will happen.  And when it does I will reestablish my routine, only this time with a greater appreciation for each life affirming step.