Get Centered

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 The other day as we wended our way down the hill towards our house, wrapping up a walk that, for some reason, had caused Katy-the-Wonder-Dog many fearful pauses, the afternoon sun broke through the clouds, and we had something more than a walk.

I wanted to step up the pace for the last quarter mile and burn some calories. Katy decided sunny dirt was more worth sniffing than cloudy dirt. We trotted and paused a few times and then as the sun sank closer to the mountain across the way from us, she stopped and sniffed the air. 

“Katy, ” I coaxed. She ignored me, closing her eyes and turning her face to the sun and the mountain. I noted the line of light highlighting her and sank down to take a picture, but before I could tap the shutter button, I felt the sun on my face and closed my eyes for a moment too. 

The walk had been cross training. It had been a bathroom break. It had been huffing and puffing. Now, in the slightly warmer sunny air, it was something better. I opened my eyes to see Katy still meditating (if dogs meditate) on the sun and the sounds of the dozens of seasonal streams that were flowing down the mountains.  

It was as if someone had gently said, “Stop.” Stop, for just a moment, worrying about being able to run 3 miles or pay bills tonight or find time for everything on your list and get centered. 

A dog down the hill barked, and Katy’s head turned in that direction. I started the trot toward home and to-do’s again utterly unperturbed by the length of my list and committed to finding time to get centered more often.

Things in the Path

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I’m trying to include a two-mile hike/walk to the town hall and back each evening as cross training and, now, as Katy-the-Wonder-Dog is more inclined to wander in the warmer weather, a way to make sure she gets a good long walk in before dark. Taking the boys is always entertaining. Taking only the dog, yesterday, was enlightening.

Somedays the boys go with me, but yesterday it was just us gals.

We had to sneak out to keep the cats from following us (Princess Jane and Gentleman Jim-Bob have been joining us on the morning run). The first half mile of the walk is a steep incline from our door to our neighbor’s house. Katy loves this part of the walk. She wags her tail as we walk by houses filled with people who pet her and give her treats. We’ll stop so she can reclaim territory alongside the road, and there was a pause and a wag as we passed the neighbor’s house and she noticed the neighbor’s son, clearly in need of a canine playmate working in the yard.

To her credit, Katy had kept on track, the only serious pauses being the conducting of business. As we pass our neighbor’s house, however, we got to the quieter part of the road (a relative term in a town where the only traffic jam happens for 20 minutes after the July 4 parade when all the horse drawn wagons are driven home). There would be only one house to pass before we got to the town hall still over a half-mile away down the hill.

I will admit that my imagination starts to run faster than my feet on this section of road. We have seen a mountain lion cross this part of the road, and, even though I’m guessing he/she doesn’t just park himself up the hill waiting for stray joggers, I always wish I’d brought lion spray. Or bear spray. Or coyote repellant. Have I missed any possible predators?

With my vicious attack dog, infamous for drowning visitors in kisses and annoying passing deer with her attempts to play with them, I knew I’d be safe. Strength in numbers, right?

As it turns out, Katy is scared of more than just gunshots and thunderstorms. We passed a chained driveway to a camp higher up the mountain, and she slowed down, sniffing the air, looking down the mountain to our left and, then, up the mountain.

“Come on, honey,” I coaxed. She looked at me and then the mountain and then tried to do her happy trot. We passed an exposed ribcage, and I wondered if the smell had spooked the dog, but remembering that she had no qualms about eating decaying deer meat — a kill apparently deemed too small to tag by some anonymous hunter that had been left in our woods.

I kept walking wondering if she could smell big mountain cat pee on the road or something.  Were the bears waking up?  Maybe she could hear them rumble.  

We did the sniff, slow, and stop routine a few more times, and I thought how ironic that I, the queen of worry and wonder (as in, I wonder if that guy in the unfamiliar truck could be a serial killer?) was suddenly in the position of trying to help another being find her moxie.

We got to the town hall, I slapped the mail box to mark the half-way point and started up the hill back to our house, me coaxing and ignoring my own ridiculous fears. We passed the petrifying rib cage again. Katy stopped to mark it this time, and I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I wouldn’t have to fake courage for someone else after a few more minutes.

The pathetic thing is that this road isn’t the only place my fears speed up my footsteps or, worse, stop me in my tracks to consider an ancient carnage. That tendency to stop becomes a habit in other areas of life, sometimes making daily struggles seem bigger than they are. Usually I muscle my way through them for the sake of the kids, but I always wish I didn’t feel the fear at all.

As we got to the top of the hill near the neighbor’s house and the easy part lay ahead, I decided I was really grateful to Katy. When I go walking with the boys, we’re so loud that any animal will steer clear of the road just to save their eardrums.  With my fellow worrier, however, I had more than company. I had some time to consider my more ridiculous fears and, even if I was faking it the whole way just for her sake, to pretend that I was bigger than they were. 

Someday that may become a habit.

 

Food, Glorious Drug

Food and I go way back. Almost fifty years now. We’ve had a great relationship. I mean, don’t all great friendships include an all-controlling dominant half (food) and a sycophantic lickspittle (me) or, in my case lick-whatever’s-left-on-the-plate?

I have started to question that relationship in the last few years. I’ve tried to take the upper hand by counting calories, cutting out certain kinds of food colored chocolate with labels like ‘Abandon all self-control here, ye of little self-respect’. A few years ago, I started to dominate the relationship to the point where I’d lost fifty pounds, which helped my five foot three frame look more like a short pear than a cantaloupe.

I controlled intake. I exercised. It lasted a few months.

A broken foot knocked me off my fitness routine, and soon I was back on the Bernaise sauce. And the steak and asparagus. And don’t forget the garlic mashed potatoes. Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff..

Last week I had an inkling a depressive phase might be setting in when the mental call of the country store round table took on a decidedly fried sound. My day of work and deep-fried self-medication wasn’t the first over-indulgence, but as I got home feeling sick from over-eating and somehow still willing to eat more to feel ‘better’, I realized, my relationship to food was more like an addict’s to a pusher.

Yesterday, online, I caught the headline of an article in the Guardian about not just changing the relationship with food, but breaking up with it for a few weeks. By taking it out of the equation.

After read the first few paragraphs (always a good idea when making a healthcare decision) about using traditional meal-replacement shakes that have been around since the 60s and 70s to turn food from emotional balm into pure function, I knew what I have to do. I headed out the door to our favorite British-style diner for a last supper.

Okay, maybe today will be the real last supper.

But I didn’t have to read the rest of the article to know that this sounded right. I need to break up with food. I need to get the upper hand and find another, more constructive emotional outlet like writing or painting (I hear some people swear by it).

So today, like the dozens (maybe hundreds) of Sundays before every diet I’ve ever broken, might be a free-for-all (okay, it will be), but tomorrow, we’re breaking up. I’ll make sure the calorie count is sane and that a bottle of multivitamins is handy, but for the next eight weeks, food won’t be what’s for dinner or for celebration or inebriation.

Food, I’ll call you in a couple months, and if you want to be friends, things are going to have to change.

Body Work

Thing1’s impending graduation has prompted a bit of cleaning inside and, since snow no longer covers the mess we call a yard, the outside too.

I used to have gardening problem, but recovering from a broken foot made digging uneven ground a tough hobby for a few years. I’m back to digging this year, huffing and puffing and trying to remind myself I ran a 12k a few short years ago. It also reminds me that my coveted, brawny gardening physique, and not a bikini body that won’t get used in Vermont anyway, is what  I should have been more disciplined about chasing on the treadmill all winter.

Fortunately, a shovel and a patch of dirt still make a cheap gym.