Johnny, We Hardly Knew You

I went to a memorial service Friday, and of course it was difficult. No matter how hard anyone tries to make them fun, lighthearted, and filled with good memories of the deceased, it’s still awful. Especially when the good died young, full of plans and hopes, and was someone you thought would be around for innumerable hours of need.

Johnny gave a lot more that he ever received. He owned and ran successful businesses, served in local government of the town he called home for many years, nurtured a family, and spent far too many hours volunteering and mentoring other people. He packed a lot into almost 67 years on the planet, with very little personal time. What time he had, he spent collecting, repairing and driving old cars, and he had plans to purchase aircraft to house on his recently expanded property. He had a lifetime of knowledge and stories, and never tired of telling you who he knew, how he met them and most importantly, what those individuals meant to him and taught him. Even when he was surrounded by people asking him for help and favors, when he spoke to you, you knew you had his undivided attention. He reveled in the joy of sharing what he knew, so others could carry the stories onward. Little did we know we would be asked to carry on without him this soon.

His death, like so many others in these pandemic times, was fast and with no warning. No goodbyes, no final words, and no best wishes. The virus did not take him away; a massive heart attack accomplished it instead. There is no good way to suffer a loss like this, no map to navigate empty and lonely times when you’ll pick up the phone to call or text, only to stop halfway and realize the dead don’t take a smartphone with them. Though Johnny was incredibly tech-savvy, and always had the latest device as soon as it was available, he no longer needs it. Personally, I’ll always look up to a guy whose energy was boundless, whose devotion to others bottomless, and whose enthusiasm for packing 30 hours of life into 24 hours day after day never diminished.

We miss you Johnny. We only wish we’d had more time.

I Got A Digital Babysitter For The Holidays

The smartwatch was not my idea, I swear.

The Husband thought I needed one. I’m not sure if he meant well or is trying to kill me. But I am wearing it. And despite my best efforts to dislike the thing, I am attached to it. Bad pun, and it won’t be the last one for 2021.

It’s comfortable, and it’s all black, so it is sleek and cool-looking. And it does a lot of stuff, and tells you things about yourself you didn’t know, and maybe didn’t want to know. Like your resting heart rate, your workout heart rate, how many steps you take, calories burned, floors climbed, food and water consumption, what the weather is, alarm settings, relaxation reminders, pace and distance for a host of different exercises. You can listen to music on it, and if you want a Get Smart moment, you can use it as your phone, thus giving new meaning to “talk to the hand.”

I wasn’t thrilled with all of this information, and not keen on the idea of the “community” that comes with owning the device. The virtual community is very keen on me, however. They welcome you with the enthusiasm of Richard Simmons, but it’s a Billy Banks-tough crowd. Everyone has an agenda, and wants to talk about what they’ve accomplished thanks to the motivation provided by their wrist-borne minder.

And I’ll admit that wearing a smartwatch changes things. I compared the miles shown on my bike ride to those on my bike-mounted GPS and the computer-mapped ride route. The bike isn’t as accurate when compared to the watch and computer. And I do run longer with the watch on, mostly out of guilt because it’s in running mode and tracking me. And so help me, I bought the digital water bottle that syncs to the watch, in order to track my fluid intake (OK, I justified it because the price was good and I tend to become dehydrated. I also bought running socks and shirts, so the shipping was free).

And I did make some other decisions, such as cleaner eating, more respect for physical pain (I have a stupidly high tolerance for pain), taking more chances with different types of competition, and of course getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

Did I need a smartwatch? Nope, but it’s interesting wearing a nudzh on my arm. I will be curious to see it it makes me a better competitor over the coming weeks and months.

2020: We Dove Into A Dumpster Fire And Found Flowers

Who would have thought, on Jan. 1, 2020, that the world would look like this on Dec. 31, 2020?

Masked, isolated, separated, and searching for the elusive “new normal.” Kids and parents working and schooling from home, and all of them wondering why the idea of an open concept home was ever appealing. Schools sanitized yet many empty; parents fearful of sending their child healthy and returning home with an unseen virus capable of killing an entire family.

Signs and placards everywhere, reminding us of the elementary-school rule about washing your hands and covering that cough and sneeze. Realizing that there’s nothing social about social distancing. Thinking that maybe you don’t hate your Uncle Harry that much anymore, his bourbon breath and bad jokes aside, because you miss just having him around.

Friends and neighbors without jobs, surviving on slim margin of help from state unemployment — if they could get through the red tape to apply. Local businesses busted and storefronts empty, with “Temporarily Closed” signs on the doors, but the dusty and dilapidated look of these places dispels any notion that they’re ever coming back.

Hungry people who lined up waiting for hours in food distribution lines for a week’s supply of groceries or a few hot meals. People who never had to ask for help until now, ashamed to do so and yet afraid of the empty refrigerator, bare pantry, and children who asked why they couldn’t just go to the grocery store like before.

We saw the hospitalization, mortality, and infection statistics; mere numbers until you see the people behind those numbers: the parents, grandparents, children, teachers, coaches, preachers, and perhaps worst of all, the doctors and nurses who fought for us, only to get sick and die themselves, fighting to the end.

We got angry at the cov-idiots and mask-holes, the personal freedom-fueled fanatics who considered safety precautions as an affront to their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, rather than as a means to protect everyone. Because the virus is everyone’s fight. A virus does not care who you are, what you believe or what you’re willing to live or die for. If you’re insist on being vulnerable, step up to the infection soapbox.

We are in the process of learning why Black Lives Matter. Not because they didn’t before 2020, but because this year gave us several senseless deaths that brought multitudes into the streets, shouting that it’s been too long waiting for change. The pandemic and Black Lives Matter came together because we were mostly at home, focused on the news for lack of much else to do, and the shooting deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and almost 200 other Black men and women this year alone were brought right to our digital doorstep. That they were doing nothing to deserve this kind of death only highlights this country’s racial disparity.

We also saw a lot of good things. From those who donated their stimulus checks to charity, the #TakeOutTuesday in support of local restaurants, people connecting through online video platforms, neighbors cooking for neighbors and strangers, the comeback of board games, vinyl records and the increase in streaming services, the discovery that fresh air and outdoor exercise really is good for you and that life’s big moments don’t need fancy decor and a large guest list to be creatively celebrated — these are the positives to be proud of in 2020. And the greatest positive: it comes in the form of a little glass vial, complete with syringe, and while the vaccine alone won’t save us from ourselves, it offers more than hope in a bottle. It represents science, not politics or conspiracy theories, as the path to pulling out of the acrimonious and antagonistic asylum that was 2020.

Leggings For All? I’ll Leave Them To All Of You

Winter finally arrived in my stretch of the woods. And out came the women in leggings. No pun intended, but it’s fine if you read it that way.

Leggings are such a fashion oddity. They seemed to have morphed from the black tights we wore back in the winter days of my Dark Ages youth, somehow meeting up with cycling shorts and giving birth to the much-loved (or reviled) wardrobe wizard that was meant to be worn for workout classes, running, and yoga, but trended into a constant in the closet.

As you’ve guessed, I am not a fan of myself encased in leggings. My legs are really short (and don’t start with me about how higher heels lengthen my legs. Those would have to be eight-inch heels in order to make a difference) and while my badonkadonk isn’t bodaciously big, it sits atop those stump legs and makes leggings look like I’m trying to contain the remains of a septic system gone south.

That’s not to say I don’t own tights. I do own a pair of black and scarlet cold-weather running tights, which are out and ready in anticipation of a chilly morning run tomorrow. But I wear them only for running or underneath cycling shorts when it is cold. I am not wearing them anywhere else in public. No one deserves to see that.

And while I do see women who look fab in the winter combo of leggings and knee-high boots, and I think that by a certain age and stage in life, you should be proud and happy to wear what you want and present the proverbial middle finger to the world that says otherwise, I also believe in self-respect and honesty. Not to mention having a full-length mirror in your house. So before you tug on those tiger-striped leggings and shiny, skinny-heeled boots, ask yourself: do I look hot, or do I look desperate? Am I proud of this outfit, or would my pride be better served if I either donated this ensemble or stashed it until next Halloween?

Aging gracefully isn’t about getting too old for a particular “look.” It is about knowing when that look crosses over from “Well, hello beautiful” to “Oh, hell no.” And then how to update that look so it works. Or pack it up and send it to the nearest vintage clothing shop.

Four Events, One National: Good Idea Or Bad Fantasy?

So…I qualified for four sporting events for next year’s National Senior Games: running, swimming, and cycling. You can count; that’s only three. The fourth is the triathlon, which technically does not have a required qualifier. The games run 11 days in November, which means, if things were perfectly spaced out, I could be competing once every three days.

I’m not sure if this is a potential achievement worth going for, or a very bad place to crash-land very hard. That’s a lot of rough play for someone who’s closing in fast on Social Security and Medicare by that time.

The exact schedule for the Nationals has not been posted yet, so there is no way of knowing what events are scheduled which days, if there is any overlap or where the events are (for the record, the event is supposed to happen in the general vicinity of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but Broward is a big county). But let’s pretend everything is awesome (a lot to ask after the way 2020 has gone) and I could do all four events.

Right now, my brain says no problem. Think of the fame of winning medals in all four of those events. There could be media coverage, my photo published on seniors’ websites, commercial endorsements (I’m picky, though; I would only endorse what I’d use, such as fiber supplements, antiseptic bandages, ice packs, heating pads, and reading glasses), and deep and meaningful conversations with other famous athletes (trading training secrets with Serena Williams and comparing butterfly times with Michael Phelps).

My body says “No, seriously…have you really thought about this? Even if you do nothing but train every day, how do you get through a dozen days of hell with your sanity intact and the ability to put one foot in front of the other? There aren’t enough pain pills in the pharmacy to fix your busted butt when that’s over.”

So there’s a lot of wishful plotting doused with a heavy dose of reality. At this point, I don’t know which of the four events will be possible, though it is nice to know I have choices. Many people only show up for one sport, because that’s all they’ve got. I’d like to think my pony’s got more than one trick left.

Trail Was Mud…Run Is Done!

I did it. First trail run is run and done and part of history. No slips, falls, trips or other athletic accidents. I did get lost finding the park, but I left the house so early (I build it in and call it “What if I get lost?” time) that I was on time.

I had a map and GPS, but the roads around the park make no sense (they go by names and numbers and change according to which city you’re in, which apparently confuses the GPS as much as this driver), but now that I know where it is, I’ll never have an issue finding it again.

There was rain for the last mile or so, but it made very little difference; the place was a muddy mess before the skies opened up. It had rained for a few days, so it was not just the mud and puddles, it was the smell. Think wild night in the zoo elephant house seasoned with a week’s worth of picnic trash. It certainly keeps you moving.

There were fewer than 40 runners total, and that made social distancing easy. This type of running is a different mindset. It’s more about survival, less about speed. I was surprised to see older runners (including a four-generation family!) tackling the course. Then again, I think I was the only newbie out there, both to the sport and the course. But people were nice and welcoming.

Four days later, my quads are still tired, but surprisingly, nothing really hurt. I needed no pain medication, and even found I could do housework and lawn care after the race without feeling bad.

Am I hooked on trail running? I have to say I enjoy it, but not to the exclusion of road racing. I do have another trail opportunity in April, but definitely need more training, especially running on grass, which I found the most challenging part of last week’s race (sand, rocks, gravel, tree roots, mud, and water don’t seem to be an issue). I want to do the April race because it’s in a city that boasts the state’s best fried chicken, which I’ve eaten before and think about often. And to drive that far for a race, there should be a reward like fried chicken.

Happy Trails To Me

It’s time to start racing again. And there’s nothing like starting the “season” off by doing something I’ve never done: a trail race.

I was supposed to do my first trail race in October, but the race, along with the festival around it, got postponed until next year. Searching the local running calendar turned up nothing but virtual races, so I turned to the national running calendar and found a trail race for Sunday, two counties away.

I went back to the trail this past Sunday, just to reacquaint myself with rocks, sticks, mud, water, holes, sand, and all the possibilities Nature offers when she wants to be a real mother. We’ve had a lot of rain, so the trails were especially miserable; rutted, ragged, and waterlogged. Few people dared to get out there, so it was quiet. Just the sound of light rain on the tree canopy and the movement of unseen creatures in the woods (we’re talking deer, possum, squirrel, and birds; there are no reported sightings of otherworldly spirits roaming the vicinity.)

My trail shoes were so muddy, I had to line the floor of my car with newspaper to drive home (fool that I am, I actually cleaned the interior of my car the day before). My socks were a splattered mess. I saw worse in the trail parking lot: two mountain bikers with a thick skunk line of mud running from the top of their helmets down to where their backsides met their bike seats, thanks to the tire splash. I have to give them credit; they did not changed clothes, hosed off or make any attempt to remove the evidence before racking their bikes and climbing into their cars, neither of which had seat covers. Badge of honor, I guess. Either that or someone else is detailing their vehicles. I wash, wax, and detail my own, so you understand my caution.

I am ready to start competing again, even with the pandemic restrictions. I am fine with obeying the rules of mask wearing, social distancing, cleanliness, and bringing your own food and water to a race. I am nervous about this weekend, but good-nervous, not anxious-nervous. It will be good to feel a little bit normal again.

Holy $#!* The Size Of The Breast (on that turkey)

Please tell me I am not the only one who thinks the size of turkeys has gotten just a little out of hand.

In a year when we are encouraged not to gather in big groups, not to have plans with family and not to expect to be welcomed with open arms at the typically crowded Thanksgiving table, the turkeys got bigger.

Well, of course they did. It’s 2020 after all, when nothing works as it should.

I started shopping for my bird last week, knowing it would just be The Husband and I for dinner this year. I figured a nice small turkey in the 10 to 13-pound range would be good for the holiday meal, with leftovers for the weekend and bits and the bones for soup stock.

Now the wrapping for turkeys weighs about 10 pounds. At my local big-box store, I saw no bird less than 25 pounds and some at nearly 40 pounds. Who cooks 40 pounds of turkey? I like fowl, but it’s foul to consider how long I’d be eating that much turkey. I am no weak sister, but I’d need a crane to haul a 40-pound bird out the door and into my trunk, and then I’d have to lash it down, or it would slide and thunk along the weather-protected interior like a sugar-high five-year-old in a hockey rink.

When did turkey go from sensibly sized to hormone-fueled huge? I keep imagining these critters bulking up for a year on the feathered equivalent of protein shakes, egg white omelets and energy bars and getting so big they totter around the turkey house, unable to see their own feet or the floor, until Judgement Day arrives and it’s off to the meat market. No, I am not trying to talk anyone out of America’s favorite feast this month. Just consider the really too-big bird as a symbol of what’s happened to us a a society — we got bigger because we could, not because it was a good idea.

One store I stopped in had no turkeys. Turns out they get them in fresh the week of Thanksgiving, which is nice. But you have to order online. The size range for the smallest is 10-14 pounds but it comes with a warning that the final size may vary. That means it is what it is when you pick it up. If only larger birds come in, you are stuck with more gobble than you can gobble, and you’ve already given them your credit card number online.

In the end, I went with two smallish (1 1/2 and a 2 1/2 pounds each) organic hormone-free turkey breasts with the bone in. I’ll cook both; one is enough for dinner and the other is the leftovers. It’s not the Thanksgiving we are used to, but nothing this year is what we’re used to; we’ll savor and sip some good wine and be glad to still be here and healthy.

…And The Headline Said “She Died in TP Avalanche”

Maybe the buying has turned into hoarding now.

I went to the bedroom closet to get two rolls of toilet paper from the shelf, and nearly got conked in the head by a pack of 48 rolls in the mistaken belief than I could just get two rolls out of the pack with a wire hanger.

Before the pandemic, I never bought a pack of 48 rolls of toilet paper. I rarely bought anything in that size, unless that’s the only way it came. My special sport jelly beans come in a box of 60 little bags, but aside from those, packages of four, six, eight 10 or 12 seemed to be the prevailing rule.

Then along came COVID-19 and shortages. All of a sudden, you bought it when you saw it. Didn’t matter what it was: tissues, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, paper towels, your cat’s favorite food, soup, flour, yeast, or whatever the short supply of the day was, you grabbed it when you came upon it. I ended up with the 48 rolls of toilet paper because of bananas. I stopped to buy bananas at a big-box store after swim practice on Saturday and thought, “We could use some more toilet paper. There is some space in the bedroom closet to store a package.” So from produce to personal care section I went, at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, no shopping cart (I was just there for the bananas, remember) to scope out the paper goods. And there it was: a whole shelf tidily stacked with big packages of forty-eights. And the price was right, relative to the regular supermarket prices (except the supermarket shelves were devoid of most paper goods at that time, and many here still are).

So I grabbed a package, thinking it would be no problem to haul it a half-mile back to the check-out. But there I was, clutch containing my phone, keys and wallet under my arm, bananas in one hand and big-ass (!) pack of toilet paper riding on my shoulder. Good thing the store was fairly deserted. A woman with a towel wrapped around her wet hair, no makeup, dressed in warmups and hauling bananas and toilet paper at 7:30 a.m. is environmental pollution for all the senses.

And that is how the killer TP got home, wrestled onto my bedroom closet shelf, and came to nearly kill me the other day. As The Husband would say, “Happy now?”