Saturday, January 23, 2016

39 Miles. 39 Years.

This January, inspired by Katy Bowman's "39-mile birthday week" last year, I decided (almost) at random to walk 39 miles in the week leading up to my 39th birthday a couple of weeks ago. Several factors conspired to make this a very appealing idea for me: we spent Christmas traveling, driving two days each way to Mississippi and back, and I moved for maybe an hour each day, mostly at rest stops and in the rain. Despite balmy temperatures, a stunning number of thunderstorms meant not getting out much when we were in Jackson, either.

so many pretty clouds

I wanted to get back into my body and out of travel mode. I'd been stuck inside for two weeks. I started with a 5-mile walk with a friend on the Saturday before my birthday. No problem, I thought. I have time for this.

What I learned from the week that followed: plan ahead. Or at least plan far enough ahead to build in an "off" day or two. My body didn't need the time off, but the reality of the days that I am with my kids full-time is that I can't walk much more than about 1.5 miles with them in tow, unless we're really out for the whole day. Which is usually ok—on those days I make sure to get an adult-pace walk in before my husband goes to work, or I head out for an hour in the evening. But that just didn't happen on Monday. That left me with four days in which to walk 29-ish miles to reach my goal.

This isn't from Monday, but it's the kind of thing that happens when we're home.
Instead, I had a week that included two days that consisted mostly of walking. On the first long walking day (Tuesday, 9 miles), it was between 25 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit for the whole day. My biggest walking chunk was to and from the mall to return a package after I'd dropped off the boys—1.7 miles each way. There was something deeply wonderful about being outside moving for a long time in such cold weather—it was sunny outside, and refreshing, and I was cozy in my boots and down jacket. I saw all kinds of things I'd never noticed in the neighborhoods on the way to the mall—I always drive through that stretch of town, since it's just outside of what I usually think of as "reasonably walkable." In addition to the mall trek, I walked the kids to school, walked (a roundabout way) home from lunch with my mom, and picked up my kids on foot. That lunch break, it turns out, was crucial.

Yard art I saw on the way back.
The other long walking day involved a five-mile walk with a friend, and I logged 12 miles overall that day. I found myself more fatigued by the end of the day than on my other long walking day, but suspect it has more to do with the distribution of the miles through the day than the distance itself. I did the first 8 miles continuously—walked the kids to school, then went to my friend's house, then our long walk, and back home. The last 4 miles came from walking to pick up herbs from my acupuncturist, then picking up the kids.

Dropping off the fellas in 25 degree weather. Nope, they were not complaining about being cold one bit.
Why am I writing out all this in so much detail? Because I want to respond, in a way, to a comment a friend of mine made on Facebook about envying me all this time to walk. It's true—I have vast tracts of time in which to walk right now, since my kids are in preschool 3 days a week and I have a lull in my work. Here's what I do to stretch out my walks and maximize my daily movement: I "stack" my life. Katy Bowman goes into some detail about life-stacking here and here, but I'll list out for you various errands, tasks, etc., that I stack to make the miles add up (I'll not focus now on other ways to add non-walking movement into your day):

1 mile round-trip: dropping off/picking up kids from preschool (BONUS: they also get a mile of walking in! I could write a whole blog post about the advantages/benefits of this practice for our whole family)
1.5 mile round-trip: walking to Whole Foods for bacon (mostly just for bacon. We have an excellent co-op two blocks away, and I get a few easy quarter-miles by walking over there a stunning number of times per week)
3 mile round-trip: walking to/from the library. Also the post office is near there.
4 mile round-trip: walking to/from the mall. Most trafficky route, but most full of surprises. One block to the east and it's a lovely residential walk. But there are no sidewalks there. So...
3.5 miles: to/from acupuncture.
5 miles: hanging out with a friend.

Seen on the way to the mall. Not shown in these photos: the amazing amount of ice I encountered all week long.
I should note: This all takes time. But my most frequent walks are in the 1-to-2-mile range. They take 20-40 minutes, which is not that long if you think about how much time you spent liking your friends' posts on Facebook last night. Or talking to your parents. Or having a coffee with a friend. 5x 20-minute bursts of walking=5 miles in a day. Which is 35 miles in a week. And suddenly, 39 miles in one week doesn't seem so hard.

Here's me, on my 39th birthday, with my number one fan, heading out for a 1.5 mile walk to buy cupcakes. At 8am.
Here's my challenge to anyone who doesn't have time to walk: find two places you regularly drive to, but could walk to instead. Look at a Google map and see what's within a one-mile radius from your house or office. Then choose instead to walk to those places. Some life-stacking ideas: make phone calls with a headset while walking; walk to the post office; get coffee to go and walk with a friend instead of sitting at a cafe; skip the gym and walk to the nearest playground and practice your hanging/swinging/jumping/balancing instead—and take your kids if you have them. I'll spare you the twelve other examples that are coming to mind. I will add this: stacking my life and deliberately choosing to do more things the hard way has led to deeper and more frequent conversations with friends across the country, with my parents, and with my brother; I've listened to a lot of podcasts and developed closer friendships with my walking buddies, too. Lifestacking means meeting both your body's need for movement and your other needs as a modern human at the same time. Let me know how many miles *you* plan to walk during your birthday week!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Shifting Seasons

It's August. I remember Augusts from my childhood as being insufferably hot, suffused with the certain knowledge that school was coming soon. Until I was nine, we had no air conditioning, not even a window unit, and I remember long, hot summer nights spent sweltering on my bed, patting my forehead with cool washcloths that soon became clammy and warm, while the exhaust fan in my room pulled all the hot air through the house in a roar that was the soundtrack of my youth.

Then we got central air, and I was allowed to close my bedroom door during the summer. My mother still has an exhaust fan in my old room. She runs it at the shifts in seasons, spring to summer, summer to fall.

This August in North Carolina we have been blessed by stunning weather. 80s all day some days. Cool mornings. Pleasant, almost cool, evenings. We've turned off the AC during the day for the last four days in a row (not today, though: the humidity snuck back in). Everyone's sleeping just a tiny bit later, now that the sun isn't up before 6. My friends with college-age kids packed them off last week. Earlier this week, my Facebook feed was full of photos of kids going back to school. Lots of firsts—kindergarten, nursery school, first grade. Not us. Not yet.

But this is a first, in a way, for me too: this is the first fall since 2005 that I haven't been starting up a school year myself. My kids aren't starting school again this fall either (though they will be starting at a home daycare in a month or so). Without a transitional moment to mark the season's change, we're lazily sliding into fall, with no lunches to pack, no new gear to acquire, no rush to leave the house in the morning. I'm still working a bit, but my work is mostly flexible and comes in fits and starts. That will change a bit in October, too, but for now I'm enjoying how it feels to glide slowly into fall's gentler light and air.

The boys have acquired a big pile of Lego from a neighbor, which means that most days we settle in for a massive building session.

Sometimes, it's easy. Sometimes, I get frustrated by having to help. At its best, an hour of building leads to hours more of playtime.

While the kids play, I am dreaming of the beach, where we spent two weeks this summer. If I could pick one place to live forever, it would be on a beach. The shifts in tides and sands provide enough change every day that there is always something new to discover: another angle, or shell, or trough of water to play in. No mosquitoes when the sea breeze blows, and the air is always (usually) moving, not settling down with the oppressive weight of Durham's most humid days.

 For now, I have the garden and the butterflies to provide variety and beauty.

And I have collections to gaze at when I want to be gone from the here and now.

Here and now is good, too. Fall is in the air. Even if we don't realize it yet, in our lazy, extended summer.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Carolina Gardening: Year One, Part One

Last year's "garden," on our back porch.
If this spring was about changes and shifts in my internal and work worlds, it has also been about the kind of growth that happens slowly, under the earth at first, then out in the open. The garden we had back in California always felt like a paradise I escaped to whenever I could. When the boys were born, I didn't garden, because new-parenthood turned out to preclude gardening for me. I know, there are some parents who garden with their infants strapped to them or lying blissfully on a blanket nearby. Those infants were not my infants, and I could not have been that parent.

The Oakland garden at its best.
And now we've left that garden behind, and while I miss our California poppies and the 11 month growing season, I am learning to garden here in North Carolina.

All this grass was great for three-year-olds to push stuff around on at first, but when summer struck, much of it turned to hard-packed earth and weeds. There are some new aspects to my gardening here: for one, we could afford to do some hardscaping, so we did (ah, the joys of a lower cost of living!).

My favorite part of the brickwork.
Extra bonus: the hardscaping meant tons of pre-turned and pre-mulched soil, saving us most of the effort that it takes to start a big old garden from scratch. The dry creek lends structure to the yard and creates different planting zones: the hummingbird garden, the butterfly garden, the semi-shady but mostly sunny stuff.

And we made a space for the boys to play in while we work and laze outside, which makes tending a garden easier. The bottles, above, like the plants, are a long-term project.
No, the sand looks nothing like this now.

But the creek is always like this when it's wet.
As it turns out, our soil is somehow even more clayey than in CA. So some plants we can keep growing here—salvias, buddleia, agastache, and penstemon (below) all do well.

Berries also grow well here, and I've planted two varieties of raspberry and a thornless blackberry in the hope of recreating our years-ago bliss. And there are new things to grow, like blueberries! A tomato hornworm and a flock of cankeworms did some serious damage to one plant, but next year we should have a small, delicious harvest.

Other new discoveries: Pink muhly grass and easy-to-grow verbena (below), the latter of which somehow stayed green over a very cold winter.

The sun-drenched strip along the south side of our house is where I'm slowly building a butterfly garden to delight our eyes when we're looking out the windows. Across from that strip is another, wider strip which I haven't planned out yet; we got suggestions from our land design folks that I'm toying with, but I'm saving that planting for the fall. For now, I'm cultivating a fine collection of weeds and volunteers from my neighbor's yard. And some muhly grass (barely visible to the left below).

In the butterfly strip above right, you can see how wonderful my neighbors are: one of them gave me a ton of plants and seeds to experiment with last fall—the anise hyssop (foreground) and salvia (next down the row on the right) are doing splendidly. A month later (below), you can see the hyssop nearly covers the garbage carts, while the rest of the plants have started filling in nicely.

Not pictured in this post are the gorgeous red yarrow that I dug out of the same neighbor's yard this spring, and the thyme I dug out of another neighbor's yard. Everyone has irises to share, of course. And the brilliant carpenter who built our shed and gate has brought me a few lovely hellebores which will be beautiful early next spring. This kind of community is exactly what I was hoping to find here. Some people go to church. I stand around and look at plants and talk to my neighbors. Below, an aster that I pulled from a neighbor's yard last fall wakes up in April.

All kind of things have been slowly emerging in the last months. Some things take longer to reappear than you would think, if your main gardening life has been in always-growing California. Dormancy made me worry that all my plants were dead, when really they're just taking a long, long nap. And of course some actually did die. That's disappointing, but anyone who loves plants knows that a dead plant is just an opportunity to acquire more plants.

The same aster is the big thing center/rear-ish, above. The big tallish thing toward the front is an agastache. That mound of silvery stuff is an artemisia, which is hardly notable except for the fact the Nicky pulled the center of it out not once, not twice, but three or four times. I will no longer get annoyed at him for doing it—the plant certainly doesn't seem to mind.

I am glad that I'm inclined to wait and see if something's a weed before I pull it—if not for my magnificent procrastinating skills, I might have missed the tiny sage that I remember watching die almost as soon as I planted it last fall, and I might have pulled out the pomegranate tree that's now exploding with fresh, healthy growth.

I might have missed the minute signs that the Russian Sage, which looks so spare next to the lush verbena, is healthily spreading its roots. So I will keep waiting, sitting on my favorite step, watching the plants grow.

Russian sage, looking good.

The second thing to bloom in our yard this year: Gaillardia.
The most satisfying aspect of this waiting game is noting the small changes every day, in addition to the big shifts from April to June.
Summer Phlox ('Nicky' varietal—how could I resist)

Asclepias incarnata
Every bud, every tiny flower is a revelation, a sign that things are working. There are more weeds than I'd care to admit, but when it's 100 degrees for nearly a week straight, my focus is on keeping everything alive. So I kill wooly aphids with Dawn, water at dusk, and keep my eyes on the tiniest parts of the plants.

Gosh, it almost looks like a real garden! (asclepias, mistflower, rocks. Pawpaw in background on left)

This coleus. So cool.

Coleus bloom.

It's hard to wait, but the beauty of waiting is learning more and seeing what thrives. I've got plenty of time.