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As I get older, I find the things I once did are no longer easy. On FB, a "memory" popped up from 8 years ago. Part of the CrossFit WOD was fireman's carry your partner across L Street Beach in South Boston. I threw Claire over my shoulder like she was a 145 lb. side of beef and carried her however far it was. And she the same. 

Yet today, at the box, I was thrilled I could deadlift 112 lb. I should be able to deadlift my bodyweight, which is 167 lb. And yet, 112 lb. was the best I've done in years. Even before the pandemic, I'd had a hard time finding a box I really liked. I was used to competition level CrossFit coaches - not that I competed but coaches who were at that level. I think here in Lowell, I may have found the type of CrossFit box I like. Personal coaching, everyone does the same workout - not a fitness WOD for the skinny minnies, a real range of skills, but all being treated like we're competition material. So deadlifting the 112 # felt good. 

I have to remind myself that for almost 15 months, I did no weight lifting at all. I biked and walked and gardened and hiked and snowshoed, but now, it's like I'm back at the beginning, when I first started CrossFit in an effort to battle depression and midlife woes. I don't have those, but the muscles need time to readjust.

And I have to remind myself that we did the SAME deadlift workout last week, and I only lifted 90#. I'm going to attribute my stellar increase to my whey protein recovery shake. Maybe if I double up, I can do 125# next week. 💪

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When autumn closes in

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Tuesday, 7 Sep 2021, 21:16

When I step outside this morning, the chill of the air raises goose bumps on my arms. I briefly debate going back for a hoodie, but can't be bothered walking up the three flights of steps. I know once I start walking and get into the sun, I don't need the hoodie anyway. Overnight it is as if summer switched off in the heavens, and autumn switched on. Technically, the first day of fall isn't until September 22, the day after Labor Day always feels like the first day of fall. 

I noticed two weeks ago how the rays of the setting sun were slanting in my windows earlier every day, and that the blazing dawn that used to wake me at 4:30 has crept later and later, and I find myself sleeping until eight o'clock. And yesterday was my last day of sailing at the boat club, at least for this season. 

I turn the corner on to Appleton Street, and the sun warms me as I thought it would. I zig zag through my gritty neighborhood, the crosswalks a patch of red paint and tar where they've attempted to spot patch the holes rather than re-do the entire crossing. I keep a wide berth of the shooting gallery, which has a nearly daily visitation by EMTs and fire trucks, but I notice lines of people outside the community health center. Only then does the connecdtion dawn on me. The methadone clinic must be at the community health center, and the addicts who aren't on methadone are the ones who end up in the shooting gallery getting narcan sprayed up their noses so they can live to overdose on another day.

I continue my one block up and one block over routine to Owls Diner, an old dining car that has now been permanently located and a full kitchen added in back. It's the kind of diner that's only open 6 hours a day and serves only calorie laden food. I order the Irish Benny - eggs Benedict of a sort to be considered Irish. The only Benedict part is that the eggs are poached and they are on an English muffin, but it sits on a bed of hash, and is drowned in cheddar cheese sauce, not Hollandaise, although I did have that option. Oh, and huge side of home fries. 

"Do you want baked beans, too?" the waitress asks, as if I need any more food on this plate. 

"Nah, I'm good. I'll get a real Irish breakfast in Dublin on Friday." 

Conversation ensues about flying, airlines, vaccination status, PCRs, and whether my flight will actually go. I don't says "It's all in then hands of god" but I do think that. Who knows?

On my way back home after breakfast, I'm walking past a corner block, surrounded by a chain link fence and fronted with some aromatic recycling bins. Then I noticed the black-eyed Susans popping through the fence, having overcome the barrier and hanging over the side walk. Then the purple salvias catch my eye, and I realize this is some sort of urban garden. Beehives in vivid black and white blocks are snug in one corner, and then I see Bruce. I come to find out that's his name as I circle the chain link looking for the entrance to what is clearly an herb and flower garden now that I've had time to see and smell it. Bruce is the owner of Red Antler Apothecary, just down the street from my apartment. 

He tells me one of the hives was robbed, but has to explain to me what that means in bee language. No one stole the hive, but honey bees invade another hive and steal their honey. Bad Bees, I think to myself. 

"But the other hive is good and healthy," Bruce tells me. 

"And it looks like your garden is, too." I say. 

We chat about the hot rainy summer and how most of his plants thrived. I tell him about how my lavendar was so water logged it started to get root rot and died. 

"It's our first summer here," he says, as he continues to harvest for his natural remedies. 

I head the last block home, sliding my face mask back up as I cross the street from the methadone lines, not out of fear but out of fear of Covid. I'm getting on a flight Friday, and I cannot get sick now. 

As I head back towards my fourth floor loft apartment overlooking the old canals that fed the Lowell textile industry, I'm glad I moved here. Glad to meet Bruce. To join the conversation at the Owl Diner. Even to see how hard some people's lives are. It reminds me that even on my worst days, I have a very good life indeed. That flowers and addicts and diners and gardens all exist side by side in this new city of mine.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Barbara Clough, Thursday, 9 Sep 2021, 01:22)
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Penultimate sailing day

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Wednesday, 8 Sep 2021, 01:16

Today was not as perfect for sailing as yesterday. The sky looked foreboding with low lying dark clouds, and shifty wind dropping light rain seemed like it might scuttle the day's sailing entirely. We did manage to get out though. We all came prepared with rain gear after getting caught out unprepared last weekend, when the rain fell and so did the wind, so we all got soaked and had to paddle our boats back into the mooring field. No one wanted to do that again. 

They shortened the race to only .7 miles on a W course; frankly, they should have done the whole mile as the wind was good, the sky threatened rain but we stayed dry, and we were all off our boats by 3:00 PM. We all wanted a second race, knowing tomorrow's weather is also iffy and although there may be sailing next weekend, you never know. September can be iffy with hurricanes sweeping up from the Caribbean and autumn winds starting to blow. 

Regardless, I won't be here next weekend anyway, so I hope my skipper Tom can find a good crew and there's one last weekend of great sailing before autumn closes in.


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End of Summer Sailing

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Here in the US, it's the Labor Day weekend, the last holiday of the summer that opened with Memorial Day, was intersected by the Fourth of July, and closed by Labor Day. There is no laboring going on. There was, however, sailing. Today was nearly perfect sailing weather: Sunshine with brilliant blue skies, with a just a few wispy white clouds very high up, as if staged to make the blue of the sky and the turquoise water even more brilliant. The wind was a bit lighter that perfect sailing requires, but enough to get a good, long race in. 

This time was a W, upwind, downwind, upwind, downwind, upwind so that we finished close to the mouth of the harbor. The course was a mile long, so only one race today. Partly because we'll race Sunday and Monday, but also so people can spend time with visiting family.

We blew the start - crossed over two seconds too early, so we had to tack around and re-start, which put us behind the rest of the fleet. Still, with good skippering on Tom's part and excellent crewing on my part, we managed to pull ourselves up, sail fast, and finish 3rd in the race. Super end to a great day of racing with two more to go. 

And then, on Friday, I get on my first flight in 19 months and will get off the plane in Dublin. This is all assuming Ireland doesn't close the door on tourists. Life, where I live at least, is starting to feel normal. We have about 70% vaccination, but still Delta is spiking and I wear my mask when in grocery stores or inside areas with heavy traffic flow. Just in case. 

When I return from Ireland, the second year of my OU course in Creative Writing, A803, will begin in earnest, but that's okay because sailing season will be over, dark will fall at 4:30 PM, and I won't be yearning to be outside - or at least not as much. Although I do already have my first winter snowshoeing, cross country skiing trip planned...

But that's another blog post.

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Living in Lowell

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Thursday, 26 Aug 2021, 02:29

I am almost unpacked. I am leaving on vacation on 10 Sept., so I need to be fully unpacked before I go. That's the deal I made with myself because I don't want to come back and still have cardboard boxes to unpack and bags of clothes waiting to be donated. I want to come back to clean, clear spaces because Year 2 starts officially the first week in October. I need to be fully present and undistracted for my coursework. 

Sailing season will be over when I come home from vacation because it's too cold, windy and dark in New England to sail the treacherous Atlantic. My weekends will be consumed with reading and writing and hiking and biking and CrossFit - mostly in that order. All good fun things. I often wonder would I love sailing as much as I do if I could do it year round? Or is it simply because summer and sailing have become synonymous in my mind. And yet, I don't like summer - the heat, the humidity, the bugs, the unrelenting sun. But for those few short months with long days, the sailing alleviates the heat, the humidity, the bugs, and the unrelenting sun; all those are muted when I'm out on the water. 

Autumn will give me time to teach a memoir class at the senior center, work on my own writing, ride my bike into the greenery surrounding this gritty city in which I live. I can find the other great Victorian buildings, explore neighborhoods that are all new to me, find myself in this new space and in this new city. I know my time here is limited, so I need to embrace it while I can. And I don't mean I'm dying! I'm mean my time here in Lowell is just a layover until I make my next connection. I'm starting to think that's all life really is - the layover until the final flight. 

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Learning to love Lowell

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The tag line in the town where I live is "Lowell - a lot to like." Around the old mill buildings, converted to so-so loft apartments, the banners of "a lot to like" have started to fade from the sun and rain and maybe winter. I moved here in July, so I don't know when they were placed on the lamp posts, as if by looking up at them I won't see the smashed jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce, spattered over the side walk in shards of glass and puddles that look like blood. A lot to like but not the person who had neither will nor initiative to clean up the mess they created. 

And yet, as I walked across the rain damp street so I could get a better look at the massive Queen Anne brick building that was the First Congregational Church, I thought, there's still a lot to like here. As I gaze at the building with its massive point-arched windows and slate roof, I see the red square with the white x in it. Behind me, also stunning in its scale is the Lowell Public Library, of which I will soon be a member. I think the red/white sign means demolition but I hope not. That amazing Victorian brick building needs a new life, an investment so that it lasts another hundred years, creates a new history for a new century. I don't know what the red/white sign indicates, so I turn into the library.

"Are they demolishing the building across the street," I ask the librarian, behind her plexi-glass shield.

"Oh I hope not," she responds. Clearly as upset as I am that a building as magnificent as the old church would come down.

"I don't know," I said. "It has that funny sign. The red square with the big white x. Isn't that a demolition sign?" I am heartened that she is as emotional about that splendid edifice as I am, even as she works in a splendid edifice that has clearly been lovingly saved. 

"I hope I'm wrong," I say as I gaze at the heavy oak shelves holding thousands of books. "Can I walk round?" 

"Oh yes, we're open until 9. I'm going to call someone. He'll be able to tell me what the sign means." 

I don't see her again as I wonder and wander around this granite Richardsonian Romanesque building fulfilling its purpose as a center of erudition. Only after I'm home, and I start writing this blog, do I go online and learn the red/white x sign means: "structural or interior hazards exist to a degree that consideration should be given to limit fire fighting to exterior operations only." 

I hope it never comes to that. I hope the librarian was able to find the person who could tell her that, 'no, the building isn't going to be knocked down.' And I hope someone comes to save it. 

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Barbara Clough, Thursday, 26 Aug 2021, 01:10)
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Spinnaker spaghetti

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Saturday, 21 Aug 2021, 23:05

I stare at the tangle of sheets, guys, lines, pieces of rope, topping lift, and things on the boat I don't even know the technical name for. And it's a boat. There are technical names for everything! The problem before me in the tangle of red guys, green guys, and striped ropes is that I can't figure out how the spinnaker guys got wound around my jib sheets, and more to the point, I can't figure out how to get them untangled. In the meantime, the spinnaker flaps, forlorn and useless, wrapped around the jib, also forlorn and useless.

It doesn't help that my skipper is in the background saying, "Should we take the spinnaker down?"

"No, I don't think that's going to solve the problem." 

What I'm really thinking is no because then it's just going to be tangled in the turtle, and I'm still going to have to untangle it. At least when it's up, even if it's not flying, I can see where the tangles are. 

It doesn't help that my brain doesn't really work well spatially. So I stare at the tangle of what are really a bunch of ropes of different colors with funny names. I probably only stare at them for 20-30 seconds but it feels like 20 or 30 minutes. The boat ahead of us gains boat lengths, and I watch its stern receding into the sunset. When you're racing a small boat in a big bay, 20 seconds is a long time to lose.

What could have caused this tangle of lines is a question I can't contemplate, nor would it solve the current problem. Sometimes knowing the cause helps, and in retrospect, it's good to go through that exercise when you're on dry land and the race is over. However, the immediate problem at hand is I need the spinnaker and the jib to be flying and filled with air and both are now deflated and useless.

In a lightning bolt, it comes to me that I have somehow wrapped the spinnaker around the jib. If I just unwrap the spinnaker from the jib, it should be okay (should being the operative word). Or I might be completely wrong, but standing here staring at it as the competition pulls further and further away isn't helping matters. Sometimes doing anything is better than doing nothing. 

I'm still not sure how I untangled it, but I took the spinnaker pole down, got the sail out in front of the jib where it should be, put the pole back up on right side of the boat, made sure all the lines were clear, and it filled with air like a giant hot air balloon, beautiful in it's red, white and blue glory.  

On the launch back into the dock after the races (neither of which we did very well in), I listened to another sailor, who has literally been sailing longer than I have been alive, talk about how he also fouled his spinnaker and relief flooded through me. I don't feel better that he fouled his spinnaker, but I feel better knowing that even the most experienced sailors foul the spinnaker and life doesn't end. You try and untangle it. You try and figure it out. And worst case scenario is, you fly without the spinnaker. 

Sailing is such a great metaphor for life. I have to remember when the unexpected happens, my thought process is simple: Don't panic. Study the problem for a minute. Try a solution.

If that solution doesn't work, there's usually more than one.  

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Gill Burrell, Wednesday, 18 Aug 2021, 13:46)
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On putting it all out there

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Two short pieces I'd written as part of my TMA - one a poem about Cork and one about life, death and writing during Covid were published this summer. I feel validated as a writer. Not that publication means it's good or makes me a better person, but it just reminded me that what I write can have a larger audience than just me, in my living room, with my red leather journal and a cup of coffee, scribbling away. I'm getting braver. 

The curtain falls: https://herstryblg.com/true/2021/8/10/the-curtain-falls

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Gill Burrell, Thursday, 12 Aug 2021, 01:43)
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Writing about writing

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My writing discipline has been at best inconsistent this summer. I am going to blame it on selling my house, moving into a new apartment in a new city and trying to find the grocery store while avoiding the shooting gallery around the block from me, and sailing. In New England, if we get a good summer, we maybe have June, July & August to sail. May is - well May. Sometimes it feels like steaming hot August with no wind and broiling sun or rainy and windy like April, when I can't sail the Flying Scots because they only have a centerboard and capsizing into the 60 degree is never fun. So every decent weekend I was either moving house or sailing or both. Some mornings up at 5 AM, the sky white and flat, the sun a brassy ball with the smoke from wildfires a continent away.

Now, I am settled. Somewhat. My life is mostly still in cardboard boxes, although the flattened stack at the end of my hallway continues to grow as the full boxes lining my hallway diminish. My writing discipline is beginning to take shape and my reading discipline didn't really slip too much. Today, I took an hour to read short stories online, to research journals for potential publication, to tear fiction out of the New Yorker Magazine and do my own limited analysis of what made it a good or not-good story. Or just a story I liked or didn't like. That worked for me or didn't work for me. And I realize that everything I read, everything I write, everything I post, is being filtered in the same way through someone else's head. Like, don't like, keep, toss, works, wanders, prevaricates, loses the plot, dribbles off to nothing, ends with a bang. But I keep writing. And reading. And so do you. 

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Barbara Clough, Tuesday, 10 Aug 2021, 22:00)
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Penny in extremis

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Friday, 30 Jul 2021, 00:21

I was in the kitchen pulling the slightly wilted romaine and mushy radishes out of the fridge, when Penny came and leaned up against my legs. Her tongue was hanging out of her mouth, almost purple at the tip and her eyes were red and watery as she leaned up against my bare calf, panting, panting, panting, like she'd run a mile and couldn't catch her breath. Her rib cage was heaving and I knelt down onto the marbled rubber floor, and put my hand on her head, her chest, her ribs, all hot and sweaty but she'd only been sleeping in the living room, on the couch, which I knew she shouldn't be doing. But before my brother went on vacation with the wife and kids leaving me with the four cats, and Penny, their beautiful Brittany spaniel who always greeted me at the door with a frenzy of delight. When they'd left, I said "my job is the same as it is when you used to leave the boys with me. Keep everyone alive until you get back." And here she was looking like she was having a heart attack if dogs can even have heart attacks. And they're at Atlantis in the Bahamas and I don't have the vet's name or phone number and I don't even know which of the five or twenty-five hotels they're staying in and my brother isn't answering his cell phone, no one's responding to the texts. 

I breathe deep and slowly as I bring Penny over to the chaise longue that sits under the air conditioner that I've had turned off, even though the days have been muggy, the constant noise and cold air is worse than the still mugginess.  I get Penny up there and turn on the air and spend the next five minutes on the phone with various operators in Atlantis spelling my brother's name, and finally, Hamilton, my teenage nephew comes on the phone and I don't recognize his voice. And then he wants me to call another number, in the adjoining room, and I tell him "Just go get your father or mom. I don't have time to call back." So he does.

"Does she look like she's having a seizure?" Sandra asks. 

"At first, yeah, she did, but she's a little better now. Less distressed, like she's slowly catching her breath." 

"She's had these spells before. She might be overheated. She might be having a little seizure. one time her legs gave out when we were walking down the steps to the park and she was shaky and confused."

I lay damp paper towels on her, slowly pat her head, let her lick the water from my fingers. She won't drink from the bowl but will only stick her pink tongue out to lap it off her paws, my fingers, the damp fabric of the chair. Slowly, in fits and starts, she returns to normal, her breathing slows, the racing heart beat returns to normal. Now she lies on the cool wooden floor behind the sofa, resting softly. Occasionally her head pops up when she hears one of the cats or something catches her attention, as if nothing has happened. She's back to normal. But I'm not. I'm alert to every sound she makes, every time she moves her body and I hear her nails slide across the floor. I have the vets info now. I know who to call. I can relax. And so can Penny.

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Gill Burrell, Friday, 30 Jul 2021, 00:19)
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WODs and Boxes

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I found the box by the sound of the weights hitting the floor. There's a thud-clang when the bar is dropped from a deadlift, and the plates shift, bouncing against the metal bar. Even though the rubber matts are thick and cover every inch of the bare concrete, the thud vibrates a little bit, enough to feel it. I walked down the hall, away from the Art of Drumming, on the other side of the basement in this old Art Deco building on the Hudson, long past its prime - now home to nonprofits, drumming schools, and CrossFit. It seems fitting the banging of drums and thudding of weights share space, the sounds bouncing and echoing off each other down the long hallway of polished concrete and soaring 20 foot ceilings.

Then I heard the coach shouting encouragement and clapping as the lock ticked down to the 20 minute mark before the buzzer rang. Whatever WOD I'd walked into had just finished and the smell of rubber and chalk and sweat greeted me at the door that also opened onto the loading document, the northern line of the MTA barreling past, and I knew I was home. Even after fifteen years of off and on CrossFit, the visceral sensation of walking into a new box is still exciting. I've done CrossFit in both hemispheres and on three continents, and I've yet to walk into one without feeling like I've come home. The pounding music that I never listen to anywhere else, the grunting as you pull the bar into a flat-back deadlift - these are the familiar sounds that ground me. 

Over fifteen years, I've gotten older and slower as we are all destined to, but as long as I can still do 30 sit ups on an abmat, 15 deadlifts, and 400 meter sprints in 90 degree heat, I'm not nearly as old as I think I am. 

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If I set my "Who can read this?" option to "Visible to anyone in the world", how does that work? Anyone try this? 

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Gill Burrell, Thursday, 8 Jul 2021, 10:44)
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Sweat WOD

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Thursday, 8 Jul 2021, 01:58

During the pandemic, like so many other people, I gained far too much weight. So on January 16, I just decided i was done with that, and gym or no gym, diet and exercise was what was called for. I've been back at CrossFit now four days a week. I'd go more, but both time and frankly, wear and tear on my body are too much. On the non-CrossFit days, I bike or sail or walk. Something that doesn't involved throwing loaded barbells around. 

Today was simply a sweat WOD. New England, for about 20 days a year, has sublime weather. The days are in the 70s or 80s with sunshine and an occasional wispy cloud to add variety to the azure sky. The humidity is low so even if you're at the box, you're in dry clothes.

Today was not that day. The humidity has been brutal; the step outside automatically break into a sweat. The rubber mats that cover the concrete in the gym are so slick with the sticky moisture, I need to put a yoga matt down. But then I think of all the other sweaty bodies that have done that today. I'm willing to trade stability for sanitation. I was trying to do burpees but the moisture was so slick my feed were sliding out from under me.

Today we did a very short WOD, partly because the heat (90 degrees) and humidity (about 90%) take so much out of me. I find my heart racing, my ability to take a deep breath impeded because I'm sucking in steamy air. But I got through the WOD: Fran 21-15-9, pulls ups, thrusters. I took it easy, took my time, sweated out about a gallon of water. And now I am home, in my desperately air conditioned house, drinking pink gatorade, and listening to the storms moving through that will break this swampy spell.

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