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Back at CrossFit after a lay off

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20 Toes to bar, 12 push jerks @35#, 50 double unders, 25 wall balls@8# 

After a layoff of nearly a month, it was fantastic to be back in the chalk scented, sweaty infused box and doing a WOD. I was slow, not surprising, and went light on the push jerks, also not surprising, but managed to finish in a reasonable amount of time without thinking I was going to vomit. I've often felt like I'd vomit but never actually have. For someone who was never an athlete in high school or college, and who identified as a runner until my mid 40s, finding CrossFit was enlightening. And I'm glad I found it when I did. I like the power, the feeling of the cold, gridded metal bar in my hands, the thwack as the medicine ball smacks against the 10 foot mark on the wall I even like the burning sensation on my palms as my hands slip a little on the pull up bar as I try to at least get my knees up over parallel - unlikely I'll ever get toes to bar, but I keep making forward progress. Good to be home. 

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Renaming holidays

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I like this time of year as it leads into Thanksgiving week, which really needs to be renamed, but as Americans, we'd never be able to agree on another name. 

There was a cool show called Northern Exposure set in a fictional small town in Alaska. If I'm remembering this episode correctly, the town had a large indigenous population, so to start off the 'Thanksgiving holiday' there was a parade at which the indigenous peoples pelted the non-indigenous with rotten tomatoes and other stuff. Then everyone cleans up and eats and watches football. Recently, we've switched Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day because no one "found" North America - it had pretty much been here all along. And people lived here. And besides, Columbus Day was just an excuse for an October holiday.

I like the idea of figuring out to create holidays that actually include people and doesn't build on years of tyranny. What do you think? Any holidays that you think should be renamed to reflect the history and lived experience of the non-dominant class?  

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Jim McCrory, Wednesday, 1 Dec 2021, 11:19)
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Searching for my great-grandmother

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I am back on Ancestry.com today, trying to find my mysterious and missing great grandmother. The one who doesn't exist before she begins to show up on the NYC census records. I'm still awaiting the package from the history society that contains all the baptismal certificates and maybe even the marriage certificate of my great-great-grandparents so that I can try go glean more information from them. I feel somewhat at a standstill on the family research, so I decided to take a different tack, a more historical line. 

I want to start looking at how people emigrated, the literal route they took. Maybe if I knew how they arrived in NYC, I could backtrack from there looking at passenger lists, embarkation lists, arrivals in the port of NY. Ellis Island didn't start tracking immigrants until 1892, so prior to that, it's hard to know unless you can obtain passenger lists. So, if I lived in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, in the mid-1800s, how would I get from there to NYC?

It's close enough to Dublin, but for some reason, I vaguely remember Cork being a big departure point for emigrants. That said, even though my great-grandmother ended up in NYC, she could have come in through Canada, Philadelphia or even another entry point I haven't thought of.  

As for record keeping, considering the fact that Irish Catholic births and deaths weren't even being recorded in Ireland, I'd be surprised if any lists existed of Irish Catholics who actually left the country. And since there was no tracking on the way in...did they just get off the boat, look at the address they had of one person who may have preceded them, and then just found their way there? Did someone meet my great grandmother at the dock and enfold her in a bear hug, carry her bag, and make her a cup of tea? 

Questions with no answers. 

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Eric Sinclair, Monday, 22 Nov 2021, 09:19)
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Flat pack annual review

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In poetry classes I've taken, one of the exercises is to write flat-pack poems. You take a few specific lines, words or phrases, specify the number of lines or syllables per line, and use them to create a poem.  

Flat Pack Poem Exercise

For instance, use the following to write a poem: 

  • Take a line from one of your favorite songs as the title to your poem
  • Write one stanza of 10 lines
  • No specified syllable count per line
  • Use the word fearless twice 
  • End the poem on a question 

It's fun and non-threatening and just a way to play with words. I started thinking about this because of a thread in the forums on how to write haiku, assuming you can actually write haiku in English, which I'm not certain is possible. And then I remembered I had to write 2 annual reviews for colleagues of mine. 

The annual review is the perfect venue for flat-pack writing. First, I only have three boxes to fill in. (I'm not their manager - it's peer-to-peer review. Complete waste of time, but be that as it may....)

How to Write a  Flat-Pack Annual Review

3 questions: 

  • What impact did she have?
  • What ways can she grow and improve?
  • Any other feedback?

I always find these reviews problematic so I decided to create a flat-pack process. I know the structure: 3 boxes to fill in. There are four characteristics in my company, and I need to focus the review on one, in this case collaborative, so that limits what I will write about. Then I searched out 2 websites that literally provide lines you can use that reflect "collaborative" or whatever word you've chosen. And then I write! I also used my thesaurus extensively as I wanted collaborative to be the underlying theme without repeating collaborative 15 times, so I needed to find synonyms. 

This was the most fun I've had writing a review - ever! I have one more to-do and will use the same technique. Who knew creative writing could be so well applied to my corporate existence! Hah!


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After the surgery

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This week has been challenging to say the least. Minor surgery on Monday, followed by pain and fatigue on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Friday, even though I am still not sleeping through the night as I try to sleep propped up on my back to reduce swelling, I feel almost normal again. I take naps throughout the day, not worried about whether my paid work does or does not get done. Sometimes, needs must. Right now, my need is for sleep. Only one person in my family knows the surgery and two friends, but I don't tell people what I've done. I'm a good secret keeper, like Elaine in Seinfeld. She closes her mouth, zips her hand across her lips, and the secret goes into the vault. That's me. Zipped. I will unzip at some to be determined future point. 

Today, I received my workshop feedback on my upcoming TMA, which leaves me 11 days to revise and perfect my first genre-bending piece. It's a new world for me and one I think I like. I start banging out free-writing for what may become personal essays in the future or might not. Good to hear what worked and what didn't. When two or three students who reviewed my piece in the workshop have the same observation of a specific section or piece, I refocus my energies on that. I also listen to the recording I had made of the piece earlier in the week. The reading aloud helps me find the arrhythms and clunky bits, but hearing it read a few days later, when I have some distance, enables me to hear the arrhythms and clunky bits. 

All in all, after five days of little intellectual work, I feel like I am back into the thick of it. Thank god. 

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Gill Burrell, Saturday, 6 Nov 2021, 21:01)
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Tasting Tuesdays

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I wasn't nearly as attentive to my tasting Tuesday as I was to my Smelly Monday, but that could be because I was much busier at work today. It started off with a FOUR hour, yes 4 hour, United call. Basically four hours of patting ourselves on the back for doing such a good job - oh yes - that's the job we're being paid to do. I am not a big fan of team building, culture, aren't we all wonderful, I love my team mates, I'm saving the world. I suppose there are idealists who believe that. I am not one of them. But, again, I digress. 

I didn't really taste my food as I should have because by the time I got to eating, I was famished and just wolfing it down. Also, I try to only go grocery shopping about every two weeks and just pick up things like eggs and fresh veg because they don't last for two weeks. (I go through a dozen eggs a week!) So lunch today was one can of albacore tuna, rocket, mixed salad greens, feta with some balsamic vinaigrette on it. The salad was delight - crispy and full of chlorophyll - fresh from the farmer's market on Sunday. And the feta was tangy and biting, but I think the fat free feta is not as tasty as the regular feta. 

Dinner was a bit better because I bought a frozen dinner (Amy's Vegetarian) and it had a delight Mexican blend of black beans, corn, salsa and CHEESE! I love cheese but I limit how much I eat of it. I could just eat cheese and bread for the rest of my life and never feel like I was missing anything else. I also baked a sweet potato and put real butter on it, again, something I rarely do. Along with the cheese and bread, I could just eat butter and bread to liven it up  Soft melty butter on a hot sweet potato on a cold New England night with a nor'easter blowing through. Very satisfying.

My sweet treat for the day will be my chocolate bar with vanilla bean and hazelnut butter. Every day I am allowed one sweet treat at the end of the day and 9 times out of 10, it's a chocolate bar. It's the best calorie to size ratio I can find. I will remember to smell my chocolate bar before I break off each square, and let that one square melt slowly only my tongue, savoring the full flavor, before moving on to the next. 

  

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Smelly Monday

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I have assigned one sense focus to each of the weekdays. Today is Smelly Monday, which simply means that today, I focus on how things smell. 

Today, I had fish for dinner, wild caught Alaskan cod, broiled with a dash of olive oil and citrusy garlic spice sprinkled on top. The fish was left over from yesterday, so it had that day late fish smell to it - not as if it were going bad, but just that it hadn't been popped fresh under the broiler. When I sprinkled the garlic citrusy spice on it yesterday, I took a deep whiff of the herb mixture, trying to figure out what type of citrus - lemon? grapefruit? The garlic was pungent, but there are other herbs in there, all organic. Lemon oil, lime oil, bitter orange oil, along with marjoram and garlic and a whole host of other plants. 

I am not an astute smeller. Per the dictionary "Medically known as hyperosmia, super smellers are people who have a heightened sense of smell compared to the average person." That is not me.

Then as an aftereffect of cooking fish in the autumn, i.e., I couldn't keep my windows opened because there's a nor'easter moving through with heavy rain and cold temps, my apartment smelled like day old fish. Prior to smelly Monday, my apartment had a funky smell to it anyway. It is a 150-year old building, but there are also about 300 apartments, and someone who's heavy into smoking weed lives in my section of the building, so there's often a funky, dope smell to the hallway anyway. Recently I'd bought incense at the local yoga studio I go to.

To me, pretty much all incense simply smells like incense. The two I have on my counter are Bitter Pink Ginger and Japanese Mint, and really, once I've lit them, I can't really tell the difference. When I hold the stick of Japanese mint to my nose, I can smell a woody almost tangy mint, but what type of mint, I couldn't say. Spearmint? Not peppermint - not sweet enough. The Bitter Pink Ginger is delightfully gingery, almost tangy, when I smell the unlit stick in the pretty pink and black box it's packaged in. However, once lit, they both smell like incense, nearly inseparable to me. I switch back and forth between the two, hoping that over time, I'll be better able to distinguish the mint from the ginger. 

While making dinner, I cooked up bacon while I was air-frying my frozen roasted potatoes, which I love, but which I am far too lazy to make from scratch. Trader Joe's does a much better job of the roasted potatoes than I'd ever do. The smell of bacon is like the smell of fish: it permeates everything. But since bacon is the food of the gods, I don't care that my entire apartment now smells like fresh cooked bacon, even if I won't have any until tomorrow's breakfast. 

While I've been sitting here with all these scents surrounding me, I opened the window to let in the smell of fresh air and the sound of rain dropping. For all the scents I've been describing, I really prefer the smell of fresh air and sunshine and new fallen rain. I'm not one for scented candles or glade plug ins or even the incense I'm burning. But winter is soon upon us and opening windows will let in frigid air, but even that is sometimes necessary.

I did realize as I practiced smelling today that smell and taste can't really be separated. The mint scented chapstick tasted like mint on my lips and I could feel the slight waxiness of it as I slid it across the surface of my skin. They're all intertwined.

Tomorrow is Tasting Tuesday, so there will be smelling and tasting and texture and all those other sensory components. This is a good practice for capturing all the sensory details I can. . 

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EMA and Research

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Thursday, 21 Oct 2021, 01:14

.Today, well, technically yesterday, I officially started the research for my EMA. I know I have a YEAR before it's due, but I am a muller. I like to think about it, contemplate it, examine the angles, see if it will work. It may not. It may. I don't know. I've never written a family history before. Never plotted out a piece of Creative Nonfiction of 15,000 words, approximately 60 pages, all of which needs to make sense and create a path that the reader can follow - more importantly - that the reader will WANT to follow. 

So I write to my third cousins to thank them for their hospitality in Tullamore. I write to the Tullamore Parish to find records. I write to the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society for different records. And now I wait to hear back, and contemplate my next moves. This is how I start mapping it out. I start with the obvious stuff, and then I start to dig. 

I like the research and when I was in grad school the first time, I found that in the process of doing the research the writing part came together fairly seamlessly. I'm getting the feel for that back again, that flow of information into my brain, some miraculous subconscious activity occurs, and then the story (or academic paper) flows out and I understand how all the pieces slot together. 

Well, I'm hoping that's how it still works. Fingers crossed.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Barbara Clough, Wednesday, 27 Oct 2021, 01:14)
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On sensual discovery

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I read something in the Sept. 6 issue of the New Yorker that intrigued me. Here's the text: "The students were instructed to sample nine types of caviar and a variety of olive oils, and do a blind identification of meats that had had their fat removed." (Sweet Memor, by Madhur Jaffrey, originally published August 19 & 26, 2002, p. 35n of the current issue.) This started me thinking about sensory detail in writing and the use of all sensory detail. I tend to use the strongest and most obvious ones: site, hearing, touch, but smell and taste seem to get less attention, at least in my brain and in my writing. So since there are 5 primary senses (and yes sometimes a sixth sense - but that's for another blog post), I decided that each day deserved a focused sense. This is how I've decided to break it down:

    • Monday - Smell
    • Tuesday - Taste
    • Wednesday - Hearing
    • Thursday - Seeing (thus the walking around DC)
    • Friday - Feeling

There's no particular reason for the order, just the Tuesday-tasting and Friday-feeling had an alliteration that would make it easier to remember. And that's not to say, for instance, Friday (Trevor Noah show) can't overlap with Tuesday (Indian food here in DC). But on Wednesday, I'll know, remind myself, practice concentrating on what I hear, even the sounds that annoy me or pique my interest or confound me.  


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Road trip and writing

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Technically it is not a road trip but a plane trip, but it's a road trip in that I'm out of my normal environment. Currently, I'm in a Marriott Bonvoy in downtown Washington DC. Unlike many people, I LOVE hotel rooms. I love the anonymity of them; every Marriott looks like every other Marriott or Hilton or Garden Inn. I like that they have what I need but not much else. They have even less now that covid has cleared out all extraneous materials, snacks, etc. from hotel rooms. Oh, and also ended daily cleaning unless you specifically request it - or you're staying at high-end, whereas I'm definitely mid-range. I think covid has given many businesses just an excuse to treat their customers - and their employees - even worse than before covid. But I digress.

I'm here because
1. I can be! Yay! I can be on the road again. See different places, different architecture, different hotels (even if they do all look alike).
2. Tomorrow I am going to see Trevor Noah. He is really the main reason I'm here.
3. I have friends driving up from Virginia and down from New Jersey to join me. This will be the second time in a month that I have connected my friend groups. 

For whatever reason, maybe because I've traveled and moved and my friends travel and move, I have good, long-term friends, but few of them live anywhere near me. Many are not even in the same country. So my last interaction was Switizerland-Ireland-US meet up in Ireland. At least this group is all East Coast, US-based. No need - or hassle - of getting through covid protocols.

But tonight, my goal is to write. I did my requisite hour of walking around DC. It's hot, and it's October, so I'm ready for it not to be hot anymore. I may even just order room service, because after my hour of walking around DC in the heat, I came back here and put my jammies on until I could cool off. It seems an awful lot of work to get re-dressed just to go get food, when hey! room service. (Yet another thing I like about hotels.)

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Blending the boundaries

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In A803, I am reading about blending the boundaries of how one writes. As a historian, I learned long ago that facts are well, not always factual. There's the oft-quoted comment that history is written by the victor, which is true. But it's also the choice of what constitutes a 'fact'. One of the worst and most unreliable pieces of evidence is eye-witness testimony. I talk to my siblings and their memories of the same event is significantly different from mine, and their interpretation is even further away than what was seen, heard or felt. 

I remember my sister saying to me she never even wanted to take the clarinet in high school, but dad played clarinet so she took clarinet. I took clarinet as well but precisely because it was something I could share with my father. 

A friend of mine who turned 80 this year has been taking a memoir writing class throughout the pandemic. She sent a piece out to her four surviving siblings, all of whom came back with both a slightly different story about the same event and basically told her that what she wrote is not what really happened. I told her that it was "her" happening - that's all that mattered. So when one talks about bending genres, creative nonfiction or even nonfiction writing of any kind is always bending genres, crossing boundaries, erasing boundaries. It's all mutable. All of it. 


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Switching it up to Sailing

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Today the wind was heavier and the sun was shining on Boston Harbor as we backed the J27 off the dock and hoisted sail. I like saying that word: Hoisted. Not raised the sail, but hoisted them because it is, and I need all the muscles I have from CrossFit and yoga. I'm uncomfortable on keel boats having been sailing only small centerboards for the last few years. I forgot how far they could heel. And I'm uncomfortable with the other two in my class because I don't know their sailing skills well enough to trust them yet. 

They clearly, wanted to sail faster than I did, but they also own a Cataline 30 so have the feel of the keel boat down in a way that I do not. I just wanted to sail and have fun. The two are not mutually exclusive but when you're heeled over the decks are wet, and you can't keep your seat, it's not as much fun. 

But it was again a humbling experience that taught me how little I know. But I took every chance I had to improve, to learn more, to pay attention. And there are things I know that aren't just about making a boat go fast. 

Then tonight a 2.5 hour zoom class on reading charts and tide tables and dead reckoning when I'm already dead tired from 3 hours on the water, and a friend who has disappeared, and a friend who is frightened because he has disappeared. And I am home, and tired, and trying to focus on writing every single day, even if only in this blog. Tomorrow's are not a promise - only a hope. 

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Barbara Clough, Sunday, 10 Oct 2021, 22:42)
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Switching it up

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Today instead of CrossFit, I went to yoga. I set an intention at the beginning of the year to do 300 minutes per week of physical activity, which is really only 5, 1-hour blocks or 5 days of 1 hour of activity. It usually works out to one hour blocks. I've decided CrossFit four days a week is one day too much. My joints hurt, my muscles ache, and yet I love it. So I'm switching out yoga for CrossFit for the fourth day. My decision making about yoga studios is this: Is it within a short walk of where I live? Realistically, I'm not going to schlepp across town for yoga as I will for CF, but even that is barely 1.5 miles away. This yoga studio? 5 minutes walking, door to floor.

Much like my apartment, the studio is on the top floor of an old mill building with massive windows overlooking the rooftops. As I was standing around trying to figure out how to actually get into the building, I saw a hot guy in a Harley Davidson T-shirt with a sleeve of tattoos around his lower arm. Slung over his shoulder was his yoga mat! 

"I can only guess you're going to yoga. Can I follow you? It's my first time here."

"Oh sure, c'mon up. Fifth floor. Great place." 

I rolled out my mat on the side, not knowing what the traditions were and just lay down to stretch out a little. The ceiling was the original wide planks of the mill, but this time with little green pinpricks of light that moved and circled in slow motion. When we did our opening "ooooohhhhhhmmmmm" the room felt like it vibrated, not with volume but with base. As night fell, the yoga instructor slowly pulled the curtains on the now dark city and lowered the lights in the room, cocooning us in soft sighing space. My intention went I went to yoga was just to be there with my body and my breath and to ease into the movement and the stretches. This encircling space didn't need to be a space for my strength, but rather for my letting go.  

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Return to CrossFit

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After three weeks away, I was back at the sweaty warehouse with its nubbly rubber mats just barely providing some cushion against the concrete. With summer gone, the door was shut and it was no longer hotter and more humid inside than out. And people were glad to see me, asked where I'd been, wondering why I wasn't coming back. 

"On vacation, in Ireland, for nearly three weeks," I said. I'd always planned on coming back, glad to have found this gritty oasis in the Lowell. Glad to have a coach who helps us scale the workout, but a workout we all do. Not one for fitness and one for performance. It's all CrossFit. 

The thrusters were hard, the burpees exhausting, the toes to bar impossible, but I struggled through all of them, 21-15-9, as best I could. Glad to be my age and still showing up. Glad to be my age and still be able to show up. Even if I lay on the floor and there were fewer joints that didn't hurt then joints that did. And yet, I persist. 


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Return to routine

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Sunday, 3 Oct 2021, 21:23

I did not fall off the earth. But I did get on an airplane, fly across an ocean, and take a road trip around Ireland and Northern Ireland that included: Hiking Slieve Binnian, walking Rossnowlagh Beach, swimming at Rossnowlagh, sea kayaking, eating fabulous food, crowd-watching after the All Ireland Game at Croke Park, which for once is an Irish word spelled exactly as it sounds, eating great Lebanese food in Dublin, watched the closing of the Harp Bridge, watched sailboats motor up the river than fly their spinnakers to get back down, watched a camogie game in of all places East Belfast, congratulated a friend who started the first ever East Belfast GAA, went to Giants Causeway but got so comfy in the cafe the sun set before we saw the Giants Causeway, drove the Antrim Coast, took a tour of the Bogside in Derry from a man who's father was the 13th victim on Bloody Sunday, crossed and re-crossed and crossed again the invisible yet ever present border between north and south, tried to remember which money was which because I had 3 currencies in my wallet, met my third cousin once removed, had cappuccinos, visited the graves of my great-grandparents, visited my cousins house, talked family history for hours because Americans are all rootless immigrants regardless of what the politicians say, watched my friend's daughter practice football while I sat behind the net, with the sun shining and clouds skittering, hung out with my step-grandchild if there is such a thing, had lunch and dinner and birthday cake with my step-kids and their mom, walked the streets of Belfast as if I'd never been there before, rented a car that cost more than my airline tickets, didn't clip a wing mirror or leave a scratch on it, took the express bus to Dublin Airport, forgot to get a PCR test before returning to the US, but I think the Irish were glad to just get us on a plane, touched down at Logan, and immediately wanted to turn around and go back. 

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Deadlifting

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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.  




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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



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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. 

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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.

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