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Dog days of June

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In the sticky heat of a New England summer, I open my windows to let in the sounds of the world. With my windows closed and the air conditioner on, I feel mummified, almost claustrophobic, as if the air itself is not fully oxygenated. I'd rather hear the sounds of car doors slamming, the screech of the police sirens from two blocks away, the chirping of the few birds who live in the small yews, the only greenery in my urban apartment building. 

Sometimes, at night, I hear the whisper of feet down the hallway. Is it my neighbors coming home for the bar? A late night laundry run, when the laundry room is empty and you have your pick of washers? Or is the ghosts of the mill girls who came her in the 1800s to find a new way to live other than unrelenting farm work and child bearing? These women who came and started temperance clubs and literary magazines and lived in boarding houses watched over my mother-replacement matrons, but still lived independently in ways their mothers could not even have imagined.

Are the birds in the yews the descendants of their birds, just like the tombstone in the Lowell cemetery that has my family name, Clough, chiseled in granite? The sparrows and little brown birds whose names I've never learned seem happy, active, alive. 

When I stare at the beamed wooden ceiling, stained with water, nail heads visible, I whisper to the girls who worked these mills before me. 

"Thank you," I say, and I feel their peace dropping over me. 

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One year on

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Friday, 16 Jun 2023, 23:19

I am officially a graduate. The cap, the gown, the slow walk across the stage. I am in the second row and watch the students walk across the stage. One petite women has on four inch heels, the shoes encrusted with rhinestones and diamante and she strides confidently to shake hands and receive her scroll. One man has on his running shoes, as if maybe once having walked off the stage he'll sprint out of Ely Cathedral and do a short run around the town before returning for his prosecco. I see women who clearly have not had on a pair of heels since before the pandemic and will probably toss the black stilettos into the darkest reaches of the closet when they get home. One man has what look like brand new wingtips, shiny and probably squeaking with joy as he does his happy dance across the stage. White platform ankle boots, shiny black Doc Martens, dance flats with little black bows on them, soft brown leather men's business shoes. For every body that took the time to come to the ceremony, there's a matching set of shoes that walks them across to their achievement.

The announcer speaks everyone's name with the same importance and energy. My friend tells me that the OU called her in Switzerland to ensure they would pronounce her name correctly, and I love that they cared that much. The last person across the stage gets as much energy and applause as the first person and the dancing person and the people who stopped and had five minute conversations with the presenter. I am surprisingly emotional.

Today, just eight days later, I go visit my friend who turns 82. I'm more than 20 years younger than her, but still, clearly, past middle age. Past the time most people decide to get a degree. 

Past dreaming. But I'm not. 

And I hope I never am. 

I realize today, truly, for the first time, that you are old when you stop. When you stop moving, stop thinking about the future, stop thinking of all the things you still want to do. And physically, I can't stop. I watch how the pandemic destroyed my friend, how in the space of a few years she became old: mentally, physically. Her life constrained by weakness and anxiety. And I realize this: once you stop, dreaming, planning, plotting, exercising, walking, lifting weight, learning, practicing. That once you stop, it's just harder and harder to restart, to move forward, to dream. 

I can't stop dreaming. 


Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Gill Burrell, Monday, 12 Jun 2023, 08:51)
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Muscle memory

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On Friday, I had my coached session at CrossFit, and then my regular workout, so on Saturday morning I was already physically tired showing up for the 8:30 AM WOD. Saturdays tend to be either long workouts, which I like, or they're partner workouts, which I don't like. Long workout it was with five rounds for time of the following:

  • 16 Kettlebell Swings 70/53
  • 14 Toes to Bar
  • 12 Shoulder to Overhead 70/53
  • 3 Rope Climbs
Once upon a time, when I was younger and braver, I could climb ropes, but I hadn't done to in probably a decade. I settled for pulling myself off the floor with the rope. The good part? You won't fall off the rope and break your neck. The bad part? It's all dependent on upper body strength.

I chipped through the workout to the best of my ability, and hung around afterwards, putting away my gear, cooling down on the bike, making small talk. But I kept looking at the ropes dangling 15-20 feet from the ceiling beams, like giant plants growing down instead of up. Could I still do this? Would I fall off and break something? Would I just get stuck there, halfway up and halfway down? 

With only a few people left in the gym, including the owner, I decided to just try a climb. I jumped up, trying to remember how to loop the rope around my ankle and foot, floundering a little before muscle memory took over. I stepped on the rope, held tight with my hands, pulled my knees to my chest, stepped again, and moved my hands up. In four knees-up, I reached the top, slapped the rusty I-beam, and slowly slid down the rope, careful not to shred all the skin off my ankle. 

My coach was watching me, amazed, almost as amazed as I was myself. 
"Have you done that before?" he asked, "you did great." 
"Not in a decade," I said, "I didn't think I could do it. I'm as surprised as you are." 
"Great work," he said.

I realize so many of my limitations, mental, physical, educational are my own self doubt, my loss of confidence or lack of confidence that I never had. My muscles had remembered how to shimmy up a rope. Only my heard had forgotten that I could still do it. 

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Biking New York City

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Over the weekend, I took a break from CrossFit as I was doing family research in NYC. I've been an urban cyclist for years, having used a bike as my main means of commuting for many years that I lived in Boston. Way faster and far more fun than taking the subway, even if it meant being a bit more structure in my preparations. 

I was in NYC to immerse myself in the history of the city as I'll be writing about my great-grandmother who came in through the lower East Side and my family's slow migration up through Harlem and the Bronx. At first, I thought I'd be able to cover most of it by foot, but I neglected to factor in getting lost time, wandering around time, and finding the right house number time. 

My brother suggested the city bikes, which initially I was trepidatious. I'm comfortable biking around Boston where I know which roads or streets to avoid and where most cars are barely moving because we don't have long, open avenues that New York does. For instance, Park Avenue runs all the way up into the Bronx and is about four lanes of traffic wide. Cars can actually get moving! Not so Boston - I don't think there's a street in the entire city that length.

Well, I took the plunge on Sunday morning, and biked from Grand Central Station at 42nd Street all the way down to First Street and First Avenue, so I could make my morning tour at the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. I was totally hooked. Biking in NYC is in turns exhilarating and terrifying, but once I got comfortable with the constant vigilance I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was able to get all over the Bronx, Harlem and Manhattan on Sunday and Monday, covering miles and centuries as I searched for buildings where my ancestors were born, married, and died. 

Many of the buildings were gone - most of the family homes - but many of the churches survived. I felt myself shifting in and out of the present - thinking about my great-grandmother in a 325 square foot apartment on Orchard Street or my grandfather living in a massive housing project in the Bronx. It brought their lives to my life in unexpected ways. I came back to Lowell both physically exhausted because of heat and long searching days, but somewhat emotionally exhausted as well in thinking about their lives from the 1880s and the ease of my life now. A really enlightening journey in so many ways.

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Bodyweight Deadlift!

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Earlier this year, not at new years, but maybe February or March, I set myself two physical goals. February and March are dark and cold and windy and winter seems always to have gone on forever in New England. Even though I was off sailing in the Caribbean and trying to power through mentally, I couldn't shake the winter blues. Even my light therapy lamp wasn't helping.

I decided that I wanted two things before I left for Ireland. Before I officially turned 60. Before I switched my life up yet again.

1. Deadlift my bodyweight. 

2. One unassisted pull up.

So I started working with my coach at CrossFit Merrimack, once a week, in addition to my regular WODs, then only about 3 x per week. Each week he'd put me through strengthening or mobility or technique exercises and sometimes they were nearly impossible for me to do and left me gasping in a hot sweat, and sometimes they were terrifying (sits ups on a GHD) but most times they were exhilarating. 

I learned so many things but the big one was this: I won't break. As I've gotten older and then with two years off CF because of the pandemic, I had this irrational fear that if I lifted too much, I'd hurt myself. Maybe it was loss of confidence; maybe being away for too long; maybe not feeling like I had a CF home. Hard to know but it doesn't really matter. 

During this time of coached sessions, I upped my attendance from 3 x a week to 5 x a week plus the coached session, and usually yoga or active recovery on another day. One full day of rest. Over time I realized I didn't need as much recovery time as I thought. That I wasn't sore every day from hard workouts but my body was tired. That I could lift so much more than I thought I could. 

So today, my nearly 60 year old body, on a 6'2" frame, lifted 173 #, which is what I weighed when I stepped on the scale this morning.

I am a Glamazon. 

The pulls up are still a stretch, but I didn't think I'd get to my body weight inside of 8 weeks, so who knows? I know I often undersell myself, even to myself. 

As I sit down tonight to fill out an application for a writer's residency, I remind myself that maybe not today or even tomorrow, but maybe in six weeks or six months, I'll be lifting my pen in a room overlooking the Pacific Ocean, one of a select few accepted. I just have to do the daily lifting. 

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Resting and writing - a little

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Following the suggestion of one of my fellow students, I decided to take a break from disciplined writing for my classwork and do some other writing. I am aiming to get two rejections a month, either in the form of submitting written work to a journal, magazine or blog, or alternatively, applying to a residency or writing retreat. Today, instead of working on my next TMA, I worked on my application to the Headlands Center for the Arts residency program. Like everything else, I feel like it's a long shot, but I have nothing to lose except a few hours filling out the application and writing about writing. And thinking about why I am writing the work I am. Thinking about what it means to be a Writer, formally. That this is what writers do. They don't just sit around banging out articles and hoping for the best. Nor can I.  

So, today I am reading A Girl's Story, by Annie Ernaux, translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer. I didn't go to CrossFit because I was too tired this morning after a night of disturbed sleep so I walked around instead. Tomorrow, I have yoga at 9:00 AM, then a birthday dinner with a friend, and Monday, I'll start fresh with my structured writing, having taken a short break to clear my head. 

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CrossFit in unfamiliar places

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I've been going to a different box for my WODs this week, as I'm at my brother's place watching the cats and dogs and teenager. Finding a box where you feel at home is like finding a community. 

The first place I started CrossFit, I was one of the first people to join as I'd been getting personal coaching sessions from the owner. When she said she was opening a box, I wasn't sure it was something I wanted to do, but she basically said if you want me to keep coaching you, you need to come. So I did. And I didn't know enough to be intimidated by all the 20-somethings who were young and beautiful. I was just trying to hold my own in middle age.

I attended there for I don't know how long, and then I moved to another box that was just easier to get to because it was on my commute home. I literally drove right past it. The box had a completely different feel. Much smaller. Very queer friendly and diverse because it was bang in the middle of the city. There was an urban garden on the roof, bees, and chickens in a corner of the lot. Totally community focused with discounted memberships and lots of outreach.

My box now is reminiscent of my first box - in a gritty, urban area - basically a warehouse with minimal equipment but everything you need to have a great workout. The dust blows in from the unpaved parking lot but after months of going there, it feels like my home.

These last few days, I've been going to the box I always go to when at my brother's. It's immaculately clean, all the equipment is shiny and new, but again, a bare warehouse and the 200 meter sprints are across a parking lot that runs parallel to MetroNorth. All the weights are in different places, the bars in scattered racks, and I still haven't found the resistance bands. That said, it too feels like home because we're all there for the same thing. A good WOD in a supportive environment.

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Resting and reading

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I try to workout five days a week, with two workout on Tuesday when I get a private session. Six hard WODs a week and on weekends sometimes I do yoga or go for a walk or go pick up trash for 3 hours. Today was my reading and rest day. I did not work out, but I read a complete book. Just faffed around all day, reading, making notes, looking at structure, letting my body unwind and my brain wind. I didn't write, just read and thought. 

Today, I feel rested in mind and in spirit and can go back to my TMA for one final review before I submit it. 

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Mental and physical fatigue

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Thursday, 5 May 2022, 01:13

Today was a light day at work - most days are with little to do and less to look forward to. I went early to the box to do my pre-WOD as I now refer to the extra workouts I'm squeezing in every chance I get. The WOD and the pre-WOD. I focused on upper body, which was dumb because the WOD itself was burpees, power snatches, and pull ups - all of which I suck at. 

But I added in bicep curls, single arm rows and ring rows. I feel certain muscles are getting stronger: my lats actually engage now, I know where my scaps are, I can feel my pecs pop into place when lifting. I upped my weight on the rows to 25 lb, while leaving my bicep curls at 20 lb. Usually biceps get strong fast, but mine are not and the ring rows are and I don't know why. 

In my writing, I see certain areas that are so much better than when I started this program. My use of sensory detail in setting the scene, the ability to carry a theme over thousands of words so that a piece knits together. So that it's whole, in the true sense of the word. I'm working all the little writing muscles around all the big writing muscles and eventually all the muscles will work together better. Some days the words flow, some days the bicep curls are easier and somedays the sun shines. 

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Steady stages

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Nearly every Tuesday, in addition to my regular WODs, I have a coaching session with the box owner. Often I find myself doing exercises that aren't what are on my 'To Do List', i.e., 1 bodyweight deadlift; 1 unassisted pull up. He has me doing things like GHD sit ups, 12 reps x 3 sets interspersed with KB deadlifts, 44 lb. each hand, 10 reps x 3 sets. As I move back and forth between those two exercises, I find little muscles in my body that I didn't know existed. I think back to my first round of GHD sit ups, and I thought I was going to fall off the machine and the muscles that cross my hip bones were sore the next day. 

Tomorrow, I'm sure I'll wake up and some weird muscle I didn't even know existed will be sore but I won't notice it immediately. I'll do some usual task, like taking the trash to the dumpster, and when I toss it in, I'll feel a tug and go "Ah hah! That's what he was working on with those KB deads."

As I'm working around my EMA, I find the same 'Ah hah' moments. Today as I was researching what it meant to be a laundress on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1880s, an entire scene came to me of my great-grandmother. She's in her late twenties, but only married a little over a year and heavily pregnant with her first child, hauling buckets of water up and down the tenement stairs. Sunday was the soaking day. Monday washing day and drying. Tuesday ironing and starching day. I picture her trying to wring out clothing by hand, hang it on the line, reel the line in using the pulley, reaching, wringing, bending again and again. 

I am writing around the central part of my EMA, strengthening all those writing muscles with research and flights of fancy so that when I do sit down to concentrate and pull all this material together, I'll have that solid core, where everything is working in unison and has been strengthened and is ready for that final, heavy lift.


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Two days without WODs or WORDs

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Saturdays I don't do CrossFit because I'm usually out picking up trash with the Lowell Litter Krewe - and having done 5 or 6 workouts and my body is tired, muscles are sore and joints are achy. Then Sunday I try to do yoga as an active recovery if I'm up for it. This Sunday I pretty much spent driving - I was in my car at 10:00 AM and not back home until 9:15 PM. Drove to Connecticut to have lunch with my 90 year old aunt and her daughter; then drove to my 74 year old cousin's for dinner and chat with her and her neighbors. Then I drove home, added all up, about five of those hours were driving.

You would think I would feel rested. 

Today, back at CrossFit, after only one weekend away, my muscle felt creaky and unsteady, as if I'd never done this stuff before. It wasn't the labor involved in using a net on a 15 foot handle to pull trash up out of the canals. It was sitting for hours in my car, driving thither and yon. And too much rich food but it all tasted delicious but I'm usually eating salads and lean meats, not perogies and three shared desserts. 

Next time, for every hour I'm in the car, I need to go for a ten minute walk. The cliche is that "sitting is the new smoking" according to some news reports. I suspect that's not far off.  

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Barbara Clough, Wednesday, 4 May 2022, 02:09)
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Active recovery day

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Today was my active recovery day, i.e., physically active but not terribly demanding. Spring finally arrived here in New England and the blustering winds of the last few days stopped just in time for the canal clean up. 

Lowell is a city full of canals that in the 19th and early 20th century powered the textile mills. (I live in an old mill building overlooking Hamilton Canal.) The Lowell Litter Krewe and the National Park Service and Lowell Canalwater Cleaners collaborate to clean up the canals, scooping up litter with 15 foot nets, sending kayakers in to pull trash away from the brush growing along the edges, and picking up every bit of trash we see on the sidewalks. People from ages 6 to 80 come out on a sunny spring morning to tidy up the city and the camaraderie is wonderful. Sometimes we have fraternities and sororities from U. Mass. Lowell and other community organizations. 

I also find something soothing about picking up trash. I'm not making demands on my body and yet I'm moving, bending, grasping, lifting, stretching. And the visual benefit is immediate: the space I just cleaned always looks better when I leave it then when I arrive. That visual tidiness is gratifying in a way that so few things are. 

Tonight I'll walk down to the canal I just helped to clean up so that I can watch the lanterns float into the darkness and be glad I was a small part of making this a lovely and livable city. 

fifth annual points of light lantern celebrations April 30, paper lanterns floating down a canal in the dark.

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Pushing beyond what I think I can do

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Today at CrossFit I looked at the 44 lb kettle bell, lifted it with one hand and thought, "No way I'm doing 45 kettlebell swings with that weight." So I dropped down one step to the 35 lb kettlebell and banged out 5. The WOD was 15 KB swings (heavy) and 20 pulls ups (scaled), 3 rounds for time. I looked at the next KB down and thought about picking up the 26 lb. KB. 

Since February, I've been working on deadlifting my body weight and doing 1 unassisted pull up. 

So I took the 35 lb KB, and banged my way through 15 swings in a row, no break during the 15, then 20 scaled pull ups, then back to the KB, back to the pull ups, back to the KB, finish with pull ups. 

I realize now, when heavy KBs are in the WOD, I can move up to the 44 lb KB. 

I realize now that writing a book proposal and synopsis of the book I haven't yet written is like picking up the 44 lb KB. It's harder and slower then the creative writing piece. I have to be more focused. I'm a bit slower. But I'll get it done.

black 35 lb kettle bell with yellow tape and company name TRX on it.

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On CrossFit and writing

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Some days, the only time I leave my house is to go to CrossFit. Right now, my job is dull, and I'm killing time until June, when I can hand in my notice. So I do what I have to, but then, at 4:00 PM, I put on my workout clothes and run to my car and run into the box, and I'm excited to be there even when the workout is brutal and my body is tired and my brain is tired and I really want to stay home. 

The other element is that having done the WOD, I then, and only then, get to stop at Brew'd Awakening on my way home and get the caramel-pretzel-brownie. I'm allowed one sweet thing a day, and when the coffee shop has fresh ones made that day, I'm in heaven. 

Today, I was tired all day, tired going into the WOD, but 20 Wallballs, 10 burpee-box jumps, and 20 push press later, I'm tired in an accomplished, sweaty, glad-I-got out of the house. There was no caramel-pretzel-brownie but the fresh baklava was equally as good. 

Maybe writing is the same. Some days it's a struggle, but there's always that little reward at the end, the little sweetness that no matter how poorly or well I did something, a workout, a writing prompt, my paid job, the part I need to focus on is that I did it. Regardless of what I am doing, I'll get better over time. Consistency is key.

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Deadlifts and writing

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Today's WOD was 5-5-5-3-3-2-2 deadlifts at increasing weight, but starting heavy. My goal by the end of June is to deadlift my body weight - roughly 170lbs. It fluctuates daily, but not by much. The conundrum is that the more lean muscle I put on, the more my weight increases, even though my body stays the same. In some ways, I am chasing an ever increasing goal, thus the decision to just cap it at 170 lbs. 

Last week, during my coached session, I hit 163 lbs. That's the most I've lifted in probably 10 years, because of course, I am 10 years older. So again, chasing an ever increasing goal with a much older body. 

And yet, much like this MA degree I'm working on, I'll always be chasing in some sense an unattainable goal. As I learn to write better and to read more carefully, I realize how much more writing I need to do to get to where I want to be. And to write better, I have to read more and with greater discrimination so I know what is out there to be chased in a sense. As I read more widely, I find new genres, new forms, poetry, graphic novels, novels with visuals, nonfiction that reads like a prose poem. 

Maybe that's what this life is all about. Chasing the unattainable but in a good, positive, challenging, don't stop believing way. There's so much out there about which I am completely clueless! Why keep doing the same when I can always be switching it up?

I'll likely hit my deadlift goal next week, considering I did 25 heavy deads and still hit a PR. I won't hit my writing PR that soon, but today, after discouragement yesterday that left me lost, I feel like I can hit my writing goal, too.

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Inactive recovery days

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Some weekends I have active recovery days, i.e., I go to yoga or I go for a walk. This weekend I have done neither of those. Well, not that was particularly active. I walked to the book store to order more books. Then I walked to Lowell Culinary Collaborative to buy chocolates and cheese wrapped in spruce fir bark and rosemary crackers. The salted caramel dark chocolates all for me. The cheese and crackers to share at the Flying Scots Fleet party - the kick off to the 2022 sailing season. I am tired and sore and allergy ridden so I spend today actively lolling about after having done all my errands - by car - by 10:00 AM this morning. 

But my brain is on overdrive today so I methodically go through my writer's notebook and transfer the information to the running notes document on my EMA. After that, now that the weather has warmed up some, I'll go for a long lazy walk this afternoon to find new bridges over the Merrimac River, and odd pedestrian bridges that crisscross the system of canals that ran all the mills. 

My active recovery will be premised on mental activity that has been documented and organized in the way it needs to be. And my body will be rested and refreshed for an upcoming week of throwing heavy weights around and trying to deadlift myself. Hah! (Only 7 lbs off my substantial body weight for deadlifts!)

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Deadlifting and courage

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Today I worked on deadlifting and core strengthening because the workout, which immediately follows my personal session, was bench presses and pull ups. I feel like my body is getting stronger by the day. It hasn't changed much to look at but I can feel the difference when I setting my form and executing the move. So, I'm only 7 lbs. off my goal of 170 lbs. deadlift, so I was happy with 163 lbs. 

I especially needed that mental boost, because going in I was downcast and filled with self-doubt about my final project: a genealogical memoir. Yesterday I spent hours trolling through Goodreads, Amazon, book reviews trying to find books that would fall in that same or a similar category. There are dozens - but most have some brilliant or enthralling story to tell. DNA revealing their parents aren't who they think they are; overcoming years of physical or sexual abuse; immigrating to a new country where you don't speak the language; overt and covert racism and discrimination. 

All I could think is: "My life wasn't that bad. Who'd want to read my memoir?" I lived a mostly ordinary life to my mid-teens - went totally off the rails - recovered and have led a rather mundane life since then. As if my life story were not traumatic enough to entrance anyone into reading it.

But then I thought about what it means to take risks, to try hard, to delve deep, to be vulnerable. Telling my life story would mean being open and forthright, which I rarely am about my personal life. It's about taking chances. About looking at the ugly stuff. 

Like only getting the 163 lbs. bar off the floor once and ending on a high note. Like bench pressing small weights as I work up to big weights. Telling small secrets so that I can better open up about the big ones that I don't credit because "it was all in the past" as if that somehow erases the event.

Like going backwards off the hip extender until your hands touch the floor and then pulling yourself back up.

Hip extension machine for doing full range of motion sit ups.

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On yoga and ohmmming

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Today is what I consider an active recovery day, i.e., no weights, nothing hard, except yoga, which is hard in a completely different way mostly because I find it all very woo-woo. The rhythmic drum music with the monotonous chanting, the overpowering incense and patchouli, the other yoga competitors who are in a flexy contest with the other yoga participants. I forgot that the reason I started avoiding this class is that I don't really like the instructor - she appears bored and gives direction in rapid fire monotone as if it's some sort of weird speed yoga class. 

And of course, I can't keep up. I can't stand on one foot in tree pose or reach back and grab the tips of my toes while balanced on my hip bones. 

Yet, when I come out, I feel realigned, stretched, looser than I have after six weight workouts. I check to see if Friendly Freddy is still doing beginner yoga on Monday and remind myself that's where I need to be. I'll always be in beginner yoga. And that's okay. I think it's okay with Friendly Freddy, too.

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My muscles are tired

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In the last few months, when I am not traveling, I have been doing 6 CrossFit workouts a week at CrossFit Merrimack in an effort to achieve the above-mentioned goals of deadlifting 170# and doing one unassisted pull up. The first goal is within reach. The second one is...well...the corporate term would be a "stretch" goal, a term I always found idiotic but then I find most of corporate-speak fairly idiotic. 

The first one is doable.

The second may be - or it may not. I'm 6'2" tall, female, 170#. That's a long muscled body to pull up a long way. My arms are - from gripping palm to arm pit - 2 feet long. I have to lift that straight up, no kipping, no assistance bands. .

Today was what I euphemistically term my rest day or alternatively, active recovery day. No weights. No burpees. No sprinting. 

But I did spend 4.5 hours slowly walking, bending and picking up trash with the Lowell Litter Krewe. We look like convicted miscreants, orange vests, those metal grabbers for picking stuff off the ground, pulling a trash bag behind us or carrying our five-gallon plastic bucket, picking up other people's trash. For fun. For our city. Because we live here. Our vests don't say "community service" but that's what we are in the truest sense of the word. We have not been ordered by the courts, but only by an internal moral compass and a chance to give back to the community where we all live. To see an immediate improvement in our environment and our neighborhood.

Regardless, after 4.5 hours of picking up trash, I come home and sit down and will rest the remainder of the day. The most demanding activity I'll engage in is this: writing, thinking, writing, thinking. That will tire me enough. 

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Where I've been for 2 months

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Thursday, 10 Mar 2022, 01:10

Clearly, not keeping my blog up-to-date. It was the dark days of winter here in New England and I escape not once, but twice. January - a week sailing in the British Virgin Island, then home to the cold snowy weather. Back on track for a few weeks during which I submitted another project. 

As soon as that project was done, I started on another, harder writing project. I tend not to be a particularly analytical reader but in working on this MA, that's exactly what I need to be. "Every hour spend reading is an hour spent learning to write." (Can't remember the author but it's not me!) 

Practicing reading analytically and closely is a skill unto itself. One of my favorite exercises is taking an article in the New York Review of Books and mapping it out. Since these are already critical essays, it provides me the opportunity to understand how the best writers and reviewers in the world structure their essays. 

Then February, away again for almost a week hiking in the snow covered White Mountains of New Hampshire. Being away from my computer and my tedious paying job is good for clearing my head, but then I find it hard to get back into my routine of writing and reading, reading and writing. 

And always, trying to find 1.5 hours a day to get to the gym and back, to cook healthy meals packed with veggies, to meet with friends now that the world is reopening. 

So today, I am back and I can do for 12 hours what would appal me if I had to keep it up for a life time. The days are getting longer and my winter blues have lifted to my energy levels are better. Being at my computer at 7:49 on a Saturday night is fine. No place I'd rather be.   

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On learning to see

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Tuesday, 21 Dec 2021, 01:23

I find myself looking closely at people's faces and it's hard to look intently without staring. Or appearing to be staring. Or just staring. How else can you look intently at someone who is sitting 3 feet away from you on the floor of the gym? I noticed that my coach has really soft eyes with a charcoal rim that on a woman would be eye liner, but on him, it's just his dark eyelashes close together. And I noticed today that he'd trimmed his beard so it's less of a grizzled inch or so and more like a four or five day growth. When he comes over to coach me, I find he's an intent looker. Eye contact, questioning, "you doing okay? tighten up your core a bit more on the push ups - it's better form." It doesn't make the push ups easier but he is clearly looking intently at form all the time, on all of us, which really is his job but I've had some oblivious coaches. Then again, he knows I am coachable.  

The oddest thing I noticed in my intently looking people is that his legs are shaved. Well, at least part of the leg is shaved. He had on black shorts, not quite knee length. Then he had about 3-4 inches of bare skin encompassing the knee which was tanned, but then there was a dead straight line where the tan line ended and his naked, shaved calf, shin and ankles were on full display to the tops of his sneakers. I know he plays hockey but that is not a hockey tan. It's an I-run-in-the-summer-with-knee-socks-tan. Or something equally weird. And that white expanse of leg - not a hair on it. Looked smoother than mine because he doesn't have sun marks and varicose veins. How DO you get a tan like that? 

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Switching it up

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This week I put all my good CrossFit training and weight training to use by hiking for two days. I remind myself - and others - that I lift weights and do CrossFit so that I can do all the other stuff I love, hiking, sailing, bicycling, and so on. I don't do CrossFit just for the sake of doing CrossFit, but so that all the other activities are supported and my body is strong all over. 

I drive through the pounding rain along a road with signs stating "Road closed at the Connecticut Line from December to April." It is December. I'm nearly in Connecticut. And I am on this road. Do I need to be worried about something? If the rain keeps coming down like this, regardless of the fact that it is a balmy 60 degrees, there is not a chance in hell I'm hiking six miles up a small mountain. 

I'm the first to arrive at deserted parking area, and I turn the car off so I can better hear the rumble of thunder and then count slowly until the lightning flashes across the rain drenched sky. Uh, no, hiking in pouring rain with thunder and lightning over - no chance. As my fellow hikers from the Appalachian Mountain Club pull into the lot, we all wave and nod to each other, safely dry behind windows tightly rolled up, waiting for the storm to pass over. And it does. In 15 minutes, the rain has stopped although the sky is cloudy, and the threat of rain remains throughout the four hours it takes us to get to the summit and back. 

The trail is rain soaked with slippery spots from the mud and a few creek fords that would normally be dry creek beds, but we're okay with that. An experienced crew, we've layered our clothes to keep us warm, hard shells to keep us dry, gaiters to keep the rain from getting into our boots, and hats or hoods to stop it dribbling down into our necks. But  the rain stays away, and half way in, we begin to remove layers what with the warm air and humidity. I can hear the wind whooshing through the treetops, and word from the trip leader is that conditions at the top are wet, windy and unpleasant. We manage to make the top of the hill, wander around for a few minutes saying "We made it" and then quickly heading back down as the wind lifts our hats off our heads and drives the moisture into any jacket not zipped up tightly.

Luckily, just a few hundred yards below the summit is a primitive cabin with a wood stove, four bunks, and a collection of votive candles left by previous hikers. There's also a stash of dry wood if we need it. We don't as we're not staying that long - just long enough to get a hot drink and a snack down before we make the descent. Going down is often trickier and can be more difficult because the downward pull and the rain-soaked mud creates unstable footing. But we're a hardy and experienced group - happy to turn the heated seats on in our dry cars and strip off damp outer and under layers. Even nicer to know there's a hot shower and hot soup back at the inn.

As I assess how well I did, I realize that for the next trip in February - when it will be colder and snowier - it's time for me to buy some new gear. "There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing." Words to live by when hiking New England in the winter.  

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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?  

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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. 

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