Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mountain Magic

When I was working, tethered to a desk, a PC and an employer, I often found myself staring at my monitor,  overcome with dizziness. Woozy. 

I had forgotten to breathe

Do you ever think about it? About inhaling and exhaling?

We're now about 2,500 feet above sea level. I wasn't sure how that would affect me aerobically, but I'll tell you that it's taken some time to be able to climb a hill and complete a cardio workout without being winded in a scary sort of way. I was surprised by how my body responded and considered it a personal failure (eek! aging!) when my heart pounded and I gasped for breath. (A little Google-y research confirmed that when you hit 2,500 feet, the atmospheric pressure decreases and there's only 74% as much oxygen available as at sea level.) Fortunately, I've adapted to the thinner air, and feeling pretty good about hiking and tennis.

On the other hand, I often (sometimes several times in a single day) have a surprise of a different sort. I'll be in my car, and turn a corner, or strolling around the lake, even parked in front of the supermarket and WHAMO! there are the mountains. They are truly breathtaking.  It may be early-ish in the morning and they're wrapped in gauzy mist, or late in the afternoon, grey-blue through distant rain. It doesn't matter because each time I unconsciously exhale and relax. And then I laugh and think, it happened again!

Bill and I call it mountain magic, a sense of well-being and harmony that tucks around us like a well-worn quilt. We thought it was just us, and made little jokes about it. "There must be something in the water", Bill would say. Or we're heading home, west on I-40 after a trip out of state, or at least out of western North Carolina, and at the first distant glimpse of the majestic steely-blue peaks one of us will say, "Ahhh, see? There are our mountains." It sounds corny but we both relax and breathe a little easier then.

We learned it isn't just us - people around here talk about it.  I was hitting tennis balls the other night at the middle school courts with a group of women and one of them looked up at the mountains and said, do you believe it? Every time I see them I think I'm the luckiest person in the world. I heard almost the same words from a woman who moved to Black Mountain from Michigan a couple of years ago. "These mountains get to me every time," she said. "Even the water tastes better. And people are nice, genuinely nice." I was chatting with a local medical practitioner last week, who has lived here for about 15 years and she acknowledged the magic too. She said she knows people who came here - were drawn here - to recover from the stress and strain of everyday life and sometimes more complicated problems. Some stayed to make a home here and others found the relief they sought and then moved on, better able to cope with whatever life had in store.

I pass through an amazing canopy of trees, a tunnel of green, on my way to the lake.  It's only a block or two long, but it's another world filled with birdsong and gentle breezes. It's cooler there and wildlife rustles in the underbrush. Everyday noises like lawnmowers and backfires seem muted.

Funny. I thought it was my own special place and then a neighbor mentioned it. He said he walks through that patch of cool, dark forest and feels oxygenated. Sometimes he does it when he thinks he needs it. I knew exactly what he meant. The air is clean and soothing - you breathe slower and calmer and your senses are heightened, taking in the shadows and filtered sunlight and wildlife sounds.

Life has thrown us some curve-balls in recent months but I haven't once forgotten to breathe since moving to the mountains. Instead I'm often conscious of taking in the sweet mountain air deeply and letting it go, along with the concerns of the moment.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Paring Down

We're in a funny place, having moved our bodies, but not our possessions, from Tampa to Black Mountain. We have gone from a 3800 square foot house with plenty of storage space to an 1100 square foot townhouse. You can guess about the storage capacity. Our stuff will arrive in a couple of days.

Knowing that we would be in a much tinier home, at least for the next 12-16 months while our house is being built, forced us into several weeks of painful examination as we packed cartons. What stays and what goes? Why? If it doesn't stay, where does it go? We brought armloads of clothing to Good Will, gave away 2 sofas, 3 beds, an office hutch, 2 small file cabinets, a coffee table and some wall art. I found wonderful homes for a clarinet (Mr Holland's Opus Foundation) and a 25-year-old fur coat (The Humane Society's Coats for Cubs). We thought we were pretty ruthless, but as I contemplate our current surroundings, I know we're going to have round two of reducing our possessions after Allied dumps them on our doorstep next week.

We're camping out in the townhouse. Our bed is inflatable, the coffee table an overturned packing carton,
and seating is provided by collapsible camp chairs that shed black plastic bits, like flower petals on a runway.

In the kitchen we have 2 of everything: forks, knives, plates, coffee mugs, bowls. I'm cooking meals using a paring knife, a skillet, small saucepan, spatula and large plastic spoon. Available seasonings include salt and pepper.

Does it sound miserable?

Hell no!

During the stress and exhaustion of the past month, our normally healthy diet deteriorated into whatever was easy or craved, or both. Fast food, pizza, frozen meals and sandwiches fit the bill. I baked several loaves of bread and that was pure comfort food, slathered with butter or toasted and covered with almond butter and jam. We dined out a lot: wonderful good-bye events with friends as well as escapes from the towers of packing boxes that inexorably encroached on our living space like Xian warriors.

So I couldn't wait to get to a place where I could be thoughtful about food again, and relax into the rhythm of planning and cooking meals.

What do you cook with these?

Salads work pretty well, but they have to be composed, not tossed. Nothing to toss them in, unless you use the kitchen sink! We've had several salads, helped along by selections from the Ingle's salad bar.

Last night I made-up-as-I-went-along a delicious meal. Here's the menu:

  • Boneless pork chops smothered in apple, onion and bacon
  • Baked sweet potato 
  • Fresh steamed green beans
First I cooked 4 bacon strips. I removed them from the pan and added 1/2 sliced onion and 2 peeled, cored and chopped apples. Cooked them for a bit and removed from pan. Added salted/peppered pork chops and sauteed on both sides until almost done, then added the apple, onion and bacon bits and cooked til all warm and pork is done. I had to slice the pork chops before serving, because it needs to be fork-friendly when the plate's in your lap!

I also did a chicken/broccoli/mushroom stir fry with a flavorful Indian cooking sauce (Seeds Of Change Organic Jalfrezi Simmer Sauce) It was really good, and easy, but not as good as the pork chops.

This morning breakfast was grapefruit and a frittata (eggs, broccoli, onion, red pepper)

To be honest, I'm really enjoying living smaller, and dreading the arrival of stuff I now know we don't need.  An entire carton, for example of herbs and spices. Crazy!...we have nowhere to put them. A couple of dozen wine glasses. Several casserole dishes. More clothes to donate.

You won't hear me complain though, about sitting on a sofa or eating off a wooden table.  Nor will I scorn our real bed. (You should see us rolling off the inflated mattress to get out of bed. It's pretty damn funny.) It'll be nice to have a vacuum cleaner and the remote control for our Roku as well.

In the meantime, we're eating well and laughing a lot.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mom Jeans

The first time I heard the expression mom jeans it came from the lips of my lovely, ever chic daughter, Julie. She was determined to take me shopping for a pair of non-mom jeans, and I didn't have a clue what she was talking about.

Should there be doubt in anyone's mind, here's a graphic example:

No, not me, but it could be!
So I've tried to correct that faux pas, under Julie's gentle tutelage, and thought I was finally on the right side of the fashion police.


Real Simple, a wonderful magazine I often pick up in the grocery checkout line, proved how very wrong I was. Here's the thing: I'd like to live my life Really Simply (tagline: "LIFE MADE EASIER") but the January 2012 issue threw me for a loop.

The article in question is anti-aging style secrets. It lists 15 fashion no-no's that pile on the years. If there's one thing this 61-year-old woman doesn't need, it's self-sabotage on the aging front. Unfortunately, I fail on almost half of them. Follow me to the sorry but true confessions of a fashion failure.

What's aging you:  mom slacks

Well damn it, Julie, why didn't you just tell me when we were taking care of the mom jeans thing? Did you think I was just going to catch on?  Did you think it was too much for me to handle, all at once? According to Real Simple, "They're the office version of mom jeans, with a pleated front and a high waist."  Offhand, I'd say I have 7 pairs of these, mostly in black. Some are too short. I'm mortified.

What's aging you: underperforming undies

These include underpants with visible panty lines and a bra that is less than uplifting. This is going to get expensive, but I'm definitely not going to follow the parting line of advice from Charla Krupp, the author of How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better.  She recommends wearing "high waisted-bike shorts". She's kidding, right? Doesn't that sound kind of, well, sweaty? How does that high-waisted business work with jeans and dress pants that are now waisted somewhere south of the belly button?  And aren't they padded in the rear end? Dear-god-in-heaven, if there's one thing I don't need it's a bigger butt.

What does this remind me of?  Oh, that's right...a  GIRDLE!
What's aging you: playing it too safe

I always thought my style was classic, in an updated sort of way.  Then I read this "Tan pants, a cream shirt, brown shoes and you're out the door, right? Yawn."  That's my uniform! Apparently I'm "stuck in the fuddy-duddy zone." There weren't many good suggestions on how to correct this b-o-r-i-n-g look. Note to self: check in with Julie.

What's aging you: clinging to past trends

I didn't need to read any further to know that this described me to a T.  I have clothes that are 20 years old. Really. (I thought they were classics and they still look great. Well, to me they do)  The examples: "twin sets, nude stockings and mock turtlenecks".  Regarding the hose, the author suggests buying "opaque or textured tights or bare legs."  Here's what I hate: un-stockinged feet in my shoes, unless they're sandals.  Maybe I should get those footie things?

I don't think so
What's aging you: same bag, all the time

This was like a roundhouse kick to the gut:  "Schlepping a heavy black satchel, no matter what, even if it's the middle of July or you're at a fancy affair, says that you're set in your ways and unwilling to change with the times."  I have a wonderful, maybe 10-year-old, large black Coach tote that goes everywhere and does everything.

It looks something like this
You can cram all sorts of stuff in it: my Kindle, over-sized sunglasses case, gum, you name it. And did I mention it's a classic?

What's aging you: wide-leg cropped pants

The sad thing is, I know these are really unattractive, particularly given my, well, sturdy legs. But I thought maybe it was just the price you pay to be au courant.  Sigh.  The emperor really is naked: these pants are ugly, aging and out of style.  Fortunately, the Goodwill box is conveniently located near the grocery store.

And finally, the knockout punch:

What's aging you: workout clothes when you're not working out

Oh. My. God. The last vestige of comfort clothing has been torn off my back. Get this: "There's a time for fleece jackets, white cross-trainers, and oversize tees - and it's when you're on the treadmill or repainting the den, not when you're doing activities that don't make you break a sweat." Does it count that I live in Florida and break a sweat easily? No, I didn't think so. 

So how come Hilary Duff can get away with it? Oh, right.
This article came at a perfect time: I'm clearing out my closet as we prepare to move to North Carolina. Now I'll be able to fit everything into a small overnight bag. Unless there's a shopping trip in my future. 

Julie: Come home! I need you!