LSS: Turning 50 is a field day

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 1.45.26 PMIn one month, I will turn 50.
Once again, I am throwing myself a party.
I learned long ago that it isn’t fair to others (specifically my husband) to meet my personal party expectations. So, I’m going all out and planning the whole thing myself. Others are helping. I am not averse to giving assignments in the planning process.
To celebrate, I’ve rented cabins at the state park near my hometown and have invited dear friends representing each of the decades and places of my life to join the fun. They are making plans to come from near and far. I am touched and honored that they are doing so.
Once there, many of them won’t know each other. So we’ll have plenty to discuss to change that, but this is not going to be a weekend of rest, relaxation and conversation.
Nope, we are going to have a field day.
My father, the master of all field days, is in charge of that portion of the weekend’s activities. For years, he served as the athletic director at the only school in the tiny town where I grew up. Beyond that, he was the town’s recreation director. Every spring, we had a field day at the school with at least 50-60 competitions. It was fun, but it was also serious business.
My dad had that thing organized. Different faculty members facilitated various activities from the sack race (which was run in heats, with the top five from each grade going on to the finals), the egg toss, the three-legged race, the baseball throw, the long jump, bubble gum blowing contest, water balloon toss and the list went on and on.
For the grand finale, every grade assembled a tug of war team. Points were tallied and the class who earned the most points was appropriately lauded. Winning was a matter of school pride. This was important stuff.
At least it was to some of us! But back then I was not aware enough to realize there were probably people who did not relish every moment of field day. I did not notice the folks who were probably simply enjoying a day away from regular classes. For me, that day was close to nirvana.
For many of us, we mapped out our day and strategized to have key people participating in the competitions we knew would give us our best odds of winning. Field days were magical.
In that spirit, I’ve asked my father to dust off his field day hat and whistle and organize another afternoon full of competition.
At first, he balked. “Jan, I really don’t know what I could organize for women half a century old,” he said.
I politely told him to figure it out. We were up to the task.
So, my friends are making their plans and preparing themselves for a field day. No, it’s not how they expected to spend the first weekend of spring this year, but they’re up for it — or at least willing to go along with it!
I believe we’ll have a good time, despite — or maybe because of — having half a century under our belts.

LSS: Fly through the air with the greatest of ease

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She swings through the air with the greatest of ease. That’s the girl on the flying trapeze.

A young friend of mine will turn 30 in March. Last year she made a list she called “30 by 30.”

Her list contained 30 rather ambitious things that she wanted to do or accomplish by the time she turned 30. She has already marked off a number of items on her list — she visited the White House. She has done a yoga class, bought a real Christmas tree, caught a fish and water-skied.

She’s slept on a houseboat, done Asian karaoke, eaten crab and done a round of speed dating. She’s participated in a Fantasy Football League, seen a Broadway show in previews, ridden in a helicopter, eaten Ethiopian food and had her caricature drawn. She went to a hockey game and completed a home repair without anyone else’s help.

She has almost met her weight loss goal, getting closer every day to running a mile without stopping and will soon pay for someone else’s drink at a coffee shop.

Two weeks ago, however, she was able to mark off a biggie from her list. For reasons beyond my powers of comprehension, she included “Flying on a circus trapeze,” on her to-do list. Fortunately for her, she lives in Washington, D.C., where the Navy Yard played host to a trapeze school recently. So, she signed herself up and went with a friend.

I’m not certain what all was involved with the training or how many times she was able to experience the trapeze itself, but she sent me the video of one of her attempts and has granted permission for me to write about it.

On the video, my friend is hooked up to wires and harnesses. She stands on the edge of the platform and on the verbal cue, she lets go and swings through the air. The coach then gives her another cue to put her feet on the bar. Then, “Let go with your hands.”

And my friend swings through the air hanging by her knees.

Then, the caller and coach yells for her to place her hands back on the bar and gives the final line of instruction, “On my call, three big kicks and let go.”

My friend follows the instructions perfectly as the caller yells, “Kick back, forward, back and let go.”

For that moment, it was like beautiful choreography, but my friend does not let go. Instead, she swings back and inexplicably starts putting her legs on the bar again. The coach again yells, “Let go!”

And my friend begins to swing forward again.

The caller yells in a stern voice, for the third time, “Let go!”

And even though my friend is half dangling from her legs and in the wrong swing position, she finally obeys and lets go of the bar — and meets the net with a lovely face plant.

I watched the video a number of times, trying to figure out what it was about it that mesmerized me so.

Then I realized.

My friend’s experience on the trapeze is a lot like what many of us do with big things, little things and other disappointments in our lives.

We know when we’re supposed to let go rather than hang on. We know we’re supposed to take three big kicks and let go. Instead, we start putting our feet on the bars — swinging back and forth when we have no business doing so anymore and not nearly as gracefully as life once was.

When we’ve exhausted the possibilities, are out of strength and momentum is fading, we’re finally convinced to let go. By then, we’re in the wrong position and scared to death. We flail more than necessary, but we finally let go and land in the net with a face plant rather than in a much more agreeable position — all because we didn’t let go when we should have done so.

Live on Little Free Libraries

Little Free Library on Dover Avenue
Little Free Library on Dover Avenue

In my effort to get more exercise and take more steps, I’ve been going on walks all around town. Last week as I was walking down a short block of Dover Drive in the Broadmoor area, I looked ahead and saw a small bridge that led toward a bright green post with a pale yellow box on top. I thought it was an elaborate birdhouse, complete with a fancy roof. The whole scene had an unusual, aesthetic appeal and stirred my curiosity. With each step, I tried but couldn’t figure out what was going on.
When I was upon it, I could see the tiny structure wasn’t a birdhouse or an artsy mailbox. However, it did have a lovely glass door with a small sign beneath the box. The sign read, “In memory of Frankie Bourgeois Rue, Little Free Library, Lover of Books. Take a book. Lend a book. #10988”
And through the glass door, I could see books. I felt like Alice in Wonderland and crossed the bridge. I couldn’t believe someone had taken the time, energy and expense to build this little structure — with its own lovely bridge, no less — all in an effort to give away or share books.
I opened the door and checked out its very respectable selection of bestsellers and lesser known books, fiction and non-fiction — something for almost everyone.
There was also a leaflet that read, “Welcome to our Little Free Library. Take a book. If you see a book you want to read, take it. Return a book. If you don’t have a book with you, that’s OK. Next time you come by, return the book. Or, bring another book you want to share.
What kind of books to return? Books you would recommend to a friend; that you would read to your children or grandchildren; books that teach, intrigue, engage, delight. Novels, children’s books, young adult fiction — good books!
Want to leave a note for the next readers(s)? Please do. On a separate slip of paper, inside the cover, include a short rating, comment, full review, new words, favorite quotes. No spoilers, please. Optional: Write your name and city inside the front cover. LFL books travel around and there’s no telling where a book you read or donated may end up.
The Little Free Library is part of an international network registered with the Little Free Library organization. Go to www.LittleFreeLibrary.org.”
Here was someone after my own heart. The day that I took this walk was one of those polar vortex, record cold kind of days, but I stood there feeling all warm and cozy knowing that someone had started this organization and someone else loved Frankie Bourgeois Rue enough to go to the trouble to create something this beautiful. I was amazed, and I wished I had known Frankie Rue, a lover of books.
After I got home, I read about the Little Free Library network that was started by Todd Bol in 2009 in Wisconsin, as a memorial tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher who loved reading. “He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS.”
And so a movement was born.
The original goal was to have more Little Free Libraries than Andrew Carnegie built libraries — 2,510; a goal was reached in August 2012. By January 2014, there were between 10,000 and 12,000 Little Free Libraries around the world. According to the website, there are 47 Little Free Libraries in Louisiana, but only one in Lafayette.
People who create them say the tiny structures help build community in ways they didn’t anticipate. They meet more neighbors and others than they have in years. All in all, they’re just good things and serve as a way to share books with others — spreading knowledge, ideas and literacy.
Frankie Bourgeois Rue, here’s to you and the good you have inspired.

LSS: Get up and move

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 10.53.55 PMA little gizmo I got for Christmas has provided a major wake-up call on what I’m doing to maintain/improve my health and fitness levels. It’s also made me reflect on how the difference daily reminders and real data make to my psyche.
The gadget I’m wearing is a bracelet, but the new versions come in several styles by several companies. Here’s how the one I use works: I wear a little bracelet on my left arm. During the day, it acts as a pedometer that syncs with my phone. During the night, it measures how much sleep I get — both light and deep sleep and how many times I wake up. I’m unsure how it does that, and I’m unsure if the light and deep sleep measurements are correct, but I do know the wake-up references are correct — and that, in and of itself, is rather amazing.
So what does all that mean? Well, for one thing, I’m supposed to get about 10,000 steps a day.
In my normal daily routine, I realized I was only getting about 4,500. So, I’ve started making changes — both subtle and substantial. For one thing (and I’m not proud of this), but I realized I had started relying on my super-helpful and energetic 12-year-old daughter to run and get things far too often. Now, I’ve basically made seeing how many steps I’m able to log in a day as a game. Rather than asking her to fetch something, I’m much more likely to get up and go get it myself.
Also, in the cold weather, I didn’t mind not driving.
“The bridge is closed?”
“No problem, I’ll walk home from work.”
And so I did — and that day I came close to reaching my total steps goal, but the big lesson has been just how difficult it is to reach 10,000 steps in the way we’ve organized our lives in 2014. Our lives just aren’t set up for 10,000 steps a day. However, on my recent trip to Honduras, I was able to log 10,000 steps a day with no problem. The added benefit of getting enough steps in was also that I slept better — and I realize that this isn’t rocket science!
Back home and at work, I’ve found that I tend to remain idle for far too long. Even though I’m working, I’m sitting at a desk, usually moving little more than my fingers on the keyboard. I’ve begun setting timers to remind me to get up and walk around the office. I tend to get so lost in what I’m doing that I often find myself hunched over in terrible posture, which can add to other health concerns.
All in all, the research is overwhelming enforcing the importance of an active lifestyle. Recent research suggests that sitting too long does terrible things to our brains — potentially increasing blood pressure and contributing to the development of heart disease.
Remember the old ad with the egg in the frying pan? “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.”
A new version of that may go like this: “This is your brain. This is your brain on the sofa.”