Living

The Quarantine/Mom Blog

The Quarantine/Mom Blog

I have not blogged for a while. It’s the biggest lapse since I started blogging, actually. Things have been… you know how things have been. I’ve been torn between trying to stay positive and feeling anxious and being grateful that my parents don’t have to deal with a quarantine.

Which leads me to the mom blog.

Mom was a little girl in World War II. She had very few memories, really. Dad was older; he was old enough to remember, but not old enough to understand. He had stories about collecting fighter plane cards and feeling lucky that Grandpa scored a giant barrel of eggs preserved in water glass. His memories felt sheltered to me—innocent.

Mom, who didn’t remember the war, but remembered growing up poor after it, was undeniably shaped by it. She was frugal—clipped her coupons, made her own clothes, and crocheted toys for us. She lived as if she didn’t have much, even when she was comfortably middle class. Some of that rubbed off on me.

But along with being cautious with her funds, she also appreciated what she did have, perhaps because she remembered very clearly not having much at all. No store-bought toys. One chicken for nine people. The stories she told involved people, not things.

So when I think of her living through a quarantine in a pandemic, and I try to imagine what she would have done, I don’t have to look too far. As I walk the dogs around our neighborhood and chat with neighbors, I am following my genetic directive. When I text and zoom and email friends to stay in touch, I’m reminded of how Dad set up a special chair for her to talk on the phone. I send out greeting cards to friends in far-flung places, and I remember the drawer she had full of cards for all occasions and the long list of holiday card recipients.

And I think despite having more in common with my dad, mom left her mark on me in many ways. She would have hunkered down during a quarantine and done whatever it took to keep her family safe. She would have kept people distracted with stories and games. She would have been delighted but flummoxed by video chat. And there’s no way in hell she’d have run out of toilet paper.

Stay safe out there, my friends.

Living

Wending, Winding, Wandering

I have rediscovered how delightful it is to go for a walk.

I turn on my Runkeeper app and head out, clocking my time, my distance, and my pace, and nodding sheepishly if I’m near another person when my phone squawks out my progress report.

We take for granted the things we do with little effort, but I’ve been reading Shane O’Mara’s new book, In Praise of Walking, and he points out how much neurological and physiological energy go in to walking, and that and my six-year old sense of wonder have me heading out a couple times a week on treks with no destination other than the distance covered before I get back.

O’Mara’s book is wonderful, and I recommend it. He’s a neuroscientist, so he talks about the systems involved in walking—our muscles and skeletal system are working, of course, but so are our senses and our vestibular system (responsible for balance). This book is about more than neuroscience, though. It’s an apology for walking as of benefit to our bodies, our minds, and even our social lives. It argues that walking is not only fundamental for humans, evolutionarily speaking; it is unique. That got my attention.

So I’ve started walking with purpose again. I live in a hilly suburb with lots of trees, and I work on a university campus that used to be an Arabian horse ranch. Both offer lovely walking. I just have to get up and do it.

Some people grab their dogs and go for a brisk walk. We, however, have a Basset Hound. There is nothing brisk about his cadence except in the distance between the couch and the refrigerator. But he needs to be walked. I just don’t count the saunter as proper exercise. For a real walk, the heart-pumping, sensory experience O’Mara recommends, one must not be walking a Basset.

Twice a week, then, I’ve started going for a solo walk, to rediscover my brisk pace and reap some of these walking benefits. It’s great. It’s really great. Although when I walk alone, I’ve discovered I free my inner six-year old. If it’s not the Basset slowing me down, it’s the Beauty.

The world is so beautiful. When I’m walking and not trying to drag a dog or keep up a conversation, I’m noticing every bird song, every elegant line in a building, every flower and tree blooming and growing and dying, and it’s all lovely. I’ve seen plenty of trees; these are not novel things. But when your only purpose is to go and be going, you have license to notice everything and give it all your attention. And when you do that, or at least when I do, you become captivated by color and sound—by the world—in a more dynamic, invigorating way than when you just see it presented on television or through a window.

Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina learned to be “in the world and of the world,” and that is how I feel on a walk. Shane O’Mara says “You’re not built from the soles of your feet up—it’s more like your head is a ‘castle in the air’, with scaffolding reaching down to the ground” (64). All of that scaffolding is trundling up hills and through intersections and feeling the contours and textures of the world, while I take in the light reflecting off surfaces and the rustle of spring flowers in the wind.

There’s a long history of people praising walking as a balm for the body and mind. Charles Dickens walked the street of London in the evenings, listening to people and gathering story material. Friedrich Nietzsche sorted all his many thoughts on long walks. Recently there has been fresh attention to the mental boost a walk can give, either for clarity or creativity. They all seem right to me as I tool around, trying to break my last record without breaking my neck gawking at the architecture.