Day 245

When I started my daily walk in October, winter was on its way.  Think of the snow, the ice, the wind, the cold, a few friends said, shuddering as if it were lions and tigers and bears I’d be facing for an hour each day.

It turned out to be a rather snowy 2009-2010 season, and at first I thought my friends might’ve been right. But I bought an extra layer of insulation, brushed off my ice skates and cross country skis, and enjoyed almost every day of winter walking.

Snow? Ice? Nor’easter? No problem.

But this HEAT! And I don’t just mean heat, I mean this HUMID HEAT.  I’ve never had central air conditioning and feel that I’m pretty adaptable to most climate changes. I’ll even confess to feeling occasionally smug on summer days past when friends groaned and whined about the heat and the humidity. A window fan, a chair in the shade, and maybe an ice cold drink is all I needed. Or so I thought.

Who knew the heat would come thick and early this year as I reached the age when even looking at a hot drink makes me break out in a sweat?

Frank and I were at a lovely dinner party on Saturday evening. The food and wine were excellent, and the conversation was lively. But the humidity was thick enough to cut with a steak knife.

“I see you’re a ________, like me,” a fellow diner said, pointing in my direction.

“Excuse me?” I asked. I thought he was  asking me to pass the seltzer.

“Is there seltzer?” My eyes darted around, hopeful.

“A _____,” Bob said again.

I leaned over to my husband “Is he calling me a shikza?” I asked.

Bob was the president of a local synagogue for several years. I don’t know him well, but he seems like a nice, open-minded guy.

“A shvitzer,” Bob said again, wiping his hand across his shiny temple. “You know, a perspirer, a sweater, a shvitzer.”

Actually, I wish he had been calling be a shiksa. At least then I would’ve been able to tell him he was wrong (after all, my great grandmother was a Hungarian Jew!).

“I’m not a shvitzer!” I said with as much dignitiy as I could muster. “I’m a walker, I walk every day. It really opens your pores, you know!”

“Yes,” Bob said, handing me a napkin so I could wipe my own shiny forehead. “I see that.”

As I dabbed my temples and fanned myself with the folded (damp) napkin, I asked myself yet, again, what ever possessed me to take on this year-long walk.

But I already knew the answer: because I wanted to challenge myself. Because I wanted to see what would happen. Because I wanted to have a lot of little adventures closer to home, where I hoped I’d discover new things about myself and about the world and the people in it.

This week I discovered two things

1) I actually hate summer’s humid  heat more than I hate the January’s cold(I would’ve thought it was the reverse).

2) I am a shvitzer.



Day 240

I’m busy preparing for the American Cancer Society’s 12-hour overnight Relay for Life this Friday in Montclair. At this point, to be honest, the work is mostly sitting back and letting my wonderful team of 13 walkers paint our team banner and plan what to bring and what we’ll eat.

A special thanks to all MyBigWalkers who sent donations to the Relay.  You’ll be with us in spirit as we walk through the night.

Watch for pieces about each of my team walkers in the days ahead. Some are survivors, some are dedicated caregivers who are honoring loved ones, and others are remembering those who’ve lost the battle but live on in our hearts. Our reasons are complex and personal but they’re bringing us together, and community makes us stronger. That’s why we’ll be there.

Here’s a great story about the event posted yesterday on my favorite local news spot, Baristanet:

Countdown to Montclair’s Relay for Life

Montclair will host its first-ever Relay for Life on Friday, June 4, at Brookdale Park, thanks to the event’s chair, Erica Lowenthal, who took part in the Hoboken relay last year in memory of her late dad, Dr Hank Lowenthal, and decided to bring the event home.

Forty teams will be participating, and more than $73,000 has already been raised. Proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society Relay For Life – the biggest private funder of cancer research in the US.

The Relay celebrates the lives of those who have battled cancer and won, lost, or are still fighting back. Because cancer never relents, it’s an overnight event, beginning June 4 at 7:00pm and ending up to 24 hours later.

Each team has a reason, often a moving and personal one, for participating.

The leading fundraising team of My Big Walk, which has raised more than $8,500 so far, says on their page that they are “dedicated to cancer survivors Elaine Rapaport, Alex Nolan, Nanci Naegeli, Toni Martin, and Jenny Kydd.”

“Our friends have met and battled cancer. The women on our team are athletes, warriors, and ferocious fighters. We’re walking to keep the flame of the fight alive, and to light the dark night for those who are engaged in battle. Most of all, we’re walking for hope and unity.”

The entire community appears to be involved, including the Temptations of St Luke’s Church, Temple Ner Tamid, and schools such as Bradford, Hillside, Glenfield, Nishuane, MKA and Montclair High School.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life provides emotional, screening and nutritional support and advice on healthy living. It funds research towards cures for cancer – 44 researchers supported by the ACS have gone on to win the Nobel Prize – and fights back, too. The society helped bring about the smoke-free law and assists low-income, uninsured or underinsured women with treatment or screening tests.

The event will be moving, and fun, too, with plenty of entertainment organized.

If you’d like to participate, it’s not too late!

Phyllis Lowenthal, who heads the team, The Page Turners, is in charge of the survivors’ dinner and walk that begins in the evening of June 4, and may be emailed here.

Sign up here, or just help towards finding a cure by making a contribution, here.

Day 117

I love soup. And by soup, I mean HOT soup. Cold soup is really just chip dip in a bowl with a spoon.

I especially love soup on a cold winter day after I’ve been out walking. I love chicken soup, vegetable soup, mulligatawny soup, meatball Sunday supper soup, butternut squash soup.  Today I tasted my friend Eric’s Roasted Vegetable Soup after a walk in the park, and on the way back home I stopped, bought the ingredients, and made the soup.  Nothing but veggies, and I swear to you it tastes like Cream of Broccoli.

Here’s the recipe:

You need a head of cauliflower, half a package of mushrooms (I used brown mushrooms), 4 carrots, 1 large parsnip (I added that, Eric’s didn’t have it), 3 garlic cloves, a pint of veggie or chicken stock, salt and pepper. You also need a blender.

Chop the cauliflower into florets, cut the mushrooms in half, julienne the carrots, mince the garlic. Put it in a bowl and mix with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in roasting pan lined with foil (oven at 350) for 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Put veggies and broth in pot. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until veggies are soft, not mushy. Use a coffee mug** to scoop the veggies out of the pot and put into the blender with the broth. Fill blender 3/4, purée so there are still pieces of veggies recognizable.  When you’ve pureed everything, you are done.  Voila…soup!

Go out for your walk, come home, and have a bowl.  If you’re one of those people who needs a REASON for everything, check out this “Soup Therapy” article from Dr. Mao.  And enjoy.

**Note: you don’t need to use the coffee mug to scoop out the veggies. But it worked for me.

Day 97

Hardly breaking news, the Wall Street Journal ran two articles on the benefits of exercise in yesterday’s Health & Wellness section.

“The Hidden Benefits of Exercise,” and “Why You Should Step Up Your Workout”

If you don’t have a subscription to the WSJ you can’t read the articles online (although you can see the image from their website, above), so I’ll sum them up for you:

The first article cites research from the CDC, Harvard Medical School, JAMA and elsewhere that tells us exercising 30 minutes, 5 times a week, even in moderation, can lower the risk of breast cancer death by up to 50%,  lower risk of colon cancer by 60%, and can decrease depression as effectively as Prozac or behavioral therapy. Women who exercise regularly have been proven to have a 20-30% less chance of developing breast cancer than those who do not.

Perhaps most relevant to the cold and flu season, regular moderate exercise is now known (aka statistically indicated) to boost the immune system and reduce the number of colds, flu, and sick days people experience by up to half.

“‘No pill or nutritional supplement has the power of near-daily moderate activity in lowering the number of sick days people take,’ says David Nieman, director of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab…” and further, “So while reducing obesity is an important goal, ‘the better message would be to get everyone to walk 30 minutes a day,‘ says Robert Saliss, co-director of sports medicine at Fontana Medical Center…”

Walk 30 minutes a day, and live longer. Great message, I love it. It sets a target goal that’s reasonable, and one that just about anyone can carry out with very little change in lifestyle, work hours, or leisure activity. If you absolutely do not have 30 minutes a day to walk around your block or on the treadmill or from the train to your office, I want to know who you are!

But back to the WSJ.

No doubt realizing such an article was likely preaching to the converted, the Journal ran a piece below that one citing Berkeley exercise scientist Dr. Paul Williams’ 20-year studies that show increasing the amount, duration, and intensity of exercise even for long distance runners has dramatic health benefits.  Advocating runners push themselves to regularly do more than 40 miles a week, Williams also advises middle-aged runners increase mileage by about 1.4 miles a week each year to avoid weight gain.  He’s been shunned by many in the public health field, though, because experts fear the message of more more more can discourage people and lead them to do less, little, or nothing at all.

Balance, my friends. And routine. More or less, but stick to it.

Like my friend Jenny, who’s made a simple vow to go to the gym every single day. She has a full-time job, two children, and a nice apartment in NYC to maintain.

“I say to myself I’m going to get on the elliptical for 20 minutes a day. That’s it. If I do more, fine. But if I only do 20 minutes, that’s fine, too.”

And friends, let me say, Jenny’s looking mighty fine since she made that resolution.

Now why don’t they write about that in the Wall Street Journal?

Day 92

Childhood habits are hard to break. Too many of us see the world through a cracked lens put in place when we were young, and too often that lens has become permanently clouded. People taught optimism, cheerfulness, and happiness as children — those trained to see the glass half full, to walk on the sunny side of the street, to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative — are blessed with a lens that filters out what’s bad and leaves a lasting snapshot of good, positive, happy, smiling faces and experiences.

But what about those of us who learned to filter out the positive and focus on the negative? This tendency to focus on what did not go right and to minimize what did leads us to ask, “Is that it?” rather than saying, “Thanks for everything.”

I realized how pervasive this tendency was when I grew up and began meeting people who see the world through a brighter lens. People who’ll say at even a tiny gathering of 3 or 4 people, “Look, we’re all here,” rather than sighing and saying, “It’s only us. Where are all the others? And why are we left out?’

Here’s the thing: if you always feel like the party’s somewhere else, then it is.

MyBigWalk is a project begun in part to help me focus on the positive by bringing positive daily experiences into my life in small, reliable doses. I started it with the belief and the hope that with a positive daily practice that takes me out into the community where I can smile at others and project the vitality I want to feel in my life, I might accentuate my own positives and minimize my own negatives.

Likewise, I wanted very much to see others in a positive light, engaged in positive activity, feeling good about the days and the hours we’re living and sharing. The goal could be stated in this way: project out what I want to receive, and receive what I want to project. A sort of healthy-granola twist on the old adage Do unto others….

And how did this project fare?

Not long after I started MyBigWalk, I discovered Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Actually, Gretchen discovered and wrote about me, but that would be quibbling, wouldn’t it? And quibbling drifts toward the negative, which I’m trying to filter out of my life.

Anyway, Gretchen’s yearlong quest to become a happier person has led her to read, write about, think on, and interview people who study, practice, or otherwise promote happiness. Among her 12 Commandments for Happiness are 3 that absolutely reinforce my own goals for this project, this year, and my life in general:

* Act the way I want to feel

* Enjoy the process

* Do it now.

This year I’ve had the blessing and opportunity to spend an hour walking and talking with many friends, old and new. Invariably (albeit with a few exceptions) people are cheerful and upbeat when we’re out walking together.  I’ve had the great joy of driving to friends’ houses for a walk and finding even those people who were going through real life traumas opening the front door with huge smiles on their faces and saying, “you have no idea how much I’m looking forward to this!”

Even when I carried my own problems with me on my daily walk, they literally began to feel lighter as I marched forward. I suppose it shouldn’t   have surprised me as much as it did — after all, I started the project for a reason, right? And I’ve always known that I carry my own anxieties, sadness, and fears literally in my body. If something is upsetting to me it lodges in my shoulders, in my lungs, in the pit of my stomach. It dwells there and confuses me, fogs my thoughts, clouds my vision.

In other words, it puts that negative filter front and center, so that everything I do and everyone I see appears in the negative.

Thankfully, the walking itself tends to clear away that filter. Just like wind blows away clouds, stretching soothes tight muscles, and putting a smile on your face even when you don’t feel happy is scientifically proven to help boost your mood.

And so I’m grateful for MyBigWalk in ways I could not have predicted. It’s helped me lift away the negative filter, project happiness, and receive happiness on a more reliable basis. It’s given me a now moment in every day — so that the project isn’t only one of making commitments, setting goals, and planning outings or trips, but one that involves me with other people in a positive and simple way each day.

I can honestly say I have not had a single negative walking experience in my first three months of walking.

There’s been sleet, rain, snow, bitter winds, disappointments, anxieties, meltdowns, arguments, broken promises, and general life annoyances. There have been money worries, career snags, car troubles, health issues, and a lot of aches and pains. And yet each walk is a new start. And when that walk is over, there is tomorrow’s walk, and the one after that, and the one after that. In that way, each day’s walk is linked in a chain of positive hours that string my year — and my life — together with a network of small, lovely, beads of happy now moments.

I really believe that old adage that if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to wind up somewhere else. I also believe that life is not a destination, but a journey. MyBigWalk has allowed me to put these two beliefs together into a simple daily affirmation that is the walk itself. And the walk is my life.

Happy New Year. May you be blessed with your own joyous discoveries, large and small, in 2010. And may the filter you bring to each day be sunny, and full of promise.

Day 55

I discovered Bikram Yoga about two years ago: 90 minutes of rigidly held yoga poses done in a 102 degree room. With the door locked.

I kept at it. It’s probably what drove me to MyBigWalk — good Lord, anything to get me out of that hot room!  I’d say whenever I left the Bikram studio. It was So.Damn.Hot.In.There.

But I kept going back because that heat made me sweat out all kinds of impurities. Not to mention at least 10 pounds of stress and 5 pounds of water weight.

Yes, Dear Readers. I kept going back to Bikram to battle the midlife bloat. And it worked.

But today I got to the studio 3 minutes before the scheduled class…and the doors were locked. Bikram Choudhury, the creator of Bikram yoga, is a bit of a bully. So are a lot of his protegés. The door was locked, and I was locked out.

So I raced over to a new hot yoga studio about 10 minutes away — their class also started at the same time, but they waited for me! They kept the door open. They put out a mat for me. They welcomed me. They cranked up the heat (but not quite to 102). And they played contemporary music.

Most importantly, Seth the adorable instructor and owner of Garden State Yoga, talked about joy.

“I’m telling you to bend your knee and put your hand on the floor and hold your other arm in the air,” he said (approximately). “But if putting your hand on your hip and the other hand on her knee is what works for you, do that. If laying down in shavasana is what you need today, do that. It’s your practice. Do whatever you need. Find what works for you. It’s your joy.”

It’s your joy.

 It’s really thrilling to have walkers all across the country lacing up their sneakers and joining me. I honor your commitment, and welcome you along the journey.  Today, Lucky Lucy wrote to say she found two friends to join her in a pledge to walk 1,000 miles in 2010. Way to go, girls!

But for all of you walkers and would-be-walkers who’re trying to figure out how the heck you can fit another hour into your day — let alone another 1,000 miles into your year — remember what Seth said: It’s your practice. It’s your joy.  Walk when you can, where you can, with whomever you care to. Make your own rules. Be you. Bring yourself to the walk, and then thank yourself when you’re finished.

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good way to live each day.

Today, I escaped the locked door yoga studio discovered a new place to be joyful. Tomorrow, I’m going to take my new pedometer out of the box and keep track of my steps for a day or two. But the minute it starts cramping my style it’s going back in the box where it can’t get in the way of my joy.

Day 52

Now that I’ve gotten your attention with the help of Leonard Nemoy and the prospect of PRO$PERITY, I have to confess that today I’m really thinking about living long and loving it…prosperous, or not.  

Still with me?

Good. Then let me introduce you to John Galluzzo, a naturalist, journalist, and grant writer in Weymouth, Massachusetts, who just wrapped up his own year-long walking project, 30 Minutes a Day on Foot.

 John posted some gorgeous photos (like this one of the puffins) and kept some great stats : “number of stranger hellos today” is one of my favorites. 

Here’s what John has to say about his walking project:

Why all the Walking?

NPR changed my life. I was listening to a story on centenarians and how they got to their advanced ages when it struck me what I had to do. While I have no pretensions about reaching 100 years old, I do think there are things I can learn from people who do. Tip #1: walk thirty minutes a day. So here we go. Come along, but remember, it’s not obsession, it’s exploration.
Do you need any other reasons to get out and walk every day? Probably not. But here are two more, anyway 1) the sun is natural antidepressant. 2) regular exercise boosts endorphins. Which, as we know, is a natural antidepressant.
So. Walking = Natural Antidepressant.
If  we’re going to live to be 100, we’re going to want some of that every day with our morning coffee. Or maybe after 90, that’ll be our morning prunes and tea. But remember, it’s not obsession, it’s exploration. Have fun! 
And if you’re still looking for hints on how to make $, just pop on over to Robert Frank’s WSJ blog, The Wealth Report, to read where the rich and influential are putting their money these days.

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