Walking and Gawking in Ireland – Part 1

Walking a mile to a mile and a half 4 times a week for 6 weeks prior to our Irish holiday deflated my middle and I lost five pounds, which to me means I can eat potatoes and bread (as long as I keep walking).  You hear wild rumors as you get closer to 40, but I had to experience gaining weight while subsisting on salads and water to accept that my squirrel-like metabolism is dead along with my desire to buy a swimsuit.  It all works out, though, because the rumor about fading endurance is also true. Just a few weeks of a walking routine increased my stamina and made Ireland more enjoyable than I imagined.  I was even able to imitate running to catch our connection at O’Hare.

We spent our first evening in Blessington, a tiny town with a lone little terrier scouting main street just south of Dublin.  On the winding gravel road back to our lodgings we got out of the car to peek at Blessington Lake.

Blessington Lake

Blessington Lake

The next morning we started off for Wicklow National Park and found ourselves stopping often to explore.

A park in Wicklow County

A park in Wicklow County

A park with a fast flowing stream over mossy rocks and a stone bridge called to us, as did a cemetery with Celtic crosses raised high. The faeries moved a bit too quickly for my eyes, but I swear I heard their giggles just beyond the bubbling gurgle of water.

Between my walking routine and Ireland’s vistas, I shed not only fat, but a bit of cynicism.  Dreams coming true take chinks out of a calloused soul.

Walking does not build much muscle and muscle burns fat, so when I stop moving, my metabolism does, too.  Motivation is plentiful on vacation, but hard to find on a snowy frigid days, which is when I discovered that truth.  Almost a decade ago Ireland renewed a walking culture  to combat the country’s growing obesity rate along with national dietary standards.  It is not difficult to persuade an Irishman or woman to go for a stroll and GMO-free counties offer up food that reminded us what food used to taste like.  My theory is that we do not eat as much when it is flavourful because we are more easily sated.

Exploring Wicklow

Exploring Wicklow

Low in the Wicklow Mountains

Low in the Wicklow Mountains

In the hills of Wicklow National Park I stumbled on loose rock and stepped in a deep uninhabited hole, highlighting the need for a walking stick.  Mountain rescue teams are stationed in every area for good reason.

We were off to find St. Kevin’s monastic ruins in Glendalough and mistakenly walked up a steep road to find St. Kevin’s Parish where we lit candles for loved ones in heaven.  There were lovely engraved garden sculptures on the grounds and I suspect my husband knew I would stop at the craft fair on our way back down as I was excited for any opportunity to visit with locals.

St. Kevin's Parish

St. Kevin’s Parish

Gardens at St. Kevin's Welcome Center

Gardens at St. Kevin’s Welcome Center

On the way up, I stopped to rest and take in the gardens  at St. Kevin’s welcome center.  It was all meant to be, I am sure.  Just down the road we found the ruins of St. Kevin’s 6th century monastery.  Raided for centuries by the Vikings, most of the standing ruins date to the 11th and 12th centuries.  A man in a kilt and hose played Uillean pipes, whcih lent a melancholia to the scene, but a little girl yelling at the top of her lungs, “Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!” brushed it away.  A spiritual place, the sun broke through the thick cloud cover just as I offered up my gratitude.

St. Kevin's monastic ruins in Glendalough

St. Kevin’s monastic ruins in Glendalough

Glendalough Beauty

Glendalough Beauty

St. Kevin's ancient church often called "St. Kevin's Kitchen" due to the chimney.

St. Kevin’s ancient church often called “St. Kevin’s Kitchen” due to the chimney.

My husband was usually ahead of me because I am quite the gawker.  Also quite the talker and writer, I have many a story to tell you about Ireland, so I will break our adventure into a few posts. Sláinte!  (Good Health!)

Walking and Gawking in Michigan

BBI shoreFor the next six weeks I will be walking and practicing with my new camera in preparation for a trip to Ireland.  Walking is a bit boring really, compared to lithe runners with their snug running shorts and pretty shoes.  My jazzy shoes rival any runner’s, but that is about all the competition I can provide.  Have you seen the articles that say you can simply walk off excess weight around your middle?  Yes, I saw the headlines at the supermarket, too!  So, I will perform my own experiment, and it will not involve eating kale.  My diet is mostly natural foods, however I still inch up a couple of pounds every few weeks.  The reasons are valid and can be confirmed by witnesses, but how I got here is not nearly as interesting as where I am going.  Honestly after sporting a boy body all my life I feel powerfully curvaceous with a B-cup.  It is not the weight that I mind, but the pudgy bulges when I sit down, and standing for hours on the beach is tiring.  Sitting down I look like I am wearing a flotation device around my middle, and some of my pants no longer fit over the floaty part.  For the record I would like to keep the butt.  And the B-cup. I will not cut calories, but will walk at least a mile 5 days per week for the first 3 weeks.  Writing about my progress may cause a bit of a Hawthorne effect, so I must be diligent about eating sugar to protect the integrity of this experiment.

Something tells me that my current two walks a week is not sufficient conditioning for 7 days of trekking around the Emerald Isle.  Arduous hikes are not part of itinerary, however the cumulative effect of a few hours walking per day could hobble me, and what a shame that would be.  A six-week timeline also coincides with the number of summer days remaining here in Michigan.  Winter is always coming.

This well-intentioned idea came to me while on vacation, where so many great plans are born, yet never make it back home.  On the first day I walked down the gravel road and later along the shore of the island where we vacation.  Each walk an easy mile, I walked with spring,  buoyed by my new plan.  Another benefit of walking outdoors in Northern Michigan is that the black flies and mosquitos spur me on and keep my heart rate up, like tiny coaches.  A mile is easy because I worked my way up to that 8 months ago after my last RA flare.  After limping to the bathroom for a couple of months, it seemed like a prize to walk that far at a good clip.  It is time to move on now.

Birth Control Debate Attempts to Hit Men Where it Hurts

In a bid to show ‘em how it feels State Representative Yasmin Neal has proposed an amendment to Georgia’s anti-abortion law that would ban vasectomies unless necessary to prevent serious injury to a man’s organs or death.  Missouri State Representative Stacey Newman soon followed suit with a similar bill that also limits where a vasectomy can legally be performed to surgical centers and hospitals.  Both Representatives cited the fairness of legislating men’s bodies in the same fashion that predominantly male government bodies have attempted to legislate women’s reproductive health choices.

While women across the country are cheering for these bills, I see a couple of errors in this blatant strategy to encourage empathy in our male counterparts.  If you have not yet fully realized the inherent differences in women’s and men’s decision-making processes, I suggest Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus as a primer.  While many women are furious about recent debates over what a woman should be allowed to do with her body and affordable access to all birth control options, men will focus on one thing only- an attempt to mess with their genitals.  I call it “dick-sensitivity”.  When a man’s genitals become part of an equation, he loses the ability to think multidimensionally.  Last night I spoke briefly to my husband of writing a post on a proposed vasectomy ban.  He immediately covered his groin and started saying, “nanananana” to drown out my words.  Admittedly, I would greatly enjoy a video of the Georgia General Assembly when they debate Representative Neal’s proposed ban.  The looks on male lawmaker’s faces during such a conversation have great entertainment potential.

The second error in the bid to equally share government control over reproductive rights is thinking that men will fight for their right to a vasectomy.  Think about it.

On the heels of FDA recommendations that men be tested for underlying causes of erectile dysfunction, Virginia state Senator Janet Howell introduced a bill last month that would require a man to get a rectal exam and cardiac stress test before receiving a prescription for a drug such as Viagra.  Ohio state Senator Nina Turner has also proposed a similar bill stating that she is equally concerned with men’s health and believe they have the right to be fully informed of the risks associated with erectile dysfunction medications.

While I appreciate the clever maneuverings of our female politicians as entertaining, I am skeptical that such tactics will do more than add to explosively divisive rhetoric.  There are some things that need not be debated because they fall under our 4th amendment rights, and some things that are serious enough to fight head-on with a resounding “No!”  I would prefer female lawmaker’s efforts be strongly straight forward in their fight for women’s reproductive and healthcare rights.

Keep your politics out of my sex

Even George Orwell could not have predicted the current level of absurdity surrounding women’s health in general and birth control pills specifically.  What chicanery are the men that run this country up to that they are seriously debating accessibility to birth control in the year of Our Lord 2012?  I feel as though I’ve stepped through a looking glass and been transported to a long-ago era before Margaret Sanger sought funding from Planned Parenthood to research a progesterone pill that would stop ovulation in the early 1900’s.  This is not an issue of religious freedom or morality, but one of politics and diversion by both political parties.

First corsets made a comeback and 4-inch stilettos returned to torture the next generation. Then in 2009 U.S. District Judge Edward Korman not only questioned the White House’s interest in the FDA’s decision-making process regarding  whether Plan B should be made available to women of all ages without a prescription, but rebuked the FDA for departing from its usual procedures.  Korman wrote that the FDA’s lack of good faith was evidenced by, “repeated and unreasonable pressure emanating from the White House.”  The federal court ordered that Plan B be made available over the counter to those 17 and older while the FDA continued its research, all of which turned out to be a huge waste of resources when Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health, overruled the FDA’s conclusion that Plan B is safe for all ages citing concerns for parental rights and eleven-year-olds who may not understand the packaging.  I find it utterly ridiculous that the current administration believes they can ever appease social conservatives by claiming to have such concerns.  If a parent considers it their right to know about their daughter’s sex life, then it is their job to build a trusting relationship.  Tell a teenager that it is a Washington mandate and see how far that gets you.  The Department of Health and Human Services has never before said to hell with science, never before trumped the FDA, but then politics has never paid so well, either.  Perhaps HHS’s efforts would be better spent educating a country with the highest teen pregnancy rate among any developed country.

To be perfectly clear, Rick Santorum did not say he is against birth control.  What he said is that the Supreme Court was wrong to say that states cannot outlaw contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965, YES, 196frickin’5).  1.5 million women in the United States, including me, take birth control pills for health concerns other than pregnancy prevention, but why would the average male politician be well-versed in women’s health?  Mr. Santorum also stated that sex has been deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure.  And your point, Mr. Santorum?  With infidelity’s wild ride through political bedrooms, I am hardly looking to you for relationship advice or spiritual counseling.  My money is on hypocrisy.

The cherry on top of the movement to turn back time is the “religious freedom” debate regarding insurance coverage for no-cost contraception.  When I went to pick up the birth control pill that my doctor thought would work best for hormonal changes I was told that my insurance company wouldn’t cover it, just as my daughter was told about the name-brand pill her doctor prescribed as birth control.  Because I cannot afford $110 per month for those pills, we are trying a generic that might work, but certainly not as well.  These costly limitations on prescription contraception coverage were addressed in the health care reform bill that was passed in 2009.  Now, if I go to work for a religious hospital or university I am not entitled to coverage of that cost, nor is my daughter.  In my case it means night sweats, hot flashes, and mood swings.  For my daughter, who was married last summer and is watching her college investment pay off with a burgeoning career, it is her future and her children’s future.  The religious exemption may be extended to ANY employer that has religious issues with contraception coverage.  Religious freedom or money? Are women so threatening with our equal share of the job market, number of seats in university lecture halls, and longer life spans that the power structure has resorted to a paternal barefoot and pregnant strategy?  I may seem paranoid, but how does automated packaging of 1 million birth control packages go awry?  See…that’s the type of thinking that results from taking the cheapest pill instead of the right one.

Duct tape discipline?

I assumed newly patterned duct tape was intended for art projects, but it seems some parents, teachers, and caregivers are using it as a time-out option.  To be perfectly clear, I do not find the act of duct taping a toddler to a wall or taping close a teenager’s constantly running mouth facetious.  It is yet another example of how any immature imbecile can have kids and prove themselves worthy of my immature name calling by posting Facebook pics of duct taped-kid handiwork.  The absurdity is what makes me laugh, just like when I watch the dumb criminals show on TV.  Teachers and daycare workers who are trained and paid to curb child behavior must have lost some of their minds to believe kids deserve to be duct taped.  I imagine all those perspectives change dramatically when the police show up to let them know in crystal-clear fashion that they do not see the humor, nor find it justifiable.  In 2011 parents received 30 to 36 months in jail for duct taping their kids and last week a daycare worker in Kentucky was charged with first degree child abuse and is facing up to ten years for taping a toddler to the floor during nap time.  Toddlers are chocked full of energy and curiosity and they lack impulse control, traits that they will also exhibit as teenagers when it’s even harder to assert one’s authority over the independent hellions.  I do not often judge other parents.  I had my turn and made hundreds of mistakes.  I defended the Mom who admitted to drinking wine the night that her baby was stolen from her home because Moms get blamed for everything.  It isn’t as if she was breast-feeding.  Wine and parenting are frequent partners, Read More

Final Goodbyes

Although how we say goodbye to the dead has evolved and varies from culture to culture, the need is as old as time, as is the belief that there is an afterlife.  Even Neanderthals placed flowers in the hands of the dead before they sealed the bodies in caves 300,000 years ago.  Memories rush in, clouded by love and grief, and although it is past too late, we appreciate them more when they are out of our reach forever.  Honoring the ones we’ve lost cauterizes our wound, and we accept that the ceremony is for us, the living.  It sets us on the path to healing, our cries resembling a release valve on an overflowing well of hurt.  Living there for a few hours reminds us that death is the great equalizer and for a time we hold our living loves closer, sometimes afraid of the randomness of death, oftentimes aware of how brief even a long life is.

The days of public displays of the dead are waning, thank God, replaced by memorial services and “celebrations of life”.  We turn to God, even if it is the only time we do so, for comfort and hope that our loved ones live on.  You may shy away from reading this, grief being among the hardest emotions and certainly one we want to avoid.  It is also common ground for every person that was ever born.  January is to me what April was to T.S. Elliot.  Time dulls the edges, but I hold tight to my deepest grief because it is all I have left of my son.  It is mine and this public declaration is unusual to say the least.  I know death makes people uncomfortable and talk of it is to be avoided, especially when we are years away from a tragedy.  One of the changes I’ve experienced in this decade is that I am becoming increasingly transparent and immune to other’s expectations.

We attended a memorial service last week for Dale, an uncommon character and dear friend of my parents’.  I was moved when the preacher said that Dale loved to tease, or as his wife Sue put it, “agitate”.  It seems more respectful to remember him as he was.  Dale’s agitation came with rewards, however, such as his outlandish stories about inventing the computer, the internet, and a multitude of other modern conveniences.  He was a Navy Seal deep diver (for real) when decompression was unheard of and his heart paid the price.  Only Dale would consider his chainsaw as a remedy for the dozens of  situations he employed it for.  He made us laugh and was an overly generous man.  We received a thank-you card from his wife yesterday that asked us to remember our good times with Dale.  We will.

Winter’s Gifts

Typically more than 30 inches of snow has fallen in the Great Lakes by mid-January and most of the  lakes have accumulated enough ice to hold crowds of fishermen and ice hockey leagues.  Usually there are ice bridges on the Great Lakes so snow mobiles can travel to and from the islands.  Normally I am bemoaning the frigid temperatures and tell anyone who will listen that January is really the cruelest month.  But, due to this year’s weirdly mild temps I feel the awe and excitement brought on by our first cumulative snowfall…in January.  It is the epitome of wanting what you cannot have and absence making the heart grow fonder.  I was getting a bit disgusted as I watched the mildew patches in my garden widen every week and the spring bulbs sprouting.  Although we saved a bit on our heating bill and did not have to shovel the driveway, snowmen were absent, holiday lights were not as splendid as when they reflect off the snow, and when I took my nieces to the park across the road during Christmas break they got muddy.  

Snow is caught on every branch and a cotton-like puffy blanket covers our village.  Finally, my garden is tucked in and the ground is freezing.  People are skiing and sledding for the first time this season and the die-hard haters have begun their “I hate winter” chants in the shops and online forums.  This feels familiar and right.  What is the point of having four-wheel drive without an icy, snowy winter?  State funds for dredging have almost dried up, so what is the point of having a boat if the water is too low to put it in?  What is the point of my husband’s ice auger if there isn’t any lake ice to drill through?  The companions to an essential Great Lakes winter have arrived and given me hope, just in the nick of time.  Funny how hope does that.

Goals trounce resolutions

The statistics kings, or as I refer to them- “they”, say that we break 65% of new year’s resolutions.  New Year’s resolutions are designed to be broken, which is why I did not make any.  I can experience failure any time I want, sometimes several times within a day, so I’ll be damned if I am going to court it.  I was not always this way.  I spent much of my 20’s and all of my 30’s on one self-help road or another striving to be better.  Better than what?  Better than me.  It took me 43 years to accept my successes, my mistakes, and the whole package that makes up who I am, taking into account how much I have learned and grown.  With my thirst for learning and new experiences why would I not continue to grow ?  I now revel in some of my imperfections, such as a raunchy sense of humor and blunt honesty.  The world does not have a surplus of those two attributes, so I feel I add something worthwhile to the mix, just as you and your imperfections do.

Year-long promises that usually involve abstaining from a desire/addiction or performing acts that we think are good for us but do not really want to do are set-ups for failure.  One slip and I get to feel like I broke a promise to myself.  No thank you.  I prefer denying myself unhealthy habits and working toward my dreams in bite-sized increments so I can savor each daily, weekly, or even hourly victory.  I was the kid that easily made a candy bar last all day because it made for a better day.  I am not going to wait all year to pat myself on the back for going to the gym 3 times this week.  I see the calorie counter on the treadmill and I earned a candy bar or even a dish of ice cream.  This strategy makes it much more likely that I will return to the gym next week.  If I bury myself in a novel in front of the fireplace instead of going to the gym, I do not let myself off the hook for the rest of the year because I failed.  My discipline frequently lags, but not living up to a goal breeds vigilance the next day.

Another reason resolutions fail is because willpower cannot fix every problem.  Trying harder often equates to increasing frustration as I try to fix things out of my control or slap a band-aid on a problem that needs a tourniquet.  If I concentrate on the short-term goals on the branches of my big dream tree, I can appreciate how all things work together.  If I go to the gym I have more energy and sleep better, improving my cognition so that I work smarter.  Also, my jiggly parts are more perky, gaining me extra spousal squeezes and increased confidence, which ultimately leads to a better love life.  When I eat greens and lean protein I feel lighter and not a bit guilty when I indulge my love of chocolate.  I proved this to myself once again over the holidays because there weren’t any Christmas salads, but there were plenty of desserts.  When I write daily I am a happier person (so my husband says), which makes me more successful in my relationships.  When I read literature, non-fiction, or contemporary fiction, it makes me a better writer.  When I perform detailed research on career options I often discover aspects I was previously oblivious to and it motivates me to spend more time writing and constructing a virtual assistant business.  If I volunteer to work with disabled veterans, I feel better about not contributing to my community with a paying job and exposure to veteran perspectives and characters enhance my writing.  If I meditate and journal today the unemployment blues abate somewhat, which makes it easier for me to take action rather than spending the day on the couch unshowered thinking of how unfair this situation is while the TV drones in the background.  It all works together.  I am not the only one thinking this way, as evidenced by an app at iTunes called Resolutions 2012 which deconstructs resolutions into bite-sized, realistic goals that encourage a person to think about what it will take to meet a wide-sweeping resolution like losing 20 pounds or quitting smoking.  I think the best resolution all of us can strive for is doing something nice for someone else every day.  If that took off I would not need to challenge myself with meditation as often, but wishing for something hardly ever makes it so.

The American lives even more for his goals, for the future, than the European. Life for him is always becoming, never being. 
-Albert Einstein

New Traditions for a New Year

This year I felt enhancements to our New Year traditions were in order.  Our ritualistic purging is commonplace; out with the old dust bunnies and unworn clothing, make room for the new year’s new dirt, new ideas, and new fashion.  2011 was anything but commonplace in the Schultz household, and I have a strong feeling that 2012 will be chocked full of more surprising, yet positive, change.  While I did not want to give up our tried and true merrymaking recipe,  I did want to add more symbolism to the mix following a more dramatic purging than in past years.

Every time I clean out the closets I spy my wedding dress languishing in plastic and think what a waste it is to have such an exquisite gown that I just cannot bring myself to use as a  zombie bride costume.  Our daughter married in 2011, giving us a new appreciation for the cost of a wedding.  So, this year my dress is in the donation pile hoping to be worn again by a happy bride on a budget.

Not purposely, I purged my job, and more importantly my paycheck in 2011.  I naïvely asserted my rights under the American with Disabilities Act, urged onward by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who assured me that it really was the right thing to do.  Not the practical thing, but the right thing.  I think some of the dressy items I wore to work will be appreciated by a woman who does not have associated bad memories attached to these blouses and jackets.  My next job is still unknown, but surely it will require a new-to-me wardrobe.  In the meantime, I received comfy clothing for Christmas that better fits my current writing persona and requires the space taken by old items reserved for annual events I will no longer attend.  Out with old, out with the old, this year’s purging may take a couple of weeks.

After cleaning and organizing much of our nest, I turned to my right-hand-man (Google) for symbolic new year traditions practiced around the world.  There is a Scottish custom called “first-footing” whereby after the stroke of midnight a young, handsome, dark-haired man brings coal, money, bread, salt, and whiskey to your door for good luck, wealth, and good cheer.  We could not adopt this tradition because good-looking dark-headed gentlemen are hard to find, while blondes and red-heads are plentiful around here, but are considered bad luck in this Scottish tradition.  As the only handsome dark-haired guy in the neighborhood, I couldn’t have my husband visiting our neighbors all evening giving away our whiskey.  The Ecuadorian tradition of burning things that you do not want in the new year sounded more promising as long as we subtracted jumping over the fire and courting an emergency room visit.  I put out the call to my Mom to print pictures of unwanted 2011 ideals and absurdities.  Throwing joblessness, disease, food lines, and fat cats in the fire pit was as cathartic and celebratory as I hoped.  If we do not wrestle with those problems in 2012 it will be even better.  A new year is a time for new hopes.  In that spirit, I alerted my family and friends to the South American tradition of wearing brightly colored underwear for good luck; red for love, and yellow for money.  Everyone agreed that if they could not find red and yellow underwear they would settle for yellow, perhaps because we are already blessed with love and those that are single figure they can easily find romance once they have loads of dough.  I anticipate how lovely it will be when all of us receive a windfall in 2012 and will let you know when the cash starts rolling in so you too, can wear yellow underwear next year.

Our older traditions of drinking, feasting, and kissing excessively were still loyally held to, a sign that not all old things need to be purged, perhaps just embellished a bit.  I hope that your 2012 is filled with new possibilities and stripped of the 2011 things you no longer want or need.  Happy New Year!

Power on a chain

I instantly wanted my own pistol necklace when I spied Whitney Cummings’ version on TV.  My husband, amused by my Christmas wish, warned me that I would not always want a pistol necklace, meaning that I would not always feel a deep need for justice like I do today. But, the necklace is not a symbol of justice or vengeance, but one of power.  If you have ever felt the frustrating impotence of victimization I highly recommend target shooting.  It is cathartic to load, aim, and shoot a gun, more so when I hit the intended target.  Just so we are clear here: I am not referring to a psychotic break during which I shoot people who have done me wrong.  The calculated process involved in successfully hitting my target requires concentration and discipline, attributes that madmen typically lack.  My mind cannot be sullied with bastards and bitches while focusing on my stance, breathing, grip, sighting alignment, and follow-through.  The experience is all about me and I do not think of anything else while shooting.

To my delight I received a pistol pendant necklace, a sure sign that I was on the nice list despite opposing opinions and that my husband supports me even when he thinks I am a bit crazy.  The pistol pendant symbolizes my approach to 2012.  I began taking a beta-blocker to calm those pesky tremors I had since I was twelve, finally accepting that impressions form other’s reactions to me and my tremor was similar to blood in the water for sharks.  My aim has improved, along with my blood pressure.  Back to the bastards and bitches now; in order to hit my target I must focus on aligning the sights rather than the looking at the target.  What is my goal/bull’s-eye?  If I focus on the bastards and bitches rather than bull’s-eye justice, my accuracy will suffer, not to mention my mood.  Good shooting is firmly methodical rather than knee-jerk emotional and not to be rushed.  My pistol pendant symbolizes a disciplined approach and personal power, but the look of confusion on people’s faces when they notice it will be wildly entertaining, too.  I may not wear it to job interviews, though.