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Fitbit GO!

Fitbit GO!

How many steps have you walked today?

The first week that I wore my Fitbit, a graduation gift from my son for, he sweetly said, getting him through his public school experience, I walked a marathon without actually trying. My idea was that I’d walk as far as I normally do, a regular week, and see what my totals looked like. I did not anticipate that around my kitchen prepping for a party, for example, I can easily put in three miles. I knew the long, rambling walks I often enjoy outdoors with my friend would add up, but nonetheless it was a surprise when the email popped into my inbox celebrating my first marathon. It gave me confidence.

Could I, at 50, set my sights on walking the Des Moines Half-Marathon in October? Seventeen will be home for fall break from school. Fresh from summiting Harney Peak (7,242 feet) in South Dakota and cresting 10,000 feet in the Rockies in Colorado (we made it above the snowline in July), he feels physically ready for anything and is willing to walk with me. I’m less certain.

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Sioux Falls SD

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With infinite patience, my Fitbit prods me along. If I’m sitting still for the first fifty minutes of an hour, Fitbit will silently vibrate, a signal it’s time to move. When I cross 10,000 steps for the day, something I accomplish most but not every day, it celebrates on my wrist, treating me to electronic stars and fireworks. I’ve done that thing that people do at the end of the day, just a few hundred or even a couple thousand steps out, walked around and around and up and down and back and forth, just to see the light display. Fitbit and I can then go to sleep happy.

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The view from 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains

Sleep, however, is another matter all together. The goal set on my Fitbit is for seven full hours of sleep. From mid-May to late June, Fitbit recorded only a few such nights. The others fell short by as much as two hours. But, I reason, I’ve rarely in my life slept a full night. More alarming to me is the number of times I wake fully up. I understand that being restless and even waking—as I do to check the time and listen for the quiet in my house—are a part of a full night’s sleep. But waking up and staying awake, that awful experience when the mind spins up into action and going back to sleep seems impossible, these are all recorded by Fitbit, the electronic that wakes faithfully when I do and records my restless moments. Per the record on my phone, I was sleeping less and less, midnight worrying more and more.

And then an amazing thing happened. My peeps and I went on vacation. The first week I still wasn’t sleeping deeply, but we were having a blast. Each day we looked back on the day’s events and nominated a wonder—the falls of Sioux Falls, SD, where we played in the lingering sunset just a few days after Solstice; the Badlands, hot and full of colors and tourists, prairie dogs and a single noble big-horned sheep curled on his rocky perch surveying all that spread below him; Harney Peak, in the Black Hills, which we hiked a bit haphazardly, not really clear at the onset what we were in for. Truthfully, I’m not fully in the Harney Peak camp, having thought there might be nothing so wonder-filled as the experience of driving through the Needles and walking past the Cathedral Spires, craggy eroded granite pillars that reminded me of standing stones in Britain.

Experiencing absolute darkness—so dark it’s impossible to differentiate between eyes

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Mount Rushmore behind two future presidents (?). Love the cloud formation above the carvings—reminds me of Nomade, the sculpture in Des Moines.

open and closed—deep underground at Jewel Cave was another big moment, as was visiting Mount Rushmore. The buttes of eastern Wyoming made for conversation-provoking scenery as we drove through, and I gave some wonder points to the excellent pizza restaurant we discovered in downtown Lusk, WY. It’s the kind of place I would visit again were it not 660 miles from home.

The next few days were all things Rockies, experienced in Estes Park and Boulder. Stepping in snow on July 1 is certainly a novel experience. What’s more, Fitbit celebrated with me as three days that week I walked more than nine miles. Since it doesn’t adjust for difficulty or altitude, it had no idea how tough some of those mountain miles were.

After a week of sleeping in unfamiliar beds, we arrived at the welcoming home of dear friends and one-time Iowa City neighbors. We enjoyed a lovely reunion and a delightful dinner. I could barely keep my eyes open at nine and my hostess sent me off to sleep. It comes as a surprise to me now, as I look at the data, that Fitbit recorded a particularly wakeful night. What I remember is sinking into the embrace of the perfect bed, sleeping a long time, and dreaming deeply and meaningfully about past events in the way that feels like my subconscious taking them out, sorting and ordering them, and then folding them neatly and putting them away. Perhaps Fitbit interpreted all of this unpacking and packing as restlessness. What that sleep launched has been a series of nights, including one more hotel stay on our trip (wonders in Denver never ceased) and arriving home after a grueling day’s drive, Denver to Des Moines, that have been increasingly better and better. I’ve slept deeply, woke rested, and seen fewer and fewer red and blue lines in Fitbit’s recording of my sleep, indicating that I’m still and peaceful most of most nights.

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Perfect cappuccino!!

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Brunch with these two at the Brown Palace Hotel

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White & dark chocolate fountain

Can I walk a half-marathon in a few months’ time? I can sign up, train, adjust my shoes, keep my toenails short, and see how it goes. As I blend the information from my electronic friend with what I know about being an active human, I am struck by the truth that rest is not just important but something we need to train for as well. Maybe that’s true for most things: whether it’s having fun, sleeping well, entertaining, working effectively, getting organized, or walking far—whatever our ambitions we need to train. A good night’s sleep encourages the next night’s good sleep. Ten thousand steps turn into 13.1 miles. The effects compound.

Fourteen recently used up a pile of gift cards and bought herself a Fitbit. From my perspective, the best result of this is that once an hour she comes strolling through the house, getting her 250 steps but leaving her room and checking in regularly with the rest of us. Thank you for checking in with me—Happy full July moon, Rxo

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Outdoor xylophones in Estes Park, CO. So much fun!

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Feed Me!

Feed Me!

Are parent birds stressed by their duties or anxious to be done with their fledgling peeps?

IMG_6252One Saturday morning this June, during yoga, my second class of the day, over the heads—or rumps actually as they were in downward facing dog—of my students I saw a small songbird perched on the streetlamp outside the studio. The fact that the bird was on the streetlamp at eye-level to my second-floor studio meant both that it was two stories in the air and that it flew there under its own power. Nonetheless, every time a bird that looked to be the same variety swept by, the bird I was watching flapped its wings. Was it frantic or hopeful? “Feed me,” it seemed to be saying, as were so many of the fledglings spotted about on the grass in my back yard. They were in that perilous moment between being taken care of and birdy adulthood when they will fend for themselves.

Hunting for food is not, in birds, a straight-up instinct. I learned this from a man wearing a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) shirt and a photographer stationed on the bike path not far from the studio a couple of summers ago. They were watching and taking video of a young great horned owl, wide awake in the early evening, who was taking swipes at a much smaller bird that was swooping around the owl. “They almost look like they’re playing,” I whispered.

“In a way, they are,” explained the man from the DNR in hushed tones. “The owl isn’t disturbed by the bird; he’s just intrigued. And he probably isn’t too hungry yet … his parents will have fed him enough so that he can survive for days eating nothing.”

“So, he’s not trying to catch the little bird?”

“Not yet. He doesn’t yet know he can. He’ll learn to, though. Play becomes prey.”

It’s different, I think, from the way humans learn to provide food for ourselves. Much of what we do is imitate the caregivers who raise and feed us. And, too, we are often driven by hunger to seek food, sometimes any food. But playing with it is the providence of toddlers who are learning how to eat, not how to obtain food.

Even so, the parallels from the bird world to my own fledglings are impossible to ignore. Recently graduated Seventeen has a bright future ahead, the college of his choice to begin in the fall, and a kind of invincibility that I envy. His sister, newly Fourteen, doesn’t seem far behind to me. Each of them is fully capable of building a meal from the contents of the refrigerator and pantry, and Seventeen is working this summer at our favorite grocery store. Instead of making my weekly treks to stock up, I hand him a list and he brings home every single thing on it with a gratifying attention to detail and one mystery item he’s excited to share.

Still, when they’re really hungry they look straight to me. Seventeen has perfected a kind of big-eyed look that we both know is a put on and nevertheless melts my heart into scrambling eggs for his breakfast or heating up leftovers at lunchtime. Fourteen takes a different tact: “There’s nothing for lunch,” she’ll assert, often around three or four on a summer afternoon. Reminding her that lunchtime has long since passed does little. Instead I leave off what I’m doing, cut up an apple, get out other things I know she likes, and point out options.

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A junior falcon improbably perched on a car. When I got closer, I saw the bird was watching a squirrel run out from under the car, shake its tail, and then run back under. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out, but I suspected it wouldn’t be too long before the squirrel became supper.

I wonder, at such moments, how the bird parents feel. I know that I am impossibly torn. Celebrating Seventeen’s high school graduation and watching him get ready for his next chapter, I could not be more proud. Giving in with a smile to his pathetic feed-me face, I’m not-so-secretly glad I can keep him close a little while longer. Lying on Fourteen’s bed while she figures out just how to register for Silver Cord hours (her high school’s program to encourage volunteerism), I’m happy for her to lead the way, but glad too when I can show her she’s flown by the pertinent screen. Are parent birds stressed by their duties or anxious to be done with their fledgling peeps? When mine were really little, I did find feeding them somewhat stressful. But we outgrew that together. Today their physical care is a kind of pleasure I’m not yet ready to relinquish.

 

In between the new moon and the full, I’m playing a little catch-up here at OverneathItAll. The end of the school year, graduation, and the Great American Road Trip all meant I put writing largely aside for a bit. Even the most compelling of activities require breaks now and then. I’m happy to be opening my computer again and looking forward to sharing the journey with you. With gratitude and big love as ever, Rxo

Aquarius Calling

What is your favorite song?

Google “music and memory research” and there are one hundred sixty-four million hits. But there is perhaps no more immediate proof that certain musical pieces from the past deliver a memory wallop than that moment when a song you’re not expecting starts playing on the radio. The most recent song to stir my memory banks made me smile: “Kiss You All Over,” by Exile. A number one hit in 1978, the synth-pop success never struck me as a particularly good song then. This week when I heard it while driving through the early spring sunshine, the convertible top down and the wind ruffling my hair, my reaction was: “Oh, I love this song.” And I turned up the volume.

In 1978 I had an avocado green touch-tone slimline phone with an extra-long cord in my room. Although not a dedicated teenline, it was a second number at the farm (I’ll always remember these digits: 319.683.2656 (of course don’t call them now—they may belong to someone else)), so it felt like mine. I was not allowed to be on it after 9pm and no one in those days called anyone before 9am, unless it was an emergency or a work/school-related matter. But who called whom after school was an important social register, and I looked forward to hearing that phone ring.

My longest-standing friendship is nearly the length of my lifetime, and it began when a girl finally arrived, after four sons, at the farm adjacent to ours to the west. My mother gave her mother my crib, and since we could talk we’ve said we were crib sisters. Because the district line scrolled weirdly right through our property, my friend and her brothers attended the country school system; my brother and I went into town. Nonetheless, we saw each other weekends and spent much of the un-air-conditioned hot, humid Iowa summers cooling off by floating together in inner tubes on our pond.

My friend—I’m going to call her Aquarius—spent many a night at my house. We’d go to my room and listen to music and sometimes we browsed the phone book. Young people who had their very own phone lines were often identified in the phone book under their parents’ listing as “teenline.” That meant if you dialed such a number you were likely ringing the phone of a teenager in his or her room. If anyone was going to answer, it would be the teen. There were no answering machines, no caller ID, no hold button or call waiting, but there would be a busy signal if the person were already on the line. In those days, you dialed the number and you got the person or you didn’t.

I feel a little chagrined to confess that Aquarius and I found a great deal of delight in making crank calls, specifically to teenlines. We took turns, dialing the numbers, waiting with a catch in our breath for the phone on the other end to ring, hoping that someone would answer. We’d say something we were certain was tremendously provocative, listen for the reaction and then hang up and laugh, our hearts racing.

One night Aquarius, who I suspect is still far braver than I, called a teenline and waited. When a male voice answered, she dropped her line on him. I don’t remember what she said, but the response she got was not an angry slam; it was a groggy, “What?” She looked at me with big eyes and then kinda shrugged and said, simply, “Hi.”

She had caught the attention of our call recipient and they begin to talk. His name was Kurt, and he was a college student, living at home for the summer. Just junior high girls, we were thrilled to talk to this older guy who seemed content to while away some time chatting. We handed the phone back and forth, laughing and talking for some time.

It was not the last time we would call Kurt. The next time we were armed with a list of questions. For years I had the canary yellow legal pages on which we wrote his answers in green ink. Even though I can see the pages like a snapshot, other than his first name, the only thing I can remember is that his favorite song, he said, was “Kiss You All Over.”

Was it really? Or was it just what was playing over and over and over and over on top-40 radio? Aquarius and I listened the next time we heard the song—with five older rock-n-roll brothers between us, we couldn’t imagine a guy who would pick such a schmaltzy pop song as his favorite. But we decided we liked it because Kurt did.

So many years later the song ends and I’m pulling into my destination, awash in memories of Aquarius and farm summers and innovations like push-button phone pads that my children wouldn’t even see as technology. I’m not aware of anything even similar to crank calling in their world, although I supposed “friending” or “following” someone you don’t know might give you a similar opportunity for the thrill of touching a stranger. Then again, today such interactions are discouraged because you don’t know who’s on the other end of the connection or where in the world they might be or whether they are who they say they are. And even though neither one of dials into their favorite station on a clock radio in their room, as I did endlessly during my teenaged years, I am certain, that the music they listen to today will be the music that evokes the Oh yeah, I remember when that happened memories they will cherish a few miles down the road.

Happy new April moon—it’s time to sow seeds, metaphorical and actual. What seeds are you planting? With much love, Rxo

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The seeds we are sowing this spring will arrive in surprising and mysterious and colorful ways, sometimes when we least expect them. Yes—this farm girl knows tulips come from fall bulbs not spring seeds, but these tulips were a gift from a friend I met at the most ill-imagined, uncomfortable party ever. The party was thirteen years ago; the friendship is as strong as ever. 

A Twenty-Minute Town

A Twenty-Minute Town

What are you thankful for?

Dear Des Moines,

In a few weeks’ time, the calendar will mark eleven years since my family and I arrived here—we were five people, two cats, two dogs (one of them dying) on a icy sixteen-degree day complete with a wind chill that was way below zero. Halfway up the stairs of our new suburban box, a house the square footage of which quite possibly exceeds the cumulative footage of every other house I’d lived in before, I sank to the mini-landing and thought, “We’ve made a terrible mistake, moving here.”

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The Iowa Capitol, beautiful outside and worth a visit to see the twenty-nine types of marble inside!

Last week, I drove Sixteen to orientation for his winter/spring position as a Senate Page. As he struggled to tie an acceptable full Windsor knot in a new tie, a gift from his grandmother Ninety-One, on the drive downtown, I suggested he remember this moment. In twenty or thirty years, I told him he’d be effortlessly tying his tie in the back of his limo on his way to work. Or maybe he’d be so rich he wouldn’t have to wear a tie. “Or so poor, I can’t afford one,” he smiled, something neither of us believes will happen, but it completed my thought in the cheerful way that we riff off of each other. Oh Des Moines, even as I was marking the moment with him, cruising along I-235 toward the capitol building, I was remembering a much earlier foray on the same highway from the first year we lived here.

We knew hardly anyone, arriving halfway through the school year, and Sixteen, then Five, was put into the afternoon Kindergarten class. Our schedule revolved around his bus to and from the abbreviated school day, interwoven with his sister’s nap. Every Friday morning we drove downtown to the indoor Farmers’ Market. There we purchased milk from Picket Fences dairy, tasty bites for lunch, eggs from a farmer called Brent, and occasional crafts and other delights from the merchants we came to consider our first friends in the area. When he realized his sixth birthday would fall on a Market Friday, Very Nearly Six hatched a plan: we baked mini-muffins together and bearing this basket of treats went to the market as usual. Six made his way through the market, sharing the muffins with his merchant friends. They were truly charmed.

The following fall our schedule shifted and by-then Three was enrolled in morning preschool, her brother at his elementary all day. Still our hearts broke when the indoor market closed, even as the building was repurposed into the wildly successful Gateway Market and some of the merchants went on either to open retail establishments of their own—Café di Scalia, Zumi—or to become a gold standard in local produce: Picket Fences milk, cream and ice cream are now for sale all over the area.

Last week, after I dropped Sixteen, at midmorning on a Friday, I pulled easily into a meter right in front of the county office building. In fifteen minutes I had turned in license plates, netting a refund check, and completed the paperwork, photo and all, to renew my passport. I topped off my meter and walked through the skywalk system to the indoor holiday Farmers’ Market. Hosted in a skywalk nexus for two days in November and two more in December, this is the place to purchase the last tastes of the Iowa summer—jams, jellies, honey, late produce. I scored heritage carrots, watermelon radishes, a tiny tray of baklava for Ninety-One, Dutch Letters for Sixteen and Thirteen, and a hostess gift for a fall party.

I still hadn’t used up as much time in Des Moines as Sixteen, Thirteen and I spent purchasing train tickets in Madrid. Or, I remembered with a smile, my three-hour trip to the Maryland DMV when Thirteen was Three Months and the tip-top of her downy head appeared in my driver’s license photo. So I found a seat in a coffee shop and thought, as I often do, what a pleasant and easy place this is to live.

In fifty years, I’ve lived in six states and two foreign countries. I have dreams of living abroad again and living near the sea again, so someday, Des Moines, it may well be time to leave you again. In fact, I don’t think that I truly believed when we moved here that this would be the place from which my peeps would graduate, but I did know that I wanted them to have a sense of stability, a launching pad into their own lives. You have helped me create this foundation for them, Des Moines, and for this, too, I am grateful.

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Looking west from the Capitol—home is less than twenty minutes thataway!

In the years we’ve made a home here, Des Moines, you have proven yourself to be a town of opportunity, a town of reliable medical care, a town where my bankers know me by name, and a town where I can live on the west side and drive downtown in under twenty minutes without speeding. You’ve come to be a town where without exception no matter where I might be, I will run into at least one person I know. You’re the town where my children are thriving, with opportunities like Sixteen’s Senate page position and Thirteen’s upcoming performance as a Flower in Ballet Des Moines’ professional production of The Nutcracker. You’re a town, Des Moines, that has given me all of these gifts alongside the gift of an amazing community of people with whom I work and play.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, Des Moines, I am thankful that my pilgrimage landed me here. I am grateful you are the pleasant mid-western city that you are.

Wishing you and yours a happy full beaver moon, a glorious Thanksgiving, and a brilliant thank you for riding along on my journey. Namaste, Rxo

Phrase Phase

Which one is correct?

When my newly minted teenager, Thirteen, was just beginning to articulate complete sentences at the age of about Three, she learned to say, “Actually.” She did not use it to correct others, but to make a point as fact. “Actually, I was going to pet the cat.” “I am hungry, actually.” “Actually, good night.” As a developmental habit, it was actually pretty cute and didn’t last long enough to become annoying.

Ten years later she might just as well append actually to every comment because she is a stickler for accuracy, and not only her own. If I report that it’s 4 and we need to leave, she’ll tell me it’s only 3:56. If her brother mis-quotes a song lyric, she will take pains to sing the refrain emphasizing the correct words. If she herself says her left hand but means her right, she’ll burst into giggles and ask loudly why in the world would she say left when she means right.

I can only hope that this linguistic phase will also be short lived.

I put aside my wondering about where her commitment to detail came from to do a little celestial research. I thought I remembered that July 31 this year brings us a Blue Moon, the second full moon in a calendar month. A blue moon is auspicious, of course, because it doesn’t happen very often. The full moon offers a big hit of lunar energy, and a blue moon shines its big light onto the truth in our hearts, offering us a path to follow those notes toward meaningful transitions.

Verifying my memory online, I was drawn up short when I uncovered an inaccuracy in my own understanding of the world. Traditionally, it seems, the blue moon was the third full moon of four in a single season (between equinox and solstice or solstice and equinox). That was according to the 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac. Then, in 1946 a reporter for Sky and Telescope, in an article entitled “Once in a Blue Moon,” interpreted the older definition to mean two full moons in a single calendar month (http://earthsky.org/space/when-is-the-next-blue-moon).

Which one is the correct definition? Do we have a blue moon this month or not until May 2016? According to the reading I’ve done, people can’t agree. But the author at earthsky wisely suggests that both definitions are folklore, and thus we get to decide and enjoy either. As I see it, with two definitions for blue moons in use, the phenomenon is less incredibly rare; so the phrase, once in a blue moon, is less laden with the meaning of something seldom happening.

A little further research offers this—five hundred years ago (okay, 487), there is printed evidence that if something happened once in a blue moon it would be something utterly absurd, akin to “when pigs fly.” The flying pigs were also popular parlance about the same time, alongside the moon being made of green cheese. Together they must have rubbed out the blue moon as absurd, allowing it to come roaring back to mean a rare occurrence.

I love language. I love that it shifts and grows and accommodates our changing communications, but I also consider myself something of a usage guardian and strive for accuracy in meaning, punctuation, and grammar. In clear communications, accuracy is powerful; and boom, I am handed new understanding. Living with an English professor turned editor, a Sixteen year-old-boy who knows most everything, and a grandmother with nearly ninety-one years of living experience, of course Thirteen is driven to discover the Actually in any situation. At this moment, when she is learning to navigate the world at an age during which she can enjoy the Minions movie and Dirty Dancing in a single weekend, this moment is more rare and precious than any blue moon, because when it’s over it won’t ever return.

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Valencia, earlier this month (July 2015)

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Either the hand has grown or the jelly fish are smaller … or both! California, January 2009

In spite of my general preference for particulars and a feeling that the oldest way is somehow the rightest, I’m sticking with the idea that this month (7.31.15) we see a blue moon; twenty-eight days ago my peeps and I were under a glorious full moon in Barcelona. The world turns and turns and we’re lucky to be on it. Thanks for reading, Rxo

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