Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Lonely Bench

I'm lucky. For almost three years, I've lived 1/2 mile from a beautiful lake.

It has provided me with stunning views and peaceful moments on my countless walks along its perimeter. I am embarrassed to admit however, that a passive stranger invites me to stop and sit for a while each time I visit. Not once have I accepted. You see, it would interrupt my cardio workout, delay my other planned activities for the day and decrease my mileage goal. I'm not alone either. I've never seen anyone even take notice of this edifice, a forgotten  bench. I feel sorry for it, so when I go by I smile, promise to rest on it next time, but never do.

A Lonely Bench

Yesterday that changed. I strolled down to the lake for the sole purpose of sitting on that bench. What happened?

First of all, it's quite comfortable. It must be made of a soft weather resistant material. As I settled in, I became acutely aware of my senses. Here's a photo essay of what I experienced:

I heard the chattering of leaves that never fell.
I smelled their decay.

I saw how the sun had gradually melted the ice.
I heard the ripples of the water.

I felt the wind push rain clouds away.
I smelled the mist of rain.
I saw the blue sky peeking through the clouds.
I heard the wind blow.

I saw about 100 shades of grey.

I felt the mist of cold rain.
I heard light rain strike the ice and water.
I tasted the mist.

I heard the caws, tweets and squawks of distant birds.
I saw them scamper on the thin ice then fly away.

I also became aware of my own breathing and smelled the life of the lake. I'd say I had an unplanned meditation.

What was the result?

A relaxed, tranquil feeling that so many strive to achieve.

When it was time to go I calmly stood and thanked the bench. It provided me with a free seat to one of nature's often ignored performances. No wonder it had asked me to sit down each time I passed by. It had so much to show me. I promised the bench I'd stop by again. This time I was sincere. As I strolled back home, I saw two other walkers. We nodded at each other and smiled. I almost told them about the bench, but didn't. You see, I'm a little shy and a little selfish. I think I'll keep the secret of the bench to myself  for awhile. Once the word gets out about all it has to offer, it just may have a lot more company and not enough room for me.

Is there someplace you want to go that is only minutes from your home, but you never make the time for it? Tell us about it. 

Old Blue Chair by Kenny Chesney. This song tells about how valuable an old chair can be. Love the lyrics.


"If you are a dreamer, come in..." Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein is a collection of poems and drawings - a perfect light read for some kick back time in your favorite chair.


You never know what can happen on a bench:

“He was sitting on a bench at The Manasquan Inlet — the famous surf spot — with a couple buddies. When my husband mouthed to us as we were walking by, ‘that’s Bruce Springsteen,’ we all could not believe it, but when we realized it was him, he saw Ed’s guitar and Bruce said, ‘ Let me hear that box, play that thing.’
“That was when Ed turned over the guitar and Bruce rolled up the sleeves of his green flannel shirt and started strumming. I asked if I could take a few pics and he said ‘sure’ and moved over on the bench so that the couple could sit down! He sang a little ditty about how they were getting married in a month and improvised with the small amount of info we had given him when we approached … it was awesome!
“Although the moment was only that, a moment, lasting maybe five minutes, it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us and a true account of what can happen at the Jersey Shore! Bruce walked off into the sunset … he might be the coolest dude ever! He was happy to be sitting there on this bench by the beach at sunset playing for all of us!”

Read more: Springsteen NJ beach couple photographer speaks! | Blogness on the Edge of Town

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Stories of a Wrinkle

I was going through a box of old photos trying to decide which ones I wanted to scan onto a computer file. In between snapshots of my son's hockey games and holiday parties at Mom's, I came across some of a trip I took to the Redwood Forest in California with Keith. I quickly concluded that the pictures did not adequately capture the grandeur of these giant trees. They literally touched the sky and had a circumference wider than an elephant's torso. I remember standing amongst these gentle land leviathans and feeling as tiny as the ants that ran along their exposed roots. After studying the photos for a moment I noticed the fissures and protuberances on the tree, which could easily be viewed as wrinkles. Each contour, adding to the wisdom, strength and confidence of a prominent gift from nature.

As I continued to thumb through my photos, I found this one. I took it while on a walk by a lake near my home. It's bark was smooth and soft to touch, almost calling for life to bring it an experience that would make an imprint on its character. Really, so precious in it's innocence and eager with a yearning to grow.

I couldn't help but compare these trees, one old and one young, to our conversation about aging with grace and acceptance. I sincerely do my best not to judge others. If tightening your skin through surgery makes you feel better, go for it, but I'm certainly glad trees weren't born with vanity. Nope. Fairies don't come out at night to polish their surface into smooth timber. Thank goodness.  Those redwoods have endured earthquakes, torrential rains and man's invasion. I want to view these stories told so eloquently through the resiliency of their facade.

So here's to the stages of life from the promise of a newborn to the richness of the elderly and all the years in between. The key, I believe, is to embrace and honor each phase.  


"Father Time is not always a hard parent, and, though he tarries for none of his children, often lays his hand lightly upon those who have used him well; making them old men and women inexorably enough, but leaving their hearts and spirits young and full in vigor. With such people the grey head is but the impression of the old fellow's hand giving them his blessing, and every wrinkle but a notch in the quiet calendar of a well spent life."

Charles Dickens

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Beauty of Aging

We are born with soft, smooth, sensitive skin. As we age that skin toughens up and gradually wrinkles. It's part of nature's plan. Of course, there are things we can do to help preserve a youthful appearance. You know them - healthy eating, exercise, sunscreen, natural skin creams, managing stress, and yes, genetics do play a role. However, the bottom line is, if we live long enough, we eventually look old. So why are so many people having facelifts if a mature appearance is inevitable?  

According to the American Plastic Surgery Statistic Report, 113,000 facelifts were performed in 2010 at an average of $25,000 a piece (and that number increases every year). In case you don't have a calculator handy, that's a total of  nearly three billion dollars. Add in botox, lip plumping, eyelash extensions, nose adjustments and we've made a dent in the national debt. Okay, maybe a dimple. Regardless, it's a lot of money to fight a losing battle. People don't look the same at 70 as they did at 30.
What made me think about people wanting to memorialize their youthful face?

I was at the Banff Film Festival shown in Saratoga Springs this past Sunday and watched a four minute film called, Ski Bums Never Die. A 75-year-old woman, Mary Woodward, was featured. She had short grey hair, an effervescent smile, eyes that sparkled with energy and a face covered with wrinkles. She instantly became my hero. Mary is in excellent shape, skied swiftly down tree lined mountain slopes and laughed often. Check out the award winning  film below.

The face of a truly beautiful 75-year old woman.

I then went home and tuned into the Grammy Awards. It's pretty safe to say that just about everyone over 60 had a facelift. I could tell by the star's high cheeks that looked like they had been implanted with ping pong balls and the super-sized depressions on either side of their chins - the classic look of  a face that has been cut, stretched and tucked. Check it out:

Sorry Dolly. You're not alone.

It's just my opinion, but I really do think it looks like plastic wrap was pulled tightly over a face following surgery. So after comparing the skier to the stars, I made a firm commitment to follow the path of Mary Woodward as I journey through the afternoon of my life. Hopefully I will live my days with compassion, honesty, wellness and enthusiasm so my beauty seeps out from my inside. I don't want to rely on anesthesia, knives and bandages to feel pleased when I look in the mirror.

What do you think? If someone handed you a check for $25,000, would you dart to your nearest cosmetic surgeon or spend it on your favorite pastime for many years?


I'm going with Lady Gaga's Born This Way. The outrageous entertainer has publicly stated that she will never have a face lift. Her words, taken from Popeater, "I think that promoting insecurity in the form of plastic surgery is infinitely more harmful than artistic expression related to body modification."

Love the dancing!!!


Back When We Were Grown-Ups by Ann Tyler. She is another woman that, although successful, has chosen to grow old with grace and style.

Ann Tyler at 71
The Baltimore Sun's Review of Back When We Were Grown-Ups:

“STUNNING . . . ‘Once upon a time,’ the story begins, ‘there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.’ . . . With Rebecca Davitch, Tyler has created a character who is brave enough to look back on her life and to imagine herself making different kinds of choices. Brave enough to wonder what honesty looks like, whether there is ever really a single distillation of self that is unshakable and true. . . . Anne Tyler has a talent for spinning out characters . . . who go on living long after their stories end.”


"If you invest in beauty it will remain
with you for the rest of your life."

Frank Lloyd Wright

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Results: Technology Detox Diet

Everything seemed normal. White clouds floated in a brilliant blue sky. A winter chill nipped at my cheeks. I felt weekend energy stirring. The garage door opened when I pushed the button on the remote control. Despite these common occurrences, a bit of nervousness swirled inside me. After entering my house, I checked my voicemail, text messages, e-mail, Facebook and this blog. Then - time for the big shutdown. My thumb hesitated as I pushed the end button on my cell phone, but soon most of the machines in my life were turned off. My technology detox diet had begun.

I waited for the trembling to start, the anxiety to build. It didn't. As I sat in my comfy black desk chair tapping a rolled magazine on my knee I thought, this isn't so hard. Shrugging, I hopped up and started my weekend away from the techno world.

How did I do?

I'd give myself a B if I were being graded. I did cheat, a little. I spent the weekend with my husband and friends in a large, rustic Adirondack camp. Broadband, digital cable and cell phone service hadn't found a home there so in a way it was a forced shutdown. Okay, okay. Maybe I cheated a lot, but there were still challenges.  

Someone did bring an I-Pad, which was used for emergency questions like, "What's the name of that ski resort in Northern Maine?" and "Can you freeze quiche?" I didn't peek when the I-Pad was pulled out, but once, after two glasses of wine, I almost asked to borrow it so I could check my e-mail.

Another challenge came when I returned Sunday afternoon and felt like making a mad dash to my laptop. Instead, I unpacked, read and organized my writing materials. My biggest cheat was the Superbowl. I watched Kelly Clarkson nail the national anthem, Madonna rock it out at halftime (Is she really somewhere in her fifties?) and the last quarter of the game (couldn't believe that I really don't want this touchdown play at the end). I dealt with my guilt by pretending I was at the game and not watching it on TV. It sort of worked.

The bottom line is I stayed on my technology diet about 90% of the time. Not bad.   

What were the results?

I loved the free feeling that came with being wireless. My favorite part was not having the beep beep of my cell interrupt activities, conversations and thoughts. Second, had to be exercising without my I-Pod. Although I love music, moving with only the sounds of the world to keep me company was magical. While I was cross country skiing, I heard the whisper of a gentle breeze, birds caw, twigs brush against my coat in the forest and a crunchy splash when my boot found a thin spot on a frozen brook. With it came a welcome feeling of tranquility.     
  It is nearly impossible to avoid technology altogether in the contemporary world, but that's not such a bad thing. These modern inventions are fun, useful and necessary. The key is to find balance. So here are my goals to manage my technology use in the future:
  • Silence my cell phone in restaurants and during meals. 
  • Ignore the beep of my cell phone if I'm in the middle of a conversation or something else important.
  • Limit the amount of times I check personal e-mail and other electronic messages in a day.
  • Take at least one walk per week without my I-pod.
Here are some photos of the Stillwater Reservoir in the Western NY Adirondacks where I had a weekend full of kick back moments. It's one of the few places in the Northeast that has an accumulation of snow this winter. Oh yeah, I did use a digital camera. Does that count?


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Technology Detox

I'm leaving my cell phone, laptop and I-pod in a drawer this weekend. I'm going to set my Kindle aside and read a book, browse through the Sunday newspaper with a cup of coffee at the diner in town and travel north until I find snow covered cross country ski trails. I'll take a walk with the sounds of the world to keep me company as opposed to music from my MP3 player. I'm going on a technology detox diet from Friday night until Monday morning.


Number One: I've been overindulging in the stimulating technological world lately and don't want to end up looking like this:

Number Two: Dr. Russ Newman of the American Psychological Association believes that using technology constantly adds to stress levels and he emphasizes the importance of limiting the use of electronic gadgets. Read more: How to Prevent Technology From Increasing Your Stress Level |

Number Three: I read an article in The L.A. Times (Yes...I found it online) that reported more than half of Americans would rather give up chocolate, alcohol and caffeine for a week before parting temporarily with their phones (survey by the technology firm TeleNav).

Read On:
One-third would give up sex, 22% would give up their toothbrushes (versus 40% of iPhone users, who evidently love their phone more than clean teeth) and 21% would rather go shoeless before separating from a mobile phone. Sixty-six percent sleep with their smartphones by their side.

Our addiction is so severe that people described going 24 hours without Internet akin to quitting an alcohol or cigarette habit, according to a report from British company Intersperience. About 40% of those surveyed reported feeling lonely without the Internet, and 53% felt upset at being deprived. One person described unplugging to "having my hand chopped off."

In another survey conducted by the University of Maryland found students who faced a sudden Internet and media blackout began to display withdrawal symptoms. One American said she was "itching like a crackhead" after going cold-turkey for 24 hours, and an Argentine student reported feeling "dead" without media, while a Lebanese student described the whole experience as "sickening."

The students recognized that there are joys in life besides browsing the web and curating their social networks, according to the survey, but all nevertheless reported feeling distress, sadness, boredom or paranoia. "Media is my drug; without it I was lost," said a British student. "I am an addict. How could I survive 24 hours without it?" (L.A. Times, August 2011)

After reading this I asked myself the following questions:

Does your smart phone accompany you to a restaurant?
Me: No...I don't own a smartphone, but I have been caught texting on my mobile while my husband is talking to me.

How many text messages are showing up on your usage bill?
Me: My guess...about 400. Don't know if that's a lot or a little, but it's way less than my younger son's count, who I'm guessing, has developed strong and limber thumb muscles.

How many times a day do you check your e-mail, Facebook or favorite online group's activity?
Me: Let's say, probably too often.

Do you find yourself having to immediately grab that portable device when you hear it's ringtone or beep?
Me: No. In fact I've had many complaints that I'm negligent about responding to my cell phone's orders.

Do you find yourself trembling when you see or hear, Please silence your cell phone and other electronic devices?
Me: No. I welcome the excuse to unplug especially if I'm about to watch a movie starring Johnny Depp. No interruptions please.

Do you let a device interrupt a conversation, work or even a thought?
Me: It depends on how interesting the conversation, work or thought is.

If your computer crashes, do you crash along with it?
Me: Yup.

Do you spend more than three hours a week playing a favorite video game?
Me: Probably 2-to-3 hours a week. I'm not proud of it, but it's a really good game.

Would you give up your toothbrush or shoes for your laptop?
Me: Toothbrush - NO; Shoes - Yes. I do like boots and sandals. Do they count as shoes?

Would you give up wine, chocolate, etc. for your laptop?
Me: Are you kidding? There are some things technology can never replace.

After my very subjective analysis, I'd say on a scale of one to ten, I'm a five with my technology addiction. I don't want it to creep up to number six so I'm unplugging this weekend. It's sort of like losing five pounds before it turns into ten. After all, I don't want Hal from 2001 A Space Odyssey hanging out on my shoulder. In fact, maybe the world needs another (emergency) sequel to this classic movie.


Close your eyes and listen to the one of the most beautiful guitar solos I have ever heard, Ocean by John Butler. 


For my technology detox weekend, I want to read a book where the story flows, characters are engaging and there's plenty of emotional trauma. Kristin Hannah usually meets this criteria so I'm going to buy her new book, Home Front. If chick lit is not your thing, browse through your local bookstore or library and select a story that will help you forget that the computer was ever invented.    


Dialogue from 2001 A Space Odyssey between Dave the human and Hal the computer:

Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?
Hal: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
Hal: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Dave Bowman: What's the problem?
Hal: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave Bowman: What are you talking about, HAL?
Hal: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Dave Bowman: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL.
Hal: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.
Dave Bowman: [feigning ignorance] Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?
Hal: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.
Dave Bowman: Alright, HAL. I'll go in through the emergency airlock.
Hal: Without your space helmet, Dave? You're going to find that rather difficult.
Dave Bowman: HAL, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the doors!
Hal: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.