Thursday, September 1, 2016

Walking with Charley and My Ears

 Did you ever take a walk focusing on only one of your five senses? Sure, you look where you're going even if you turn off the sense of sight, but you don't notice the colors of the trees or the shirts worn by passersby. And, if you turn off smell you won't be aware of the aromatic scent of the woods or of freshly cut grass. A few days ago I went on such a walk. Planning on three miles for my own workout and Charley's, my grand-dog who I was taking care of, we set off for the park where we'd walk along a macadam path cut through the woods. I gave sight, smell, touch and taste a vacation and kicked up hearing.

Charley and I crossed the wooden bridge over the Saddle River to a loud chorus of cicadas. Their pulsing sound permeated the air, sizzling like potatoes thrown into a pot of hot oil.  He stopped to do his business - always does the moment we enter the park - and I heard the hum of bicycle tires against the black tarred pavement. Thankfully, he was off-road, squatting on the dirt so only I had to move aside. We continued meandering along the path stopping every few feet for Charley to sniff EVERYTHING. If only dogs could write, he'd have his own blog post on using the sense of smell.



A little further on, happy giggles and squeals of children in the playground erased the cicadas' song. We took the curve to the left heading towards the pond. Charley wandered onto the grass alongside the path. Dried out leaves fallen too early, during summer rather than autumn, crunched under his paws. The serenity of the woods evaporated with the banging and clanging of heavy machinery on
some construction site hidden by the dense tree line and, to top it off, the grating sound of roller blades pierced the air as a kid flew by on those skates. We stopped at the waterfall listening to the rush of the river as it tumbled down over the rocks and I held tight to Charley's leash.



Approaching the pond, it sounded as if a huge summer rainstorm had hit. But it was only the fountain spilling into the water. Circling the area I heard the shriek of metal chains attached to swings as little kids pumped higher and higher and then Thwack! A branch must have fallen from a tree. The clomp of Nikes hitting the pavement as young men and women jogged by met the squishing sound of my tennis-socked feet in my cross trainers as I stepped quickly halfway through the three miles.

 

Charley was panting heavily, his tongue hanging out, his way of sweating and I wiped my brow. But he was a trooper. At eleven years old, he still loved walking in the park and everyone commented, "What a cute puppy."  He still looked like a little boy so cute with his big brown eyes. Oh, but that's the sense of sight. Sorry.

We headed back to the parking lot to the music of the river gurgling downstream. All was peaceful. Then, Smack! The loud, growling motor of a lawnmower.


Not even that reverberating noise could ruin our walk. We got back home, a little tired, a little sweaty, but feeling strong. I had a tall glass of water and Charley licked the liquid from his bowl. The crinkling sound of me opening the package of chewy meaty treats was music to his ears.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Finding Love in Unimaginable Places

"Today I'm participating in a group blogging! WOW! Women On Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about finding love in unimaginable places. Why this topic? We're celebrating the release of Michael French's twenty-fourth novel. Once Upon a Lie(Terra Nova Books) is an exploration of the secrets families keep, and the ways those secrets can tear a family apart. Visit The Muffin (http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com) to read what Michael has to say on finding love in unexpected places and view the list of all my blogging buddies. Visit Michael's website (http://www.michaelrfrench.com/) to find out more about the author."

Finding love in unimaginable places - an interesting topic. When I was single and living in New York City, I used to imagine finding the love of my life in the Laundromat on Lexington Avenue. I'd put the quarters in the slot, pour in the Tide, and picture him throwing his dirty socks into the machine next to mine. He wasn't tall, dark and handsome. In fact, I never really had an image of him - just the idea. It was romantic. The hum of washing machines and dryers, our song. We'd start a conversation and, well…you can make up your own stories. Lucky for me though, that never happened because if it had I'd never have met the true love of my life. Without embarrassing him completely, below are a few lines from a short story I wrote about that auspicious meeting.

He sat across the room. Jeans, faded just enough to give them that soft well worn look as comfortable as an old friend, clung to his firm thighs. A tan corduroy sport jacket showed off his strong wide shoulders. She liked the pipe clutched between his teeth and the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled. The thick, dark brown mustache lining his upper lip completed the package – masculine, sexual. There were five other people in the room, but he was all she saw.

Perhaps the Laundromat is more unimaginable than a studio apartment in New York City. I'll leave you to create that story. While you're thinking about it, here are a few more lines from my very short piece. I'll set the scene: It's a hot summer day; my guy and I have taken a long walk on the beach. Thirsty, not having a bottle of water since it's 1971 and Poland Spring hasn't been invented yet, we stop at a friend's house. She offers us a drink and a frozen chunky bar.

A chunky bar, a two inch cube of milk chocolate studded with raisins and chopped nuts. Initially, it was hard to get her teeth through the dense candy, but once bitten it melted in her mouth. The chocolate coated her tongue and cheeks. He tasted the sweetness on her lips.
Now, many years later, she recalls the taste of the chocolate confection and remembers the corduroy jacket that no longer fits.  And she loves the way his thick, gray mustache tickles when they kiss.





Now, back to this group blog and Michael French's novel. I’m putting it on my "to read" list.

About Once Upon A Lie: Twelve-year-old Jaleel Robeson is on the run after the police in his tiny Texas town try to frame him for the death of his father. A world away, Alexandra “Alex” Baten is growing up amid all the material comforts a wealthy Los Angeles lawyer can provide. One day, a simple cup of lemonade unites their lives, leading to a maze of adultery and murder that shatters Alex’s youthful innocence and Jaleel’s struggle to reshape his life.

While the forces of the law try to unravel the mysterious death―or at least find a scapegoat―the two youths see the trajectories of their lives entwine, unravel, and come together again. Justice, Alex learns, can be a strange and nebulous thing, easily enmeshed in webs of loyalty and betrayal. Justice, Jaleel finds, can be a powerful―but dangerous―rock on which to build a life of honor and courage. As their stories play out over the years in cities far apart, best-selling author Michael French fills the world of Alex and Jaleel with a cast of vivid characters both supporting and threatening their efforts to build a life that “works” amid the expectancies of others and their own conflicting drives.

About the Author:
A graduate of Stanford University with a degree in English and of Northwestern University with a master’s in journalism, Michael French is the author of twenty-four books: adult and young adult fiction, art criticism, biographies, adaptations, and gender studies. A native of Los Angeles, he also is a successful businessman, an avid high-altitude mountain trekker, a world traveler to developing countries, an activist, and, with his wife, Patricia, a philanthropist raising money for programs aiding teachers in Santa Fe, N.M., public schools, which are some of the most challenged in the country.



Author Links:

Purchase Link:

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Bit of Flash in Greenwich Village

 It was a clear, warm spring evening. A gentle breeze blew through the open doors of the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village where members of The Women's National Book Association congregated. It was Open Mic Night for the New York City chapter. Fourteen of its members read aloud from their novels, memoirs, essays, poems and short stories. The words and wine flowed through the Café's intimate dining room, a scene from the 1950s sans cigarette smoke.




I had the pleasure of reading my flash fiction, Dry Bandages, published in the April 2016 edition of Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. What is Flash Fiction you ask? A complete story generally under 1,000 words. Dry Bandages comes in at 552 words. Click on the video on the right and you can pretend you're in the cafe with us. Pour yourself a glass of wine, it'll seem more real, then sit back and listen. 



The picture on the left, the cover of the program for this Open Mic Night, is from the WNBA (books not basketball) Dinner Dance at the Hotel Pennsylvania on March 18,1938. Yes, the organization has been around for a long time - almost 100 years. It was established in 1917 in America before women even had the right to vote.

The Women's National Book Association is a vibrant organization with some 800 members from nine cities across the country, a broad-based non-profit organization granting three distinguished national awards annually and a history of lively events. For more information on the organization, upcoming events and membership go to www.wnba-books.org. And for the coveted list of  novels and memoirs perfect for book clubs, visit their Great Group Reads site at www.nationalreadinggroupmonth.org. I'll be back with more info on Great Group Reads in the fall. October is National Reading Group Month.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Three Things I Learned Shooting a Glock




Did you know you need good core strength to shoot a weapon? Well, I suppose the assassin who shoves his .22 against the back of the guy's skull isn't actually thinking about his abs, but I was when I went to the shooting range for my first time. Being a Fitness Professional practically my entire adult life, it was automatic when I had that semi-automatic in my hands.

I was excited driving to the range - kind of like the first time I snorkeled or put on roller blades. Even when we arrived at Shoot Out in West Palm Beach (I was with my husband and two friends) my adrenaline was pumping. We walked into the yellow building and signed the release forms, showed our IDs, and picked out our ear protectors. I chose the blood red ear muffs. The others took the bright yellow ones. I wonder what Freud would make of that? Then we entered the pistol range. BANG! A gun went off. BANG! BANG! It resounded, like a thud, against my chest. Holy Sh… that was loud! And then, right there in that cement encased room with clips flying, scattered over the floor like a crime scene, I realized - THIS WAS REAL. DANGEROUS. SERIOUS STUFF. And I've got to admit, a little scary.  What if one of those nice people wearing plastic ear and eye protection, shooting at targets, decided to go postal and shoot us? You've got to respect those weapons. They're deadly.

I held a Rutger .22 in my hands. Other than a water pistol when I was a kid, this was the first weapon I ever wrapped my hands around. The handle fit snug in the soft space between my thumb and index finger. Steadying it with my left hand, making sure the thumbs did not cross, as my friend, Jim, taught me, I looked down the barrel and aimed. POW! The first click went off - too far from the bulls-eye, the green circle in the middle of the target. I corrected my stance. With legs apart, like a pyramid, and feet planted, I pulled in my abdominals, locked my elbows and pulled the trigger. This time I got closer. Yes, core strength gave me power. Then POW, POW, POW, all nine rounds clicked off and I was on the green! It was exhilarating.



The next weapon was a .380 Glock. This little baby had recoil - not like the smooth .22. I felt it as I pulled the trigger. Not as strong as Dirty Harry's Glock, but strong enough for this woman. Again, I took my position and pulled the trigger, letting off seven rounds, one at a time. With one eye shut, I peered down the barrel and pulled the trigger, again in pyramid formation. With each shot, sparks flared. I sure felt that kick back, but my strong core held me in place. When I finished, I very carefully laid the weapon down, pointing the barrel away from me and everyone else in the room, as I was taught. Even though the gun was empty, no more ammo in the chamber, that's protocol. Plus, what if I was wrong?

Bullets are made of lead. It's contained in the primer of each round you shoot. So, when you fire a weapon all the residue and powder from the explosion lands on your hands, face and shirt, even your hair. You are essentially covered in lead particles and lead is not good for the body. It gets absorbed in the nervous system and kidneys. So, even though I only shot a few rounds - and had a fabulous time doing it - when I got home, I took a really long shower and washed my clothes. Yes, I know, the slug who shoots up a 7-11 doesn't run home to bathe. That's his choice. But, this gun shooting novice was told to shower so I squeezed that liquid Dial on the sponge and lathered up.


It was a great experience. Not sure when or if I'll go to a shooting range again, but I learned another reason to have good core strength. That's not one generally taught at fitness conventions. 





Tuesday, December 1, 2015

From Bronte to Today - Are We Less Refined Today?

A few months ago, while reading Hilma Wolitzer's novel, Summer Reading, curiosity grabbed me. The fictitious book club in Wolitzer's story, set in the beach communities of the Hamptons, was reading the classics. They often referred to Villette, a nineteenth century novel by Charlotte Bronte. Remembering the pleasure I had when reading Jane Eyre, also by Bronte, I thought I'd curl up with a delicious book and let the hours slide by. Instead, I was stumped by the verbiage.

Jane Eyre was probably the same, but I read that so long ago, I don't remember. That novel might have been assigned at school and I had to read it. Perhaps it's the movie I remember enjoying more than the actual book. Whatever, the story of Jane and Mr. Rochester hooked me and I hoped Villette would do the same. Sorry, Ms. Bronte, it didn't. But, it did get me thinking about language and how it has changed over the past 162 years since Villette was published.
Below are a few excerpts from the beginning of Villette. Perhaps they will also make you ponder the English language and its usage then and now. I took the liberty of re-wording these passages in today's language and I'm not sure which I prefer. There is a beauty to Bronte's words. Of course, there are beautifully written books published today with words that evoke all of our senses and transport us to different times and places, where we can smell the aromas and feel the textures, but even in those, the wording is simpler. Take a look at Bronte's and then play with the phrasing and, please, share what you come up with.
                                                                        ****
Bronte: One day Graham, on the occasion of his birthday, had some friends - lads of his own age - to dine with him. Paulina took much interest in the coming of these friends; she had frequently heard of them; they were amongst those of whom Graham oftenest spoke.

Rosen: To celebrate his birthday, Graham invited some of this buddies for dinner and Paulina was excited. She'd heard him speak about them so many times and here they were, in the flesh.


 Bronte: After dinner, the young gentlemen were left by themselves in the dining-room, where they soon became very merry and made a good deal of noise. Chancing to pass through the hall, I found Paulina sitting alone on the lowest step of the staircase, her eyes fixed on the glossy panels of the dining-room door, where the reflection of the hall-lamp was shining; her little brow knit in anxious meditation.
'What are you thinking about, Polly?'
'Nothing particular; only I wish that door was clear glass-that I might see through it. The boys seem very cheerful, and I want to go to them: I want to be with Graham, and watch his friends.'
'What hinders you from going?'
'I feel afraid: but may I try, do you think? May I knock at the door, and ask to be let in?
I thought perhaps they might not object to have her as a playmate, and therefore encouraged the attempt.

Rosen: Walking down the hall, I spotted Paulina sitting alone on the bottom step. The reflection of the hall lamp shined on her little brow knit in deep thought. Her eyes were fixed on the dining-room door.
            "What are you thinking about Polly?"
            "Nothing. Only I wish that door was clear glass. I want to be with Graham and his friends. All that noise they're making, it sounds like they're having fun."
            "So why don't you go in?"
            "I'm scared. Do you think I should?"
            I told her to go ahead and knock.


This scene reminds me of the times when, as a little girl, I sat on the top of the steps in my house wishing I could be downstairs with my brother and his friends. Just like Polly, I was much younger, and there was no way my brother wanted me down there. Instead of using Bronte's words for Graham - "As if I would be troubled with you! Away to mama and Mistress Snowe, and tell them to put you to bed." - my brother merely yelled, "Ma, get her out of here!"

So tell me, have we lost something in changing our phrasing over the centuries? Are we less refined? Or, have we simply eliminated unnecessary wording to get our point across? And what about the words and grammar we use when texting? Now, that's a scary thought - what will our writing be like in another 162 years - and what does it say about us? I implore you to share your thoughts.










Friday, September 18, 2015

Are You Looking For a Fabulous Book?

October is National Reading Group Month and Great Group Reads (GGR) has posted their list of books for 2015.  Publishers, hoping their book will make the coveted list, submit novels and memoirs to the committee early each year. Throughout the winter and spring, the committee reads approximately 100 books narrowing it down to the best 20 for book clubs. This year we had so many incredible titles that we chose 21.  Please go to the website, www.nationalreadinggroupmonth.org, and click on Great Group Reads to find the 2015 list. We all know you can't judge a book by its cover, or its title, so there is also a short synopsis for each book.

Not only are these novels and memoirs perfect for book clubs, they are delicious reads. They'll make you want to sink into a comfortable chair and devour the beautifully written words, meet characters you think you know or wish you did - even some you'll be glad you don't. Some books will carry you to distant lands or distant times. In others, you'll be ensconced in a foreign world and smell the air and taste the foods, feel the textures.  You'll find yourself in a mountainous village in Yemen in the 1920s or on a distant planet inhabited by earthlings or in a restrictive Hasidic Jewish Community in New York, even a remote Appalachian coal town. You'll walk through rural western Canada and become part of life in Mississippi in the 1950s or New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, and you'll experience childhood in a Jewish orphanage in New York City in the early twentieth century with all its repercussions. You'll shift between an Islamic home in Pakistan to college life in New England and enjoy a rare look into a closed society in North Korea where contact with the outside world is strictly forbidden. All are a reader's treat.

To celebrate National Reading Group Month, the Women's National Book Association will be having special events, featuring authors, in twelve cities across the U.S.  All are listed on the website: www.nationalreadinggroupmonth.org/events_chapter.html Find one in a city close to you. Each promises an exciting evening.


And since I am the Literary Leotard, I must put in a little of the leotard side: After spending wonderful hours with these new characters and settings, get up and take a walk. I know you won't want to put the books down, but you must stay active. Move your body. Then sit back down and turn those pages.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Breaking Bad Meets Bicep Curls

Did you know binge watching "Breaking Bad" or "House of Cards," or any show for that matter could be bad for your heart?  According to an article in the June 11, 2015 edition of North Jersey's newspaper, The Record it can. The article also states that "some experts" say binge watching "may be a sign of depression and can leave you with blurred memories of the whole experience." Whoa! Does that mean after watching two or three episodes of "Breaking Bad" in one sitting I'm not going to remember what happened? I beg to differ.  I do know what Walt and Jesse are up to and I do remember what Francis and Clare did on "House of Cards." And, how can I forget Zoe at the train station? 

According to Oxford Dictionaries, as stated in the article, binge- watching is "watching multiple episodes of a TV series in a short span of time."  If I tweak that definition, I understand how this phenomenon which seems to have come into style with the advent of Netflix  (though really is much older - think of DVDs and videocassettes) can be dangerous to your health. Sitting in front of the tube hour after hour is not good for your heart, weight, bones, mind, well-being etc. Simply put, a sedentary lifestyle is not healthy.

 But how about only watching two episodes a night?  Doesn't that compute to the same as watching a two hour movie? It's probably even less since the shows aren't really an hour long. And what if you only watch a few nights a week, not all seven? If that's considered binge watching, I'm guilty! If you are, too, read on. I’m here to help.

Don't turn off the TV. Enjoy the show. But, only watch two or three episodes at a time. I try to keep it to two, but I will admit there are times when I just can't turn it off. That third episode sneaks in as easily as a delicious piece of chocolate. Do I feel guilty? Yes. So, I get up and move around. You can too. Here are some suggestions for what you can do while staring at the tube.  

Strength Training While Watching TV

First - get off the chair! Then:
Stand in front of the chair and step forward about 12 inches. Next, squat down as if you were going to sit on the chair but DON'T. The back of your thighs can touch the seat but they don't have to. (easier if you're using a kitchen chair rather than a comfy recliner). Do this several times. You'll feel the work in your thighs and buttocks. It's great strength training and will be a huge benefit as you age. You'll be able to get up from the toilet all by yourself at 90! Or, how about getting up from a sand chair this summer?

Now you can sit back down for a little while and sink into Don Draper. (Oh! What a yummy thought). Give yourself no more than thirty minutes and pop up again. Do some hopscotches. 
This is not the game you draw on the blacktop or your driveway and hop from one number to the next. These hopscotches are great for working your hamstrings, latts (lattisimus dorsi, the side muscles down your back) and for building stamina.  

Lift your right heel behind you and touch it with your left hand - put them down and repeat with your left heel and right hand - do this several times, pick up the pace, let your arm raise high overhead - reach for the ceiling before you bring it down to touch the heel and feel your heart rate go up a bit. You will kick up the energy you've lost sitting and staring at the tube and maybe even remember what's happening in the story. Oxygen to the brain will help combat that blurred memory from binge watching.
While you're at it, after 8-12 repetitions switch the heels to the front. Touch each with the opposite hand. Now you're waking up your inner thighs. Remember, while you do these and any other exercise - pull your belly in and stand up straight!

Leg swings are good, too. After you've taken a bit of a rest, stand up again. You might want to have a chair or wall nearby in case you lose your balance since you'll be standing on one leg for these exercises: Swing your Right leg forward and back while pulling in your abdominals 8-12x. Swing gently from the hip. Only your leg is moving here NOT YOUR ENTIRE BODY. Repeat for the Left leg. Then go back to your Right leg again and lift it up and down sideways 8-12x and repeat for the Left. Get creative - lift and lower your leg in all directions, forward, back, diagonally, across the body. And keep watching the TV. You can concentrate on the show while exercising. You've got to find out if Hank will figure out Walt is Heisenberg!

And how about the biceps I mentioned in the title? Sure, you can work them sitting down, but that's not what this is all about. Get off the couch! You can use hand held weights, if you want. You're going to work your upper body while strengthening your lower body - all at the same time.
Separate your legs shoulder width apart. Hold weights in your hands (if you have them)
Plie (be a ballerina, or in simpler language bend your knees) - AT THE SAME TIME: bend elbows bringing hands to shoulders - Next: straighten legs and lift arms overhead (palms facing out) Then: bend knees again and bring hands to shoulders (palms in) Finally: straighten legs and lower arms at sides (palms out). Repeat 8-12x

If you love using equipment, stability balls are great for exercising while watching television. Just sitting on the big ball activates your core muscles. Bounce on it, kick up your legs (or just lift one at a time), circle your hips, challenge yourself. Enjoy the show and improve your balance and core.

There are many more exercises you can perform while watching TV; these are just a few to get you started. Whether you are binge watching or flipping channels, don't sit for hours. As the article in the Record states, "It can be bad for your heart."