As a child, my sister loved nothing better than a good story about “Bloody Bones” right before she went to bed. My father would oblige her, sitting on her bed and using that tone of voice adults use to convey mystery and suspense and I hated it, lying in my bed on my side of our tiny room. This was heap big fun for those two and I never understood why Bloody Bones was an acceptable bedtime activity and my telling Kathy that the world was coming to an end tonight, was not. Many were the nights Daddy would wake me from a dead sleep because he had found her quivering in bed, her tiny heart trying to get right with God, as I snored on. He didn’t see the humor it it, and at precise moment, neither did I. I don’t go in much for horror movies. I always think they are apt to be accounts of actual events. But if you want some quality viewing this weekend of some of the best scary movies, let me recommend the following. You may keep your Jasons, your Freddie Kruegers, your Chuckys and his bride. I believe this list encompasses the creepy, scary and bizarre, but does so with style and taste. The 1970’s was a rich time for horror films. First on my list is the 1977 flick, “The Sentinel.” I saw if at the dollar theatre on Western’s campus, and it was frightening, suspenseful, disgusting and gross, in equal measure. I saw it twice. Hated it both times, but there was something about it. I suspect the language was terrible, and I know some of the scenes at the gates of Hell bordered on the depraved, but it starred a young Tom Berringer, Christopher Walken, Christina Raines, and Beverly D’Angelo. Oh, yes, and Burgess Meredith. Nobody did creepy like he did creepy. “Carrie,” in the original, was also a 1970’s horror flick, starring a young Sissy Spacek, who went on to bigger and better things, and William Katt, who did not. This might have been the first movie with the passion play subplot of all the bad acting teenagers getting what they deserve. John Carpenter raised the ante with in his seminal movie, “Halloween,” which served as a model for all the following movies involving teenagers. He directed it on the slimmest of budgets, $325,000, and it went on to gross 70 million dollars world-wide. Michael Meyers, the murderous teenaged escaped mental patient, wore a two dollar Captain Kirk mask, spray-painted white. The audience spends some time inside that mask, seeing what Michael sees, and we hear his breathing, and it is subtle, yet confusing, and horrifying, too. I won’t watch it alone. We also have “The Omen,” all about Damien, the little adopted Antichrist, and you won’t believe it, but he kills people left and right, in all sorts of ways, usually through unexplained accidents. The search is on, then, for his true origins, and wouldn’t you know it, his mother was a jackal. Starring my man, Gregory Peck, it’s a really good one. One of the scariest movies you might want to find this weekend is a children’s movie–and I am not kidding you–a Disney film, called, “Something Wicked this Way Comes.” It is based on a story by Ray Bradbury and it involves an evil carnival, as of course it would, and it seems to be shot entirely at night, even the daytime scenes, and it stars Jason Robards and Diane Ladd and some other people you probably don’t know. Lots of rattling leaves and unexplained thumps and bumps. Not really for young children. But the granddaddy of them all, the best of the best, has to be this old childhood favorite, “The Wizard of Oz.” When I was a child it came on once a year, usually at Easter time. Why, I couldn’t possibly say. But of all the movies then, or since, it is this one that has haunted my dreams, given me nightmares, and sent me scurrying through the dark halls of my house looking for my mother. The tornado, Miss Gulch turning into the Wicked Witch through the swirling window, the fire ball she tosses to the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road, “Surrender Dorothy” written in the sky. Flying monkeys, people! The soldiers…ho-eee-yo…until finally, the Wicked Witch melts into a pool of herself, mourning “all her lovely wickedness.” Shew.
Fall Break is over and it is time to get back to normal, and by normal I mean get back to work and I found some interesting things to share with you in all my reading.
I think you will approve, gentle reader.
There is new research out on two of my favorite subjects, eating and sleeping. If the research bears out and if we play our cards right, it can be a holiday every day and we won’t have to go to warm climes to rejuvenate.
Let’s start with the new research concerning pasta. For a while there it was thought, and frankly, the U.S. Government is still flogging the idea,that to lose weight and be healthy we should eat a diet high in carbohydrates. Oh, sure, we were supposed to be eating vegetables, beans and grains, with limited fats and protein.
But recent research suggests that, really, it is not grains, even whole grains, that aid in weight loss but the low carb diet, with what few carbs one does enjoy, coming from vegetables like broccoli and sprouts.
Even Sanjay Gupta says so.
And yet, one of the most comforting foods, one of the easiest foods to prepare in delightful and surprising ways is pasta. I love the Italians for their great art and sense of style, but I would trade every Pieta in existence for a big ole bowl of fettuccine.
Pasta makes us fat because it turns to sugar very quickly and much too quickly for most of us to use the energy it produces, so it is stored as fat. But before that happy trick, the starch in pasta spikes our blood sugar, and that does all sorts of things to us, none of them good or pleasant.
According to Dr. Denise Robinson, a senior nutrition scientist at the University of Surrey, this is how normal starch reacts in the body, and that it is made up of tangled chains of glucose sugar molecules that break down easily and are quickly stored. Blood sugar spikes, insulin spikes, and then you get that sugar drop and feel hungrier than before you ate.
But, you all.
New research suggests that if we cook our pasta first, let it cool, then re-heat it, the starch in the pasta changes from normal starch to resistant starch, and that is a very good thing. It means that the starches take longer to break down, and in fact, are no longer broken down in the small intestine but in the large intestine, where it takes longer to digest, avoiding the sugar spikes, and much of it gets passed around your system as fiber—aways a welcome traveler.
There are other health benefits, too, and I don’t know about you but I find this outstanding research and pray it continues. So, experiment with it. Fix it, refrigerate it, reheat it, you won’t know the difference. Any Italian restaurant will tell you that.
Then, there is this about sleep. We know that the hormones that regulate metabolism are produced at night while we sleep. But we must experience a certain quality of sleep to reap the most health benefits.
We also know that the light from iPads, cell phones, and televisions emit blue light, which is the same wavelength as morning light, and it wakes our brains up, just when they should be powering down to rest.
It is believed that for humans to get full and restorative sleep, they should sleep in the pitch black. Even ambient light from the streetlamp can disrupt our snooze time. The subtle glow from the alarm clock, ditto. All of this messes with our circadian rhythms and that hurts our metabolisms.
I do a lot of tossing and turning at night, waking at odd times and feeling out of sorts, so I decided to experiment with this. I can’t fix the ambient light that comes into my bedroom. I don’t have an eye mask, thinking, as I do, they are a bit affected.
So last week I couldn’t sleep and I rooted around until I found an old bandana and I tied it over my eyes, and lay there, like a goner, due to be shot at dawn. I don’t know if it was the lateness of the hour or what, but I fell right into a deep and restful slumber, and slept right through dawn, thankfully, and into morning, and would be sleeping still if it weren’t for my cell phone chirping away.
The house is quiet as I write this. My travel mates are somewhere–maybe walking on the beach, maybe still asleep, why, they might have packed up and left me here for all I know. It’s been that kind of week, and wonderful.
We wander around, each in her own little world, and we pass quite companionable hours in the same room without speaking to each other. This one sits on the balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. That one walks through the door shedding sand while checking her Fitbit for accumulated steps. Me, I always seem to be just waking up. From a nap. From a nine hour sleep. From the exhaustion that comes from finishing a book. I’ve read three, by the way, here at the midpoint of the vacation. If I choose wisely I might be able to clock another three before we pull out of the parking lot in the early morning dark as we make our way home.
Here is a synopsis of our conversations in their entirety. “Did you sleep well?” “Should I make more coffee?” “Hand me the sunscreen.” “Where will we eat tonight?” That last one we broach before nine o’clock each morning and serious and complicated discussions ensue throughout the morning and afternoon. We always eat at the first place mentioned, but still, it seems to reassure us that we are intelligent and capable women who deal with complex issues with thoroughness and depth. It’s as close to work as we get. There is something liberating about being of a certain age and hanging at the beach. In my youth I spent hours, days thinking about and assembling “outfits.” The perfect swimsuit, the cutest shorts, the little tops with spaghetti straps to keep the tan going and to ensure trips to the dermatologist later in life. No one could be more ill-prepared for a trip to the beach than I. My sister provided my beach towels, including a really nice one belonging to Meghan. We don’t know who Meghan is or how my sister’s family came into possession of her towel, but it is very thick and colorful with her name embroidered on it. It has been a favorite all week, and we have fought over it.
My swimsuit, well, lets just say it is an embarrassment and leave it at that. And I only have the one, not multiples as I packed in my youth. Some days I don’t even wear it to the beach, opting instead for baggy shorts and a tee-shirt. As I teen I could imagine nothing worse, more sordid and repulsive than wearing clothes to the beach. It seemed a sacreledge not to expose every inch of skin that was humanly decent to the punishing sun, all in anticipation of lying in bed of an evening, sick with fever and pulsing as the soft sheets pricked my burning skin like needles.
When Nick, the cute boy who rents the chairs, came around to set our umbrella, we made sure he positioned it so that half our bodies would be in shade at any given time of day. He was sweet and accommodating, reassuring us he would be close by to make any changes we requested as the day went on. He all but kissed our cheeks as he might his aging aunties.
I don’t even have a pair of sunglasses. I am wearing my friend, Jackie’s, because she has two pairs. When the sun gets too bright I throw my sarong over my head, or across my legs, and I am pretty sure instead of a those crisp tan lines I worked on as a kid, I will come home with a mosaic of blotches, and I won’t even try to hide them.
There is an art to doing nothing, and while I can do nothing with a vengeance at home, it is usually in the service of the avoidance of doing something. This beach vacation is different. When I counted up the years that have passed since I spent a week at the beach–or anywhere—with nothing at all to do, it was shocking, the lapse of time. I don’t know when I might be back to the beach, but I can tell you this. I won’t wait so long next time. I will be on some beach, with Meghan’s towel, books and tee-shirts and no alarm clock anywhere.
I’ll be vacationing soon in Florida, something I haven’t done in over thirty-five years. I have been to Florida since then, of course, but always for work, and once for a wedding, and I can’t say that I have felt all that deprived.
I don’t consider myself a beach person, and while I have flopped about on the sands of both Carolinas, I can say that what I liked most was coming in from the beach around 3:00 p.m. and getting cleaned up for dinner. Drinking coffee early in the morning to the piercing cry of sea birds is dramatic in its way, and I will give the ocean this–no matter how hot it is, right on the water there is always a breeze.
So those three things, going out to eat, ocean breezes and drinking coffee with sea gull just about does it for pegging my fun meter. Don’t like to shop, don’t deep-sea fish, can’t golf, I burn. So, yeah. That’s about it. It’s not that I am cranky, it is that I don’t ask much of the ocean and it asks little of me, and we think this is a lovely arrangement.
But when my friend, Jackie, asked if I might want to tag along for a girls trip to Perdido Key, with her and a friend, I gave it serious consideration. Low-key, she promised, a place that is beautiful and possessing of absolutely nothing to do. Bring a book. Bring two. We will each do whatever we want. Some may get up early and walk on the beach. Others might sleep until noon. Whatever. No pressure. No worries.
It’s not that my life is stressful. In fact, I would say it is relatively stress-free. I am busy, it is true, but I’ve worked hard to strike a balance, and mercifully, events beyond my control have cooperated. I remember one beach vacation to South Carolina where I was so overwhelmed with work that for the first few days I could only manage lollygagging by the pool in a semi-comatose state, and it wasn’t until the week was almost up that I finally came to and wanted to run and play with the others. Too late, sadly, because they had exhausted themselves early in the week while I was sleeping.
As a person with mental health training, I tell you absolutely that I embrace the need we all have for recreation, vacation, downtime. Even the simplest change of scene can regenerate us, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. A drive in the country, remember those? Anything that takes us out of our ruts and has the potential to surprise and delight us.
My vacations and time away, though, tend to revolve around some other, more specific task. For years I have piggy-backed a few days of fun at either end of a conference or work obligation. Even when I travel to the Czech Republic it is work, and more often than not I am seeing the sights someone has set up for me, not the ones I have planned to visit myself.
My colleagues, of course, are being good hosts and I appreciate it, feel lucky that they are. But it lets me off the hook in a way, and I have learned to be content with a stolen afternoon here or there. It’s fun, but not so satisfying. And even this girls trip to Florida wasn’t my idea, but let’s not dwell on that. I said I would go, and I am going.
I have purposely given no thought to this this trip, have decided to pack the night before by throwing in my bag a little of this and a little of that, because, hey, its the beach and I am ‘way past cute little shorts and spaghetti straps. If memory serves, for all the clothes I packed when I was in my twenties, I wore the same shorts almost all week, except to dinner, of course, and my most versatile garment was the least soggy beach towel that I wore like a shawl, a burka, a serape, or a sarong. I am a grown-up woman of some abundance. I own an actual sarong, one I don’t leave home without.
I’ll take my books. Leave my calendar at home. Just me, the girls, an open road. Drive south, turn east, as the sea gulls lead the way.
He is very proud of his hands, my young colleague, who stops by my office on a regular basis. He comes at my calling when I am stuck, as I am so often, when I attempt to navigate the platform upon which we teach on-line classes.
Jason is one of the experts, and he doesn’t so much tell me what I’ve done wrong as he commandeers my office chair and, like Merlin with silent incantations and divinations, fixes my mess while I play around on the iPhone.
Last week he was proud of his hands. They were calloused. He presented them to me, palms up, when I asked how things were going, what he’d been up to. “This is what I have been doing”, he said, as if a quick glance at his hands was all the information I needed. He has been preparing his yard for winter, reseeding, aerating the ground, digging and raking and I am not sure what all. His calloused and blistered palms mark him as more than one of the men of the great indoors, and that is how he likes it.
My own yard could use some tidying up before fall sets in, but I neglect it with purpose, and I don’t know why. The flowers in my little English border are cranky and overly physical, the bully Lantana overwhelming her delicate neighbors. The garden phlox is spent, but hangs on like a beaten but determined boxer, all heart, with their battered heads drooping onto their chests.
The chickweed and spurge have so completely integrated with my annuals that I quit pulling them out and treat them like filler, the baby’s breath in a bouquet. Broadleaf plantain climbs my capitata yews and I wince and work to convince myself that, really, it might be considered an ornamental. The impatiens are leggy, the gerbers dead on their feet, and my geraniums, which I have hopes of overwintering, have gone on a hunger strike or some such nonsense, and look quite dreadful.
Blooming comes late to my yard. The tomatoes show up later than my friends’ tomatoes, regardless of how early I plant them. My pal, Alice, had pulled up her moon vine before mine deigned to join us topside to put on a show. I use this excuse to be in no hurry to clean up my garden, but really, I think it is sloth.
Then, too, there is also something about pulling up living things, even though they have lost their vigor, will no longer produce. If a plant isn’t brown and rattly, I just can’t get rid of it. Even when I am sick of looking at it. I always think, just one more weekend and I will make ten gallons of pesto before I yank the basil. Just half an hour tomorrow and I will harvest the parsley, freeze it for winter, so as to astonish my guests with the freshness of my lasagne deep in winter.
But those days come and go with no action and my yard looks like it needs a visit from the city. Or maybe it is the finality of the thing that gets me. Once I clean up my garden I won’t smell dirt again for seven months. I will miss that.
Then, too, the best part of porch life is all the green, in every direction, shot through with red, and pink, purple and yellow. An autumn porch is nice, but brittle in its way.
There are times I wish I were a poet, because I admire them beyond all reason. Just as I sat down to think about this, a poem came across my desk that I wish I had the talent to write. In her poem, “Lines Written In the Days of Growing Darkness,” Mary Oliver has said with such economy and grace that with which I fumble. She gives us this these bookends, with such loveliness in between.
into a rich mash, in order that it may resume…
…So let us go on
through the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.
We need our poets most in autumn, I think, to see us through the winter.
I have my feelings hurt, you all, and here’s why. I don’t live on Facebook, but I check in almost daily and I will admit to taking the odd quiz from time to time. You know the ones, those are little tests from places like Buzzfeed.com, with titles like, “How Posh is your Vocabulary?” How Many Famous Artists Can You Identify?” “Which Harry Potter./Hunger Games/Game of Thrones Character Are You?”
They are fun little diversions but I almost never post my scores, and sometimes my scores are quite noteworthy. It’s enough knowing I can identify twelve of the fifteen world capitals from a single picture.
For the past several weeks, though, there has been circulating on Facebook a challenge to “name the ten books that have had the most meaning to you”, or something like that. I don’t know the exact wording because no one has shown the slightest interest in my ten books, and therefore no one has posted this to my page.
I have friends who have posted their books and then challenged several of our other friends to list their ten books. I read their lists with interest and enjoyment and, finally, disappointment when I realize my name is not on the new challenge.
It doesn’t bother me, but my pals should know that I have 750 words, every week, right here to do with what I please.
Uh-huh. That’s right.
Here, then, in no particular order, is a list of ten books that have significance for me.
1. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” by Joan Didion. This is a series of essays and articles she wrote during the Sixties. Every essayist should own this book. Non-fiction writers should include her in their evening prayers.
2. “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Besides sounding so cool when I say his name, it was this book and Marquez who introduced me to magical realism, and he did it so deftly that I didn’t even know what was happening until someone explained it to me.
3. Any Nancy Drew mystery. Carolyn Keene was, in fact, a pseudonym for a host of ghostwriters for the series. Nancy had it all-a roadster, freedom, talent, two pals and a sometime boyfriend to mess around with her and help her solve crime.
4. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” written by Harper Lee. I knew, even as a kid, that in this book every word worked. It was a big story, too, although when I first read it I was too young to fully appreciate that.
6. “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens. I read it almost every Christmas season. It is a joy to be able to finish one of his books in a span of less than a month.
7. “101 Famous Poems.” My mother had a slim and leather-bound copy in the living room bookcase, and I read it cover to cover and back again. I loved the poets’ pictures, set in ovals like cameos. When my siblings got on my nerves or I got on my own, I retreated to the living room and spent a quiet hour reading poems and thinking deep thoughts.
8. “The Inheritance of Loss,” by Kiran Desai won the Man Booker Prize, and I loved this book, even before I knew it won an award. I have recommended it to many friends, most of whom have tried to read it and didn’t like it, at all. Which might explain why it is no longer in print. Even so, I found the story compelling, with threads of India, Great Britain, Nepal and New York City running through it, and the writing breathtaking. But that’s just my opinion. Apparently.
9.“Out of Africa,” by Isak Dinesen. It was one the few books in which I have underlined passages and I return to them again and again. Sometimes it is just a sentence. Sometimes a paragraph or more. Just stunning writing.
10.“Me Talk Pretty One Day,” by David Sedaris. Because it made me laugh, out loud, and all over the place.
That concludes my list of ten books. Let’s hope something interesting happens for me to write about before next week, because there is also a challenge circulating about one’s twenty favorite movies. I’d like to spare you that.
If you have been paying attention at all, you know that sitting is the new smoking.
It doesn’t take a mental giant to know that sitting too much is not good for you, but the new smoking? That is extreme. Except that maybe it isn’t.
When we think about the soaring obesity rates among children and then think about how much time children spend in front of video games, it makes some sense. I know what you are thinking, you are thinking, Greta, it is because they are not exercising, period, not just because they are sitting.
But new research suggests otherwise. According to recent studies—and there have been a slew of them—sitting for hours a day will shorten our lives, age us, and make us vulnerable to all sorts of health issues, from cancer to diabetes to obesity. And further, even if you run regularly, exercise hard, you are still at risk if you come home and flop of the couch after your hour run.
Sitting for periods of time triggers signals in the brain to reduce certain enzymes, it messes with our insulin, and it frays the little end caps of our chromosomes, called telomeres, and this speeds up aging and disease.
Even working out regularly at the gym is not enough, since many of us are sitting for hours on end at the office, at home. When our big muscles, like our legs, aren’t working, then our metabolism slows down. In essence, we are built to move much, much more than we do, and the fix is actually easier than you think.
Stand up more. Just that. Make yourself do it. Standing for just three hours a day for a year can have the same calorie burning impact on us as running ten marathons.
One British journalist decided to stand for an entire month, all day long, every day, unless she was involved with something that absolutely required sitting, like driving her kids around. She lost two dress sizes, although she reported that she made up excuses to take the kids places, just to sit for a little bit.
Her doctor said that she was silly to attempt that all in one fell swoop, because it can be bad for your back and joints and feet to shock them so, but still, she made her point.
I wrote in this space a few columns back, about all the fitness bands I have purchased and I gave the impression I wouldn’t buy another one. Well, I lied. A week after that column ran I went out and purchased the Polar Loop because my friend, John, has one, and I thought it was cool, and my friend, Susie, also has one and I think she is cool. This really is the fitness band for me for these reasons.
It is super light and comfortable, and I think it looks really good, not so obviously sporty, although upon seeing it, someone asked me if I was on house arrest. What I like about it is this. It gives me non-athlete, information I can embrace. It tells me when it is time to move, and it also gives me suggestions for reaching my fitness goals for the day.
I can jog for 45 minutes, I can walk for an hour and a half, or…wait forit…I can stand UP for three hours and fifteen minutes. That’s right. Just being upright chips away at my goal. The little manual that came with it even gives suggestions—dusting, cleaning, baking.
Baking! Part of a legitimate fitness regime! When I sync my Loop to the computer, it shows me how much time I have spent in bed, sitting, walking, running, and upright. It is shocking to see how much I sit. Even on days when I am active, all that sitting.
I have a colleague who has rigged up a standing desk and I am working on doing the same. I can’t quite figure it out, but I will. I have been whittling away at the number of hours I spend sitting, but it is harder than you would think. It is liberating to think that doing even light chores is part of my fitness plan. Research has told us for years that we are built to move, walk five miles a day, eat what is naturally provided, get some sun. And now we we can all be marathoners without ever actually running one.
Sign me up for that.