Thank you, Hairl

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Hairl Hensley, Opry Announcer.
One of the warmest voices in radio broadcasting has fallen silent.

Hairl Hensley was a legend in Tennessee broadcasting, but I didn’t know that when I met him.

It was fall 1993 and I was working as a receptionist for Syndicom Entertainment Group, a television syndication company. My supervisor had enrolled me in a nine-month company-wide leadership training program, and that’s where I met Hairl.

I don’t remember our first meeting, but it didn’t take us long to move to the back of the class where we could crack jokes under our breath and generally create mayhem. This tells you a little something about Hairl’s influence on me; I had a long history of being a straight-A, front-row-sitting, teacher’s pet kind of girl.

He was the afternoon drive air personality on AM 650 WSM, the Air Castle of the South and home of its flagship program, the WSM Grand Ole Opry, both of which have been on the air since 1925. He also hosted a two-hour weekly bluegrass show he called “The Orange Possum Special.” He was a big, tall, jovial teddy bear of a man, but he was smart and he knew and loved radio, and he loved country and bluegrass music. But mostly he loved people.

When the newly renovated Ryman Auditorium began its summer bluegrass series in 1994, Hairl emceed each week’s show. He told me to let him know if I ever wanted tickets, and I took advantage of his offer several times. I had not grown up listening to bluegrass music, but back in 1991 I had caught a live performance of Doc Watson with Jack Lawrence and Jerry Douglas at a taping of The Nashville Network’s American Music Shop (what’s not to like?) and had become an enthusiast.

Lo! and behold, in 1996 I found myself working as the assistant for Kyle Cantrell, who served as Operations Manager over AM 650 WSM, 95.5 WSM FM and 99.7 WWTN FM. If I had liked bluegrass before, I now had an opportunity to immerse myself in it, and I did. Hairl let me hang out backstage with him.

In its early years, the summer bluegrass series stretched for three months, and it featured a diverse list of performers ranging from traditional bluegrass to more progressive styles, including, before his death, Bill Monroe himself. Thanks to Hairl, I had the opportunity to meet many of these artists and learn firsthand why their influence and their careers spanned generations.

I loved listening to Hairl when he was on the air, on the afternoon drive show from 3 to 7

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Me and Hairl getting photo-bombed by WSM news guy Buddy Sadler at a WSM alumni quarterly lunch in 2014.
p.m. He’d spin records and talk over the intro. He’d tell jokes. He’d wish happy birthday to whichever country artist was celebrating a birthday, and he’d play the “Happy Birthday” song on the kazoo. And at the end of his shift, he always thanked the listeners for being a part of the show on AM 650 WSM, Home of the Grand Ole Opry.

Hairl had a warm voice and an easy, convivial way about him that invited the listener in as friend and confidante. But that wasn’t just his on-air persona. That’s how Hairl was with everyone, all the time. Hairl Hensley was comfortable in his own skin. Being around Hairl was one of life’s “warm fuzzy” things, like putting on your favorite house slippers and bundling into your warmest robe and drinking cocoa by the fire. Being Hairl’s friend was like that.

Hairl took time to teach me about the industry we all loved so much. He drew a diagram of sound waves on a napkin to explain to me the difference in AM and FM radio waves. He educated me on various bluegrass performers and their histories. He told me inside stories (especially off-color ones) about Opry stars. One of the greatest gifts Hairl gave me, though, came a few months after I’d been working at WSM.

Kyle had told me early on that as a WSM employee, I could go to the show any time there was room on the backstage list. I knew even then that this was a rare privilege, because frankly I had no official business there. So I made it my policy to go only when my favorite artists were slated to appear, and to be there for the show and only for the show. I never attempted to interact with artists unless and until they indicated they wanted to interact with me. I made myself scarce on Saturdays because the televised segment meant TV crews, VIP and industry types, and artist entourages dominating the space.

The announcer’s podium stands stage left, at the very edge of the Opry stage next to the big red curtain. To the left of the podium (or right, if you’re backstage), tucked behind the curtain out of sight of most of the audience, sits a barstool. One night, Hairl motioned for me to come out from behind the ropes and sit on the stool. Thrilled, I did so.

From then on, especially when Hairl was at the mic, I would sit on the stool if I knew I wasn’t in the way. It offered a good place to observe the artists and listen to their pre-show conversations, or watch them hold their guitars up to their ear to tune before heading out to the circle on center stage. Most importantly, the stool gave me the opportunity to see and hear utterly magic musical performances, more than I can count.

Hairl always announced the segment sponsored by Goo Goo Clusters. Hairl would introduce Carol Lee Cooper, the leader of the house band’s quartet of backup vocalists, by asking mischievously, , “How big are your Goo-Goos, Carol Lee?” That was always good for a chuckle. When he led the audience in applause, he would often reach into his coat pocket for his keys and jingle them into the microphone.

The artists all loved Hairl, too. One night when Lorrie Morgan was on the show, Hairl and I were walking out after his shift was over, planning to get a bite to eat, just as she was walking from dressing room to stage for her appearance. She saw Hairl and stopped to hug him and talk for a bit. As they wrapped up their conversation, I apologized for cutting out before her performance and told her I had to choose between that and going to dinner with Hairl. She smiled and said, “Oh, dinner with Hairl! Absolutely. Dinner with Hairl should win every time.”

In 2003 radio station ownership changed, and over the next year most of us moved on, or were helped along. Our radio family has stayed in contact, though, and over the years I’ve made it a point to visit Hairl every so often. I lost track of him for awhile, but I’m thankful to say I caught up with him again in November, in early December, and then, finally, just yesterday.

I knew they’d called in Hospice a few weeks prior, and I knew he had taken a turn for the worse over Christmas. I slipped into his apartment and saw he was asleep. I told him I was there, and he made a soft sound, but he didn’t open his eyes. So I just pulled up a chair and sat with him, sometimes holding his hand, sometimes making out a grocery list or texting, sometimes just thinking my thoughts. Funny how your mind keeps doing the mundane necessary things when you’re facing life’s greatest mystery.

Eventually I began humming and singing whatever song came to mind. He got quite an eclectic concert. The set list included a cappella renditions of some favorite hymns: “All The Way My Savior Leads Me” and “In The Garden.” Then I decided Hairl might want a little more variety, so I sang James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” and the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and threw in a good country shuffle with Rodney Crowell’s “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried,” and a country standard, “You Are My Sunshine.” Finally I sang “Amazing Grace.”

And then, after about 90 minutes, I had to leave. So I squeezed his hand and kissed his forehead and said goodbye and told him I loved him, and I slipped out of his room. And later, in the wee hours of this morning, he slipped out of this life.

I didn’t really realize it at first, but it has dawned on me that saying goodbye to Hairl means saying goodbye – yet again – to the happiest years of my professional life, working with people who loved the music first and foremost, and who loved working for the entities that brought that music into the lives of millions of people all over the world.

Hairl befriended and encouraged and mentored countless artists and broadcast professionals, and he did it all with laughter and kindness. As I read the tributes pouring in to him on Facebook, I realize how blessed we all were to have him in our lives. He was an integral part of my world for many years. I’m thankful I knew him. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

On Being Intentional

I went to see an old friend today.

He’d been on my mind for two or three months. Last time I’d seen him, probably a year ago or longer, he was living in a condominium complex for senior adults, and had had some health issues and lost a lot of weight, but was holding his own.

But I had failed to follow up, and in recent weeks he had tugged at the corners of my mind. Then I saw a Facebook post a mutual friend had posted thanking people who had been praying for him, and a photo of him looking a mite haggard but smiling. I messaged her to see what was going on with him. This time, she told me, she had thought it was all over. But he came through, and was well enough for visitors, she said. “Go see him! He would love to see you!” So I did.

He was in a rehabilitation center recovering after a close call with kidney failure and the cumulative effects of diabetes and congestive heard failure. When I tiptoed up to his room, armed with a bag of Russell Stover sugarless candies, he was lying on his side, covered to his chin in a light blanket, and sleeping deeply. But his color looked good, and at the sight of his familiar features relaxed in sleep, my heart flooded with affection. I thought of all the things he had taught me about radio and bluegrass music, all the jokes he told, all the funny stories about different country music people, how he would play “Happy Birthday” on the kazoo during his radio show. How he used to let me go backstage with him at the Ryman Auditorium when he was emceeing the bluegrass series in its early years, or, backstage at the Opry House, how he would invite me to sit on the stool next next to the announcer’s podium, just behind the big red curtain where I had a close-up view of the show. A large part of what I know of Nashville lore I learned from him. Some of my best Nashville memories happened because of him.

Now I debated whether or not to awaken him. I slipped the bag of candy out of my purse and placed it on the bedside table, and stepped out into the hall, where I flagged down a nurse. She assured me he had been asleep for awhile and would be awakened soon anyway for dinner, and encouraged me to wake him up.

I went back into his room, put my hand gently on his shoulder, and softly called his name. His eyes opened, then he focused on me, and a smile of infinite sweetness crossed his face. “Hiiiii!” he said softly, and opened his arms for a hug. “It’s been so long!”

###

Saturday night I saw an old friend for the first time in three years.  We had gathered at the home of some mutual friends for an informal night of making tacos and watching a movie. (Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – I thoroughly enjoyed it, muggle though I may be.)

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We caught up on each other’s lives and families, and cars. She gave me a ride around the block in her Subaru, which fit, she said, as though it had been made for her. She demonstrated the inadequate synchronizing of her phone with the car by showing me how it announced, without her requesting it, that it was going to call Couple A and B. I asked her who Couple A and B were, and she said, “They lived across the road from me when I was growing up, and next to my grandmother.”

 

“I remember them! He came and got the mouse out of the trap when you had a dead mouse!” I exclaimed.

“Yes!” she said, and we laughed, delighted that we have such a depth of history that we remember such minute details about each other.

We think maybe we won’t wait three or four years to see each other again.

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Last weekend I went to dinner with a group of people – some friends, some strangers – who had gathered to honor J, a mutual friend who had recently died. Last week J would have turned 42, and her next door neighbor decided she would contact different people who had known J, and we would celebrate her birthday, and speak of her and remember her and all the things we loved about her. It would give us the chance to feel, for a short time, as though she was in our midst again.

As it turns out, we sat around a long table that discouraged mingling, but over the course of the evening we all managed to visit with someone we had just met, all because of J and her impact on our lives.

I had known J for probably 16 years but saw her rarely and had never had the chance to get to know her well. We had mutual friends and hung out together, attended the same Halloween party, liked ballroom dancing and cats and talking politics.

I got to know her best on Facebook. She had a wicked sense of humor. She took a bus to and from her job at Vanderbilt University, and she frequently began her Facebook posts with “Overheard on the bus:…” followed by some astute insight into human nature that could make you laugh until you cried. Or think about something in a new way. Or both.

We knew we liked and respected each other, but we never had the chance to develop a friendship with the depth we knew it had the potential of having. So when I mourned her, I also mourned that lost potential.

After we left the restaurant, we all stood in a circle and shared who we were, how we had met J, and our most vivid impressions and favorite memories of her. Another mutual friend said that she, like me, had not had the chance to know J the way she would have wanted.

“If there’s anything her death has brought home to me,” our mutual friend said, “it’s that we must be intentional in our relationships with one another.”

Amen.

To Harmonize Is Life

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I love to harmonize.

I’m not a professional musician, but I love to sing, and while I don’t have perfect or even relative pitch, I do have a good ear.

I’m told by my parents that before I was tall enough to see over the keyboard, I was picking out melodies on our family piano. This did not translate into an ability to play piano well (trust me), but it might have been an indication of my future musical inclinations.

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I sang in church choirs growing up, and always sang alto, never quite growing comfortable with my head voice enough to hit the higher notes that the melody line in hymns and sacred music generally requires. …Well, I can hit some of them, but it’s really better if I don’t.

Also, when I was in 6th grade I joined the band, playing French horn. French horns have occasional sweeping, majestic melodic lines, but because of their mellow mid-range sound, composers also rely on French horns to provide harmony and depth to a piece.

And then there was the music that surrounded me as I was growing up in the Bible belt Deep South. I had a lot of exposure to Southern gospel quartets and church hymns. My older brother and sister exposed me to recording artists of the 1960s and 1970s that emphasized harmonies: Simon & Garfunkel; Peter, Paul & Mary; Crosby, Stills & Nash; the Eagles.

20321280.2And so it was that whenever I listened to the radio and to my favorite records, I would find myself singing harmony, sometimes making up a harmony line where there was none. I still do that.

When I got to college, I found myself in a 40-member choral group, and I fell in love with singing as part of a group. At the time I was a better French horn player than singer, but singing in a chorus brought me a level of musical satisfaction I had never experienced. It still brings me joy.

This is where the Harmonizing Analogies are supposed to come in, where you compare harmonies in music with harmonizing different parts of your life. Where you talk about how much more smoothly things go when everything is in sync. Or when relationships run smoothly, you’re said to be “in harmony” with one another. When we meditate we help bring ourselves into harmony with our Creator and our world and our inner selves. Or when you encourage diversity with the quote about how you don’t get harmony by everyone singing the same note.

That’s all very lovely, and true, but, well, it feels clichéd, and of course, harmony is much harder to achieve in life than in music. But I will say this, cliché or no. Sometimes you don’t know what your life is missing until something comes along to fill in the chord. Your life can be like a happy melody line that is good on its own. But then another voice comes in, and you realize it’s better. And then a third and maybe even a fourth voice comes in, and there’s a deep sense of completion that you didn’t even know you were missing.

And just as the fullness and perfection and the beauty of the harmonies in the chord in that moment of perfection will surprise you, life also presents you with the occasional rare moment of perfect harmony.

It may only be for a moment in time, but that sense of building something good and fun and lovely, of being part of a chord of perfect harmony, is…well, it’s one of life’s gifts to us. Sweet as a lollipop.

Listening to the Brothers Gibb build a chord to make their signature harmonies. 

via Daily Prompt: Harmonize

The Hidden Strength of Humility

Give me the lowest place: or if for me
That lowest place too high, make one more low
Where I may sit and see
My God and love Thee so.

            – from The Lowest Place, Christina Rossetti

Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues. – Confucius

Did you ever have an experience, or read something, or hear a song or a speech, or watch a TV show, that started you down a new path of thinking? Lately I’ve found myself noticing various references to humility, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind.

Our world doesn’t put much stock in humility. It’s considered a weakness. It doesn’t get you too far in the job market, or in anything, really, that requires competition with others.

Oh, people pay lip service to it. They express admiration for modest, unassuming people, especially if those people have become successful.

“He’s the same person he was back in high school,” someone might say of a sports or music star that they knew back when.

Everyone likes a modest, unassuming person, but I suspect at least part of that liking is because people don’t perceive that person as a threat. Either they feel safe around the humble person and know they can be their unguarded selves without fear of betrayal or being taken advantage of, or they feel superior to the humble person, and their liking has a touch of disdain to it.

“So-and-so is such a good, humble person. Bless her heart.”

Humility is counter-intuitive. Our first perspective in life, and our most dominant perspective throughout life, is our own, because we cannot escape ourselves. It takes effort and a willingness to consider others equal in importance to us, to shift our perspective and try to understand others, to try to see, think, feel as others do.

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Humility is the opposite of self-promotion in a world that demands self-promotion if we are to earn a living and advance in our chosen field, land a mate, recruit the top talent, establish a successful business, reach elected office, have popularity or power and influence. People who practice humility, some believe, are almost asking to be a rung on the ladder that others step on in their climb to the top. Or maybe even the rug underneath the ladder that more enterprising people wipe their feet on.

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But the wise know that those who manage to set self aside and practice true humility often possess a quiet self-assurance that neither depends on the approval of those around them, nor compares itself to those others. And as such, that person actually operates from a position of far greater strength than those who feel they must strive and strive to succeed.

All that striving. It makes me tired to think of it.

A few weeks ago, sometime during the Lenten season, I read Jesus’ words in the following familiar passage, from Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB).

28 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

“For I am gentle and humble in heart…” Hmm.oxen-wagon-cc

A yoke joins oxen, or some other animals, so that they can work in pairs to pull a load. Logic would seem to dictate that pulling one’s weight with a yoke requires effort, power, brute strength.

Yet the lessons of the yoke that Jesus bade us learn from Him were how to be gentle and humble in heart. These were the qualities He wanted us to cultivate to be strong enough to shoulder His yoke.

Why? Maybe so that we could stop our eternal, infernal striving. Surely this is one way to find a respite, an island of peace in the midst of the trials and turbulence, the rush and strife and noise of daily living. To find, as He said, rest for our souls.

A Peaceful Place to Rest

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Mom has a birthday this week, so I decided I’d take this weekend and travel to Mississippi to spend a little time with her and Dad. On Saturday afternoon we took a trip to the local Sonic Drive-In for happy hour half-price soft drinks, and then – as we are wont to do – we decided to take a drive through the countryside.

We wound our way through the back roads of Tishomingo County, looking at farmland and houses old and new, remembering whose homestead was at a particular site, where my grandparents lived when Mom was born, speculating as to who wound up where, and as we drove and talked, we drank in the sight of trees budding, daffodils along the roadway, the bright, fresh green of new grass, and fields still lying fallow, stretched underneath a spring blue sky, waiting for the growing season to begin.

Eventually we meandered over the state line into Alabama, and found ourselves in rural Colbert County, turning onto the gravel road that leads to Russell Cemetery.  My paternal grandparents are buried there, along with two great-aunts and a great-uncle, my dad’s grandparents, and his little brother. Other relatives and members from other families in the community also find their final resting place there.

In the South, we have what we call “decoration” days, and the Russell Cemetery Decoration Day is the Saturday before the first Sunday in May. When I was growing up, the families whose loved ones lie there would gather on that Saturday morning in their work clothes, don their heavy work gloves and hats, and, armed with mowers, weed eaters, rakes, clippers, rags, soap and water, would set about cleaning up the landscaping and the tombstones. Then they’d place flowers on the graves.

CivilWarvetWe kids would occupy our time going down into the woods to the spring, watching the Santa Gertrudis cattle in the adjoining pasture (the bull, a particularly handsome fellow, would huff and puff at us, and paw the ground, in equal parts annoyed and curious), and visiting the various tombstones and speculating about the lives of the people buried there.

One tombstone featured an old sepia photo of a couple from the 19th century, the man’s coat sleeve hanging empty where he lost an arm in the Civil War. In another corner of the cemetery, rough-shaped stones – all but one or two uncarved and of indeterminate age – mark the graves of anonymous bones, people whose lives and names and stories are long lost to the past.

With the morbid fascination typical of children, my cousins and siblings and I always paid particular attention to a grave marked by a tiny tombstone on top of which perched a marble lamb. Toy cars, teddy bears, and other toys always adorned this gHallchildgraverave. Our parents had explained to us several times over the years that the little boy buried here had died at the age of three after falling into a washtub of scalding hot water. We shivered at the horror of this story, and at the idea of death visiting a child close to our own ages. Sometimes we would bring a little toy as our own small token to place reverently on the grave of this child that we felt sure was a kindred spirit.

This young boy’s brother, a man named Rick Hall, grew up to found FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals, Hall gives a harrowing account of his brother’s death, and it is obvious that he still bears the emotional scars of that tragedy and its aftermath.

But in spite of the somber setting and the unsettling story of the little Hall boy, Decoration Day was, by and large, a fun time for children and adults alike, a day spent in an idyllic rural setting.

One year, the adults noticed that several cows in the adjacent pasture were acting odd. They were clustered in a circle around something on the ground that held their attention. They’d inch slowly up to the center of the circle, then quickly back away, shying away from whatever held their fascination.

“A snake,” everyone decided, and several men, armed with garden hoes, made their way into the pasture to kill the snake, only to find the cows spooked by a plastic grocery bag tumbling around in the spring breeze.

 

Generally, the morning’s work would go quickly and then we would haul lawn chairs out of our cars, set food out on two huge picnic tables comprised of cinder block legs and giant slabs of concrete for table tops, and feast on a great pot luck meal. The eating and the visiting would last a good two hours.

Many years later I was working in an office on Music Row and explaining that I was going home for the weekend. “It’s Decoration Day,” I said, explaining our family tradition to my office mates. My coworker Hal, a native of Long Island, New York, couldn’t get his mind around the concept.

“Let me get this straight,” he said. “You go to a cemetery…and you have a picnic?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” I said. Thereafter Hal would use that story to tease me about how weird Southerners are.

My cousin Mac likes to tell the story of how one year after dinner he and my brother Bob locked themselves in one of the cars and consumed the remainder of a chocolate cake my great-aunt Martha had made. Apparently they got in big trouble, and also got sick. And apparently they had taken both possibilities into account and had decided it would be worth the risk to eat the cake.

Over the years, the number of people attending Decoration Day has dwindled, and the pot luck dinner is no more. The little Hall boy’s grave has no toys on it. The silent unmarked graves keep their silence. The pasture is empty of cattle. But the beauty and the peace remain, unmarred by the modern world. Wind sweeps through the tree tops, across the sage grass in the fields, and over the occupants, ever asleep in tranquility’s quiet embrace.

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BEING 51: Mindfulness and the Lush Life

via Daily Prompt: Lush

 

makeoverI started my makeover on January 4.

“What makeover?” you might ask.

“Why, my new Endeavor!” I might explain. “I’m starting from scratch, at age 51, to become physically and fiscally fit, and culturally relevant!”

It’s not really a makeover in how I look that I have in mind (although I certainly hope the end results will bring at least some improvement, so that my always-lush curves will go back to just being lush instead of…Rubenesque).

 

foodlog_article_300Rather, I want to work on transforming how I think, so that I am more aware. I want to bring awareness to how I approach daily life and my habits: the amount of sleep I get; making exercise a regular part of my routine instead of a sporadic effort; what I eat and when, and how much; learning to stop eating when I am no longer hungry.

And fiscally, too, I’ve begun to track my spending habits. I’m evaluating my monthly expenses to see if I truly need everything I am paying for. I’m developing strategies for saving more and looking at different ways financially successful people make money with secondary and passive income sources.

As I ponder these things I realize I’ve lived over half a century being reactive, rolling passively along with my circumstances and whatever life throws my way. Eeh…that’s really not how I want to be. I want more input. I want health. I want financial security. I want…lushness. I want to experience things. I want to savor life. That requires discipline and planning, and… well, I’m 51. Have I waited too late? If I set these goals, how long will it take me to achieve them? How old will I be? As Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way, the same age I’ll be if I don’t.

slowprogressBut I know myself well enough to know I’m not a Type A, go-get-‘em type, and I have no interest in becoming one. Over time I’ve learned to be assertive, but I’ll never be naturally aggressive. And I don’t really want to be. I can hold my own; no one will walk over me. I can certainly push back when I’m pushed, but that’s as assertive as I care to get. And really, is there ever a need for more? I’m not out to best others. I just want to be my personal best. Some might see that as weak, but I consider it a strength. Everyone else can knock themselves out competing. I’ll just toodle along over here at my own pace, happily doing my thing. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

The key, I guess, is to find a mindful balance. But nobody has ever accused me of being high-energy, and to achieve my goals, I need to step it up a bit.

Changing your mindset to change your habits, your health and your lifestyle is a very Big Project. It’s best to start with manageable goals. I met with the trainer at the gym when I first started thinking about all this, and he gave me some great advice.

  • Lemon water at room temperature is as good a cleanser as you’ll find. Good to know.
  • When you get to be in your 50s, strength training is equal in importance to cardio exercises to lose and maintain a healthy weight. I’m thrilled about this, because while I like cardio well enough, I really enjoy weight machines.
  • Drink lots and lots and lots of water. My goal is about 96 ounces a day.
  • He likes the Paleo diet. I prefer the Mediterranean diet approach.
  • He recommended lots of dark green leafy vegetables. I’m good with that. Except spinach. But there are other things.
  • Cut out caffeine. “Oh, noooooo!” I said, carefully explaining my Diet Coke® habit. He said I’d have to wean myself off. I’m down to one in the morning when I get to work, and a little decaf carbonation at night.

But the most important thing he had to say about diet and exercise was this little gem:

“You can’t outwork a bad diet.”

So there.

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In the five weeks since I started my Awareness Project, I’ve logged virtually every bite of food and every ounce of liquid that has gone into my mouth. (Except for the Communion wafer and grape juice last Sunday. That would just be wrong.) workoutrewardIn those five weeks I’ve lost three pounds (my goal was one pound a week), and had one week of regular exercise and three weeks of sporadic exercise.

I’ve recalled how cool it feels when you can tell, from the way your muscles feel internally, that you are beginning to become more firm even if no one can see it yet.

I’ve learned how good it feels to eat exactly the right amount, not too much, and you’re satisfied with that quiet steady sense of being sated, but you don’t feel all blorpy.

 

I’ve learned that when you can’t get something off your mind – i.e., a cheeseburger – hold out as long as you can. But if and when you give in, eat it, but don’t pig out on it…just enjoy the taste and the satisfaction, and then don’t beat yourself up; just get up the next day, and start again.

in-n-outburgerThat felt good, too, eating that cheeseburger. I wish I could say it didn’t feel good, that I felt awful and blorpy and the cheeseburger sat like a rock in my stomach, and that I deserved it for failing so miserably. But in fact it was every bit as fabulous as I thought it would be, and I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt. I didn’t get fries, or onion rings, I just got the (double) cheeseburger, and I felt fine.

I didn’t lose a pound during cheeseburger week, but, still not feeling the guilt, I decided that was the choice I made and it was mine to live with, and as long as the scales don’t go up, I can regain (re-lose) whatever ground I might have lost (weight I might have gained). It’s been a few days now and I’ve not felt a need for a cheeseburger since. As my dieting GPS might say, “Recalculating!”

Tax refund on its way, paying extra on my car note, putting some back in savings. One day I’ll see a fabulous pair of shoes that will hit my wallet like that cheeseburger did my tastebuds, and my financial GPS will pipe up, “Recalculating!”

There’s always a way back onto the path to the lush life.

The Solace and Sweetness of Solitude

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I have lived alone virtually my entire adult life. And for the most part, I’ve been content with that. In fact, the older I get, the more necessary it seems for my mental and emotional balance that I experience at least a portion of my day alone inside my head.

I love time with family and friends, and I love going places and doing things. But if I don’t have time to collect myself, I find myself coming a little undone. After a few days without down time I feel disorganized. Things seem disjointed. I’m easily distracted and I struggle to remember all my obligations. I don’t feel able to complete any of the tasks in front of me. I compensate for my lack of down time by staying up too late, then I compound the problem by sleeping too late the next morning and rushing off to whatever my day holds. And, as family members can attest, I get very, very cranky.

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My favorite time of the week is Friday night, when I can come home and watch TV or read or watch a movie or chat with family and friends by phone or online, then go to bed and observe No Alarm Saturday.

Saturday and Sunday have their own schedules and obligations, but Friday nights and Saturday mornings are vitally important to my sense of self. If I manage to use my time even a little wisely on weekends, combining the usual errands and housework with a few blissful hours of being purely lazy, the next work week will find me better able to get up early enough for a devotional time, more likely to get in a good workout after work, and better able to cook and eat healthy meals and prepare for my work day the next day.

I’ve learned this is typical of introverts, and while it may be a luxury for anyone other than a single adult, the craving for solitude is nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve also learned that after a day or so of being alone, I get really antsy for interaction with other members of the human race. I like most people, and most people like me. I need my friends. But I am a better person – a better employee, a better daughter and sister and friend – when I have time to write in my journal, to pray, to contemplate, to center myself.

As with most things in life, balance and moderation are key.

sometimes-i-like-to-be-alone-i-enjoy-the-freedom-9370754.pngWhen did solitude become something I actively sought and needed?

Looking back on my childhood, when I was the youngest of three children and shared a bedroom with my older sister, I was rarely alone. But then again, my siblings are several years older than me, and it wasn’t long before they were out and about with their friends and I was still a pre-teen. I could usually be found in a corner with my nose stuck in a book. (That hasn’t changed.)

It’s odd, how much difference a few unobligated hours can make to my peace of mind. And it makes me wonder if it is perhaps as well that I never had children. Would I have been a good mother? Or would I have adapted to that reality, as I have to this one?

Last year a friend and I vacationed in Florida for a few days. We had a wonderful, and wonderfully relaxing, time. We sunned, we shopped, we did some sightseeing. On the last morning there, my bladder woke me up shortly before 5:00 a.m. I went back to bed but couldn’t help but notice that the edges of the curtain over the window shimmered a translucent blue.

Quietly, so that I wouldn’t awaken my friend, I grabbed my journal and my Bible, and tiptoed out of the room onto the deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

And there, suspended low over the Gulf, was the moon, on its way down, but not quite gone, even as, behind me, the sun was not quite up. And except for the brilliant gold of the moon beaming down to reflect on the tranquil, lapping waves, the whole world was blue, and quiet, and still. And I experienced a few blessed moments of perfect peace.

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I took this photo and saved it. I often look at it and retreat into it when I feel a need to be quiet in my mind, just for a few seconds. Or when things get hectic at work, and I feel like shouting, “SERENITY NOW!” I will pull out my iPhone and pull up this photo and allow myself to sink back into that moment of solitude, when everything was bigger than me, but I was part of everything, and it was part of me, and all was one.

Shortly thereafter, a jogger in neon turquoise shorts and a neon gold tank top passed beneath me and informed me that the local donut shop was open. Everything about it – the jarring neon tones of his clothes, his cheerful conversation and the somewhat annoying obligation to respond politely, his commercial pitch to give the donut place my business – called me back to remind me I wasn’t the only person in the world.

But I had found my treasure for the day. I had luxuriated in my moment of solitude. I had found myself immersed in an other-worldly place and moment of utter tranquility, a place of blue sprinkled with gold moondust, a place of salty breezes and rhythmic, lapping waves, a place of singular beauty. I had been gifted with a sense of deep, deep peace. And I will always have it.

via Photo Challenge: Solitude