Monday, February 13, 2023

Walking Backwards Through Life

 You've heard it said before, 'Hindsight is 20/20'. I suspect for almost everyone, this adage holds true.   If I'd only known what would have happened when confronted with many decisions throughout my life I could have avoided a great deal of pain and subsequent regret.  But, it is also said that life can only be lived moving forward.  We cannot go back.

 I'm an avid walker, five miles a day, on average. I'm not an athlete by any means, not apt to break any land speed records.  I walk for my health, both physical and mental.  It is obvious the older I get that walking won't be the magic exercise to shed all the pesky pounds that have somehow hitched a ride on my midsection. 

 I read somewhere stress is a big culprit.  I have had my share of stress, starting from when I was a young child.  Things at home were always tense as my father had a hair-trigger temper which led to my mother and me walking on eggshells for decades.  Waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop all my life led to anxiety, worry, sleeplessness and a massive craving of sugar to cope. 

I was still farming up until I was twenty, and was able to counter any weight gain with the higher metabolism of youth.  Though it wasn't something I was consciously trying to do, muscle-building activities, such as tossing bales of hay around and carrying forty pound milk pails to and fro on a daily basis probably allowed me to eat far more and not see any weight gain.  Farming is all about weight-lifting, and being exhausted at the end of the day, hitting the pillow and being instantly asleep.

Well, then I married at twenty, going from hard physical labor to working an office job for a decade, and slowly, the weight came on.  I was never a thin girl, but my height was an advantage and could hide a lot of flaws on my frame.  Motherhood at twenty-eight and again at thirty-two coupled with even more sedentary activities added a few more ounces and then the big one, menopause dealt the biggest blow of all.   

Well, not quite the biggest, I guess, the diagnosis and subsequent surgeries since 2021 haven't helped one bit. Since my mastectomies, I look like a little old man with a large pot belly.  Not very attractive to say the least.  As blows go, cancer is a tough one.  Though so far I have no further evidence of disease, I was not able to tolerate the prescribed hormone blockers; the additional pain of rapidly increased joint issues, liver and kidney function decreases, insomnia and depression, led me to make the decision to forego the treatment and see what happens.  

The oncologist isn't happy with me, but did admit I am far from the only person who cannot live with the side effects.  I was blessed to not need chemotherapy and could bypass radiation, the latter because I opted for complete removal of the breasts instead of a lumpectomy.  My presence on many survivor groups has shown there is no perfect answer.  The hormone blockers might work to prevent a return of cancer, but they will also wreak havoc on all body systems as they leave no trace of estrogen behind.  Heart disease and osteoporosis, joint replacement, on and on. 

There's no absolute guarantee the drug will prevent a return as I've met women who bravely battled all the side effects of the blockers for years and, sadly, the cancer returned. What's a woman to do?  If I remain blessed in the future is something only time will tell. There's that 20/20 hindsight thing again.

As I am not young anymore, I know my best years are behind me.   Stressing over the right decisions to make and the fears of what if I do take the meds and then this happens? Or what if I don't take the meds and that happens?  Or what if I do take the meds and all of the above happens?  What if pigs could fly?  I wasted months beating myself up over those decisions.  In the end, sadly, no one makes it out alive.

Gee, this is a cheery little post.  

Anyway, back to the walking thing. I walk every day just hoping to get a little less flab in front of me and keep my mind from splintering off in all directions. Lately I've noticed my left knee is acting up a little bit now and then.  My back, on the other hand, is throwing a fit almost all day and night, along with my pectoral muscles from the surgeries.  

It's been a free-for-all in this wreck of a skeleton of mine, which then led me back to Miranda Esmonde-White of 'Classical Stretch' and 'Essentrics' fame.  Now in her seventies, she is graceful and lithe and promises me every day to 'age backward' as long as I show up to stretch religiously with her.  I used to do her workouts now and then probably ten years ago, but what really spoke to me recently was the fact she is also a breast cancer survivor.  

I don't know her entire story, but she was a former ballerina who was teaching stretching classes in Canada when PBS made her the offer of her own show.   I'm not sure how old she was, possibly her early 50's or so, but tragically, just as she was to start filming for PBS, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She has a video online where she discusses what happened to her physically as well as emotionally; she felt she would never be able to stretch or move her arms again after her surgery and descended into a dark pit of depression.  But she persevered with the help of her daughter and a physical therapist and is still 'aging backwards' with her very contagious enthusiasm for what exercise can do for everyone.  She gives me so much hope.  And believe me, though 'Classical Stretch' looks easy when watching it from a recliner, the rubber meets the road when you actually do it.  

Over the years I've run the gamut of punishing, seemingly endless aerobics, and other silly things, but her program is one I feel builds a person up and doesn't tear them down.  'Pain is weakness leaving the body' was another saying from back in the day, along with 'no pain, no gain' attitudes, that may work when a person was younger, but also does a lot of damage.  Miranda's program is about regaining what I've lost, flexibility and strength, all in a half hour a day. 

My physical therapist warned me I'll have to stretch my pectoral muscles every day for the rest of my life or they will tighten up and cause more trouble down the road.  It's a habit now, something I don't really dread doing, but it would be nice if the pain would subside eventually.  It's not quite a year since my last revision surgery and over thirty inches of incisions, so maybe with a little more time.  I remain hopeful.   And I try not to stress.  After all, anything can happen and often does, good and bad, in life.  Often it is what you least expect.  My mother always said she never worried.  There's something to be said for that philosophy, as she lived to be ninety-six.

On my walk on Sunday night, I was delighted to have another beautiful sunset.  

The weather was a balmy forty degrees during the day which is warm for February.  I can only go so far from home as dusk falls, because I do not want to be walking back entirely in the dark. Subsequently, I have devised an odd plan to keep walking and not have to turn my back on the sunsets.  

I'd read knees can be strengthened by simply walking backward for some distance.  With nothing to lose,  I've been trying it, and it actually does seem to help.  Walking backward isn't something that comes naturally, and I guess there's some evidence it actually burns more calories than walking forward, but for that to work perfectly, I have to make sure I don't strap on the feedbag afterward.  

I head out an hour before sunset and walk west to my designated stopping point a mile from home and then walk backward for a quarter mile or more, and then go forward again and repeat until time's up or the sun has set.  (It really helps to live on a semi-deserted side road with no curious onlookers, or I could be hauled away, I suppose.)

Walking backward and forward, I can enjoy the lingering sunsets and get my steps in as well.  It's a win-win.

I guess it doesn't take much to entertain me, does it?  But before I know it, the hour is up and I'm back in the driveway.

How's that old joke go?  

'Grandma started walking five miles a day when she was sixty.  She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the heck she is.'

Someone should have told that grandma to walk backwards now and then.  She'd be a lot closer to home.





Thursday, February 2, 2023

February 1, 2023

 January, traditionally Wisconsin's coldest month is now behind us once again. There wasn't a whole lot to complain about this year as far as temperatures went, I was able to walk the road and even the farm almost every day as most of the snow melted mid-month.  It wasn't until a week ago we had enough snow to cross-country ski since December.  Bitterly cold temperatures were back for a few days last week, but moderated to 17 above zero today.

Trekking around the Back Eight on my skis, I found myself huffing and puffing more than I'd like.  Apparently too many chocolate covered peanut balls at Christmas wasn't too bright an idea after all. 

A few days of being cooped up with cold weather and high winds takes a toll on this old gal.  Watching the birds gather at the feeders is always entertaining, though.  The amount of bird seed we go through in a season is amazing.

Sometimes I perch in the upstairs window to watch the flurry of activity, especially when a snowstorm is in progress.


Not much else is going on around here.  We've been working on going through decades of 'stuff' that has accumulated over the years.  Carl has always been the optimistic person in this marriage and his collection of assorted things needs thinning.  He's working on it daily, but letting go is not his strong suit.  It's a daily battle for me to keep my mouth shut out of frustration and I admit, I fail more than I win.  That's why it's important I get outside to exercise every day for as long as my hands and feet can stand the cold.  Curbs the ol' tongue.

Every new snowfall has a different effect on the view.  The normally all brown woods across the road transformed into look-alike birch trees for a few days last week.  I like to walk a mile before noon or so and then again at sunset for a total of five miles a day.  

 For a few weeks, it seemed every day was cloudy.  My geraniums in the windows upstairs were suffering from the lack of light, dropping leaves. 

On January 9, we had a beautiful reprieve from the gloom.  Sunny days are very welcomed after so much darkness.


On nights like these, I never want to quit walking west into the sunset.  My cellphone cannot capture the beauty of the sight, though.

The blizzard in December left us with some very high and extremely hard drifts which almost all melted in January.  The tractor weighs over five thousand pounds.

Sadly, the 574 was making some strange noises, so she is now in for repairs with our mechanic friend, Adam.  He picked the tractor up last week Friday.  It's always melancholy watching her go down the road on a trailer, but I know she'll be back in better shape than ever.  The preliminary diagnosis is a possible water pump in need of replacement, but whatever it is, let's hope the next snowstorm holds off until we have her home again.  (Hey, isn't it normal to refer to ships as 'she'?  Well, my tractor is my ship, we sail around the farm together.)

 Tonight after skiing around the backyard, I walked on the road, pacing back and forth in front of the house for over an hour.  I am in yet another Fitbit challenge this week and since I missed going for my morning walk due to working on some tax paperwork (ugh) I had to make up for my sedentary nature in the afternoon by walking after dark.

 Tonight's sunset was very different with a large column of sunlight reflecting straight up for a few minutes. 

Once I hit the 10,000 step mark, I headed in to make supper.  Standing on the front porch, I took a picture of the stained glass silliness in the house with all the paperwork strewn on the table.  Hmmmm, perhaps we have gone a bit overboard.

February always goes by quickly.  I hope we have some time for a little creativity before spring.  All work and no playing with stained glass is no fun.

After all, eating too many peanut butter balls may be bad for the waistline, but is there ever such a thing as too much stained glass?


They are really a lot like potato chips, it's hard to stop at just one.