therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the category “fitness”

Park Dreaming

10295774_1453094438270155_5810437079417490514_nI want to write about parks. Seattle voters, you know we’ve got a big decision to make. But here’s the problem: there are these snapshots in my head that keep getting in the way.

A woman standing in front of her wildfire-torched home in Pateros, Washington.

A funeral for a child in Gaza.

Bodies lying in a wheat field in Ukraine.

The headlines this week, and the pictures that go with them, have been brutal.

I want to write about parks. But it seems—disrespectful.

I want to write about how parks saved my mental health more than once. About what a safe haven they’ve always been for me. I want to remember the Arboretum, where I could spend half a day with a pencil and notebook. I want to shout out the old-growth trees and cool summer waters of Seward Park, my refuge for 24 years. I want to remember the climbing tree in the playfield up the hill from my childhood home, where I could hide out for a while when being one of six kids in the house just got too cramped.

But even though I really, really want Seattle voters to pass the measure on the August primary ballot which will create stable funding at last for our city parks, it just seems so indulgent to write about while the largest recorded wildfire in our state’s history blazes on. While both sides in Gaza report their deadliest day. While families in the Netherlands and Malaysia and a dozen other countries mourn the violent deaths of people they loved, people whose only involvement in a territorial war was to fly high overhead in a commercial jet.

So indulgent. But here’s the rub: I can’t stop the wildfires or the missiles or the bombs. But I can urge you to think about the future of Seattle’s parks. About how—when it feels like things aren’t going so well in the big wide world—we need our parks more than ever. We need green places where we can walk, talk, run, bike, swim, think.

Or pull ivy. On Saturday, I was planning to go for a run in one of the most popular parks in the city—beautiful Golden Gardens, way out on Shilshole Bay—when I spotted an email reminder about a work party in one of the least-known corners of the park system: Cheasty Greenspace, a tangle of woods along the east side of Beacon Hill, just around the corner from where I live.

I decided I needed to be useful more than I needed a drive across town and a fresh salt breeze.

The goal in the Cheasty woods is to create bike paths and walking paths in an area of the city where access to quiet, green spaces is sorely needed. There are some neighbors who say they want it to stay wild. But most of us in the area do want the trails, and we’re willing to show the city we do by putting in some seriously sweaty sweat equity.

The task at hand was not glamorous: yanking out invasive English ivy. Yards of it. Mounds of it. All morning, a dozen or so grownups pulled and pulled, while kids ran our little piles up to the big piles. By noon, we had amassed a small mountain of ivy.

We were sweaty and dirty. We had not solved the world’s problems. But we had done our modest bit for our future park, our little link in Seattle’s emerald chain.

We know the ivy will keep growing back. So… we’ll keep pulling it. Because once you see where there might someday, if everybody pitches in, actually be a path, it’s hard to get that snapshot out of your mind.

Save the date: Her Beautiful Brain book launch: 3pm, September 7, at Elliott Bay Book Company inHer_Beautiful_Brain Seattle. You can pre-order now from Elliott Bay, Powell’s Books, or the large or small bookseller of your choice.

 

Freedom Riders

DSC00865“Freedom,” such a lovely word, is about to get its annual binge on. It will be overused, misused, badly used and, occasionally, poignantly or profoundly used. Why even try to compete?

So I’m keeping my contribution simple. You ready?

Freedom is a bicycle.

Stay with me here. Ride with me.

I live in a newly rebuilt neighborhood where many of my neighbors are African immigrants. Our home overlooks a small central park built around two enormous red oak trees. On summer afternoons, it is usually full of children.

One recent afternoon, I sat at my desk, trying and failing to focus on my work while I watched the park fill with kids. They were headed towards a shining sea of bicycles parked under a big blue canopy down at the other end. It was the annual bike fair and giveaway sponsored by Bikeworks, one of the most high-energy, generous nonprofits in Seattle. One by one, thirty children were fitted with a new helmet, passed a safety test, and sped down the sidewalk on a bright new refurbished used bike. One by one, I watched them ride right towards me, smiles filling their faces.

Freedom is a bicycle, I’m telling you.

When you get on a bike, your feet kiss the ground goodbye. Pedaling uphill may make you sweat, but coasting is flying. One minute, you’re standing in the park; the next, you’re flying, and it’s not magic, it’s your own muscles turning those wheels and making it happen.

I learned to ride a bike late. I was the third of six children, and my parents, like many of the parents in my current neighborhood, were busy with the youngest ones and apparently never thought about teaching us middle girls to ride. Finally, when I was about nine or maybe even ten, our grandparents gave my sister and me funny bikes with banana seats and we taught ourselves. No training wheels; just a few weeks of bruised shins and crashes until riding a bike was, suddenly and forever, as natural as breathing.

And it was freedom. Overnight, we graduated from footsore hikers of the neighborhood to fliers, little Amelia Earharts piloting our low-slung, banana-seated planes as far as we dared.

I love seeing that Amelia Earhart look in the faces of the neighborhood kids, soaring by on their new bikes. Few of them will go to soccer camps or summer camps, but they’ll be able, occasionally, to soar.

I worry a lot about safety. I wish they would wear their helmets at all times. As in many American neighborhoods, we have a problem with a few young men who love driving fast in cars. Trying to soar in a car is never a good idea. But once you’ve got a driver’s license, bicycles just aren’t as cool.

Until you get past all that and realize that actually, they are.

On the Saturday of the Solstice, my husband and I rode our bikes up and over Beacon Hill, through the International District and Pioneer Square, along the downtown waterfront, through Myrtle Edwards Park and along the Interbay bike path to the Ballard Bridge, where we picked up the Ship Canal path and took it to Fremont. We got there in time to catch the last wave of naked bicyclists in the annual Solstice Parade. Seeing them was a lot of fun, but really, the best part of the day was riding through our city, speeding past snarls of traffic. Feeling free.

I’m sure we looked as old and uncool as we are. But who cares? Like the little girl who just sped by as I write, her bright blue hijab flying out from under her red helmet, we were tasting freedom, and it tasted like the Fourth of July.

Save the date: Her Beautiful Brain book launch: 3pm, September 7, at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. You can pre-order now from Elliott Bay, Powell’s Books, or the large or small bookseller of your choice.Her_Beautiful_Brain

 

 

 

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Breakfast

Readers: October has been a busy month here in the Restless Nest. This week, I re-broadcast a radio piece on one of my favorite subjects: breakfast.

“So, how’s the Empty Nest going for you?” the Other Mom asked me when we ran into each other in the park.  Our children were the same ages: 18 and 21.   The younger ones recently graduated from the same high school.

“It’s a little strange.  But I guess I don’t miss getting up every day at 6:30.”

“Oh, that wasn’t an issue for me,” she responded.  “My daughter was so self-sufficient.”

The implication being, of course, that our son was not: that it was his sorry lack of self-sufficiency that got my husband and me out of bed every morning.

But that wasn’t it at all, I wanted to explain, but didn’t.

I wanted to be there every day, just to say “Good-bye!  Have a great day!” as Nick ran out the door.  I wanted to know he had breakfast in his stomach and a sack lunch in his backpack.  I knew he didn’t “need” us to get up.  He probably didn’t even “want” us to get up.  But isn’t one of the enduring themes of the teenage years that secret feeling that no one really cares?  And when you’re having one of those dark adolescent moments, might it not help to be able to say to yourself, At least my parents get up every morning and pop my toast in for me?  At least they say good-bye when I leave the house?

But I didn’t say any of that to the Other Mom.  Especially since she was the same Other Mom who, the first time we ever chatted, scolded me for putting my daughter in an “elitist” gifted program, the same program she put her own daughter in a few years later.

Parents can be so judgmental.  Myself included.  In Seattle, we judge each other for, among other things, not offering the most perfectly healthy snacks or allowing violent video games or too much TV.  Or any TV at all.  But one of the wisest, most non-judgmental moms I know once told me, when Nick was still in middle school, that she would continue to make peanut butter toast in the mornings and pack sack lunches until her tall teenaged boys absolutely forbade it, because to be able to send them out into the day with good food gave her such comfort: the comfort of knowing that, whatever else might happen to them that morning or afternoon, breakfast and lunch were covered.

I can do that for Nick, I thought at the time.  I will do that.

Her twin boys are 21 now, seniors in college, living off campus, cooking and eating with impressive self-sufficiency.

I don’t miss smearing peanut butter and jam on bread, bagging carrots, rummaging in the cupboards for trail mix or cookies.  I do miss knowing that Nick has a brown bag full of healthy food in this pack, food he can “eat standing up,” his one specific lunch-packing request.

I don’t miss having to get up at 6:30.

I do miss the two-second, patiently tolerated goodbye kiss.  That I do miss.

Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are now available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Grown-up Brain

Sitting in my email inbox is a message with this subject line: “Five memory-killing foods you should NEVER eat!” But does this email tell me what they are? No, of course not, because the spammer who sent it wants me to click on their hack-trap  link. The email is from someone named “Alzheimer Cure,” whose address is gaynell at brendy dot lookharbor dot info. Hmmmm.

Clearly, Gaynell, you have not heard the good news about the middle-aged brain. Turns out I am not a), so dumb and desperate I’m going to open your email or b), on some grim downward slide that started around 25, when my brain peaked, and will continue until I keel over.

Clearly, Mr. or Ms. Gaynell at Brendy dot Lookharbor, you have not read the book I just read: The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, by New York Times science editor Barbara Strauch.

This is a book is packed with good news: the kind of news that tends to slip under the radar because it is so counter-cultural and confusing to our youth-worshipping media world. Strauch’s mission is to bring us up to date on the brain research of the past few decades, nearly all of which refutes the prevailing cultural brain myth of our time: namely, that young brains work better.

She does not deny the specific ways in which youthful brains have it over middle-aged or older brains, which mostly have to do with speed and short-term recall. But she paints a fascinating picture of the ways in which our brains not only compensate for those age-related changes, but in most cases, vastly over-compensate. I am simplifying 200 pages of great science writing here, but the main point is this: what we lose in speed and recall we more than make up for in judgment, which builds up over decades of perceiving, discerning, weighing, deciding. Wisdom: that’s the old-fashioned word for this.

And even as those of us over 45 lament our inability to instantly recall names or keyboard shortcuts, we get a lot of mileage out of our accrued wisdom. But we rarely acknowledge this, even to ourselves. All our lives have been spent in the era of youth-worship, of middle-aged crises, of the acceptance of inevitable brain deterioration. Experience, mastery, knowledge—those are not words we’ve been conditioned to value, not in the same way we value words like innovation, genius and start-up.

About that notion of brain deterioration: recent research shows not only do we not lose large numbers of neurons over time, our brains are actually capable of making new neurons.  Or, as Strauch puts it, “scientists now believe that the brain does not undergo complete disintegration as we age.” Not only that, but—and here, perhaps, our obsession with youth should get a nod—researchers can now clearly see the connections between exercise, nutrition, cognitive engagement and brain health. Especially exercise. Which means: if you want your wise, middle-aged brain to stay in great shape, there ARE things you can do. Number one: stay physically active. Thirty minutes or more, five times a week, or more.

Strauch thinks it’s time for a “middle-aged revolution.” After all, she says, the numbers are on our side. Maybe we need a better label, though. The word “youth” has such a nice whoosh to it.  “Middle-aged,” not so much.

Let’s all go for a long walk, run or bike ride and think about it.

News Flash: Our film Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story is now available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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