A First At Forest Park

Are you familiar with Forest Park?  It’s the largest city park in the US.  Yes, it’s larger than NYC’s Central Park.  The park is large enough to hold a lot of attractions – a world renown zoo (free admission), the world class Muny (lots of free seats for every performance), our outstanding Art Museum (free all the time and special exhibits free on Fridays), a golf course (not free), the Arthur Ashe Tennis Courts (not sure if free or not), handball courts, the Jewel Box (huge green house facility, probably not free), the History Museum, Turtle Park (cool, free little playground), ball fields, horse stables and trails, ponds stocked with fish, and lots of biking and hiking trails.

I bet I missed some great attraction(s) at FP.  It’s an amazing place, pretty every season of the year.  The park is bounded on one side by I64/40.  The other three sides are scenic, however.  The western boundary is Skinker Blvd, along which are lovely buildings and the illustrious Washington University in St Louis (Danforth Campus).  The eastern boundary is Grand Blvd, along which are Barnes Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Shriner’s Hospital, and several other hospitals and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy alongside lovely old residential buildings and the venerable Chase Park Plaza hotel and complex.  On the northern border of the park is a mile long row of mansions, each one more beautiful than the last, along Lindell Blvd.

Back to those trails.  There are both biking and hiking trails around and throughout the park.  The biking trails are blacktop, lined surfaces.  The hiking trails are a mix.  Some are paved, some are mulch and dirt, some are gravel.  Many of the hiking trails are shaded in the summer but sunlit in the winter.

I grew up within walking distance of FP and today was my first day ever hiking there!  The park is a 20-30 minute drive from my house, but well worth the trip.  My friend, Steph, lives a couple blocks from the park (as do two of my kids), and we walked together this morning.  It was a lovely day, nice temp with low humidity.  Steph is familar with the hiking trails. so she led Liz (the pooch) and me for our hour long walk.  We walked by the Zoo and through the Kennedy Forest (a famous haunt of talented St Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan) and for several blocks in the charming DeMun Neighborhood that straddles St. Louis City and the chic suburb of Clayton.

I recommend FP as a wonderful place to hike/walk/bike.  I’ll be heading that way again before too much more time elapses!


Eighteen And Counting. My Journey To Here.

Eighteen is the number of years I have been walking for exercise every single day.  Before that, I could not muster up much appreciation for merely taking a walk.  I had been playing racquetball for a couple of hours 3-4 days a week – and I loved it!  I would run back to play racquetball RIGHT NOW if I had younger knees.  But the knees, replaced tho’ they are, will just not tolerate racquetball or tennis.

Racquetball was my first true love.  Everything before racquetball was merely preparation for racquetball.  Time spent off the racquetball court was time wasted.  I played anytime I could, for several hours at a time.  And, I played to win.  I was nice and courteous on the court, but my goal was to beat my opponent – or at least give my opponent a good game.  One that would keep that person wanting to play me again and again.

Then my knee pain took me to the Orthopedic Surgeon who told me my racquetball days were numbered.  He told me something like, people like you need to walk, swim, or ride a bike.  What!  Walking seemed so, oh, boring.  Swimming had always been hard on my hair and my skin.  Not to mention, expensive to find a club with a pool.  Biking, a very pleasurable activity of my youth, seemed like an Emergency Room visit just waiting to happen.  Me, helmeted and knee braced, competing with automobiles for space on the road was not appealing.

I had a couple friends who walked regularly.  My mom walked every day with her friends.  I thought I’d at least give it a try.  My original goal was to walk to and from the grocery store almost exactly one mile from my front door so I could check out movies.  Remember when grocery stores had movies to rent?  It was eighteen years ago.

I leashed my little dog and headed out.  Because I had a house full of teenagers, sometimes I walked two or three times a day.  Every day, I got a few steps closer to the grocery store.  Before long, I made it to the grocery’s video section, tied up the dog, checked out some movies, and headed back home.  Two miles accomplished.

Did I say I had a house full of teens?  If walking won’t get you out of your own home, fleeing the raging hormones of adolescence, then nothing useful will.  The dog was game.  The weather mostly cooperated.  I took my sail out of their wind.  They would follow me to the bathroom and yell at me through the door – but they NEVER followed me on a walk.  So much for the energy of youth.  I was much more energetic – and motivated.

I began walking several times a week with my very long-legged friend Sal who, I feel to this day, often humors me by slowing her lanky pace to match my own stubby-legged gait.  We talked, laughed, occasionally cried, but always walked.

What I had once thought of as boring had become central to my life.  I was feeling better and losing weight.  My kids were benefitting by not having me in their business.  Sal and I never missed our walking ‘dates’.  We got our kids raised and solved most of the world’s other problems on those walks.

As time went by and my endurance improved, I was able to tackle trails at local parks.  I increased my circle of friends, focusing on new friends who wanted to walk.  My house did not fall down, the bills got paid, groceries were purchased, laundry washed and folded.  Nothing bad happened during my one hour ‘sessions’ away from the house.  All the work was still there (as no one else did it.  Credit my dear Mamaw for that insight.) I was better able to take care of all the business of living, improve my health, enlarge my circle of friends, and find a reliable spiritual source all by just going for my walks.  Where else/How else does one get all that for just 30-60 minutes a day?

What’s With The Poop Bags?

I walk with my dog most of the time.  She loves her walks and behaves nicely on park trails.  She is quite the lady in that she prefers to do her ‘business’ in her own back yard.  No park pooping for her.

Most people are responsible about the piles their dogs make.  Responsible in that they bring along a plastic bag, pick up the poop, and dispose of it properly.  All good.

What’s with the folks who pick up the poop, place it carefully in the plastic bag, and then LEAVE the bag on the trail?  Drives me zonkers!

If that’s you, please rethink this.  First, if you can’t take the plastic bag off the trail, just leave it on the ground.  The rest of us will step around it.  Left to nature, the poop will degrade in a couple days, benefitting one or more creatures in the park.  For the Love Of God, don’t you know that the plastic bag full of poop will likely be in the same state in a hundred years?

This is simple – take it off the trail to a trash can OR just leave the poop untouched on the trail.  After all, the deer, rabbits, turtles, birds, squirrels, etc ALL leave their poop in the park.  No one is any the worse for it.

I’d far rather step around poop than one of your plastic bags.  Take It or Leave It – just not in a plastic bag.

End of rant.

What To Do When We Don’t Want To Do Anything

We all have those days.  Either we want to remain snug in bed or we are just unmotivated to do anything – neither the necessary nor the ‘good for us’ stuff.  It happens to everyone.  Too many days like that may certainly indicate a serious problem, requiring professional help.  But, usually it’s just a short term reaction to the stresses of daily living.  We want to avoid something in particular or we want to avoid, well, everything.  We don’t feel that great.  We would just rather not.

So, what do we do on those days?  What will get us out of that funk?

Several things come to mind.  First, having a routine.  A routine is both comforting and comfortable.  We know what to expect.  We know what we need to accomplish.  If walking is part of that routine, it’s much easier to hit the bricks and get moving.

Another helpful motivating factor is having something pleasurable to look forward to.  If we enjoy walking – or some other physical activity – we come to look forward to it.  It’s a win-win.  Getting to the point that we feel that way about it may take a while.  But, it comes.  If it doesn’t come in a few weeks, find another activity for which you will develop affection.  Do yourself that favor.

Finally, if we see an activity as rewarding, we are more likely to incorporate it into our routine, look forward to doing it, and get motivated just thinking about it as we lie in that bed.  Walking is very rewarding for me.  It makes me feel better EVERY TIME.  It is beneficial whether it’s with a friend, becoming a social activity, or a solitary endeavor, in which case it become spiritual for me.  Both of those scenarios are rewarding.

There is the occasional day where my walk is just another chore to put behind me.  Even when I feel that way, it take only a few minutes of walking before my mindset changes.  Try going for a brisk walk and see if you can FORCE YOURSELF not to feel better!  Betcha’ can’t.

Is It Work Or Play?

Is walking for exercise every day work or play?  Is it fun or torture?  Is it necessary or frivolous?  Is it a worthy activity or not worth the time?

For me, the answers are easy.  It is both work and play.  It is usually fun but sometimes torture.  It is almost never frivolous but always necessary.  It is definitely a worthy activity.

Both work and play?  Not play because without a walk every day, I will not sleep at night.  Without a daily walk, my emotions are less likely to be balanced.  So, I look forward to my walks and like to think of them as play.  Some days, however, it is really work!  Days when it’s 100 degrees outside, a walk is more work than play.  A walk at the mall is more work than play.  A walk in the woods is always more play than work, even in unpleasant weather.

Torture?  Only when the path is rocky, very hilly, and it’s really hot out.  Those days a walk can be something of a torture.  But, i get through it because the payoff is always there for me.  I will sleep better, feel better, move better.

Necessary?  Yes, for the aforementioned reasons.  It’s not always easy to find the time in a busy day to hit the bricks.  There are ALWAYS a dozen other things yelling to be taken care of first.  This is when I must determine what’s important or merely urgent.  The laundry will wait.  Dinner will get cooked.  Bills will find themselves paid.  But, no one is going to get that walk done for me but me.

It’s really difficult for me to keep my head on straight without that daily exercise – the raising of the heart rate, the churning out of the sweat, the release of all those wonderful endorphins.

My final question above now answers itself.  Walking (and other forms of enjoyable physical activity) are worth my time.  Walking has great value in my life.  I don’t foresee ever giving it up.

(Rein)Deer Games

While driving home from a walk at Castlewood State Park recently, having just completed a lovely, brisk walk, we were tired and thirsty.  The speed limit in the park is 20 MPH, and with walkers and bikers on the narrow street, I take it slow.  In the meadow near the exit of the park, there were three deer – a mom, a fawn, and one in the middle, probably a year or so old.

I’m not well versed in the ways of deer.  The younger two deer were doing what young siblings do everywhere – annoying each other and playing.  First the little one would nip at the older one and the two would take off running.  They would quiet down for a few minutes before the younger one would kick his older sib, and they’d take off running again.  It was fun to watch!

So, in addition to the several deer we see on most walks at Castlewood, and the assorted other wildlife we run across – squirrels, turtles, birds, toads, and the occasional snake – we get to enjoy the antics of the wildlife too.  Now, if we could just find a way to avoid the insect/bug wildlife like mosquitoes and gnats!

Turtles and Deer

Today, Kris and I walked at Castlewood State Park on one of the shorter trails.  It’s been so hot and we got a late start, so we decided to take the shorter trail.  About halfway out, this trail crosses one of the creeks in the park.  Right now, due to a lack of rain, the water in this creek is quite low.  Makes it easy to cross.

We saw the very healthy looking turtle on the same tree limb over the same small pond in the creek we had seen a few days ago.  He dove in as soon as he became aware of us.  That pool is full of very healthy looking pollywogs, minnows, and some water striders.

We saw a bunch of deer today.  Instead of resuming the trail at the creek crossing, we decided to stay in the creek bed and follow it back to our car.  It was lovely.  For rock hunters, this place might be paradise.  We have found all kinds of shell encrusted rocks, chunks of limestone, examples of granite, sandstone, quartz, and other minerals – not to mention a wide assortment of manmade ‘stones’ like bricks, chunks of asphalt and concrete, and shards of broken glass, along with the occasional bicycle tire, soda can, and plastic glass.

We soaked our socks through our waterproof shoes, risked an infestation of chiggers when we had to resume the trail, and invaded the privacy of a number of deer who think they own the place, but it was a pleasing walk along a lovely, shaded creek.  We forgot the hellish temperature and just enjoyed the trek.

You Got Cable, You Got Tunes

If you have cable TV (with Charter/Spectrum in the St. Louis area), you have access to a huge amount of free tunes.  While you might not want to use your TV to listen to adult contemporary countryregaerap, it’s a nice feature when the weather is not cooperating with your walking regime.  No speaker to hook up.  No CD to find.

My TV remote offers almost 1000 channels.  I have no idea what is showing on most of them as I have no premium channels and can only watch so much news/cooking/antiquesroadshow.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover the many channels that are music only.

Every genre of music.  Any genre of music.  Anytime I need it.

So when it’s monsoon season, ice season, dark of night, or steam sauna central, I have one more tool to keep me from derailing my walks.  I choose a genre that is upbeat and will help me want to move.  Then, I go for it!  With what must look to an outside observer as an ‘interesting’ mixture of walking and linedancing.

Three steps up and kick.  Three steps back and touch.  Three steps to the side and clap.  Rinse, repeat for at least twenty minutes.  This is definitely ‘dance like nobody’s watching’.  No one but the dog.

And Speaking Of Phones

If you’d been reading this blog back in its infancy, you’d have seen that one of my early ideas was to match up walkers so they could phone each other during their walks to offer encouragement and just to make the time go by.

I still thing that’s a good idea but I never got it off the ground.  The obstacles were very real.  My lack of tech sophistication.  My general laziness.  My arm getting tired holding the phone while I talked and walked.

I also find that I almost always have a waking buddy in the real world so I don’t need one on the phone or in any virtual sense.  I’m very lucky that way.

I also know that I will walk every day whether I have encouragement or not.  Well, mostly.  Encouragement is a good thing and never hurts.  Anything that helps us meet our goals, right?

Do you use your phone when you are walking?  What do you use it for?  To chat with a friend?  To yell at your kids?  To listen to music, a book, or a podcast?

When the walking conditions are less than stellar, good conversation, a good lecture or book, some upbeat tunes can really make the going easier.  Can make the difference between you walking or not walking.  I vote for walking.


On My Phone

I have had an iphone for a couple of years and yet I am not fully enjoying the benefit of this twenty-first century tool.  I was happy with just a cell phone back in the day.  You know.  Something you could call your friends on.  Ten years ago or so.  Then I very much liked that I could play solitaire on it.  Then came the books I could read on it!  Whoa!  When did I get so tech-sophisticated?

My latest discovery on the iphone is apps.  They’ve been there for quite a while but I seldom even looked to see what was available.  First it was figuring out how to download a book to the phone.  Then it was figuring out how to listen to tunes on the phone.

A few weeks ago, I remembered my mom’s best success with tackling her eating disorder.  Eating disorders seem to be the family disease.  The best luck she had was writing down every iota of food or drink she put in her mouth.  She did that on those old steno note pads.  And she did it for years.  In some landfill somewhere are dozens of Tootsie’s food diaries.  Maybe some twenty-second century archeologist will find them and extrapolate that we all had strange cravings for beer and pickles after 10 PM.   LOL

Since I lost 65 lbs about 18 years ago, I have done well keeping most of it off.  Lately I have noticed – my wardrobe has shouted at me – that some weight is creeping back on.  Ok.  Can’t let this get out of hand.  But, diets are not for me.  They feel repressive and oppressive and regressive and every other -essive you can come up with .

I remembered my mom’s steno pads and decided this might be a thing I could do.  But, who wants to carry notebooks around?  And, do they even sell those things anymore?  Are there stenographers?

I read or heard some little blurb about an app for tracking food.  I took one look on my phone and found one that was a) free, b) available on my phone, and c) looked easy to download and  use.

So, I downloaded it and ignored it for a couple weeks.  Then, for whatever reason, one day, I decided to input some data.  It’s so easy to use!  There is a large database of food items with calorie counts (and other nutritional data).  There are slots for three meals and one snack a day.  Since it’s a piece of plastic and metal and glass, I do not mind fooling it by including two snacks a day in that single slot.

I did some research to determine how many calories I should be eating each day.  I began to list all my food.  I also began to track my exercise which is almost always either walking or dancing.

So, you enter the number of calories that is your target each day.  Then you enter your food.  Then you enter your exercise – and the tool GIVES BACK SOME CALORIES!  If I walk for 30 minutes at a fast clip, it gives me about 400 more calories to eat!  Such madness!

Okay.  This is a tool.  It is not my keeper.  But darn it if I have not avoided eating some things because I would have to record them!  When did the universe allow this strange behavior?  No way did I foresee this!

My miraculous little app is My Plate by livestrong.com.  If you have one you like better, don’t burst my bubble.  I’m going whole hog (oops.  I might need to change my literary symbols.) with this one.  No idea if I’ve lost any weight.  Weight has never been a thing with me.  I’m far more interested in how I feel – and if my clothes still fit me….