RETURNING TO THOSE DAILY LAPS, TOO

Getting back into swimming laps – however gingerly – feels so good. As did the last few choir sessions before the ensemble took its break for the summer.

I’m still not up to my usual half-mile – 18 laps (or 36 lengths) in the indoor pool – but I am feeling secure as long as I don’t overdo it, and I am pretty much back in the water daily.

One thing I became aware of after the stent was inserted was just how close I’d come to having a heart attack in the previous months. I’d felt the breathing problem in the pool, for one thing, and also while carrying a three-year-old down off Mount Agamenticus in November. Am sure glad the event didn’t hit on either of those, I’d hate to traumatize either a kid or the lifeguards.

About a month ago, when I finally got the OK to return to the pool, I realized how much had passed since I last saw the guards or some of my fellow swimmers. Some are coming up on high school graduation, for one thing – and the banter is always a lift.

Even when one tells me that for the kind of obstruction I was having, had it turned into a heart attack, the odds weren’t in my favor. As she said, nine out of ten never make it to the hospital. And as I’ve been saying, I’m feeling very blessed.

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BIG DIETARY CHANGES, OH, BOY …

Yeah, it seems everyone these days is on some kind of restricted diet. Just try throwing a party or inviting others over for dinner, you soon learn all about it.

My cardio incident has had me essentially eliminating eggs, butter, and cheese from what I eat – three glorious mainstays that now get in only as gingerly applied additives or, for the cheese, in low-fat and fat-free versions. And it’s red meat no more than once a week. Look up the Healthy Heart stuff if you want. I’m trying to be stricter than that, at least for a while.

Simply reading the labels on most prepared products is a horror story. Do you know how many bad fats show up in cookies or doughnuts or, oh my, just about everything snack like? And forget fast food along the highway. No, I’m not stopping at McDonald’s for a salad and having to inhale all that lovely fry-vat grease in the air. At least around the corner there’s sushi. Or a bagel with jam or jelly, no cream cheese, though lox might pass the test. You get the point.

My cholesterol levels weren’t bad before, but since the stent went in, my medical professionals want them even lower. Well, I pushed the profile down sharply in five or six weeks. It can be done.

I’m considering this as perpetual Lent of a Greek Orthodox sort, with a few tradeoffs like red wine thrown in. OK, mine’s not really that strict – I’m not vegan – but I am applying many of the lessons we gleaned from observing a strict Advent back in ’16.

Among the negative tradeoffs is caffeine, which my primary care physician wants cut down to a cup a day, max. I’m there now but do miss the second big mug (café au lait style, heavily laced with one-percent milk and sugar) as well as the midafternoon pickup. A substitute instant brew found at the natural foods store is surprisingly satisfying, apart from its lack of kick. The lingering question is do I shift to decaf, which strikes me like cheating but cuts out the caffeine? Any suggestions?

Well, the caffeine reduction is essential if I’m to address another issue. Will spare you the details, for now. Maybe forever.

At least the garden’s kicking in. A sorrel sauce on the asparagus almost has me forgetting mayonnaise, melted butter, or a runny egg or two atop the spears. Do I cheat with the fresh whipped cream when the strawberries hit in a few weeks? I’m already planning on that low-fat mayo when the tomatoes finally flood us in August – you don’t need the bacon to create a great sandwich, especially if you use basil instead of lettuce.

I hate to sound grumpy. This getting older does have its downsides, doesn’t it?

OH, THE FINALS WEEK ORGY

Among the gifts I received at Christmas was a tablet laptop, with the expectation I’d be using especially for Kindle editions – including my own ebooks.

But so far what I’ve really appreciated is its ability to stream music.

For me, that’s meant Q2’s New Sounds and Operavore from WQXR in New York and WHRB from Harvard University in Cambridge.

With solid jazz from 5 a.m. till 1 p.m. and some adventurous classical continuing till 10 p.m., plus the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoons and another opera on Sunday night, my listening is mostly on the Harvard station. Admittedly, the student announcers can be unintentionally amusing in their pronunciations and amateurish touches, but I usually find that more amusing than annoying.

This spring, though, I finally got to experience an amazing tradition on the station – the finals week Orgy, when the regular programming is set aside for in-depth presentations of specific composers or performers.

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BACK AMONG THE LIVING

First, my apologies for not being, well, as present and active as I would have liked over the past five months. When it comes to blogging, most of my material has flowed from what I scheduled before the end of last year. I haven’t added fresh dispatches or participation much at other sites, and it’s showing.

It’s not what I intended.

Let me explain.

Shortly after the release of the Advanced Reading Copy of my newest novel, What’s Left, back in the first week of January, I found myself in the emergency room for what I thought would be more inconclusive tests, but, well, my real-life plot thickened. We’d just had a big snow, and I was hoping to be out in it on my cross-country skis for the first time that winter. But I was having what I thought was a breathing problem, one that several buddies in the medical profession had informally thought might be a walking pneumonia arising in a bug that made the rounds last fall.

The previous week, though, I’d finally gone in to have my primary care physician check that out. The good news, he said, was that my lungs sounded clear. But he also ordered X-rays, scheduled a stress test, and then, instead of his usual droll humor, said very firmly if this happened again I was to go straight to the ER to have it checked out while the symptoms were still present.

Six days later – and two days before my scheduled stress test – we had that big snow. The symptoms were back. Despite my reluctance to go to the ER, my wife and elder daughter insisted otherwise, and since said daughter had just driven into town, her car was already cleared off and warm. She dropped me off at the hospital.

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MY LIFE AS A ROGUE, AS IT WERE

Being born in Aquarius, maybe it’s all too natural:

  1. Rogue scout troop (with all of our hiking, backpacking, and primitive camping – plus all the scoutmaster’s strictness).
  2. Rogue education, a patchwork of political science, literature, economics, sides of philosophy while aiming for the field of daily journalism.
  3. Rogue hippie.
  4. Rogue lover.
  5. Rogue ashram, with its decision to quit the world I’d known up till then.
  6. Rogue worship (this alternative Christianity).
  7. Rogue Quaker, too?
  8. Rogue career, mostly in out-of-the-way settings before abandoning the executive ladder to return to the ranks and a real life.
  9. Rogue poet, rogue novelist.
  10. Rogue blogger.

Maybe it makes sense.

~*~

Just how don’t you fit into expectations?

In open water on the Piscataqua River, Newington, New Hampshire.

Not that this fits into the theme, it’s just one more thing on my mind.

THE TOWER VIEW

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.

As I viewed photographs of the kind of Victorian house her family would gravitate toward, having a round tower at one corner seemed natural – especially one capped by a pointy roof commonly called a witch’s hat. The idea of living in a tall-ceilinged attic, with its air of private retreat, holds romantic appeal anyway, but having it open out into a circle room with views overlooking the street in both directions strikes me as a plus. How about you?

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BRACING FOR THE NEW YEAR

Much happened in my life in the past year that I haven’t mentioned in the blog. My attention was largely focused on the new novel, which underwent three major revisions, completely changing its focus from, first, what Cassia discovered about her hippie father to, second, what she discovered about her Greek-American family through his photos to, third, finally the way she emerged from the emotional loss and grew stronger and wiser as a consequence. Now that What’s Left (the third title, by the way) is finally released as an ebook (Cheers!), you can tell me if it was worth three years of angst, fasting, and flagellation on my part.

One personal accomplishment was my reading the Bible straight-through at the beginning of the year. I started with Everett Fox’s extraordinary translation of the Five Books of Moses and ended with David Bauscher’s translation of the New Testament from Aramaic, while covering most of what’s in-between in the New Jerusalem version. Wanted to hear it all afresh. My notes from the experience will probably fuel an upcoming series, likely at my As Light Is Sown blog.

Also on the religious front, I attended the entire Holy Week (what they regard as Passover) services in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Outwardly, it’s about as far as you can get from my quietist Quaker aesthetic, but again, it was a powerful way of hearing the story afresh. With the shortest service running about an hour-and-a-half and the longest well beyond that, the closest comparison I could come up with would be Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (nightly) or Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which runs shorter in time and isn’t repeated the next morning. It was a miracle the priest and psalmists had any voice left by Easter. And the final services border on chaotic, wax-dripping celebration. Well, that’s the short take. My one regret is that I’ll never again be able to experience this for the first time.

In late spring, I felt called to assist our neighboring Indonesian immigrant community as a number of Christian refugees face deportation to a land where they fear profound religious persecution. As many of us have found, accompanying them to monthly immigration appointments an hour from home has been a life-changing experience. The vigil outside the federal building has been the biggest ecumenical gathering in the state, with clergy and laity blending together. I’m getting teary simply typing this. A last-minute federal court stay has us hopeful, but nothing’s certain as we await the final rulings. I am so proud that my Quaker Meeting has stepped up to this challenge, supported by at least a dozen other congregations in our corner of the state. Whatever action we take, we cannot do alone, but we feel God’s Spirit leading.

At home, our garden flourished, especially with an unprecedented fall in which the first frost didn’t strike until November 8 — a full month later than normal. We still had our own tomatoes up to New Year’s Day.

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