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02 December 2005

Dip your wheels

“Be good to yourself. If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?”
- Kobi Yamada

Shaolin_1Part I.

I went to my first Shaolin Kung-Fu lesson last Monday night. After 15 minutes, I was sweating. I think it was the full-body push-ups with feet up on a bucket and bare knuckles on wooden planks that did it. When the master reminded the group to touch noses to the floor with each push-up, I nearly passed out. “Is this natural?” I thought to myself. “This isn’t natural!” (Answering myself seemed the most expeditious solution).

When he let the group get water after 40 minutes of quad-busting lunges and v-shaped sit-ups (or, more appropriately, struggle-ups), I was the first one to the water cooler, spent, old, and painfully aware of the need for life insurance.

Imagine how exhausted I would have been if I were actually in the class and not just observing it, empathy-sweating at the very idea of all my ab muscles so tragically unprepared.

At the water fountain, the kung-fu master approached me. “You doing okay?” he asked with that concerned you-look-like-you’re- having-a-heart-attack face that I get a lot from my teacher in Pump class at the YWCA. Hey, we fair-skinned (former) redheads turn purple with the least provocation. He was a smiling, double black-belted Master Bob, his stylish black kung-fu jacket and little ponytail still in pristine shape after that boot camp. “That was quite a grueling class!” I chirped in that fakey “I’m okay” voice that eeks out when the sound of your heartbeat is almost all you can hear and you can’t figure out the appropriate way to address an honest-to-god Kung-fu Master having never come in contact with one before. “Oh, no, M’am,” he said with great pity and using that terrible middle-aged “M” word. “That wasn’t the class. That was just the warm-up.”

Oh, my.  Oh. My.

“Silver Sneaker” water aerobics with 90 years olds in flowered swim caps is looking real good right about now. Except, of course, that this option would entail a…bathing suit.

I was actually only at the Shaolin Kung-Fu Center as Chauffeur. My older daughter, Emma, is the burgeoning kung-fu master. “That’s awesome!” she said afterwards. “In ways you cannot fully understand,” I replied, longing to be 13 and flexible again (except for the hormones, science projects, awful bitchy girl gossip, and awkward boy/girl parts).

Handmade_housesPart II.

Besides Pippi Longstocking and Daddy Long Legs, my absolute very most favorite book growing up was a well-worn copy of Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher’s Art. It’s here somewhere; I know without a doubt that through all my moves, it has not been downsized. There is just no way I would let go of it. Since I was 14, many hours were spent marveling at the lives I imagined were lived in those quirky structures, houses inhabited by people who eat granola and drink hot tea! Hot tea! Just imagine how exotic that seemed to a young girl raised on Lucky Charms and Wink!

It was full of gorgeous odd houses of golden wood carved and split and built into trees and on stilts with twists and turns and small reading alcoves under stairs made of logs, with wood stoves and stained glass and granny square quilts—hippie living that captured my imagination, living as I did eating Swanson chicken pot pies in a ranch house in a subdivision in a square yellow bedroom with sliding closet doors and yellow curtains that matched my yellow bedspread with the raised up chenille popcorn on it [well, the curtains matched before I set them on fire that one time when I was experimenting by throwing matches into the trash can full of newspaper, and okay, I’ll admit it was a pretty big flame by the time my brother figured out something was up when he saw me running silently from the bathroom sink to my room (not moving my head, of course, to indicate any form of panic), but the fire was almost containable and by the time the fire truck got there with all those nice firemen on it, it was fairly well out except for the part where it spread across the valence and onto the ceiling, too high for me to reach with my cupped handfuls of water].

This book was a touchstone of my imagined life as an adult, a beacon to another life, one where I’d be sleeping with stars visible overhead through a skylight – imagine the extravagance!—in a house where nothing matched, how bohemian, how wonderful, how utterly unlike my life of little Ruth Original smocked dresses and crocheted toilet paper holders to match the fuzzy toilet seat cover, and shoe trees.

Why did this book come to mind? It was the quote I started with that reminded me of it, long in my past and yet so vivid in my memory: “Be good to yourself. If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?”

If my body’s a house, I want it to be a fantastic handmade, eclectic, crafted one warmly polished, one that is all my own doing, of my own design.

Raleigh_retroglide_7_2004_180x114Part III.

I have decided to bike across the continental
United States.

I will do this to celebrate my birthday in four years, the one that brings me perilously close to the age at which my father died, the one I never really believed I’d see since he barely did, my 50th. The inspiration behind this goal is a woman I’ve never met – and probably never will.

Jean is a cyber cipher, a member of a storytelling list serve who posted last spring about a trip she was readying to take—58 days of  biking across country with women aged 50-72. She celebrated her 62nd birthday on that trip, a journey that began by dipping bike wheels in the Pacific Ocean at San Diego and ended with a dip of those same wheels (aside from the replaced tires along the way) in the Atlantic Ocean at St. Augustine, Florida.

It’s the beginning of a whole new house. Tomorrow, I’ll start pouring the foundation.

~*~ 37 Days: Do it Now Challenge ~*~

Do an inspection of your body-house, that space in which you’ll live until you don’t. Check out the structure, the foundation—is it waterlogged? Are the shutters falling off? Is the paint peeling? Is it moldy? Is it an interesting structure, strong and warm? Will it last the course? Can you see the stars? Polish the wood floors. Clear out the cobwebs, Make your house what you want it to be.

Dip your wheels. Take your body on a long trip. 


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From Patti Digh at 37 Days comes this posting on Dip your wheels: I have decided to bike across the continental United States. I will do this to celebrate my birthday in four years, the one that brings me perilously close to the age at which... [Read More]


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Patti, I thank you for the inspiration to begin to set goals for that....number...that's looming out there in a few birthdays. Yours sounds fantastic. Maybe you have hit on exactly what I've been doing the past few years....improving the body/house since the physical house one day suddenly seemed like someone else put A LOT of stuff in it that wasn't mine-and I didn't even like (what was that former self thinking anyway?).

Just what I needed this morning...and now I'm off to spend the night with seven 11 and 12 year old girls at the farm for my daughter's 12th birthday! Better fortify "my house!"

Karrie - come along with me on the trip! It'll be great fun - we'll see the country, make new friends, curse our quad muscles, get sunburned - let's go! I loved your clutter analogy - that's sometimes what both my physical-house and body-house feel like...time to clean house! (Think about that trip!)...

Patti, wonderful writing, great goal.... best of luck! I'll be following your progress and will provide encouragement along the way.

I just turned 2 more than 50 (yesterday) and will almost have run 1000 miles this year almost meeting my own goal of 1000 miles for the year.

My house is in pretty good shape right now, and I am working to keep it that way. Your inspiring writing helps!

Hello Patti,

Every summer there is an event in Nijmegen, NL that attracts 45,000 or more participants world-wide. An event that calls for 4 x 30 miles days of walking.

Due to health (1999 cancer) and various other reasons, I have not worked in 3 years. Recently I took a part-time job as a post-woman. I am obliged to walk 2-3 hours a day, rain or shine. Fressh air and no stress. Best of all, I feel I might be ready for this challenge next summer.


Patti, When you'll turn to 50, I'll be 60 (hopefully)and perhaps no longer too much engaged in earning my living (hopefully too). What about a "bike caravan" with people who like to take a look behind the body-house? I am convinced we could help each other with renovation work, create new rooms, prop up foundation and ...having fun!!
I would try to join you!

Cindy - I'm glad to hear that you're recovering - my uncle Max was a postman and I always envied his nice afternoon walks from door to door...enjoy! And good luck with the summer trek!

Hilde - yes! come! we'll have a fine time. We can tour the U.S. and then tour Europe by bike...! Here is info on the tour company - take a look!

Wow, impressive goal to set. That is a day by day change for the healthy.

after reading your part II, i thought i might recommend a book: "Treehouse Chronicles." It just came out, I'm reading it now, it's all about making your dreams a reality...and treehouses of course. and it's true with fantastic pictures and illustrations.

kat - what a fantastic new book to enjoy - thanks for that reference - i can't wait to get my hands on a copy! - patti

I didn't recall this post. Gee, only 3 more years until your cross-country tour. ;) The part about building a foundation...I realize you were referring to our physical selves, but... A few years ago it dawned on me that I couldn't expect to build a sturdy house with a damaged emotional foundation. And I began to realize that it was no wonder I'd felt so shaky when my house was barely secured by a few skinny stilts. The best thing I maybe ever did in terms of that rebuilding process was to dig out my favorite photo of myself at age 4. It was the last time I could recall feeling unfettered or even happy. I began talking to 'her'...because I was just sure that she knew my truth. And together, she and I rebuilt it. The work might not be obvious to anyone else, but it's there. I think I'm ready to start building the first floor now. It might seem sad to some that it could take a person half a century to just build their foundation. But if it's the right kind of foundation, it could make the next half century pretty interesting. ;)

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