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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

The Thermometer Arrived – Finally!

November 9, 2011

Tags: water, movement, food, air temperature, arm exercise, back exercise, blog, boring, bragging, California, cello, Chinese, cold shower, cooking, eating right, editing, exercising, faucet water, fresh produce, friend, functioning body, history, house work, husband, James – Henry (1843–1916), knee bend, La Jolla, language skills, life, music, novel, ocean temperature, perfect health, piano, pool lap, pool temperature, Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897), shopping, swimming, temperature, thermometer, The Thermometer Arrived – Finally!, “The Wings of the Dove”, traveling

My mail order thermometer arrived today. Now I can put numbers on my Californian shivering: The outside temperature today was 21C (70F), and the water temperature 16 (61F). When I take a cold shower, the water comes out of the faucet at 20C (68F) - much warmer than the pool. My guess had been that the pool temperature was at 60F – not too far off. Reportedly, the ocean temperature in La Jolla is just like my pool’s: 61F. I wish I had the ocean in front of my door …

It is getting harder and harder to go into the cold pool. Not so much because of the cold water but because the house is unheated, and taking a cold shower, toweling off, rubbing myself with coconut oil and then getting dressed takes up nearly half an hour - and all the time I am standing in the cold, shivering. Today I lit a candle in the small bathroom - not sure it raised the temperature, but it gave me the IMPRESSION of being a tad warmer.

Unfortunately, I will leave for nearly two weeks – traveling again. I wonder if I will be able to resume my good habit. Might be very hard – unless I buy a portable heater.

By the way! You hear me talking here mainly about healthy things like swimming, eating right, and so on, and I sound like a real bore, I know. But I do spend my days with far more interesting things than pursuing perfect health. In fact, I try to do AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE because, I too, find exercising boring – and stupid. But, there is no life unless you have a functioning body.

Today I made music with a friend all morning, she at the piano, I at the cello – that was heaven. I am re-editing my Sebastian Kneipp novel. I talked with my husband, family and friends. I read up on history. Also, I am reading Henry James’ “The Wings of the Dove”. And I am still making my way through the Chinese novel word by word (it will take a long time to finish that!), to improve my language skills. I cooked, shopped for fresh produce and did the usual house work.

I did my twenty-one laps in the pool, and twenty-one knee bends, twenty-one back exercises and twenty-one arm exercises. And then I sat down to brag about those little things on my blog. But those little things are not my life – they only make my life possible!

Musical Education

January 16, 2011

Tags: order, Anka - Paul (born 1941), Bach - Johann Sebastian (1685 to1750), Beatles, Beethoven - Ludwig van (1770-1827), cello, classical music, daily practice, Everly Brothers, flute, gramophone, Holt - John (1923-1985), Kleine Nachtmusik, Monteverdi – Claudio (1567-1643), Mozart – Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791, music, musical education, Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story, Pachelbel - Johann (1653-1706), piano, pop music, records – 45er, Tchaikovsky – Peter (1840-1893), Telemann – Georg Philipp (1681-1767), Wagner – Richard (1813-1883)

Music, art, books – they all round out a healthy life to make it fulfilled and happy. Here I have a confession to make: When it comes to music, I am outmoded: I prefer classical music.

BUT it is not my fault. Here is how I was brought up and how my tastes were formed:

As a child, my father would sit the kids on the sofa, in a row, and would play endless records for them, mostly Beethoven and Wagner. We children were bored, predictably, and eagerly waited for him to get his fill of rum and milk to fall asleep. He was a brilliant doctor, and a hopeless boozer. At those moments, we children didn’t mind him drinking – we prayed he’d get drunk fast enough so that we could get away and play.

At around twelve – like all teenagers then – I fell in love with Elvis Presley, with Paul Anka, with the Everly Brothers. For my thirteenth birthday, I got a gramophone – the first among my friends; one could play 45er records on it.

But then my parents shipped us off to boarding school; family life had become too unpleasant. The boarding school was housed in an old castle, with bastion, cannons and forgotten towers, and the rules were strict: All music was verboten. No radio, no gramophone – cassettes had not been invented, I think, and CDs were far in the future. For several years I had no access to music – except for my piano lessons by a flamboyant Hungarian teacher who was a sensation in our all-girls boarding school.

Every morning, at assembly, some girl performed a musical piece, on the piano, violin, flute, for the edification of all of us, allowing us to doze a few more minutes. Tchaikovsky was already too modern for the taste of our stern headmistress, which resulted in a bland musical diet of Bach, Pachelbel, Telemann, Monteverdi. You get the idea – no more Everly Brothers.

One teacher had a young wife who was just a bored as we girls were. She invited a few of us over for tea and – gasp! – subversive music; she also owned a gramophone. The music she introduced us to, never had I heard anything that heavenly! It was Mozart’s Kleine Nachtmusik. This music became the battle song of our secret rebellion – those sixteen-year-old girls in their school uniforms, sipping tea, and plotting their future lives. Oh, our lives had to be so different from our parents!

In case you think that the morning assemblies were our only exposure to music – we also had ballroom dancing lessons. Without boys, of course. And what we learned was – foxtrot? No! waltz? No! rumba? No! – we learned quadrille! Quadrille is an old-fashioned dance, slightly more modern than minuet, and actually the forerunner of square dancing. No wonder that the summer I turned seventeen and learned English in Bournemouth/Great Britain, I went out every single night to the Ritz Ballroom and danced rock’n’ roll. Except for Sundays, when everything was closed. And I thought it must be awful to be old – like, twenty-five! – and not go rock’n’rolling anymore.

When I came out of jail, uh, boarding school, to my own surprise, I had outgrown Elvis. The world meanwhile was crazy about the Beatles. But I had become jaded; I couldn’t get interested in pop music anymore. Instead I went to endless Wagner operas – they couldn’t be long enough for me - and classical concerts whenever I could afford them.

For fifty bucks I bought an old piano plus a piano stool and a huge heap of ancient sheet music. All classical. Playing piano all night helped me greatly getting over boyfriends that had dumped me.

Fast-forward to my six-year-old son declaring he wanted to learn cello. Nobody in the family had ever thought of cello! In his first Suzuki lesson I fell in love with the sound of the cello (which in itself is another convoluted story). Because I didn’t want to take it away from him, I waited until he turned to acoustic bass in his teens. Then I took up cello lessons – am still taking lessons now, years later. Even as a late starter, I am finally out of being a beginner; I am solidly intermediate now and play my cello every day.

There is a wonderful old book by John Holt: Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story. He took up the cello later in life – a story similar to what I am telling here, only degrees more obsessive!

If you do something only ten minutes every day, you can’t but get better. And: It is never too late.

The End of the Year in Maine

December 28, 2010

Tags: movement, food, order, artichokes, baking, balance, Beethoven - Ludwig van (1770-1827), Brendel - Adrian (born 1976), Brendel - Alfred (born 1931), cello, Christmas, cookies, cooking, cross-country skiing, Cutting For Stone, exercise, healing food, Maine, pesto, piano, red cabbage, sauerbraten, shoveling snow, skiing, The End of the Year in Maine, Verghese - Abraham (born 1955), writing

We are in the cabin, away from everything during the time we call between the years in German. Nowhere in the world do I sleep as deeply as here, nothing makes me so content than being here with my loved ones.

Not to sound too pollyannaish: The adjustment to being in such confined room is usually a loud affair for our family – we have to rearrange ourselves and our egos. But the result is good, and I think, lasting.

In the snowstorm, we got ten inches of snow (I just stuck a ruler into the snow on the porch). During the snow last night, we went for a walk along the beach, fighting the wind and swirling snowflakes on our way out, and having them nicely at our backs on returning.

In spite that I brought my equipment (the ancient three prongs- shoes), I haven’t been cross-country skiing yet because I get so much more satisfaction out of shoveling snow – a movement with purpose. Always change hands; for balance, one has to work both sides of the body, even if it feels a bit clumsier on one side.

Shopping is not celebrating the season - snow-shoveling is. And sitting in front of the wood stove, listening to Beethoven (my favorite at the moment: The complete Beethoven piano/cello music as played by the father/son team Alfred/Adrian Brendel), reading a book.

You think snow-shoveling is a chore, and you would rather go without? Imagine you couldn't do it because you were sick. You had to hire someone to do it, pay for it, and miss out on the exercise. How much you'd long for snow-shoveling then! What a desirable activity it would become!

During the holidays, the family didn’t mind eating my sauerbraten and red cabbage for three days in a row. They were actually looking forward to it – savoring it so much! I am a good cook but a lousy baker – don’t follow instructions well. But this year, my self-baked cookies came out right – the Florentines being the favorites of all times. Luckily, all cookies are nearly gone.

In the sauna, after three days of feasting (we celebrate on Christmas Eve), I noticed that I looked like a pink pig – and felt like one, too. But after one day with a light dinner (artichokes with pesto) and lots of outdoors activity, I am back to being my old self again. Artichokes are healing food for the liver - we all can use them after the holidays, I'd say.

All that is only the setting to tell you from where I am writing. What I really want is to share my present reading: Abraham Verghese’s Cutting For Stone. It is a medical novel, and surely I am biased as a physician, but I would award him the Nobel Prize for Literature – the book is that good! It spans three continents, giving us a flavor where we Americans come from – namely, the whole world. His observations of people and how they function (or not function) are deep and true. I wish I could write like that.

For a writer it is always upsetting to meet a book that is better than her own but I don’t care; I just care about that Abraham Verghese has written it - and that I am lucky enough to have found it. And I am not yet done: There will be a few days more of this exquisite pleasure!
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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