Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Summer of Cool

Growing up in the 50's and 60's, summers took on over-arching themes. The summer we lived in Perry, Georgia, will always be the Summer of the Gnat. All I remember about that year is being covered with tiny, annoying insects the minute little 4-year-old me walked outside. Then there was the Summer of Endless Vacation Bible Schools, when Mother made sure we sampled VBS experiences at home and wherever we had relatives - Chattanooga, Atlanta, Nashville. Many popsicle sticks gave their lives for tawdry projects the year of VBS-overload.

But the summer that changed everything was the Summer of Cool.

That's the summer Daddy carved out one of the windows in the den and installed our very first air conditioner. Until that magical day all a Southern kid could count on for summertime cool were open windows (praying for a breeze), oscillating electric fans, popsicles, and the water hose in the side yard. But y'all, none of those - or all of them in combination - came anywhere near the cooling power of a whackin' great window unit air conditioner.

Now, ours was a large-ish house with lots of little rooms. The exception in this rabbit warren was a good-sized den in the back that ran the width of the house. With the TV and multiple comfy places to flop, it made sense that room got cooling priority. Yes, the rest of the house suffered from the lack of a full-powered artic breeze, though strategically placed fans helped move the air through. Still, somehow the whole crazy place seemed, well, cooler in every sense of the word.

It was a brand new world, baby! Cooling air, cooling tempers. Life a Southern girl had never known. And that was the beginning of my AC addiction. I've never out-grown it. When Yankee friends complain about our freezing cold Atlanta buildings, I just tell 'em to throw on a sweater.

Now I do realize that air conditioners are bad boys when it comes to affecting climate change, so my challenge to all you STEM babies out there - get busy finding an earth-friendly way to keep us cool. Because as much as I love oscillating fans, popsicles, and a water hose in the side yard, they just don't have the same refreshing punch they had before Daddy pushed the ON button that fine day in the Summer of Cool.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Can't Help Falling. Again.

I've always been a girl on the go. Little did I realize that sometimes I need to stop. Safely. Without falling over.

While vacationing in Key West a few weeks ago, I decided to join the younger set for an afternoon of calm, easy-going cycling out to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. I mean, I can ride a bike, right? The only thing concerning me was that I might not be able to keep up with the rest of the group (I am getting on in years).

Turns out, keeping up was a problem, but not in the way you might think. The problem wasn't keeping up horizontally moving forward; the problem was keeping up vertically when coming to a stop. It was as if I'd lost total muscle memory when it came to braking, putting my feet down on the pavement, and keeping myself and the bike upright. See? I know how it's done, but my legs and feet weren't getting the message from my head.

Now, I didn't fall every time. A bike lane with a curb to step on to was a big help. That extra 5-7 inches made a difference, I reckon. But without the benefit of something easy to help brace my stop, I just couldn't manage it without some kind of calamity.

It just got crazier and crazier. Once I decided (it was a decision, right?) that old-fashioned muscle memory wasn't working for me, I tried everything I could to forestall the inevitable. I tried not thinking about the stopping process (hoping my body would do the right thing - er, no). I tried repeating the steps in my head before approaching a stop (push down on pedals, get feet to pavement, hold bike and myself upright). Nope.

So I'm wondering, is this what getting old is like? Disappearing muscle memory? The body forgetting how to do simple things that have always come naturally? Or maybe not. Maybe I just had a bad bicyle day. Maybe the bike was too heavy or too big for me. Maybe I needed hand-brakes, not the old fashioned pedal-brakes. Time will tell.

Do I rush out and get back on a bike as quickly as possible, or admit my biking days are behind me? I'm pretty spooked about it. I love riding a bike. Let's face it, it's the first feeling of flying and freedom that you have as a kid. But the pain and embarrassment are still fresh in my mind, just as the bruises are still fresh on my knees.

What would you do if it were your knees?