The Life Aquatic

I've never been a strong swimmer. My dad taught me the basics when I was little, but I didn't take formal lessons. I knew just enough to get through the swim test in college. When I worked as a camp counselor one summer after graduating, I sat day after day by the pool and noticed this group of older women (some of them 80+) swimming laps as though it were nothing. I had this idea that if I could just get my form down, swimming was a skill that I could use for my whole life. But it's hard to figure out how to get better on your own; it's not like weight-lifting, where you can check your form in the mirror.

When I started physical therapy for knee pain last fall, the orthopedist told me to take a break from high-impact exercise for a while, so I decided to focus on swimming instead. I signed up for a six-week course at a pool in Harvard Square. The first few classes were very elementary, but I wanted to review the essentials before getting into more complex stuff. Also, I'd never done the crawl before, so the breathing pattern and arm movements were new territory for me.

When that course ended in November, I signed up for the Level II class, and then progressed to Level III this month. At this point, we spend most of the sessions swimming laps, alternating between the crawl and the backstroke. We're also working on treading water (which I still find exhausting) and learning flip turns to make the transition between laps smoother.

I think this will be the last class I take for now. I've learned everything I came to learn, and now I just need practice to build up endurance--especially mental endurance. I think the biggest impediment to progress right now is convincing myself that I'm not going to drown between breaths, that I have enough air to make it through three more strokes. It's weird how the animal brain can kick in when you're under water. Doing deep breathing exercises in yoga class has helped me learn to calm my brain a little when swimming, but it's still a struggle. I do love it, though. Especially at this time of year, when it's bitterly cold out, it's nice to go to a heated pool and splash around under the skylights for a while.



Stephen and I made a deal back in August to get each other just one present for Christmas this year.  We don't really have much room to put new things in our 450 square foot apartment, and I thought that by limiting our shopping to just one gift each, we'd reduce our Christmas-shopping burden and be more thoughtful in our choices.  I got Stephen a Fit board to go with the Wii he got for his birthday in November.  And what did he get me?

An autoharp!  When we were visiting friends in Maryland last spring, we stopped in at a music store and tried out all kinds of obscure instruments: ukuleles, hammered dulcimers, accordians, etc.  The autoharp was my favorite.  I liked the way sounded and how easy it was to play.  Stephen must have made a mental note of my preference, because a suspiciously trapezoidal package showed up under the tree right before Christmas.  He told me later that he had to go to six different music stores to find one that carried autoharps.  Fun fact (if anything on Wikipedia can be called "fact"): The autoharp is not a harp at all, but a chorded zither.  

I love it.  It really is easy and fun to play--much easier than any other stringed instrument I've tried. There are no complicated fingerings to memorize or painful strings to press, thanks to the chord bars.  So far, I only know two songs, but I hope to grow my repertoire.  Get your request lists ready!


Christmas Review

We only had one Christmas tree this year, this little silver one.  I like the smell of a real tree, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to buy one in mid-December right before you leave town for two weeks, so we nixed the live greenery this time.  I tried to tone down the tinsel with folksy felt and wooden ornaments and a paper flag garland that we got on our trip to Portland last June.  I put up my collection of bird ornaments, too, but Iggy kept trying to eat them, so I had to take them down.

We invited some friends over before Christmas to help make a gingerbread village for the living room.  We had wine and funky pizza from Zing!, and things got pretty creative.  We ended up with a solar-powered house, an outhouse, and several structures that defied categorization.  Someone even made an aquarium stocked with Swedish fish.

When they were finished, we set them along the windowsill.  Now when the radiators come on, the smell of warm frosting fills the apartment.

I spent the holidays proper at my parents' house in New York state.  My family and I spent most of the week eating homemade lasagna, putting together puzzles and playing the highly-addictive Carcassonne.  Stephen took the train from Boston to Albany for my birthday on Monday and we went out to dinner with my brothers and their girlfriends.  It was lovely. 

And then...I got sick.  So how did I spend the last night of the year?  I took a shot of Nyquil and went to bed early. 

Here's to 2010!