Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Well, it doesn't look like much... but that little white thingie top center is a church, and it's at about the same elevation as I am taking the picture.

Rocky Top Campground, Blountville, TN, is built on a mountainside, so of course I had to climb it. It's not a 5,000-ft elevation change or anything, but it's a mountain, and we're about halfway up it, and I saw the hill and the woods all right in our backyard, grabbed my hiking poles and my dog and up we went. It took about 5 minutes but it's the steepest hill I've climbed since June when I blew out my Achilles tendons on the Appalachian Trail.

It actually was a little steep... I found that the rubber tips on my hiking poles don't do very well on dry leaves on a hillside. I'll need more grip. I'm planning to put hex screws into my pole ends for this. I'll cover 'em w/ rubber tips most of the time.And I came down. Then I went back up and took a picture.

The reflex was striking, when I saw where we were and the mountain: I see, therefore I climb. I'm sick and I haven't hiked up a hillside in 6 months but I had to go.

I did not tear any tendons.

Short of breath, though. This bug, whatever it is, shows itself if I do anything but sit around. I'm still hoarse. Luckily, I don't have a dozen mountains to climb today as I will some days on the AT... just 3 months away now.

One was a start. I'm happy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

OR NOT....

Well, we WERE going to leave today. In fact, we got a couple miles down the road before the transmission temperature gauge in the truck shot up to H.

So back to Candy Hill we came, parked the camper, and Steve took the truck to the Ford place. Turns out it was only a sensor problem. That's the good news. Cost $600 to replace it. That's the bad news.

It shot a day of travel, but we'll get going again tomorrow. Guess we'll miss New Year's Eve in New Orleans after all. Oh, well; we'll be there for Mardi Gras.

Although I'm bummed out about the delay and the expense, I guess I'm just as glad not to travel today. While Steve was at the Ford place, I slept for a couple hours. I feel tired and have a headache. Wahhhh..... I haven't been really well since last Saturday, when I developed laryngitis and a cough that got worse until, on the last 2 days before Christmas, I couldn't make a sound and was coughing up crud. Had to tap people on the shoulder to get their attention to whisper something to them. If Steve called to me from another room, I had to go where he was to find out what he wanted, since I couldn't just call, "What?" He'd forget I couldn't talk and think I just hadn't answered.

Anyway, I'm better; coughing only in the morning, not producing any crud, still hoarse but able to talk. Every few days I'm really tired. Today is one of those.

We'll try again tomorrow to leave for New Orleans.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Tomorrow we pull out and head south.

We won't get to New Orleans till New Year's Eve, but we leave Winchester, VA tomorrow, camper in tow. We'll spend tomorrow night somewhere in Tennessee, the next night in Alabama, and on the 31st, New Years Eve in the Big Easy. Except we'll probably be too tired out to do much celebrating, especially if it means going into town. We'll probably go to bed at 10pm just like every other night.

Today we drove the 2 hours back to Winchester from our son's home in western MD, which was a couple-day stopoff on the way back from our daughters'/grandchildren's homes in Columbus, OH. In the cab of the truck we had my full-length digital piano, my violin, Steve's big duffel bag, my big camera bag and tripod, a high chair in a box (long story, returned it to Wal-Mart in Winchester after buying it in Maryland), our pillows, many Christmas presents, our cat in a cat carrier, and our 50-pound dog (who had about 18 inches of space on the back seat.) Outside in the truck bed were the stand for the piano, my guitar, a food dehydrator from our son (now I have TWO! Yay!) and my AT hiking backpack, full of not only my clothes, but a bag of food that traveled with us, and more presents, all covered with trash bags in case of rain and wedged between all the tool boxes and bins that go with Steve's RV-repair business.

Yesterday my mother and I, with son Jon's help (and a fully-charged computer battery) finally got our music recorded satisfactorily. I'm not saying "perfectly." I have music in every molecule of my body, but I never pursued it, am largely self-taught, and only play my piano a few times a year. Getting this music playable has been a major undertaking. My mother was a superb cellist in her day, but she's nearing 90. The resulting CD, well, you just have to remember it's not Yo-Yo Mah and Van Cliburn. There are goofs. Maybe not noticeable if you don't know every note of the music, but goofs that made Mother and I groan and roll our eyes because we know how we wanted it to sound, how it should sound, and how it didn't, but we finally got acceptable renditions of everything. I am so grateful we had the chance to do it. I was exhausted afterwards. So was she.

It's a keepsake we made for ourselves and for family history as well as for anyone else who's interested. I'll see what I can do to get it on the internet, after we get settled. Our son has still to download it to CD from his computer.

In addition to the cello-piano numbers, we did one, "Ashokan Farewell," with her on the fiddle/violin and me on the guitar. It wasn't the best-ever performance for either of us. Her left shoulder and arm were weakened in a fall a couple years ago, tore her rotator cuff, and it's hard for her to hold the fiddle up. The arthritis in her hands makes it hard for her to navigate the fingerboard. As for the cello, she's diminished by osteoporosis to about the size of the intrument itself. It's hard for her to get it out of the case, let alone set it up, hold it, and draw the bow with full-arm strokes.

I just wanted to get us recorded before she's gone. I feel so much better now that we've got it done.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Like you, I've heard this said hundreds of times about hundreds of references: any number of how-to's. Training programs, internet websites, books (there's even The Triathlete's Training Bible), magazines (remember Elle Wood referring to Cosmopolitan Magazine as "The Bible" in Legally Blonde?)

What is always meant is, the resource that's turned to, read, re-read, memorized, and followed to progress to and attain one's passionate goal. The guide. The source of answers for all possible questions. The ultimate word in how to proceed.

Wonder what people would be like, what the world would be like if everyone's Bible was....

The Bible.

What would I be like? I know the Bible, I've read it cover to cover as well as piecemeal (kind of like a thru-hike compared to a section-hike,) hear bits and pieces most Sundays, have a lot of verses in my memory, and I have one in the King James Version, one in the New International Version, one in French (which I can read and understand) and one in Spanish (which I can't) but I can't say I turn to any of them as often as I do to backpacking magazines, Appalachian Trail books, or Google searches for treating Achilles tendonitis, borderline blood sugar, or high cholesterol.

I'm planning to carry at least my pocket-size New Testament and Psalms on the Trail but.... humiliation here..... also pondering whether how often I'd look at it would justify the few ounces of extra weight. God, it was hard to write that. Ouch.

How would my life become different if my Bible were my Bible?

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


The recording session.... it didn't go well. Son Jon had new digital-recording software but wasn't expert at using it; took a long time to set it up and get it balanced properly. Plugging in his laptop to AC caused a hum in the recording so we went on battery. The battery kept going low and Jon would plug it in and we'd wait 10 or 20 minutes for enough charge to hopefully record one number, which would get flubbed up by one or the other of us and have to be aborted.

I was nervous being recorded, after months of preparation and anticipation, on the one day available to do it, with just enough battery for one try ("THIS IS IT!!!"), made goofs and we kept having to redo, after waiting again for the battery to charge. We'd get a good one, listen to the result, decide the piano was too strong or the cello not strong enough, readjust the settings, recharge the battery, do it again, I'd miss a few notes and get lost.... frustration added to the goof-up tendency, and we were both getting tired, which also caused compromised performance.

I should say "we all" -- Jon was wonderful but I think he was getting tired and frustrated too. Jon had custody of Abbie and Sarah that day; he'd brought Abbie (almost 6) with him and left Sarah (7 months) with Grandpa, my husband Steve. Abbie, bless her young heart, was an angel: sat absolutely silent on the sofa with coloring books for 3 solid hours, waiting till between recordings to tiptoe to the bathroom, or to tap her dad on the shoulder and whisper something to him.

Then Steve, alone at Jon's house with baby Sarah, called.... "When are you going to be done?" Apparently Sarah was not being as cooperative as Abbie. This did not help my growing agitation. Finally I said, "OK, we're going to have to do this some other time. But can we try just one more time for "The Swan?" Just in case God-knows-what happens, that is the one I really want to have recorded. So we did "The Swan" again. And it went PERFECTLY. And I was so relieved. Until Jon said, "The battery quit just before the end." I asked, "How much was cut?" He said, "All of it. If you don't stop the recording before the computer turns off you lose all of it." ~Sigh~

Well, we're going to be there overnight on the way back to Winchester from Ohio. There will be no rush to get back to Winchester, just spending the night and then hitching up in the morning and heading for New Orleans. So on the 27th we are going to give it another go. Maybe this was a good dry run. Next time I won't have stage fright (although I play well, I do make mistakes and I have never played for anything or anyone except my own pleasure in my own living room). Hopefully Jon will have the battery charged. It won't be his day to have his daughters. We'll all have had a break, and it will go well.

It will go well.

If not.... it'll have to wait till next October after I finish hiking. I can't fly to Maryland from New Orleans to make a recording. And she can't fly with her cello to N.O. to record in our little camper, there's not enough free space anywhere to draw the bow, being as how we already have a piano in there.

And who has the money for a flight, anyway?

It will go well on the 27th. It will go well.

Send us your vibes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Well, we've finished our 7-month-long workcamping gig at Candy Hill. It's one of the nicest places we've workcamped. We always like the other staff members, our young managers have been super at accomodating our scheduling needs (I'll never forget when Selena arranged my whole work schedule, and thereby everyone else's as well, around my Ironman training program.) I will especially miss 2.5-yr-old Thomas, my little surrogate grandson, for whom I cared several hours a few days a week. What a cool kid.

So now we're in transit again. Few days in our "home" area, Garrett County, MD, to see our son, his wife, their two little girls (baby Sarah is already 7 months old, how did that happen???), my mother, and the girls' other grandparents. Then, on Sunday, it's on to the Columbus, OH area, where our two married daughters are, one of them the mother of our other two grandchildren (ages 10 and nearly 13.) From there, back here (MD) for an overnight and final goodbye, then back to Winchester to hook up our camper (we're leaving it there till after Christmas), then on to New Orleans where our winter workcamping gig is.

That's till the end of March. After which..... Steve will drop me off in Georgia, and I'll start walking. And walk and walk and walk and walk until I get to Maine.

Now it's off to my mother's place to practice some more for our cello-piano/fiddle-guitar production. Time's getting close. We're recording on Saturday!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Here's one of the pieces my mother (cello) and I (piano) are practicing. It's the one that I most wanted to record with her, while I still can. Click to view and hear -- not us, some two guys.

I think the pianist in this video doesn't really "feel" the music. The cellist does. When I play it, and when we play it together, I feel it so hard I feel tension and emotion, almost tears, ebb and flow through my whole body. However, the pianist in the video is more skillful than I am in a technical way. He doesn't miss any notes, he hits no wrong ones. For one thing, he's a man, and his hands are large enough to reach some of the spreads that are a stretch for me. Sometimes I miss just because I didn't reach far enough. I notice that only his fingers move on the keys: I have to roll my arms from the elbows and my hands from the wrists to reach some of the extensions.

Anyone who is a string player will understand this next comment: Towards the end of the piece, the climax note is a loooong, high cello note. It's six beats, starting at pp ("double soft") and increasing on a crescendo (louder and louder.) If you listen carefully, and watch, you can see that the cellist doesn't make the whole 6 beats and changes the bow (from "down" -- pulling back -- to "up" -- pushing forward.) To accomplish the crescendo, the cellist must start with light bow pressure not moving very fast, to heavier pressure moving faster and faster, and he runs out of bow and has to start going the other direction.

My mother says Saint-Saens made a mistake here on this note, didn't recognize that it's next to impossible to play the six beats continuously on a crescendo on one bow, and she's never heard it done, but it's the climax of the composition and changing the bow interrupts the smoothness and continuity and impact of that climax. She worked on it for months and months as a young cellist, trying to figure out a way. Finally she changed her bowing several measures in advance, and began the long climax note on an UP bow (pushing forward) which gave more control, and voila!! She'd found the way to do it all on one bow.

My mother, who's now 87, says she's never heard another cellist, live or recorded, do it on one bow. To her knowledge, it's never been done. But she does it. Whenever she hears this piece of music, she listens closely to hear a bow change, and it's always there. She has NEVER heard another cellist do it on one bow; possibly, no one has even thought of it or perceived, or felt, that it would be more powerful on a single bow stroke.

I believe that, in her day, my mother may have been, probably without realizing it, one of the greatest cellists in the world. But she was with the symphony (Baltimore, Washington National, also New York Philharmonic Orchestra) and never got to shine as the great soloist that she was. She quit the symphony to have a baby (me) and from then on her musical career was reduced to giving cello and piano (and now, at age 87, country fiddle) lessons in the living room, and teaching public school music.
I never heard her play professionally until I was probably 40. I'd heard the lessons, and I'd heard her playing with my visiting grandmother on the piano, and she and I played together at home for pleasure when I was in my teens. But later, she was invited by a local arts festival to give a concert. She had a professional piano accompanist and gave a truly professional concert. Attending, listening, watching, I was thunderstruck. This was MAJOR LEAGUE. This was an artist. This was exceptional. And I was 40 and had NEVER HEARD MY MOTHER DO THAT. Just listening to this cellist on the stage, never mind that she was my mother, I was mesmerized, paralyzed, transported..... I don't know when I have ever heard such a cellist.

Ellinor Learned Benedict. The world never heard of her.

She quit to have a baby. Me.

Here are the other pieces we're recording together:
Schubert Ave Maria (they do it a little more slowly; I think it drags a little)
Bach-Gounod Ave Maria (this one's done well, very sensitively)
And one with violin/fiddle (Mom) and guitar (me): Ashokan Farewell

She first picked up a fiddle and learned to play country-bluegrass at age 65.


Yesterday morning when I started brushing my teeth, I realized the toothpaste didn't taste right... sickly sweet instead of minty fresh. What the hell??? I picked up the tube and looked at it... sunscreen. I was brushing my teeth with sunscreen.

Then I got ready to go somewhere and when I got to the car realized I'd left the key in the house. So I went back but the key was gone from the hook. I looked in my pockets and everywhere else. Finally decided I wasn't going anywhere until the key turned up, and took off my jacket; that's when I heard the key jingling from my belt loop, right where I always put it when I take it off the hook or out of the ignition.

My cardiolite stress test was normal. No glitches. So I can go out and climb hills or whatever, knowing that whatever those panic attacks were, they weren't my heart.

I've got my longer walks up to 7 miles now. Yee-haw!!! My tendons feel good. Now my metatarsal area hurts. I've got these $400 orthotics but I don't think I have enough metatarsal cushioning. Don't know whether to get ball-of-foot pads or full cushy insoles to go under my orthotics. It's always something....

Friday, December 12, 2008



I was sweeping out the game room today at the campground. Behind one of the game machines I found a vanilla mini-Tootsie Roll, one of my favorites, still wrapped. I stuck it in my pocket. Then I found a caramel, one of those round ones with the white center. I love those. It was lying there bare in the dust and I actually considered eating it. Ewwww.....

I didn't eat the caramel. And I figured, if I could pass that up, I could pass up the Tootsie Roll, too, and I threw it in the trash.

It could have started me on a days-long sweet binge, yes, just that one little piece, and I've currently got 5 days straight of no sugar and very conservative carbohydrate intake. Believe it or not (I don't know whether to believe it or not) I've been running some borderline-ish sugar levels and my doctor is, well, I wouldn't say concerned, but kind of on the alert. So am I. I CRAVE sugar, breads, etc. I can keep it under control if I don't eat any. When I do, more than likely twenty minutes later I'll be having trouble staying awake.

Doc said it's all a sign that my body isn't handling carbohydrates well and it would be best to keep them down. She said it's not impossible that I could develop diabetes if I don't take control now.

I don't have a family history, or excess abdominal fat, I'm not overweight (never thought I'd see the day I'd say that) but I did have a baby over 9 pounds (the others were close,) which is considered a red, or at least yellow flag. And while, as I said, I'm not overweight right now, it's a constant battle. I've lost and regained 20-30 pounds 5 times in the last 25 years.

And of course my cholesterol is always an issue. Sugary stuff and refined carbs don't help that one bit.

Nutritional goals right now:
  • Emphasize lower-calorie, high-fiber vegetables as my major carbohydrate source
  • Grains, if any: Oat bran, oatmeal, flax seed meal, brown rice, occasional half-calorie bread(I do way better gastronomically without wheat)
  • Fruits: very conservative, mostly berries
  • Protein: Plentiful; lean
  • Fat: Mostly olive oil and nuts

Five days I've stuck with it. Let's see if I get healthier...

Thursday, December 04, 2008


5.75 miles today, mostly walking, with some "25-breath" runs inserted. Run for 25 "in-2-out-2" counts (GPS showed 5.8-6.3mph) and then back to walking, 3.8-4.2mph. I ran the hills but no more than 25 "breaths."

I guess I "passed" my nuclear stress test Monday. I have to get the final report when I see my doc next week, but I ended up jogging 4.2mph at 14% grade with no pain in my tendons, chest, or anywhere. They had wanted to stop me at 3.5mph and 10% grade b/c my heart rate was around 138, and they calculated that 139 was 85% of my calculated max, but I told them I was still easily conversational, not stressed at all, and that if we stopped now I wouldn't feel confident to go out on my own and actually stress myself running up hills; I asked to proceed on perceived effort. The cardiologist shrugged, the tech said, "It's OK, we have another crew coming in at lunch time," and the nurse cranked up the pace and incline. I heard a lady, waiting for her test, ask nervously, "Am I going to have to do what that lady's doing? Because if I try that, you're going to be picking me up out of the gutter."

4.2mph isn't much, but 14% grade is, and I haven't been running all summer, so it wasn't a bad showing.

Tuesday I had my front tooth/crown/post extracted. When I was in my 20's, I had an infected wisdom tooth pulled. In my 30's, another one. I thought those were what extractions were like. Well.... compared to this, those were like pulling young weeds out of the garden. This was like uprooting a tree. I never expected it to be so hard to pull out. But it came out all in once piece, badly abscessed (looked like a raisin), and then I had some bone debridement where the infection was trying to spread, and some drilling that felt like boring into ice with an augur to make a hole for fishing, and then the insertion of the implant (he used a ratchet), and some sutures, and an Aleve tablet and a prescription for Tylenol #3, and then I was done.

An hour into the trip home, we stopped in a tiny town at a tiny drugstore where I was the only customer, got the Rx filled in 5 minutes, asked the pharmacist for a glass of water and gulped a pill right there. It didn't help much and I had crying spells the rest of the 3-hour drive home. After 800mg of ibuprofen I started to feel better, and amazingly, the next day (yesterday) I had no pain at all.

Except psychological.... I look like a jack-o-lantern. My employer said just tell people I'm from West Virginia but that won't work.... anyone can see that the rest of my teeth are good. (We're close to the WV state line and there's mutual firing of WV/VA jokes back and forth.) I'll just have to say "It's a work in progress," or, "I broke it and killed it, what's your excuse?" Or say nothing and keep smiling and wait till next Tuesday when I get my one-tooth partial plate.

Off for bath-house cleaning now. Then 5 hours this evening of caring for 2.5-yr-old Thomas, the son of the campground managers. I love Thomas. He's like another grandchild.