Roger Ebert, RIP

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Before I even got out of bed tonight, M broke the news about Roger Ebert’s death. He hated to be the bearer of bad news, of course, yet he also knew I’d want to know right away.

Having just written a story about Ebert’s “leave of presence,” I was not surprised but still unbelievably saddened by the news. My first thought was for his wife Chaz, who loved him so very much. My second was for the rest of us, the movie lovers of the world, and what we have lost. It wasn’t until I saw Ebert’s obituary on TV, though, that it really hit me. Only then did the tears start to flow.

Farewell, Roger. And thank you for all of your wonderful words.

The Curious Case of Phineas Gage

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If you don’t know the fascinating story of Phineas Gage, watch this video. It’ll explain everything. Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

 

 

Done? Good.

Needless to say, I’ve always been fascinated by this strange tale. So when M and I had the opportunity to visit Cavendish, Vt., over the weekend, we took it.

Cavendish is a quiet, nondescript New England town, population 1,470. Other than being the former home of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian writer and Nobel Prize winner, Cavendish doesn’t have much to boast. Except for one thing: It is the site of The Gage Accident.

In honor of this curious piece of history, the people of Cavendish have erected a monument to Phineas, which we, of course, visited:

 

Phineas Gage monument skull

 

And if you look at the bottom right corner of said monument, there is an image of Phineas’ skull with an arrow showing exactly how the rod flew through it.

 

Phineas Gage monument skull

 

A footnote to this story: The rod and Phineas’ skull are currently part of a permanent exhibition at Harvard Medical School’s Warren Anatomical Museum in Boston. In 1998, at the 150th commemoration of the accident, Phineas’ rod was brought — by armed guard — from Harvard to Cavendish for the ceremony.

 

Portrait of Phineas Gage

(Credits: Top two photos taken by Jade Walker. Portrait of Phineas Gage is from the Wikimedia Commons. Footnote info comes from the wonderful book “Vermont Curiosities” by Robert F. Wilson.)

The dream sneeze

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SeraI love the look my cat Sera gets when she’s about to sneeze.

One minute she’ll by curled up in my lap or lying peacefully on my chest and the next, she’ll lift her head and stare into space. Her eyes seem to gaze into the past, perhaps into her kittenhood, which was terrible because before we adopted her, she was raised in a hoarder’s house with 60 other felines. Or maybe she’s staring into Morpheus’ realm, a place where all cats serve the goddess Bastet and protect sleepers against contagious diseases and evil spirits.

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly easy to be taken by her when she looks this way — staring into the distance of memory or dream — so you’re completely unprepared when her tiny, fuzzy face explodes in a violent squeaky sneeze, spraying everything and everyone nearby with sticky, wet nose ick. How, I ask myself, could something so adorable produce something so foul?

Time to clean my computer screen.

Healthiness: A work in progress

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Bottled WaterMy New Year’s resolution for 2013 was to make changes in my life that would increase healthiness. Most people make a similar resolution at the start of the year and then promptly forget about it. I have been known to fall into this category.

This time, however, I had a plan. First I was going to spend the month of January testing my willpower by trying to exercise on a regular basis. I put away the Christmas tree and set up the treadmill. I dug out the Wii Fit, cleaned off my yoga mat and left reminders on my phone. I even rediscovered a decent pair of sneakers and vowed to actually wear them.

Result = Very very bad. I worked out once the whole month. Bored to tears, I was unable to do it again.

In February, I picked up the book “Drop Dead Healthy” by A.J. Jacobs. If you haven’t read it yet, you should because it’s excellent.

Basically, Jacobs spent two years trying all sorts of diet, fitness and alternative health treatments. He adopted new habits, cleaned out the toxins in his home, ran a triathlon, set up a standing desk and visited many doctors. In the end, Jacobs encountered a lot of conflicting research, yet still managed to find things he could do every day that would make him healthier.

I have spent much of March doing the same.

First, I picked up a Fitbit. This tiny gadget tracks your steps, the amount of stairs you climb, how far you walk, how many calories you burn and the quality of your sleep. Sync your stats wirelessly with your phone, and you can also track your progress over time, keep a food journal, watch your weight, earn badges for achievements and record your thoughts.

Unlike countless pedometers I’ve purchased over the years, which either broke or disappeared in the wash, the Fitbit was surprisingly effective. In the past week, I’ve started drinking more water. I’ve been eating off small plates and shrinking the size of my portions. And I’ve been taking opportunities to move when in the past I would have avoided them.

So far this month, I’ve managed to do at least three workouts each week. And yesterday, I earned two badges, one for walking at least 5,000 steps in a single day (technically you’re supposed to do twice that; I’m working up to it) and one for climbing 10 flights of stairs. Was I happy with my progress? Sure. Did I enjoy the effort? Hardly. In fact, this was my latest Fitbit journal entry:

Walked too far, due to a miscommunication with my husband. Grumbled the entire way, so although I got the steps, I wasn’t enjoying myself one bit. Headachy. Legs hurt. Being active blows.

I still think people who enjoy exercise are fucking insane. And I know I’ll never join their crazy cult. But I plan to keep trying new ways to be healthy. Just because I’ve written my obit doesn’t mean I’m ready to see it published.

As for April, my plan is to focus on lowering my stress level. Wish me luck.

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