Tracy DiSabato-Aust wins Triathlons

by Susan Harris on June 29, 2011

Tracy with husband Jim in Budapest

Tracy DiSabato-Aust is name that’s well known to American gardeners – she’s a best-selling author, popular speaker and garden designer.  But they’d be surprised to hear that she’s also the U.S. and world champion triathlete among women 50 to 54!  Won that title in Budapest last fall, where her husband and 21-year-old son competed, too.  (The family that does triathlons together probably does stay together.)

Tracy and family were three of about 200 athletes ages 20 to 80 who represented Team USA Triathlon in Budapest, where Tracy didn’t just compete but also blogged for the team (here are her blog posts). They’ve also competed in Italy and Australia, and will be going to Beijing this September for the world championships.  There’s lots more photos and stories about their athletic adventures right here.

What ARE Triathlons?
Events that include swimming, cycling and then running, at various distances - 11 different ones, in fact. Tracy’s favorite is the Olympic distance, which is just under a mile swim, 24.8 miles of biking and then a 6.2-mile run, which all takes about two hours and Tracy thinks is great fun. (Better her than me.)  Far more grueling is the aptly named Ironman distance, the running leg of which is a whole fricking Marathon.

Tracy after a triathlon where she won Best Overall Woman - of all ages!

“Sprint” distances became available just two years ago and Tracy says they inflict less wear and tear on older athletes.  Apparently the sport of triathlon has exploded recently, with lots of all-women events too.  All very safe and friendly, she says.   And if swimming is a hassle for you (joining a pool, driving to it), there are Duathlons now, comprised of just running and cycling.

Not an athletic newbie
I asked Tracy how she came to all this competing – was it a midlife crisis or something?  In other words, could it happen to someone like ME?  (Waaay unlikely.)  But no, she’s always been a runner, having started as a sprinter and hurdler in high school.  And before she became a mother she enjoyed 8 years of teaching fitness, “Jane Fonda-style”, as she describes it.   She also digs roller-blading and skiing around their 140-acre property during the long Ohio winters.

But at the age of 45 Tracy took up triathlons and now that’s her whole focus.  Trains 12 to 15 hours a week, covering two of the three sports every day.

So, only someone of independent means could afford to compete all over the world, right?  Or someone savvy enough to get sponsors, plenty of ‘em.

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Good listenings on the Bonnie Raitt Station

by Susan Harris on June 23, 2011

With my overview of Pandora.com out of the way, this time I’ll relate a recent and particularly enjoyable bunch of tunes they played on my Bonnie Raitt Channel.  It’s one of a dozen channels I’ve created around a performer. (I use the genre channels, too.)  I call it “my” station because after rating the selections using those thumb’s up and down motions, it’s now customized.  And I’m liking what it’s playing, so this Music Genome thing might actually work.

I love this one that I found on Youtube – “Have a Little Faith in Me” by John Hiatt.  The commenters on Youtube went nuts for it.

Here’s what else they chose for my listening pleasure – all perfectly in sync with my unreconstructed “counterculture” taste in music:

  • The Band’s “Atlantic City.”
  • Lyle Lovett’s “Don’t Cry a Tear” and “Old Friend.”
  • Van Morrison’s “Reminds me of You.”
  • Later they played Van Morrison’s “Whenever God Shines His Light on Me” and when I saw the title I read the lyrics (they were on the Pandora screen at the time) and to my surprise, learned that Van’s doing Christian rock these days.
  • Bonnie Raitt’s “I Gave my Love a Candle” – which honestly, felt too slow, so I gave it a thumb’s down, and the next song was indeed faster.
  • Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally” – a definite “Like.”
  • Something by Mark Knopfler, a musician I’d never heard of but liked.

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Second careers for Boomers as trainers and coaches

by Susan Harris on June 15, 2011

According to this article in the New York Times, the number of people 55 and older working as personal trainers has been climbing – til now they’re about 12 percent of the training profession, up from just 5 percent in 2004.   This is a good-news story in a couple of ways – for the people finding second careers AND for their clients, other grown-ups who get to work with a peer, not a twentysomething.  I no longer belong to a gym but if I ever need some help in that area I sure hope I can find someone like the lean, blond 61-year-old in the photo left.

Another trainer who got certified and began working in the field at 74 (!) is quoted as saying:   “I just wanted to help other seniors see what exercise could do for their quality of life. Then I started making a little money at it, and that was a bonus.”  And that reminded me of a similar second (part-time) career I’ve been enjoying since 2004 – as a garden coach.  Woe to anyone trying to make a full-time living at it, but helping people learn to improve and take care of their own yards is way fun, very rewarding, and the extra income is nice.

There must be dozens of ways that people our age can call themselves coaches, trainers, teachers and consultants, hang out a shingle (meaning, get a website) and get paid to pass along their accumulated knowledge and experience to someone else.  Garden coaches are lucky that unlike personal trainers, there’s no degree or certification required.  And we don’t have to split our hourly fee 50-50 with any gym owner, either – though we DO have to find our own clients, so there’s that.

At the center of the photo right is one of my garden-coaching clients – a wonderful gardener who just wanted another set of eyes on her garden, especially if they belonged to someone who’d give her permission to remove some shrubs she hated.  (I delivered!)  We were featured on “CBS Sunday Morning” back in 2007 – that’s Rita Braver on the right, with her crew.  It was a hoot!

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Love these guys. Glad I'm not married to them.

I like the TNT show Men of a Certain Age a lot, but what I like even more is its success.  Scripted, thoughtful programming for adults?  Bring it on, and more like it!  Feed the entertainment needs of this huge and growing percentage of the population.

But about the show.  The age in the title is 49, with one of the threesome having turned 50 in last night’s episode.   Or more precisely, “The Big 5-0″.    Younger than us Alpha Boomers – that’s the term for the 55 to 65 age group, which is the only group I think of as Boomers.   After all, NO one in their 40s and even early 50s thinks of themselves as a Boomer.   And their coming-of-age years were a different time.

For classic Alpha Boomers, take the quasi-hippies shown here – me with my college friends Joe Blitman and Earl Singleton.  Very “Mod-Squad,” doncha think?  Reminds me of the photo above, too – updated, with Scott Bakula as the blond.

But back to the show.   It does remind me occasionally that people even a decade or more younger than me are dealing with aging – but oh, well.   Gotta get used to that.

Okay, the show – just watch it if you aren’t already.   It’s won critical acclaim and the hearts of grown-ups of all ages.  May it thrive!

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The downside of moving to paradise

by Susan Harris on June 2, 2011

My new blogging friend Mark over at Going Like Sixty is moving with his wife to Costa Rica and I’m following along every with every post.  He’s done his research, despite the frustrations of the Costa Rican expat email group, and I wish them well.

But based on the experience of a relative who moved to Mexico eight years ago, there’s another side to the simple “Cheap Living!” allure of Latin American countries, like these problems that expats are encountering in Mexico – even in a beautiful artsy town nowhere near the drug wars:

  • The water.  Still can’t drink it.
  • All the other utilities.  It can take months to get a phone line put in, and forget the mail service.   In Mexico and Costa Rica (according to Mark) Americans subscribe to services that bring them mail from U.S. border towns every day.  WTF?
  • Air pollution and dog crap.  Even in classy San Miguel de Allende, the joys of walking around town are spoiled by dog shit on the sidewalks and black fumes spewing forth from unregulated tailpipes.  Then there are those quaint cobblestones, which are really hard on body parts.  Especially body parts on retirement-age bodies.
  • Medical care.  In San Miguel I’m told there’s ONE physician all the Americans go to, a general practitioner.  Need a specialist who speaks English?  Fly to Houston.
  • The chance you’ll lose your life savings in real estate.  Oh, yeah.  There are no mortgages for Americans, no title searches, and the tricky problem of squatters.  Squatters with rights.  Oh, and the housing isn’t all that cheap.  What’s cheap are food and labor.
  • Crime.  There’s so much in the news about drug-related crime near the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s easy to forget about regular old crime.  When very poor people live next-door to “rich Americans” (no matter what, you’re rich by comparison) there will be crime, even in the better neighborhoods.  And there are sexual assaults on American women, too, even older women, especially if they live alone.  Then just try to find justice in a country where rape is rarely reported, and police are both corrupt and inept.   And I say all this as a long-time city girl who rarely gives crime a thought here in D.C.

Okay, the rant’s over.  Regular programming will return shortly.

Photos of San Miguel de Allende by Peroshenka.

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Remember Diana Nyad, Olympian and holder of the world record for longest swim?  Back in 1978 she tried swimming the 103 miles from Cuba to Miami, but had to stop after some 40 hours because of bad weather.  Decades later, in which she worked as a television sportscaster, she tried again, at the age of 60.  That attempt last summer had to be cancelled, again because of weather, but this summer she’s trying again and I am SO rooting for her.

I heard Diana talk about this summer’s big swim on the Leonard Kopate Show, revealing that it’ll take a support team of over 20 people and a budget of about $400,000 to make the swim, which will take over 60 hours.  Think about it – 60 hours in the water.  Famously “shark-infested” waters, at that.  She won’t be using a shark cage, though – no asterisk for this record-seeker.

From Diana’s website we learn that she’s identifies strongly as a Boomer.

For decades, Diana has been at the heart and soul of the baby boom generation, many of whom are feeling irrelevant, lacking in vitality, and dejected that their best days are behind them. This summer, the imagination of the American public will once again catch fire. The authentic message, the walk that Diana walks, will resonate with millions of baby boomers looking for renewal, parents hoping their children spark to inspired lives, and women searching for proof that middle age is their prime, not the beginning of the end.

Love her!   And even after years on television, it seems that appearing swimming-cap-dented and make-up-free in this video doesn’t bother her at all.

I’ll be following her blog for news of the big swim, scheduled for sometime in July.   I know it’s weather permitting, but I find myself surprisingly invested in her being able to make the attempt this time – and accomplish it. For all of us.

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Wanda Sykes keeps getting funnier

by Susan Harris on May 17, 2011

Or so it seems to me, based on her HBO show “I’ma Be Me,” which I saw thanks to Netflix.  It was filmed here in D.C. in August of 2009, when Sykes had this to say about the Obamas.  (If you like to be warned about an impending use of the F-word, consider yourself warned. Repeatedly.)

She quickly gets off the topic of politics, though never strays far from sex.  Her imitation of the wives of Viagra users is what had my snorting uncontrollably.  Rent it!

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Michele Forbes in AMC's "The Killing"

Rarely do I watch TV shows or movies about violent crime – it just messes with my sleep.  But the reviews of AMC’s “The Killing” were off-the-charts positive, so I gave in and am now solidly hooked.

And yes, the quest to find the murderer of a 17-year-old girl is at the center of the story, but just like real life, it doesn’t happen in one 50-minute episode.  They’re spending a whole season solving this one crime, so there’s plenty of time for unusual things to happen.  Like getting to know the grieving family, who get to be real people with back stories and demons.  And Praise the Lord, the mother is played by the totally riveting Michelle Forbes.  Looks intense here, doesn’t she?

Michelle Forbes in "True Blood"

The last time I saw Forbes she was playing a “maenad” in HBO‘s True Blood.  I’d never heard of a maenad, either, but it’s a supernatural character who managed to turn a whole Louisiana town into stoned-out killers and orgy-goers.  She was seductive and scary as hell and I’d dare anyone to take their eyes off her. TV Guide called her portrayal one of the Best Performances of the Year.  Indeed.

Forbes first impressed me as the wife of therapist Gabriel Byrne in HBO’s excellent series In Treatment.

Just pondering this one actress’s recent bio reminds me that there’s a whole lotta good television these days.  More than at the movies, it seems to me.


Those crazy TV show websites!
You know what you find on websites of TV shows, right?  Episode summaries, cast bios, forums for discussing the show.   But there’s more – games and quizzes!  Games like “Suspect Tracker” and “Search the Victim’s Room”. You know, really fun stuff!

I guess I’ll skip the games and just watch the show.

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How Craig found art on the bed of a cheap scanner

by Susan Harris on May 5, 2011

If you haven’t yet seen the kind of art that’s possible using the scanner function of a cheap home printer, you’re probably not reading gardenblogs because they’re all the rage in that part of the Internet, thanks to Master Scanner Craig Cramer.  He first learned about scanning from an article in the NY Times about scan artist Ellen Hoverkamp, and one glance at her awesome website shows us why.  (If plants aren’t your thing, you might be inspired by her portfolio’s “Food” and “Off-Season” categories.)

These Amaryllis blooms don't even look real!

Craig works as the communications specialist for horticulture at Cornell and has popularized the art form by contributing scans to the popular Garden Blogger Bloom Day meme, now in its fourth year.  Just click here to see over three years of Craig’s scans, one for almost every month, even in winter.

Two of Craig's winter scans - using dried grasses and poinsettias.

How to do Scan Art

It’s almost as simple as covering your subjects with a dark cloth of some kind, then clicking “scan”.  Okay, there’s a bit more to it:

All scans by Craig Cramer, with permission.  Click here to see the long list of websites and blogs that Craig is responsible for, but don’t miss his his personal blog.  It’s mainly but not completely about gardening – I love his posts about music.

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Boomer grooms finally allowed to be grooms

by Susan Harris on May 1, 2011

Charlie Fabella (L) and Bill Yosses, photo by Anthony Jalandoni

Before Royal Wedding fever cools off too much, I’ve gotta say that same-sex wedding announcements, which we’re finally seeing in the Washington Post and the New York Times, are always a pick-me-up to this reader.   I’ve never looked twice at hetero wedding announcements – because they’re sooo boring if you don’t know the people – but gay weddings are different.  They’re still a rarity (still only legal in 5 states and D.C.) and each one is a triumph of love over bigotry – cue the Kleenex box!

So in today’s NY Times darned I didn’t see a name I recognize grinning proudly with his new spouse – that of Bill Yosses, 57, “executive pastry chef” chef at the White House.  He married special education teacher Charlie Fabella at a courthouse in D.C.

According to the Times, he was tapped for the White House job by Laura Bush in 2007, and in 2009 heard his new boss Michelle Obama saying that “desserts would be rare at family meals and that portions would be scaled down.  And with her emphasis on healthy eating, his responsibilities broadened to included beekeeping and tending the White House Garden.”  Ah, if only more pastry chefs would see the light (or have it shown to them) and grow vegetables instead.  Even better?  If the people who make Oreos got food religion, too.   As if.

But there’s more!  Today’s Times was a jackpot for lovers of gay weddings, including another with an even more famous Boomer taking his vows.  That’s John Goldwyn, 52, scion of the movie producer family and a producer himself – we have him to thank for “Dexter”.  This time, the groom had been down the aisle before – in a straight marriage that resulted in an adult daughter, who “led the couple in an exchange of vows and rings.”  Sadly, though, theirs was a commitment ceremony with no legal standing, since the right to marry in California was snatched away by the odious Proposition 8.

So sure, all spring brides and grooms deserve their share of congratulations, but gay newlyweds get an extra shout-out from this reader for being trail-blazers.  And no matter how sappy their how-they-met stories may be, I read every word.

Photo by Anthony Jalandoni, which I’m assuming is kosher to use because it was released with their wedding announcement.

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