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Coffee with Mimi: Walk softly and carry as little as possible

By MIMI BECKER

Contributing columnist

A president of the previous century advised that it is a good idea to “walk softly, but carry a big stick.” It was a different time and a different set of circumstances, foreign policy and all being his motivation.

I just need to get to work and I like to get there on foot. I can get in a decent step count, wave to friends who beep at me. I can stop in for coffee at the shop that is so close to the office that the coffee is still piping hot when I settle at my desk. I feel satisfied that I can face the hours in one spot knowing I’ve given my heart a good start. I can extend the benefits by doing all my errands around town on foot.

For many years, I worked a distance from my home. I did make good use of the car time working through the day in my mind. I would mentally consider my lesson plans and calculate whether any modifications would be necessary depending on unforseen news. Being a history teacher, you never knew what inquiring minds would find relevant for discussion.

In those days, I always had a load of papers and materials to haul around with me. Leaving school each day was an exercise in being prepared. You never know what stuff you need to be ready for the next day, so it must go in the bag to go home. That meant it would need to be returned. Invariably, more stuff would be gathered at home as inspiration would strike and another book or stack of art supplies would be just the thing to illustrate some concept. 

And I was tied to the classroom. I purposely practiced inefficiency in errands. I made separate trips to the copy room, the mailbox, the library, another teacher’s classroom, just to get out and walk it off.

By the end of a school day, my legs ached. As I made my way to the car to go home, arms loaded with all the stuff, I wondered why I was so exhausted.

My new career, with an office just the perfect distance from home, was key to my perfect retirement plan. What could be better than a heart-healthy transportation plan and a part-time job not requiring papers to grade and books to read and project supplies to tote?   

You have to actually exercise the plan. 

Due respect to President Roosevelt, he got the “walk softly” part right, but missed the mark on the baggage.

To take advantage of the prime work-home locations, it is necessary to approach the opportunity in the right frame of mind, wearing the right shoes and allowing enough time. It is also advisable to carry as little as possible. A big stick, or otherwise.

People embark on second careers for many reasons. Perhaps it is a change which is forced due to circumstances beyond our control. Fortunately for me, the choice was entirely my own and the opportunities for life after the classroom were perfectly timed for my circumstances.

Just recently, I nearly blew it.

I made a vanity choice in footwear. I had brought my computer and a pile of files home with me the previous day, for reasons beyond comprehension. I forgot a meeting until I casually looked at my calendar. It had rained several days in a row and I hadn’t been able to walk.

Still, wearing shoes with absolutely no arch support, hauling a full size laptop, a purse and a book bag crammed so full it would make any doctor cringe, I determined I absolutely must walk to work — while carrying a coffee cup.

There are different kinds of walks. There is the leisurely, “oh, what a beautiful day” stroll where the sun is shining, the humidity is low and time is of no consequence. You can ponder the world with a smile; wave at a passersby; stop to pick up a piece of trash as you are aware of your surroundings and your civic duty. 

Then there is that day. The day when you realize your feet and calves are beginning to ache because you are stomping down the sidewalk with your hip joints locked. The computer, purse and book bag straps are digging into your shoulders and you are continually adjusting to balance their weight evenly side to side. You are starting to sweat and will arrive at the nearly forgotten meeting less than fresh and definitely frazzled. Your coffee is getting cold. At least the cup has a secure lid.

You had ignored the weather.gov script for the day’s forecast preferring to accept the little pictures and percentages. It definitely said rain likely at 9 a.m.

The perfect plan only works when you work on it. The perfect plan is only perfect when you are operating in the real world. I retired to have more choices, more time and more control. But those things are only possible with work and acceptance of circumstances.

Walking is the goal, but carry as little as possible. And, it is OK to drive if the weather report is less than favorable and you are late.