I've been walking in the late afternoon and early evening when shadows are long. Heading out first thing in the morning feels so much better but is too hard to coordinate with my work schedule, so I instead slather myself in SPF 100 sunscreen and hope for low-humidity hours between 2-6 pm. And no matter how disgustingly slick from sunscreen and sweat I am each time I arrive back at the apartment, the walks themselves are always therapeutic. They are precious minutes of thinking, of praying--Grandma once shared the poem "Out in the Fields with God" with me, and it comes to mind during my walks--of telling people how pretty their dogs are as they bound past me, of admiring gardens and shadows and rock walls and faster-moving and better-looking bodies, of encouraging children as they wobble along on bikes as their parents jog along behind them, of breathing deeply, of being grateful for my health (because no matter how much slower or older I am than the Super! Toned! Twenty-Somethings! I am healthy enough to walk, period, and that's worth saying "Thank You" for), of wishing Mom were here with me so I could show her this sweet cottage of a home I'm hoping to get a good picture of without being spotted and shooed away by its owner; of remembering that between the tremors and other Lyme issues, Mom couldn't walk at this pace or for this long anymore anyway--and so then I just carry on a conversation with her in my head as I walk, the way I carry on with Papa and Grandma and Sommer and other loved ones I have to be content to hold in my heart since hand-in-hand is no longer an option, and the entire walk feels that much more like a prayer. It's the Ivy that makes this house so sweet. It's the dome shape that does it for me, Vally. I love the Ivy, though. Aunt Laurie had those beautiful bay windows, remember? Yes. I loved that house. Love, love, love. One of my college professors once told me that he thinks one of the keys to life is to be passionately in love with something every day of your life--a person, an idea, a cause, a flower, the moon, the ocean, a poem, a book, a movie, just something. There is wisdom in that. My younger brother and I would play a game of my invention on even car trips when we were kids: We would have to come up with something--at least one thing--we liked about each house or yard we passed. There we would sit, half-turned in the backseat of my parents' car, straining to take in the sights of fast enough to find that hurry!-just-one-thing! before it would pass from view. Oh, yes, this is a Val game, for sure! But I play it even now when I'm a few years shy of forty, and I hear us wildly laughing as little kids again as I find myself shouting out "That snowball bush! That rock wall! The way the sunlight's hitting that chair on their front porch! That DOG!!!" in my head as I walk each afternoon. And this week I think of dear Robin Williams and some of my own lowest lows, having struggled with depression for two-thirds of my life now, and I say prayers for him too as I huff and puff up the heights of hills and stairs. Each return to the apartment sees me marking my mileage onto a calendar in the bathroom and awarding myself a pink "Thank You!" sticker for that day's walk. "Who exactly are you thanking with these stickers? Most people would do gold stars," Mike teased me the other night as I proudly slapped a new one into place. But the "Thank You!" stickers suit me, and I enjoy seeing the strips of them I keep on the desk for this post-walk ritual. I am thanking God, of course, and I am thanking myself for making the effort. I am thanking neighbors who plant pretty flowers for no reason other than to add a little more beauty to life. I am thanking animals and birds for existing. I am thanking the children for being children--and their parents for giving them good childhood memories. I am thanking my own parents and brothers and grandparents and friends for being there, period, and for all the love. Oh, love! Love, love, love! I come back to it and come back for it and come back with it, over and over, day in and day out, and that is my biggest "Thank You!" of all.