Sept. 30, 2017

Many women of my acquaintance, it seems, share a common fantasy. While this tends to be the pipe dream of the demographic gracefully called by the French “a woman of a certain age” (which is so much nicer than saying “middle aged and heading for the barn”), I note that it is not exclusive to females in their 50s – so be warned, gentlemen!

If you propose a “feminary,” you’ll get involuntary toe-wiggling in bliss.

“I just want to live,” I say, “in a small cabin in a pretty place.”

“Hm,” they say, thinking “What – away from Starbucks?”

“On a hillside dotted with cottages, where my friends live,”

(Yes, they think – that’s better.)

“And there’s a common dining hall and a fire pit for sing-along hootenannies.”

(I love a hootenanny. Who doesn’t?)

“And the women who just love to cook do the cooking.”

(I don’t have to cook?/I could spend my days cooking?)

“And everyone contributes something, but mostly you have your own little place and all the friends you want but only when you want them.”

(There’s where the toe-wiggling begins. Oooh.)

My dinner companion last night, also une jolie dame d’un certain age, embroidered (as we are wont to do). “And young, partially-clothed men would sometimes come to mow the lawn.”

More toe wiggling.

We don’t want to bed the lawn-mowing men or even talk to them; let them go on their way to their trucks and their dirty dishes and what must certainly be a bedroom ankle-deep in discarded socks since The Little Missus gave up and came to live at the feminary. We just want some nice art to look at before turning with a happy sigh back to our gardening or baking or writing or other form of fulfilling, satisfying artistry.

Don’t quibble with me about mortgage payments or oil filters or car inspections; we’re all entirely capable and we’ll figure it out. And it’s not that we don’t like the male of the species. There just comes a day when we realize it would be toe-wriggling to live in a little cabin on a hillside, stone alone. Except for the friends scattered about nearby.

You in?

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Sept. 28, 2017

Stop the presses Henry – incredible breaking news, worthy of a spinning old-timey newspaper graphic!

Today I actually did my HEP.

HEP is Barbara-speak for the Home Exercise Program. I prefer to think of it in the Dobie Gillis sense, in which people in berets will watch me do “sit to stands” twenty times and then they’ll snap their fingers in groovy coffee house applause.

It’s surprising for me to do the HEP; Barbara assigned me specific exercises (entirely remedial; anyone watching me would snort and say “You come up with excuses to skip THOSE?”) when I first started working with her, and for a few weeks I did them…

(Barbara kept coming up with more and better exercises that she added to my HEP until I was overwhelmed and gave up entirely – at least, that’s the way I prefer to remember it…)

…but for months now, I’ve been ignoring the HEP. I wasn’t hep.

Today I pulled out the foam roller and the five-pound weights and I HEP’ped. Absolutely nothing changed. Except I felt a tiny little five-pound-weight glow of pride.

And tomorrow? I’ll do it AGAIN.


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September 27, 2017

If you’re being hunted by an evil “The Most Dangerous Game” type down jungle paths, light striped through the dense trees, you’d be smart to watch for tiger traps – pits filled with spears and covered with what looks like palm fronds over solid ground.

Want to know what my tiger trap is? The danger that lies unseen in my way?

It’s not eating ENOUGH.

Every fat lady knows this. You go through the day counting lettuce leaves with lemon, rigid in your determination to force that fat off by force of will, and then night falls and all hell breaks loose. Unsweetened baking chocolate is not safe. Decades-old French fries lost in the unplumbed depths of the freezer are fair game. A midnight run to Mickey D’s is not out of the question.

Starvation is a TERRIBLE thing to do to a body’s health.

It’s counterintuitive but absolutely true: To avoid overeating, you have to eat more food.

And, as Chip at Body Dynamics says, you have to make better choices about that food.

That way, when night falls and the siren lure of Oreos lures you toward the rocks, you have the strength to tie yourself to the mast and fill your ears with wax. (How did I get here from jungles filled with tiger pits?)

When I’m hungry after dinner, I know I haven’t eaten enough during the day. Fortunately, past frenzies have stripped my house of anything even remotely interesting, including an entire jar of my brother-in-law’s insanely good and salty chocolate sauce, eaten by the spoonful while standing by the sink. Tomorrow I must eat more food!

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Chemistry, Part 2

Sept 26, 2017

A quick update: HAH!

My blood work is back, and it is RIGHTEOUS. I am doing a Victorious Warrior Dance and I invite you to join me; we are dancing a thumping, aggressive circle around the fallen bodies of my poor health; we shake bottles of water fiercely and menace the corpses with foam rollers!


In March, my fasting blood sugar was 126. That’s high; it’s supposed to be between 65 and 99.

Today it is 94. NORMAL.

My A1C (which looks at blood sugar over the last few months) is 5.7. This allows the grumpy nurse to look at me in triumph. “Normal is 4.8 to 5.6. YOU ARE PRE-DIABETIC.”

My reply? “Nerts to you, Betty Lou. Don’t get so excited. Watch me.”

What else? Ah – cholesterol. It was 255 in March. (Normal is 100 to 199, now that they have drugs that can lower cholesterol artificially; before those drugs existed, the safety line was 240, but let us not diverge into a bitch session about who owns or influences the FDA.)

Today it’s 189.

GrumpyNurse is at pains to point out that my good cholesterol still isn’t high enough and my bad cholesterol isn’t low enough, but I put up the shame-deflecting Hand of Chip. “Don’t even,” I said. “Let’s take a moment to admire that 189, shall we?”

Everything else is improved and in the “normal” range except my calcium (which is one-tenth of one percent below normal; clearly my body adjusting to the dramatic decline in ice cream!) and vitamin D, which while low is still twice what it was in March. I’m going to take vitamin D supplements for eight weeks. They’re the prettiest clear cobalt blue pills you ever saw; like swallowing fine jewelry.

That’s my report. Join me in a war whoop?

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No More!

Sept. 26, 2017

I thought it was my fault that I was fat.

I thought the saddle bags on my hips were a moral failing – like I didn’t have enough will power or self control to look like all the pretty girls. I wasn’t trying hard enough, I was lazy, I was greedy.

So I was filled, from my earliest moments of awareness, with shame.

That’s a pretty big burden to put on a kid… and it wears a track in your brain that gets set in there good and deep – a track that says “stand in the back for the group photo” and “don’t look in that mirror; it won’t make you feel any better” and “cute clothes are for the pretty girls.” It gets to being like the hum of a fluorescent light; you pretty quickly forget that it’s even there as it goes about its business of draining your vitality and joy.

Well, NO MORE.

I’m up to HERE with feeling ashamed, and I’ve come to see that I have been MISINFORMED about how to care for my body. I’m not weak, lazy, or greedy; I just wasn’t getting the help I needed to make a change.

And here’s what made the difference: After a lifetime of unsuccessful (and ultimately harmful) diets and quickly-abandoned self-guided attempts at exercise, I’ve discovered that I needed a better, smarter guide – and a guide who comes with teammates.

For me, I found this at Body Dynamics, a small medically-focused gym in Falls Church, Virginia, where no one wants to weigh me and everyone agrees that the number on the scale is just a number; it’s not necessarily an indication of health.

How big a team does it take to overcome a lifetime of shame? Big. I work with…

Barbara, my trainer. Uncanny smart and extremely kind and endlessly fascinated in how to persuade my muscles to work together. She also teaches balance class. Barbara is my guide, my leader, the wellspring of my progress.

Grace, my OTHER trainer. I see Grace because I hold my hips tilted downward and Grace is a pilates expert; she’s working together with Barbara to engage the muscles that take the awkwardness and discomfort out of exercising.

Gwynn, the massage therapist. She talks to Barbara and Grace about how we can manually lengthen and strengthen the muscles that are now waking up – and Gwynn educates me, teaching me in the quiet moments about the inner workings of the body.

Chip, the nutritionist. What a revelation Chip has been! All those “healthy” diet rules I’ve been following all my life? Turns out there are much better and tastier choices!

Chad, who teaches stretch class. (That’s far too passive a name for the class Chad leads, which is as much of a workout as any of the others!)

Patrick, the physical therapist. Getting a baseline evaluation from Patrick provided Barbara with the expert advice I was never going to be able to intuit by myself.

Jorge, the shoe guru. Jorge has another role at Body Dynamics, but he stood with Barbara for fifteen minutes critically watching the way I walk; then he told me the shoes I needed to get. It was like going through transactional analysis with the world’s best shrink.

Devin, the zoomba teacher, who grins at me from the front desk when I check in and who offers the chance to sweat pure joy in her class.

Jenn and Mario, the unseen hands on the wheel who run the place so it’s welcoming, approachable, and not at all intimidating, even for 57-year-old fat ladies who have tried and failed at other gyms before.

That’s a lot of people… but my health challenges deserve no less! I’ve been going there for a little more than a year. I’ve lost somewhere between 22 and 26 pounds without TOO much effort, and I can use an elliptical for 12 minutes and wish I had more time on it. My body works better; I can walk without discomfort and my muscles slide agreeably against each other.

I know I’m just at the beginning of my health journey. But at last I feel like I’m making progress. As for shame in my life? NO MORE.

See the girl near the back with her eyes closed? That’s me. Second grade. Say, 1966. Probably the very last photo ever taken when I wasn’t thinking “Please don’t take my picture.”

Second grade


September 25, 2017

The desert stretched in every direction, as far as the dewy-eyed heroine could see. Her guide led her across trackless wastes; by what unseen compass did he navigate? Somehow he led her unerringly across a wilderness, always finding at the last possible moment a rocky outcropping that hid in its depths both precious shade and a tepid swallow of brackish water.

She saw, with horror, that her camel’s broad foot landed very nearly on a domed skull, shining white in the glare, a pair of aviator sunglasses still wrapped atop flesh that had long since been melted by the abrading sand. Panicked, she looked to her guide and found him regarding her impassively.

“They gave up,” is all he said coldly. “Will you?”

This Saturday afternoon French Foreign Legion black-and-white adventure vignette brought to you by the fact that I have gained four pounds in the last two days. Do I have the stamina to keep going?

I’ll tell you what powers our heroine to persist in her quest. It’s not a “keep your eyes on the prize” motivation, for dear Papa is not locked in the mountain fortress by an evil warlord who must be overthrown. There is no GOAL here; there is only a journey.

(That is, I won’t ever reach some impossible number on the scale or blood test result that allows me at last to fall into the crystalline pool at the casbah and possibly into the arms of the dark-eyed guide, and give up my weary troubles. No; my quest for health is not a destination; there is no “finished!” until I go toe-up.)

Instead, what drives me today are two ill-defined sensations.

First, I can feel muscles over my low ribs. I don’t actually know where the intercostals are, but I have decided that the muscles I’m feeling must be the intercostals. They feel like a brand-new rubber band; taut and odd and pretty entertaining.

The second sensation comes from my sit-downery. Despite having an entirely broad posterior, it turns out (who knew?) that I never used my glutes; I did all my movement from my low back and the fronts of my thighs. Since that’s not the way the body was designed, I wore out quickly.

But now I’m using (and know the location of) my gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. I know that below that are the “go-gos” and the para-somethings. I know in what direction they stretch, and remarkably, I can feel them engaging. Those muscles are actually mildly sore most of the time; they’re big bastards and need to do a lot of stretching and muttering and getting coffee as they wake up.

So despite what the rudest measure of health (the scale) reports this morning, I shoulder my own rifle and glare arrogantly back at the clever, seasoned guide. (Yes, in this scenario, Barbara at Body Dynamics is my guide and that means I am destined to fall back into HER arms in the pool at the oasis, but blur your eyes and ignore this unconventional French Foreign Legion casting choice; she’s an awesome hero for my journey.) “Keep going,” I say. “I’m made of sterner stuff than THAT.”

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Brain Trust

September 24, 2017

Is the heart sitting right on top of the liver? Does the liver find that rude?

Must the kidneys constantly be elbowing for room because those pushy intestines keep sprawling over the chalk line running down the middle of their bedroom? If you could make your skin invisible, wouldn’t it be cool to see how all those internal organs fit inside you? Even as big as I am (and in this case I mean tall – lots of room from pelvic floor to collar bones), I think it must be tight quarters in there.

There are specific, whale-sized blood vessels going from the heart to the lungs, but what are they – half an inch long? There’s no room between those two; it’s not like we keep the heart over here in the back forty and the lungs are down by the lake. No, they’re all mashed in there, inside the same rib cage. It MUST be super-crowded.

Of course, maybe all the organs are like puppies, and they LONG to be all muggled in together, one’s fuzzy belly utterly covering the other’s tiny nostrils. Everyone not just surviving but exuding waves of bliss for the clumping together of brothers and sisters.

MY POINT, and I’m sure I had one when I started, is that I was working with Grace at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA. She said “Puuuullllll for this movement, from deep inside your core.”

Pressed, she finally named the muscle she was going for (although it took some digging; I think most people aren’t as excited to visualize The Invisible Human the way I am and trainers are careful not to use the Latin identifiers that so delight me.)

“Your transverse abdominus – that’s what you’re going for.”

Every muscle in me went slack at the words; I stopped trying completely and swiveled to her.

“Transverse abdominus? What’s that? Where is it? What does it connect to? When do I use it?”

(I can’t help but be thrilled with this stuff. I’m 57 years old and have been moving for all of those years – apparently using a muscle group I have never even heard of. What an amazing thing the body is!)

Overwhelmed by my badgering questions, Grace looked around. Because People Who Know are thick on the ground at Body Dynamics, she was able to grab Patrick (that’s Dr. Patrick Suarez to you, nattily dressed for “tropical shirts to honor Puerto Rico” day), who, upon being asked for an impromptu dissertation on the transverse abdominus, agreeably dropped whatever else he was doing and immediately whipped out a computer for a visual aid.

Then Gwynn happened by – the extraordinary therapeutic masseuse who’s already taught me so much about my own muscles. She saw the early stages of a Nerd Cluster and jumped in, too.

And there we all were, gathered around geeking out over how cleverly the body is put together. I had to grab a phone and take a picture; it just made me so happy. That’s my water bottle in the foreground, representing both me and the unseen Chip, nutritionist extraordinaire.

By the way – the transverse abdominus? If your rib cage had a festive fringe hanging from it like the “fra-gee-lay” lamp in “A Christmas Story,” and then the fringe attached to the back of the body cavity, that would be your transverse abdominus, only really, really deep down. It’s just about the last muscle group you come to if you go in from the front. So, way back there, deep down by the spine.

Without it, you could never look quickly to see what disgusting thing the dog just dropped by your heel. So – a valuable muscle!

Brain trust

Deep End

September 23, 2017

Virtue (or is it honor?) (or madness?) (whatever) lies in how you act when no one is looking.

In that case, I am not virtuous. (Or honorable.) (Or sane.) (Whatever.)

Yesterday, the phlebotomist gathered her vials in the blood work lab and I sat in the wide-armed chair and found that I was thinking, with real lust, about the ice cream I would buy immediately after. There’s no virtue in that.

I’d hoped (because I no longer have “mature dehydration”) that she would cry “Eureka!” and declare I had the best elbow veins of any blood donor she’d ever seen. I’ve watched with envy in the past as other people (at larger labs or at blood donor drives) get tapped like a maple tree, their life-rich corpuscles jetting out obediently into labeled baggies. I, on the other hand, have always been a “hard stick,” and the very first time I gave blood, I bled so reluctantly that after twice the normal time they’d gathered half the usual amount of blood, which had all congealed by the time they called it, and had to be discarded. Very disappointing.

My grandmother – admittedly a small and birdlike woman – donated her own body weight in blood over the course of her lifetime; this seems to me like an amazing feat. THERE is virtue. (Or honor.) (Or madness.) (Whatever.)

I’d LOVE to be able to do the same, but there have been times when the Red Cross has given up and sent me from their bloodmobile couches, unable to even strike oil. I go with my head hanging down, doomed to be called ever after by them and having to admit with each “It’s a disaster, will you give blood?” call that I am a reject. Why don’t they note that in their records?!

I have wandered SO far afield.

The lab lady once again despaired of my elbow veins. Keep your dreams of hydration and blood donation; my veins remain deep and uncooperative. No joy in Mudville. She drew, as usual, from my hand – four vials in all of my blood (which is lusciously colored, really. She told me she can see the difference in smokers and nonsmokers when she takes blood, and knew I was a nonsmoker because there was enough oxygen in my blood to make it that gorgeous color. So cool). I left the lab. I went to the store.

I bought ice cream – a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

I went home. I got a spoon. I popped that annoying plastic collar off with a kitchen knife. I went to the porch with the dog and the cat in an honor guard.

I ate it all. Every bite. I licked the lid.

I did not think of fasting blood sugars or cholesterol or my A1C. I ignored the Tupperware of pumpkin seeds in the pantry, crying out in their tiny pumpkin seed voices. I just had a little ice cream orgy.

And then last night, I called my friend Kevin and made him go with me to Baskin Robbins, where I had MORE ice cream.

By this I know that Chip’s hard work as my nutritionist is having an effect only because of my will power, not because of my virtue. (Or honor.) (Or madness.) (Whatever.) Because once the blood is drawn – once the evidence is sealed away in its sterile, gleaming tubes – I am going right off the deep end with a grin of delight.

Man, I love ice cream!

Better choices today, though. Madness (or honor) (or virtue) (whatever) was yesterday’s ruler. Come here, darling, she crooned to the pumpkin seeds; I’ve come back!

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September 22, 2017

Chemistry isn’t my thing. (There’s too little interest in what I think is the cool stuff – like the chemical designation for iron is Fe because the Latin word for iron is “ferrum,” which is a neat detail that most chemists are more than happy to overlook.)

But there’s one kind of chemistry that has me on the edge of my metaphorical seat – and that’s the story that will be told by the chemistry flowing through my veins and arteries.

You wouldn’t think that blood would be changed by sweat… but if I exercise regularly and sweat leaves my skin (once washed) kinda pearly and soft, then I also change the chemistry of my blood. Maybe the bad cholesterol goes down… and it’s the only way to make the good cholesterol go up.

And if I eat pumpkin seeds and DON’T eat a lot of sugar, then all the metabolic disco dancing going on at the cellular level gets tighter and faster and more like a hot babe in a silver metallic halter top, spinning like a top under purple neon. (There’s a fiesta going on in my cells, I’m convinced.) And that ought to have something to do with my fasting blood sugar.

Today at 8:45 in the morning, I have an appointment with my nurse practitioner. (My medical practice doesn’t trot out a doctor until something interesting happens; in the meantime, I repose utmost confidence in Margo Badman RPN, an oddly grumpy lady who shook her head over my lab results three months ago even after I pointed out that all the bad numbers had gotten better and all the good numbers had gone up. I like her pessimism; it makes me determined to impress her.)

Margo is insisting that we meet before the vampires in her lab extract some of my choice, tasty red corpuscles. Chip the nutritionist at Body Dynamics has requested a cortisol test (which apparently involves spitting in a tube for 24 hours – so gross as to be sort of entertaining) and she needs some justification for that. I have Chip’s explanatory email in digital and print form and am prepared to Take A Stand.

After that, it’s down the hall to have my blood drawn for the third time in six months. I can’t wait to get the results; I have been SO VIRTUOUS of late, and the lab work will measure whether what I think is virtue is enough to move the needle. (Haw – needle. Blood work. Get it?)

So here’s my question:

If I walk to my doctor’s appointment (which is about ten minutes away by foot), I will drive my fasting blood sugar down farther. And I am very competitive; I want that number at 100 or below, by damn. But is walking to the appointment cheating?

And am I willing to cheat??

Who would I be fooling, after all?

My innate laziness (which would infinitely prefer to drive) is warring against my innate competitiveness. I am on the horns of a dilemma. I walked to the appointment three months ago, but I didn’t to the initial one six months ago, which established my baseline. So in the modified words of Joe Strummer and the Clash – should I walk or should I drive? If I walk there could be trouble – if I drive, it could be double.

Oh. Clearly I have to dance. Right now. To the crazy dance party of chemistry. Whee!

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September 21, 2017

John Eddie reluctantly put his sweaty, fifth-grade hand on the area that would one day be my waist and I nervously put my sweaty, fifth-grade hand on his jacketed shoulder. At the insistence of the dancing school instructor, we clasped our free hands together and started grimly chanting as we shuffled our feet.

“Forward, side-together, BACK… side-together, forward… side-together, BACK… side-together forward…”

This is the basic box step, beginning of all kinds of only-at-a-wedding dances, and I want to make note that when I was saying “forward, side-together, BACK,” I was actually stepping back, side-together, forward because I am a female and unlike a male am capable of saying the step the way the man dances it while actually dancing the way the woman dances it.

I digress.

Fifth-grade dancing school included the box step (for a sprightly fox trot), the cha-cha, and – could this memory really be true? – the bunny hop. I actually remember John Eddy because he was the only one in the class who could both chant the steps through gritted teeth AND turn us in a slow, ungainly circle. I was very impressed.

There is something extraordinarily hard about learning a dance step; it simply isn’t instinctive in me. I require a LOT of repetition. I’ll bet even Fred Astaire once chanted “forward, side-together, BACK…” When he was three, or something. The point is, everyone starts somewhere and it takes a bit of time to become easy in your skin and discover that you can do the steps AND turn in a slow circle.

Last night I attended Devin’s Zoomba class at Body Dynamics in Falls Church and was damned glad John Eddy wasn’t there to see just how far I’d regressed.

Spicy Latin music (which I love) and lots of slinky hip movements (which I envy from afar) and Devin’s fluorescent yellow laces on her black sneakers flying with joy reassured me that the class really could become an addiction… but it was going to take a few more classes and a lot more repetition before I could even think about the sinuous, athletic hand and arm gestures; as it was, I pretty much did a plodding sort of jog while trying to figure out what the hell they were all doing.

(I was the only one who hadn’t done zoomba before and I’m fully comfortable in the Least Capable role, so I didn’t feel particularly embarrassed. Devin is a sweetheart. A salsa-hipped, flying-footed sweetheart.)

It was sweaty work, and I got fooled a few times (like – Devin said “this is a quick little song we’re doing next” and I thought – good. A short song. No… she meant quick as in lordy, mama, I can’t quite see your sneakers when they move that fast). And my best belly laugh was when I’d studied one step with Class Valedictorian focus; I finally got it and Devin immediately said “Now – double-time!” and went off pirouetting and flash-dancing into a glistening cloud of energy and I found myself planted solidly on my two oversized feet, a tree trunk amid a flock of swirling pixies, just braying honks of panting laughter.

But my fellow students were very kind and I would definitely go back if I wasn’t already spending most of my days at Body Dynamics anyway. Something’s gotta give before I make time for another class…

…but when I do, stand back. I know how to do the box step in a circle, so. Watch out!

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