Wet jungle vines slapped against her face with the cloying caress of toddlers on the edge of a tantrum. Freeing one hand, she shoved the vines aside and paused to wipe the sheen of sweat from her brow.

It was the thought of the ancient civilizations ahead that kept her going – of the foundations of temples carved into the earth. Of steps carved upward toward the heavens, ascending the mountains until lost in the low-lying clouds. Of once-sun drenched plazas where young warriors lost their lives in a blood-gushing attempt to appease cruel gods, the priest’s bloody ceremonial knife swiftly cutting the upstretched throat.

Well, actually it was Balance Class and the vines were strands of my own hair, wrapping around my throat and trying to choke me – but it was ALMOST as romantic…

Today Barbara decided to torment us with innocent little yoga blocks in serene moss or “fun” purple. At first it was just entertaining. Set two blocks up to either side of you (these blocks are like really oversized bricks, but made of something far lighter) and without rocking to either side, reach your leg outwards toward the block (no upper-body cheating, you – all movement comes from below the waist) and tap the block. Repeat on the other side.

Blocks were toppling all around, but we all were fresh and young and innocent and cheerfully set our blocks back up, little guessing what came next.

Between tapping the blocks with our sneaker-clad toes, we had to get down on the floor in a plank position.

(You know the plank, right? Go on all fours and tense up every abdominal muscle you’ve got. Don’t forget that step; it’s critical. Then stretch one foot back as far as it will go; send the other foot to join it. Now you’re poised on toes and hands, and you’re not allowed to let that plump, soft, heavy sit-downery part sag. Hold that back RIGID. See above, re: abdominal muscles.)

Sometimes we had to shift our weight enough to reach to the side and tap the block with our hands, alternating sides while desperately counting out twenty taps. Then more standing poses – reach backwards with the foot. Step over the blocks. Do a figure eight around the blocks; these standing poses were supposed to give our hearts time to settle, but come ON.

In between each standing pose, it was back to the planks. This time, put the blocks next to your feet. Reach out and tap the block with your toe. Groans filled the room.

The last one – the one that made me feel as if I was inching fatly through a really bad remake of an Indiana Jones movie – involved traveling. Start in a plank with your hands between the two blocks. Shift the left hand over and beyond the left block. Bring the left foot to the side. Shift the right hand over; bring the right foot along. Now back to center. Now to the right. Now back to center. Now back to the left.

During this time, someone in the class asked Barbara a question, and the two of them had a hushed, thoughtful, totally distracted conversation while the rest of the class groaned and grunted and clung to that plank position like we were summiting an Aztec fortress in the Andes – not because we wanted to, but because to do anything else meant grim death.

My unconfirmed role in the class is to be the one who breaks first and cries out “Barbara! Come ON!” And then Barbara says “THREE MORE!” and we all give serious consideration to just giving up and dying to get it all over with…

…but then it’s suddenly time for stretching and mopping off with a gym towel and the blissful, burbling, effervescent feeling of having finished a tough one, still on one’s feet.

Is the feeling worth it? Is it really THAT good?

Hell, yes!

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No. You Really Can’t.


I was having dinner with heavenly Nancy and Ed tonight. We were talking about health and fitness (because I monkishly ordered the steamed vegetables with my omelet but was then filching potato chips off their plates) and Ed – who has one of the biggest brains on the planet – was marveling at my list of trainers. He applauded my effort, and opined in passing “I guess with real determination, we could all get healthy on our own, but…”

I was nodding along (that’s what you do when you’re with Ed and Nancy; they rarely speak anything other than sterling truth or impressive charm), but that stopped me.

I thought of the years – YEARS – I’d spent applying “real determination” to the challenge of my ever-expanding posterior. I thought of the 436 days I spent exercising a minimum of one hour a day in a row. (On the 437th day I forgot – and then I stopped for three years.) I thought of diets and written charts for how little I was going to weigh by which day and overwhelming feelings of remorse and shame.

I remember thinking – I’ve been able to do just about anything I set my mind to so far. I drove in Ireland, for God’s sake. Why can’t I do this?

I HAVE real determination. What I didn’t have was Barbara. And Grace. And Chip. And Gwynn. And Chad. (All at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA.) It took two – no, three trainers, a nutritionist, and a massage therapist working together to finally equip my body with the skills and knowledge needed to at last begin to carve away some of the styrofoam padding from around the sleek, porcelain body I think is down there.

So I went against type and disagreed with Ed. “No,” I said firmly, “You really can’t do it with just determination. I’ve tried, and I’ve failed. I needed help. And I’m not giving these people up!”

When I win the mega-millions lottery, I’m going to hire all five of them away from Body Dynamics. I’ll pay them an obscene amount of money and build them each a house (to their specifications) on my enormous compound and they can live there with their families. I’ll get each of them for an hour a day – five hours spent doing good for my body.

Dang. I gotta go buy a lottery ticket!


Peas with melting butter in a silver bowl because I forgot to take a snap of blissful Nancy and Ed.

Chad Dammit


That’d make a good band name – Chad Dammit.

I was telling Chad in stretch class today that I’d had occasion to curse him, which wasn’t very nice in the abstract, but Chad thrives on the groans of his stretch class students and he just grinned with joy.

(Chad is a trainer at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA. He teaches stretch class to a handful of people who have opted to not lock up tight as we age. Chad teaches with foam rollers and tennis balls and cloth straps and the fiendishness of his vampire nature, where the moans of agony from his class nourish him at the cellular level; this is his personal Fountain of Youth.)

It was Grace’s fault that I cursed Chad. Grace, also a trainer (and don’t they conspire with each other when I’m not looking? They do.) has me doing a stretch for my thorax every day.

Thorax, thorax, thorax. What a great word.

I lie across the foam roller (which, despite its name, is as hard as a rock) so the roller is just barely under my wing bones. Cross my hands behind my head. Knees bent, to make sure the stretch gets the mid-back and isn’t absorbed by my far-more-limber lumbar spine. Then breathe. Inhale-exhale (in case you forgot how to breathe) five times slowly… and THEN…

Roll one elbow down, knees follow, until you’re all the way on your side. Go slowly; cherish every single gasp of ouchiness. Then roll to the other side (reaching your elbow back and up as you go; otherwise you end up sliding further and further down until the foam roller is under your neck.) Repeat four times.

I’m getting pretty good at this; I think my thorax might be beginning to unfreeze. (I think of it as The Thing, trapped in arctic ice and just waiting for handsome, bearded men to stumble upon it accidentally so it can feed once more.) (All this in my mid-back?? I may be watching too many movies.)

But last night while doing my HEP (that’s Home Exercise Program to you), the rolling from side to side was simply EXCRUCIATING – and instead of cursing Grace, whose bright idea this was in the first place, I illogically equated groans of agony on the roller with Chad.

So I was cursing him – and uttered “Chad Dammit.”

So now I’m changing his street name from “Shoulders Down” to “Chad Dammit.” He doesn’t seem to mind at all.

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Foam rollers. Look so simple and innocent, don’t they?



“The hip bone’s connected to the… THIGH bone.” I can hear them singing now, a deep-voiced, gorgeous, racially-insulting black quartet singing “de” instead of “the” at the insistence of Mr. Disney, working down the scale to point out that all the body parts are connected…

…but they left out a few things.

Did you know there’s a connection between your ribs and your elbow?

Not the sharp angle you’re thinking. (She flips a finger through the air, pointing from your waist to your armpit and down to your elbow.) No, I mean a direct line. (The same finger flicks arrogantly across with an attendant “fssht” sound effect to put the bar across the “A” now drawn in the air.)

I lay on my back on a foam roller, eight-pound weights held overhead, inside wrists straight and facing each other. I drop the left arm slowly to the side while the right knee goes out to the side and down. And slowly back up. No worries.

I do the same movement with my right arm and OW – that hurts my elbow.

“Pull your ribs down,” says Barbara in what appears to me to be an absolute and complete non-sequitur. It seems as unconnected as if I said “This hurts my elbow” and she replied “Try a higher rate of withholding on your taxes.”

But Barbara is a wizard. She knows when to add the eye of newt and when to pull back on the tongue of frog. So I gripped whatever it is that pulls your ribs down and in…

…and my elbow no longer hurts doing the exact same exercise.

I know. I don’t understand it either. The Disney quartet never sang that de rib bone connected to de… ELBOW bone. But it is. Don’t know how, don’t know why. Go figure.

I’ll say it again: It is a real advantage to have a wizard with you on your fitness journey. Barbara Gallagher Benson, Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA. (703) 527-9557. Ask for Babs.

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I think it would have given you the giggles to see me going from mirror to mirror in my house, taking “flaccid” and “taut” photos of my core, and using a hair clip to pull my tunic top in tighter to get the image I wanted…

And primping. Close the door to the bathroom – no toilets in my before-and-after shots.

Anyway – here’s me when I let my stomach muscles go completely. This is a bit of a falsehood, since NO ONE lets their stomach muscles go completely while standing; we’d all fall over… but still. The “when’s the baby due” look is undeniable.

And here’s me after I flex all the muscles that Barbara and Grace and Chad have built within me, and Gwynn has helped me to understand. (All four wizards are found, of course, at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA). Rectus abdominus. Transverse abdominus. Obliques. Glutes, even. This is like a fist ready to strike…

…and this, too, is impossible. NO ONE stands like this; we’d all burst from the blood pressure. But you can do it for short periods – say, when your mother is giving you the critical eye. Can’t last…

…but every time I clench up like this, I never quite go back as far towards flaccid as I was before I clenched. Every clench seems to turn up the resting rheostat by about 5% or so… and I suspect that as my muscles become iron-willed and indomitable, I’ll get closer and closer to the “after” picture being my reality.

In the meantime, I’m capable of fooling the camera a bit – provided I have time to clench everything up like a puckered sphincter!



I tried to force both my sisters and my mother into a photo today, during the Thanksgiving prep time, but one sister is notoriously slippery and refused to participate – so here’s me with my mother and my sister Lexie.

(Twig, an early escape artist, charmed all and then fled fast, before I could corral her.)

These are two of the three women who share my DNA; these are the women to whom I would give a kidney. If Twig was in the photo, you’d see that all three of them are the same height (about three or four inches shorter than me), have similar faces and hair, and are adorable. I am taller, far fatter, and spent the entire day attempting to hold my core muscles as rigidly tight as possible…

…except when, howling with laughter, I proved to Lexie and mom just how much Barbara (at Body Dynamics) and her team have done for me by demonstrating “before” and “after” examples of just how much those muscles were holding in.

(Really, it’s impressive; if I remember, I’ll post both photos tomorrow because it makes me snort with amusement. If I could only hold that utterly clenched pose – which involves pelvis, ribs, abdominals (rectus and transverse), and those huge, fanning seashells of the obliques – then I could really fool the world!)

But despite not looking much like them, those women are my heart. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving and I dined as much on love, affection, support, and giggles as anything on a plate – and a most nutritious meal it was, too!




I awoke from a long, sound, delicious sleep this morning because my son was standing at the foot of the stairs hollering up at me.

“What?” I replied cleverly.

“I said – what can’t you eat now?”

“I can eat anything…” (Why burden my son with the “no grains, less dairy, never any sugar” plan?)

“Okay. So, sausage and chicken in orzo, or prosciutto and mozzarella with pesto?”


“Which would you prefer?”

“Is there bread with the prosciutto?”

“Yeah – it’s a sandwich. From ‘Agents of Shield.’”

It can take time to unpack a statement like that and I wasn’t at my best, so I thought of all that illegal bread with the bedhead version of gastronomic lust and picked the sandwich without hesitation. So much for the “no grains” plan.

“Kay. Bye.”

And off he went to the store to buy what he needed, in his car with his credit card, to assuage his burning desire for non-college-cafeteria food. Then he taught me how to sauté (which he says means “jump”) pine nuts in the frying pan to toast them (my boy!) and made his own pesto.

The bread was heaven and the sandwich was AMAZING. “It’s what Simmons made for Fitz. Remember? And he had to dump it in the river so the dogs wouldn’t smell it?”

I got that the names were characters from “Agents of Shield” – Rusty apparently follows a guy on You Tube who makes food from TV shows (we’ve benefitted from a Ron Swanson steak in the past) – but didn’t remember the episode. Nevertheless – “How sad he must have been to throw this sandwich away.”

“No doubt.”

We munched contentedly.

My kitchen is a certified disaster area and the chef has gone upstairs to take a long, soaking bath. I don’t regret a single bite of that bread. All is right with the world.

I thought you’d like to know, since you so kindly expressed concern when I came to what I hope was the nadir of my wet blanket period yesterday!


Don’t Like My Outfit


Last night one of the lenses popped out of my eyeglasses.

No big deal; the screw had just come loose. It was still there – it just needed to be tightened.

The problem was, as everyone around the world knows, when this happens, you hand your glasses to Jonathan and he’ll go to whatever drawer he’s allocated to eyeglass repair and pull out the little eyeglass kit and he’ll fix your glasses. That’s what he does; that is his self-appointed purpose in life.

Except… dead husband.

I couldn’t find the little kit. So I put the glasses in a case and made a mental note to leave a little early for my session with Barbara today at 11 so I could stop by the eye glasses place and get them to repair it. (And what if they couldn’t? How would I choose a new pair of eyeglasses without Jonathan there to critically examine fifty or sixty frames on my face before pronouncing “That’s the one?”)

This morning I got up thinking that I needed to just carve enough time this morning to make a shopping list – I want to make a cake for my sister’s birthday on Thanksgiving (trying something new and just a little bold this time), and Chip had a recipe for mujaddara lentils with spiced yogurt that I think I can put together. If I make my shopping list, I can go to the eyeglasses store and then be at Body Dynamics at 11 for Barbara, and Chad’s stretch class at noon, and then the grocery store, and still be back when Rusty gets home from college this afternoon … and make the cake tomorrow for Thanksgiving on Thursday, and make the lentils – when? I’ll figure it out.

Barbara has me doing the barest rudimentary form of interval training and I HATE it, but despite the fact that I slept for about three hours last night (just couldn’t stay asleep), I know that when my mood is black, exercise really WILL help me feel better, so I was forcing myself to gather up work-out clothes when the phone rang.

My mother, using her “bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed” voice. “I’ll take you to lunch at Tempo and then we’ll go to the wholesale florist to buy gorgeous blooms to make a lovely centerpiece for Thanksgiving!”

“I really can’t – I’m working out at 11 and 12.”

“Well, this won’t take long. Come on.”

“I can’t even get to Tempo until 1:30, and I’ll be in work-out clothes.”

“Oh, they won’t mind!” (It’s not the Tempo staff I worry about, given that my mother has the  most critical eye on the planet.)

“No, I don’t think it will work today.”

(Suddenly near tears.) “Oh. Well. I just need to get OUT.”

And that did it. I said I’d go. I’m a sucker for the near-tears of a crazy old lady. One day she will be gathered to her great reward and I’ll miss even her craziness. And I know what she was saying is “I’m a widow TOO, and I’m too old to keep up with everything and I’m lonely and often confused and I need your help.”

So I cast around for something I could put over my work-out clothes so she wouldn’t look at me at lunch as if I’d just recited Lenny Bruce monologs from the pulpit of St. Paul’s Church. I knew I had one more new pair of long pants to work out in – there they were. But – ech. They’re like grey plastic sweatpants; so hideous. And the long-sleeved workout shirts are all in the laundry (why didn’t I do the wash this weekend? Why am I such a slacker?) and the sleeveless outfit looked like grim death with the grey pants. And I couldn’t find anything to pull over the whole ugly mess so as to appear even slightly acceptable at lunch and at the wholesale florist, wherever that is.

I didn’t like my outfit. So I canceled Barbara and Chad both.

When your husband dies, people say “Be kind to yourself. Don’t try to do too much.”  People also say “Exercise releases endorphins; it regulates mood and will help you feel better.” People really need to get together and agree on one unified school of advice, because I’m not in a good space, logically, and I’m tempted to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head, where – if last night is the pattern – I will stare uselessly at nothing and wish vainly for sleep.

Oh, it’s a pity party today at the Amazing Adventures of A Fat Lady in Fitness Land. Wot laffs!


What a drama queen.



Sometimes I envision my brain as a huge, Matrix-sized field of nothing but electrical wall outlets, waiting for something to come along and plug in something useful.

And what I’ve come to understand is that my outlets that turn on a sense of joy or contentment from exercise? Those outlets are slightly bent. You can force in a plug if you REALLY lean on it, and a small trickle of electricity will come through; enough to power a nightlight, for example…

…while my “massage” receptors are slutty – wide open, eager for use, winking and flirting with every passing plug. Hey, big fella.

I had a massage with Gwynn at Body Dynamics today. Gwynn is, as noted, a wizard. She’s no spa masseuse dilettante in it for the pleasure and the tips; when she goes in, she goes with a purpose. We discussed my lamina groove (can’t give up on that frozen-solid thorax!) (doesn’t a thorax sound like something out of Dr. Seuss?), and my tendency to pack any stress into my neck and shoulder muscles…

…but mostly we examined the aductor magnus in my left thigh.

That muscle runs from the knee to the pelvis; Gwynn says it’s on the back of the thigh (and she would know), but I feel it right up the inseam. My left aductor magnus is oddly tight without any corresponding strength. When I use it – say, Barbara sticks me on a rowing machine to gasp and bitch for ten minutes – it stabs me at the very top of my thigh with every return on the rower.

(This is annoying – however, the pain was enough that Barbara let me off with only six minutes of rowing, not ten… so maybe – don’t fix it?!)

So today Gwynn brought her voodoo skills (that woman can see pain through her fingertips; it’s uncanny) to my adductors and I’m not lying, it HURT. Not more than I could stand, but I spent a lot of time wincing and hissing little inhales and saying “now THAT’S tender” and in other ways attempting uselessly to persuade her away from her mission.

And I STILL got off the table feeling high as a kite.

My brain’s receptors that might be more productively devoted to the joy of exercise are apparently all switched over to massage. Kind massage, determined massage, even painful massage seems to leave me stoned. I advised Gwynn to knock out a wall in her treatment room so she could create a sort of recovery opium den next door where her victims could be stacked up like cordwood as we chased the massage dragon.

I know an ultra-runner – a man who thinks running 100 miles at a time is so much fun that he recently ran 200 miles. I know a woman who believes that if you don’t throw up at least once per workout, it’s not a good session. I’ve seen people biking up mountains in Vermont – apparently voluntarily. On their vacations, fercrissake.

These people are getting something from exercise that I am not getting.

I’m willing to believe that I can retrofit my exercise receptors – that I can become addicted to the exercise endorphins. Hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

But the massage receptors? Running just fine!

By the way – the adductor magnus actually does feel a bit better. Gwynn grinned and said “Oh, good – we’ll just keep at it, then!” And somehow I’ll drool while she does it, too.

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That’s not a one-note “I forgot the milk” duh. It’s a multi-note “duh” of contempt – what a fourteen year old girl says to her mother when her mother says “everyone seems to like to text these days.” It’s a “duh” that has a dip in it, like “duh-UH-uh,” which as anyone knows is internationally interpreted as “are you a complete moron?”

I figured out why I’ve been having such a brutal time with sugar of late – and why I’ve lost just about every battle:

I’m not eating enough food.


I keep getting caught up in whatever it is I’m doing and I skip lunch. Or I get too busy and then too tired to plot a strategy for a good, healthy dinner. My body – my clever, highly-adept body which is perpetually poised for the next disaster – screams out FAMINE!! Get fast energy NOW! I can store fast energy! WHERE IS THE SUGAR??

And as much as I admire sisu, that grim determination is simply no match for hundreds of thousands of years of DNA-level instinct. STORE ENERGY NOW.

The answer is – eat more. More protein. More fat. Fewer grains. No dairy. Wrest control back! I’m going to the grocery store.

Observations on sugars:

  1. Honey in tea is simply a non-starter. Those without a sugar jones can put a teaspoon of honey – or even a bold, living-la-vida-loca tablespoon – into a large mug of tea and it will be enough. I cleared the honey bear’s head entirely and my tea STILL wasn’t sweet enough. I’m just going to give up tea forever. It’s going to be a long, cold winter.
  2. Maple syrup is dreamy in plain full-fat Greek yogurt. Bliss. Doesn’t take much. That really is just a drizzle… while honey? I’m left thinking, “yeah – where’s the honey?”
  3. Most sweet desserts are what my friend Laura Yager rightly calls “a high-caloric waste.” They look better than they are. You eat them because – there they are. But for the most part, if we were going by flavor and not DNA-instinct and habit, meh. My personal exceptions: A one-scoop sundae at Arties (don’t get the coffee ice cream), and the chocolate cheesecake at Tempo. Those are every bit as spiritually satisfying as they look.

Time to make my shopping list… and drink some water!

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