I had an uncharacteristically Biblical thought yesterday.

I’m not much of a gardener. I mostly kept up with the weeding until I saw a long, lazy, benevolent black snake in the garden. Then I screamed like a 1950s sitcom and refused to go into the yard for months; let the snake weed.

(This was an unsuccessful weeding policy, as it turns out, and the yard quickly began to assume a jungle-like air of neglect that only felt more alarmingly snaky.)

But when I discovered a (quite large) turtle in my tiny, man-made pond, I was restored to the natural world. (From this experience we see that the fear of a snake is JUST SLIGHTLY outweighed by the delight in a turtle. Mathematically, snake < turtle.)

I hired a landscaping company to create a turtle paradise; the result is so stunning that I can’t imagine Yertle isn’t blissed in his groovy bachelor pad. I rather hope he’s on TurtleMatch.com, finding himself a little honey to enjoy Eastern Slider Eden. One of the things the landscaping lady did was fill my little turtle pond with all kinds of luscious water plants. (Some of which sit on low tables made of slate on stone legs, under which GOLDFISH would be happy to hide! I’m going to buy Yertle his pets this week.)

And one of the plant varieties is a bulrush.

Bulrushes, it turns out, are lovely. They have pretty, oblate leaves, and they stand tall and wave gently in the breeze. They have pretty lavender flowers growing shyly from their stalks.

But of course the most immediately awesome thing about the bulrush is its place in literature (or history or religion, depending on your interpretation), as it was among the bulrushes that the Pharaoh’s daughter found tiny baby Moses. (I pointedly omit a wealth of commentary about family planning and societal shame and the unlikelihood of babies drifting, carefree and untethered, among tall reeds in a wetland.)

So I heart my bulrushes big-big, and occasionally look to see if any baskets have fetched up among them. Nothing so far.

But a big wind did come roaring through. It pushed over one of the cattails and one of the bulrushes, and I bravely took my bare feet to the distant side of the pond (where, one might reasonably assume, a snake could possibly be enjoying a poolside sunbath) to stand up my reclining plants.

Once I was safely back in the kitchen, I looked with satisfaction at my pond. It was perhaps the biblical nature of the bulrushes that made me think to myself, “I have restored the habitat to order; I am the god of the turtle pond.”

Any time you decide you’re a god, it’s a good opportunity to slap yourself in the face and shake that thought loose. I don’t follow a formalized religion, but I do believe in karma, and if you decide you’re the god of ANYTHING, the actual god of that thing will make a point of proving just how wrong you are.

(I follow no formalized religion, but there are gods everywhere in my world, and it’s best not to piss any of them off. Be grateful. Be humble. You never know when a deity is paying attention.)

But before I lost the image of me as a god entirely, I felt an electrical pull that meant an analogy was inbound. Annnnnnd…. It’s here! Listen:

I’m a bad gardener, but a landscaper with a green thumb and a love of growing things has put me on the path. She’s given me the bare rudiments of knowledge to be the goddess of the turtle pond.

I’ve been a poor manager of my health for my entire life. Now a fitness trainer with a knowledge of musculature and an understanding of my emotional barriers has given me the bare rudiments of knowledge to … No, too blasphemous to say I’m the goddess of my health. But really – the analogy holds true. I have the ability now to be a good steward.

This analogy is pretty sound, even without the biblical value of a garden. I have a garden; I can ignore it or I can tend it. There’s a snake in the garden – not Satan, in this case; I think my snake is sugar – but it won’t hurt me if I don’t hurt it. I just have to accept that it’s a part of my garden, and work around it.

If you don’t weed a little every day, things get away from you, and what could be magnificent instead looks like a rental property, where no one cares what happens to the shrubs or trees or – yes – bulrushes. That’s how people get to looking tatty and worn out before they need to. I was treating my body like a rental property. (Whoops – switched analogies there. Let’s try again.)

I was treating my body as if I was only going to look at it from the kitchen – but you can’t see the turtle from the kitchen, or the goldfish. You can’t see the blooms on the exotic water lily, which only blooms at twilight. (How cool is that?) You can distantly hear the frogs croaking, but you can’t get the full effect until you get out there.

A stint on the elliptical (or – help me, Rhonda – jogging a mile with Barbara) is like weeding. It’s annoying and hot and I dread it beforehand. But once it’s done, I feel better. I look better. And the bulrushes offering their surprising lavender flowers is like (and you’ll have to take my word for this, as I will NOT post a photo) the nascent little crease that is developing between my thigh and my butt. It’s not just one large slab of flaccid any more; I’m getting enough muscle definition that things are starting (just barely, but it’s a start) to look less embarrassing.

Bulrushes. There’s so much they can teach us.


That’s a fitness blog entry of 23 paragraphs, and only the last five have anything at all to do with fitness. This seems like a LONG way around a pretty simple point. You’re very patient!


June 18, 2018

I was at my 40th high school reunion, tired from two days of chatting with people I hadn’t known for decades (which is fun but exhausting). I was sitting lumpishly on a sofa listening, delighted, as a guy I barely spoke to in high school – Phil Clark – told a fantastic rabble-rousing story that ended up explaining why he hadn’t been allowed to walk with his graduating class at college.

I was digging Phil Clark big-big, and I decided that if someone had said “Let Phil hold your baby for a while, there,” I would have done it, handing over my infant son to a relative stranger who told a good story, had a glorious mop of leonine hair, and the ability to wear a sports coat with an undefinable brio, and all I would have thought was “I hope my baby is cool enough for Phil Clark.”

Of course, my baby is now 6’4” and dwarfs the magnetic Phil Clark, but this fantasy-on-the-fly made me think about the nature of beauty.

There are lots of studies about how much better handsome people are treated than homely people. (I’m just a slacker blogger; go look ‘em up yourself.) Of course, these studies aren’t just about women thrusting their infant sons into the arms of bejacketed men with Andrew Jackson hair. They’re more scientific – something like most of the Fortune 500 CEOs are taller than average and more than usually good-looking; things just happen for pretty people that don’t happen for the ugly.

Then I wondered: DO things happen for handsome people because of cheek bones and slim hips? Or is it the confidence that comes from cheek bones and slim hips?? If you took identical twins and spent a lifetime praising one’s beauty and berating the other’s homeliness, you’d end up with one successful person and one guy who lives in a van down by the river.

In high school, Phil Clark was just a guy. I don’t remember even having a crush on him, and I had a crush on EVERYONE. Somehow, in the intervening 40 years, Phil uncovered a well of self-confidence, and it made him – technical term coming up here – yummy.

So then I swiveled my regard onto my own experience. By objective measures, I’m now more attractive than I’ve been in decades. I’ve carved inches off my eminent posterior, I hacked off my hair to a more stylish length, and my movements are powered by muscles that have been regularly exercised. Was I having a better reunion than normal?

Well, I always have a good time at my reunion. That’s no measure.

None of my former crushes swept me into manly embraces and confessed a lifelong yen for me that caused them to turn away from their fathers’ highly profitable tradition of stock brokerage and instead subsumed their life essence into an artistic career involving chain saws and large statues of bears. So I’m not sure how to score that.

I suppose the answer is – I felt more confident. And so I had an even more enjoyable time.

And I’m expecting a love letter from Phil Clark any day now.

Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 5.18.20 PM

See? Andrew Jackson, although a horrible bigot and a bloodthirsty bastard, had very nice hair.



Here’s a life lesson for you: Wherever your physical or mental pain is?? That’s possibly NOT the problem site.

Mind you, there are exceptions. If you’ve sliced your finger with a kitchen knife or chopped off your foot with a poorly-wielded ax, by all means: Direct pressure and elevate. Hurry.

But when things are not quite as overt (or horrific), just be aware that if you’re clutching at an owie-spot, you might have been distracted from the actual source of your pain. Shall I explain? (Oh please, do.)

I have this muscle in my right thigh that regularly sings to me. There’s a collection of long, tough thigh muscles called the adductors. (Sit with a ball between your knees. Try to pop the ball with your thighs, like Bond villain Xenia Onatopp attempting to crush Pierce Brosnan’s handsome torso. Those muscles are your adductors. Xenia Onatopp’s are stronger than yours.)

(Holy smokes! I had to IMDB that Bond movie, Golden Eye, to see what Onatopp’s first name was, and you know who played her? You know who attempted to pop Remington Steel’s steel core like a squished grape? JEAN GRAY from the XMen movies. Famke Janssen. Didn’t see THAT one coming!)

Dang it – where was I?

Right – the three or four muscles that make up the adductors. One of them, appealingly, is called the adductor magnus (which sounds very Roman Legion – or maybe like Monty Python doing the Roman Legion. Adductor Magnus is right next to Biggus Dickus.).

Adductor magnus goes from the inside edge of your knee right up the inside of the thigh and hooks onto the pubic bone, exactly where you don’t want to point when you say “It hurts HERE.”

Mine has been angry for a few months now, and mutters with such vigor on occasion that I actually limp for a few steps, usually hissing and cursing at the same time. Walking pigeon-toed helps a bit, but that seems like a short-term solution where I need resolution.

There are no fewer than FOUR fitness brains working on this with me. Barbara, of course – my wizard at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA. Grace, the ballet dancer Pilates expert who works with Barbara. Josh, the physical therapist who rapidly identified two exercises that stretch the adductor magnus. And Gwynn, the Body Dynamics therapeutic masseuse.

And what is the source of my right leg’s angry adductor magnus?

Left hip, of course. Duh.

It turns out that there’s something going on in my left hip that affects my left knee and my left heel. I had no idea there was anything interesting happening because my right leg was compensating – and it was compensating by running a high-tension electrical line through my adductor magnus, which was being asked to provide pelvic stability it was not intended to provide.

Well, damn.

So it hurts HERE but the problem is HERE?

This is like the fifth time I’ve seen this pattern. Say I go see Gwynn for a massage and she says “What’s up? How do you feel?” And I think – it would feel great to have my back muscles massaged, so I say “My back is really tight.”

Well, that’s an automatic backfire, because she’ll start me out lying on my back and she’ll start digging into psoas muscles over the edge of my hip and down into the abdominal cavity, or have me lay on my side and work on lats or curl into a pretzel position with one leg thrown off the side of the table entirely. But damned if I don’t get off the table with my back feeling supple and content. She might never touch a back muscle, and she gets them to loosen.

The location of the pain just never seems to be a good identifier of where the problem is… unless you know enough to know how pain refers.

Oddly, this is NOT just a physical thing. Regina, the ace biofeedback counselor, hears about a problem and the first thing she does is ignore it for now and start fishing around for what ELSE is going on… and DAMN. She’s RIGHT. I’d totally lost track of THAT stressor because THIS one was using up all my oxygen.

In fact, Regina has asked me to be aware of certain patterns. When I find myself in the grocery store up to my elbows in the ice cream case, I’m to ask myself what else is going on in my life that I suddenly can’t resist either Ben or Jerry. And she’s right. I’m almost always able to identify something that’s eaten up all my will power or discipline or internal strength that I hadn’t even considered when the gravitational pull of organic Greek whole milk no sugar plain yogurt is suddenly so weak that I veer abruptly away and into the frozen desserts section.

So I offer you this for your consideration: Very often, the location of the pain is only distracting you from the actual problem. Something to be aware of.

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 3.14.07 PM

Here, Xenia Onatopp demonstrates an excellent adductor magnus exercise.










Barbara is very subtle with her phone when we run. She holds it in her hand so very casually – nothing to see here.

Of course, I know she sets the timer when we leave Body Dynamics (Falls Church, VA). She’s mapped out a loop that is “about a mile” (this is the kind of statement that defines the difference between a marathon runner and a professional couch-sitter. I have not yet grabbed her by her slim, strong shoulders and shaken her with the mass of my far larger body, shouting “MORE than a mile? Less? Tell me precisely. I NEED TO KNOW” but that may yet be coming…).

She starts the timer at the corner; if you’re not watching, you’ll miss that she’s doing anything at all.

Today I ran a little farther than last time; I’m down to three (or is it four?) spells of walking in between plodding along. My endurance is definitely increasing, but I think my speed is slowing down. (Of course; I know it’s going to be longer until I allow myself to walk again.)

“Soldier, I’ve noticed that you’re always last.”  “I’m pacing myself, sir.” From the Book of “Stripes” – the wisdom of Bill Murray.

When we got back to the “about a mile” corner, THIS time Barbara acknowledged the timer she held. “Fourteen minutes! That’s almost a minute faster!”

(Barbara sometimes puts on Facebook the training runs or actual races she does; she regularly maintains a pace of eight-minute miles over such long distances that if you were following her in a car you’d need to pull over and get gas, so for her to be pleased with a 14-minute pace just proves how exceptionally kind and encouraging she is.)

I was pleased with the feedback. I can’t yet run for a solid mile, but I think that day is coming… and I don’t think a 14-minute mile is much to be proud of, but it’s far better than it was a few months ago. So I got my feedback today, and found it edible.

Then, because sessions with Barbara are 60 minutes long, I had to do another three-quarters of an hour with her in the gym. This seems unfair; my instinct is that if I manage to get across “about a mile” of distance, I should immediately be shown to a soft couch and handed the remote control; isn’t that enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all?

But no. Today we worked on squat-type exercises, while I dripped with sweat. (I astonish myself with my profound sweatiness during exercise. I’m surrounded by people who are also working out; they have perfectly dry skin and look lovely. I’m red-faced and sometimes the beads of sweat amass so much matter that they go rolling down my face to splash disgustingly on the mat or bench or whatever. Who knew I was so sweaty??)

Barbara had me focus on stepping up onto a bench while my weight was in my HEEL. (This is my cheat: Everything for me is a quad exercise. I stand on my toes. If you stand on your heel, you have to use your glutes. After a lifetime of toe-standing, my quads are mighty and my glutes are astonished at the exercises they’re being asked to accomplish. It’s a constant battle.)

The fact that she’d strapped a broad belt around my hips (exactly like the Yves Saint Laurent Russian Peasant styles of the late 1970s, but with a pendulous belly) and hooked me to resistance made the action far more challenging than simply stepping up. We did this for two or three years, interspersed with some triceps exercises and some modified push-ups.

When the governor finally called and offered me the reprieve (that is, the clock finally ticked over to noon), Barbara said “You’re done. How do you feel?”

“Glad we’re finished!”

She gave me her Barbara smile, and it suddenly occurred to me: SHE needs feedback, too – and more than me simply bitching with every new exercise.

“And,” I added, “We worked out muscles that I would NEVER have gone near, and when I’m 80 I know I’ll be grateful to you – so let me thank you 22 years in advance. I’m going to feel great!”

“THAT’S what I was hoping for,” she grinned.

So today’s lessons are: (1) Weight in your heels. And (2) everyone benefits from feedback.

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 3.58.05 PM

“We all have one thing in common: We were all STUPID enough to sign up for this.”



Barbara held her cupped hand at about chin height and her other fist an inch or two below, like someone trying (but failing) to make the “Ultraman” gesture – or a combo of the black power salute with a “hide your light under a bushel” movement.

“This is your hip socket,” she said of her cupped hand, “and this is your femur.”

She waggled the vertical forearm.

“If your hip socket is perfectly aligned to factory specifications, it fits in such a way that you can do squats while standing on your toes.”

(Barbara, my guiding star and primary trainer at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA, didn’t use the “factory specs” language; she said all this in trainer-speak – but the message got through even if the words fell useless beneath the crushing weight of my ignorance.)

Then she began to wiggle things. Her fist came a little forward below her cupped hand, and then back; it went from side to side – and she began to rotate her wrist so sometimes I could see her fingers and sometimes the side of her hand.

“But not every femur head fits into the hip socket in the same way. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can move, you can bend, you can do all the things you’re supposed to be able to do with a ball-and-socket joint. But if your hip is a bit different, maybe you can’t do things on your toes without your knees hurting.”

A light went on in the dim, cobwebby reaches of my brain. (My brain looks a bit like an attic crawlspace. I don’t go up there much; it’s kind of hot, and only a few cross-boards indifferently laid protect me from plunging through the ceiling if I misstep when walking from rafter to rafter.)

“So if I’m hunkered down on my haunches and go to stand up…”

“Can you hunker with your feet flat, like kids can?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Then your knees are going to hurt.”

“They DO hurt!”

She nodded. Barbara has an uncanny understanding of body movement; she’s a savant even without the evidence of working with me for the last year and a half. She knew I couldn’t get up from a crouch comfortably; she’s seen me go through my giraffe-at-the-watering-hole movement to go from the floor to standing.

(Do you know that move? Get on your hands and knees and push one leg out straight behind you. Follow with the other one until you’re in an ugly version of down dog. Walk your hands towards your feet until your weight is back far enough to stand up. Lions would definitely attack during this very ungainly series, were there any lions running loose in the Washington, DC suburbs. Nature abhors a vacuum; I feel sure there will be soon packs of wild dogs preying on pudgy women with misshapen hip sockets as they struggle to regain verticality.)

All of this explained why my knee had argued with me while I was working out with Grace, who is a ballet dancer of such extraordinary suppleness that she could do the giraffe-at-the-watering-hole move and you’d burst into spontaneous applause at her beauty.

“So people who DO have factory-spec hip sockets…”

Barbara nodded to encourage the line of thought.

“…they become dancers?”

Barbara did a few classic pliés. “They can do this all day long. They DO do this all day long. But it hurts MY knees.”

This made me feel absurdly better. I can’t stand up from a crouch without feeling vulnerable to the attack of a predator (or the humiliation of sticking my posterior too far into someone else’s space)… but no-one could possibly expect me to share joint structures with professional dancers. It’s not a moral failing; it’s just the way the bones are formed. Yay!

The next day, I met with Grace again and explained to her that I needed to do her exercises in positions where my heels were down. Grace looked at me with great affection. “Your heels WERE down when your knees were hurting – remember?” “Oh, hell.”

The moral of the story? I have no idea. Just that trainers know SO MUCH MORE than me; I am astonished I tried for so long (and with so little success) to be healthy without a guide!

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 2.26.11 PM

Ultraman, not at ALL doing the cupped-hand-with-raised-fist gesture. Image may be subject to copyright laws. Like I need another reason to feel paranoid about stealing blog photos.

228 Pounds


Yesterday I happened upon a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. This is a beautiful woman with innate grace; she moves like an athlete. Predisposed as we all are by evolution to favor attractive people, you’d like her immediately. (You’d be right to do it, too – she’s very nice.)

She was pleasingly complimentary about my progress in achieving a healthier body; that was nice. Then I asked her how she was doing with not running.

(This is how different she and I are; she loves to run. It makes her feel right. She’d run in the blazing steam bath that is Virginia in summer; you’d HAVE to love it to do that.)

She found out about a year ago that her hip was wearing out; her doctor forbade any more running. It was a shock for her, and even though I would have greeted such a pronouncement with barely suppressed glee, I can see that it would be a terrible state of affairs for her.

“Awful,” she said, “I can’t bear it. Do you know? I weigh almost 170 pounds.”

She swallowed the words, as if they tasted particularly nasty in her mouth. I heard the self-contempt, and THAT I recognized.

“I weigh two-thirty,” I replied. Success – she was fully distracted.

“Now?” she asked incredulously. “You weigh two-thirty NOW?”

“Yep,” I replied. I didn’t add that I’m feeling pretty good about that weight, too, since all I have to do is look in the mirror to see that below the layer of fluffy, I’m developing a pretty ripped musculature – and muscle is heavier than fat.

So we went our separate ways, one beautiful athlete feeling bad about herself and one overweight book-reader feeling pretty good about herself. And what sense does that make?

To weigh 170 pounds isn’t a sin; in fact, it’s the golden dream of many people. She STILL looks stunning; she still moves like an athlete; she’s still a woman you’d naturally gravitate towards… but she’s decided that weighing 170 is a failure.

I respect her right to regret her weight; everyone does. But I know that our society does a pretty good job of making everyone feel crappy if they don’t look like a 17-year-old waif. Even 17-year-old waifs feel bad about themselves.

So I thought: I’m in a really safe and easy place to “come out” about my weight, and about what a body looks like when it weighs 228 pounds. It’s not at all as courageous to do so as it was for gay men to come out of the closet before this age of enlightenment (well, some gay men still risk a lot) – but it is a ghostly shadow of the same fear.

We hide our weight. We sigh over it. We roll our eyes and put ourselves down more firmly than the cattiest clutch of mean girls could ever do. And we think that 170 is failure.

So here I am, in my underwear, weighing 228 pounds. I would have committed violence at the thought of doing this when I weighed 260 (when it was ALL fat, no muscle) – but now I think I’m ready to say:

Good, decent, honorable, funny, sexy women weigh 228 pounds and even more. Your weight doesn’t have to define you. It won’t if you don’t let it. Your goal is health, not a dress size. I hope you won’t put yourself down so much any more – and I salute your good efforts.

I still don’t like to run, though.


What kind of idiot posts a picture of themselves in their underwear on the internet? Jeez, I hope this doesn’t backfire! I’m thinking less of creepy rape vans circling the block and more of someone saying “Well, we were GOING to hire you for the job, but then we saw…”