Extro-introverted

4.9.20

I always thought I was an extrovert because I can talk to anyone.

(Except handsome people, who make me feel pathetic and thick and suddenly silent.)

Whenever there was assigned seating (like at a wedding reception), my husband used to make me be the one to sit next to strangers because I could do the social chit-chat thing and then he wouldn’t have to… which annoyed me, but – yeah. I’m good at it. Still, I was always exhausted afterwards. It was such a huge psychic toll.

And now I think that what I wasn’t realizing is that I am actually a highly-chatty introvert.

Because all this time alone? I’m good with it. Social distancing feels pretty glorious to me. Sometimes people call me on the phone to check in and I find myself thinking “all right – that’s enough. I have to get back to my plans, now. Move it along.”

(Of course – let me be clear: I am among the most privileged people you’ll ever meet. I’ve already retired. My aged parents have already been gathered to their great reward. My son is robust with good health. I have ALL of the privilege and NONE of the worries of this virus, and I can at least academically appreciate that.)

But I’ve discovered that I have three friends who really and truly ARE extroverts – meaning that they get their energy and sense of self from how they interact with others.

And those three people really ARE in extremis right now.

All three are people who are driven to HELP. No matter what’s going on, their instinct is to leap up – lend a hand – offer a boost. They are all volunteers, all selfless, and all superb hosts or hostesses because they really do want to make sure their guests are happy and comfortable.

And they’re climbing the walls now. One bravely shared with me a totally out-of-character descent into actual anxiety. One is making masks with the frenzy of a fanatic. One is doing a ding-dong-ditch, leaving baskets of treats on the doorsteps of friends and running away.

My point is – the quest for good health includes MENTAL health, too – and you can probably help a little if you think of who in your friend circle is the best hostess and then call them. Talk to them. See if there’s something you can do to help – or if just talking helps to take the edge off for them. Because this shit is REAL.

I’d be violating my own philosophy if I left out a reminder that exercise creates “endogenous morphine” in the brain – a term that’s been shortened to endorphins. If you or someone you know could stand a hit of self-made morphine, try a little sweat on a regular basis. It will not only relieve your stress. It will also restore regularity to your days and give you a reason to get up and put on new clothes. MAYBE even shower – although who would know or care if you didn’t?!

I thought this meme was a cute joke until I checked in with a few people. It’s not. Really: Check on your friends. The extroverts are going through something they really, really didn’t prepare for.

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May you have peace, good karma, and ongoing health. Don’t let the cabin fever tempt you into foolish behavior; stay where you are!

 

 

Velvet

3.28.20

Today I’m wearing velvet. Because – social isolation. Who’s going to know or care?

I bought these leggings last year. They’re teal/emerald green velvet with a black leaf pattern on them. I saw them and immediately said OOOOH.

If you look at the leggings, you think of a tall, slim, blond woman – impeccably groomed, welcoming her scintillating dinner guests to her New York penthouse where they will truly appreciate the depth and palette of the wine she’s selected and discuss the latest trends in modern psychometrics.

None of that is me… but I’ve got the pants.

Gorgeous in a size two – rather more like an unfortunate sofa upholstery choice in an XXL. So I save them for Alone Time, when I can blissfully stroke my own thigh without being regarded with deep suspicion.

In this respect, SOCIAL ISOLATION ROCKS!

I know there are many, many reasons to mourn what is happening to our nation – but I find that in this, as in all things, one can only sustain TRUE fear for so long. After that, you have to calm down a little and share with others the lessons one learns to make life more regular, more endurable, more open to the possibility of joy and calm.

I have two such thoughts for you, and now that I have my velvet pants on, I’m ready to share.

FIRST: An online exercise class is EVERY BIT as annoying and sweaty and exhausting as an in-person class… and at the end, all my stress and grumpiness has been purged. Washed out in the sweat. I’m tired – but I feel better. Stronger. Like I’m ready to tackle The Next Thing, whatever that might be.

So I strongly recommend you cast about for a class you can join online. All of the Body Dynamics classes have gone virtual, and new faces are showing up and bitching with us every day – which is fun, for misery (as we know) loves her some company. The website is bodydynamicsinc.com and all the class times are Eastern Standard Time. Or find a different provider… but treat yourself to an hour of not thinking about whatever has you stressed and instead thinking about how utterly annoying Barbara is when she peers through the screen and notices that you’re totally slacking off. How does she ALWAYS know?! (Oh – that’s probably just me…)

Bonus to online classes: You hit mute while you’re working out, which means you can BITCH OUT LOUD, provided you have the breath to do so. Favorites of mine so far are “I want to stop this now” and “Oh, how many more of these do you expect me to do?” and “Christ, that’s enough abdominal work, BARBARA.”

SECOND: I did not hoard toilet paper; I wasn’t smart enough. But now that every grocery store shelf is empty, now that Amazon is telling me they can send me some in late April, now that the Charmin factory has turned to – what? Making ventilators?? Why aren’t they cranking out the white stuff, damn you?! – I’ve had occasion to wander my house and survey the supplies on hand.

I have eleven rolls. That really OUGHT to last a human quite a long time. Probably to late April. But maybe the kid is going to come home from Vermont, and how can I ration HIM the way I’m rationing ME??

So I have a bit of the wiggins about the whole thing. It’s raw panic – I know that. It’s not SENSIBLE. Still, if someone approached me on a street corner and offered to sell me a four-pack for just twenty bucks, I’d pick up a little black market bumwad and scurry home with my ill-gotten gain.

But here’s a solution I offer, in case you are similarly panicked. Amazon DOES still have Kleenex available. And if you take one Kleenex – high volume but far too soft and dissolveable to be used alone in regions of higher-than-normal moisture – and bundle it inside an outer coating of a few squares of hoarded toilet paper (like – what, eight or ten squares?), then SWEETPEA – that roll of Scott tissue is going to be on duty (or on doody) in your potty for WEEKS.

There. Don’t you feel better now? Who else is going to tell you these things?

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Smooches to you. Stay inside; wash your hands; put on your velvet pants. Share your solutions, if you care to!

And Why Not?!

3.22.20

There you are, sheltering in place – doing your part for America and being a tiny cog in the impressive, patriotic, citizen-led effort to flatten that curve.

You don’t want to ADD to YOUR curves while you’re doing it, do you??

Believe me – I know. All nesting instincts are coming to the fore, and when we nest, we lay in the body fat that will see us through the INEVITABLE APOCALYPTIC HELLSCAPE RUN RUN RUN YOU FOOLS.

Cookies and ice cream are just so EASY now!

But you know that’s not good for your body – even if it’s good for your soul.

So eat the ice cream AND join me on Thursday at 10 am (EST) for Barbara’s “Better Balance” class. Body Dynamics has opened their virtual version up to any who want to join online. And why not you??

Go to https://bodydynamicsinc.com/

Go to “Small Group Training”

Pick the date (Thursday, March 26)

Register for Better Balance at 10.

They may ask you to become a member, but go ahead and do it; they don’t sell names and you won’t suddenly be getting emails from people you’ve never heard of.

In person, the classes are $19, but they’ve lowered the price to $15 for the online version. And there are a million ways to cheat so the class isn’t as hard as it ought to be… although from last week’s experience, I can tell you that Barbara will frequently stop demo-ing the movement we’re supposed to be doing and will get right up in her computer’s camera to eyeball the tiny screens of all the people who have joined.

Then her enormous face, filling my laptop screen, says “Pru, ribs down,” or “Marty, you’re shifted to your left foot,” or “Use your abs, Rosemary.”

A tiny screen – like a postage stamp – and she’ll STILL know when you’re cheating. Sigh.

Come on and grunt and bitch and complain with me. After you finish, I promise your heart will be lighter.

(And no – you won’t be able to hear me; we all put our microphones on mute. For this week I’m thinking about making signs that I can hold up on popsicle sticks that say HOW MANY MORE BARBARA and JEEZ YOU’RE KILLING ME BARBARA and one that just says UGH. Watch for them!)

In this photo, you can see Barbara showing us what to do, and Gabby (another excellent BDI trainer) looking like she’s about to rebel. Gabby was supposed to represent the class in bitching, but she wasn’t nearly as vocal as we are when we’re in that room grumbling. You can also see at the bottom left – my sleek, fit torso (bulging, as usual) taking the photo. Any excuse to avoid the exercise!

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I’m a big fan of the Liberal Redneck, Trae Crowder – who often closes his comedic videos with the phrase “Love you like chicken.” But in these exciting times, allow me please to alter that for the occasion:  Love you like toilet paper!

 

 

 

Laundry

3.18.20

I’ve discovered the GREATEST DAMNED THING about this social isolation stuff:

If – and I’m not saying this is you, but it might be – IF you have been neglecting your regular schedule and the laundry hasn’t been done (and why should it, since you’re clearly spending all your days dressed in your jammies anyway)…

…then you know who cares if you fish nasty old gym clothes out of the bottom of the laundry hamper to work out in?

NO ONE, THAT’S WHO.

Because online, no one can smell your screams.

(And of course you pick your retread-clothes from the BOTTOM; those clothes have had longer to cure. Perhaps the smelly bits have gotten old and fallen off.)

I had this brainstorm when the amazing Body Dynamics Gym in Falls Church, VA began offering training sessions online. Barbara, the world’s most astonishingly insightful and valuable personal trainer, sent me an email. We’ll meet on Tuesday at 11, like normal, but online.

Ew. I thought I’d managed to escape the question of health. “Can’t come in, so sorry, social distancing.” They were having none of it.

And EW. I haven’t done the laundry.

But… okay. I offer offense to no one but my own nose when I dress in the Garments of the Unclean. So let’s give this a try.

The video link worked beautifully. Even better, occasionally needing to move my iPad (so Barbara could see what I was doing) turned out to be an EXCELLENT procrastinatory technique. I’m not panting in desperation; I’m moving the camera. There – is that better? Hm. Maybe a little bit more here? Wait – I’ll try it over here…

If you know anything of Barbara, you’ll not be surprised to learn that she was STILL correcting my form from miles away. I’m amply padded, I wear a deliberately baggy shirt to mask the padding, I was in an indifferently-lit basement on an older-model iPad camera, and STILL Barbara was saying “pull your ribs down” and “where are your headlights” and “lift up through your pelvis.”

Now, maybe you’ll say that Barbara now knows me so well that she’s anticipating (not actually witnessing) when I’m cheating – but I don’t think so. We did all kinds of new exercises since my on-hand equipment is different from BDI’s. And she knew.

She always knows.

Today I worked out with Chip online, and that, too, was excellent and hard and DAMN IT I want to go back to bed! (So – in other words, successful. Can a work-out be judged as valuable if it does not include a little bitching, a little regret?) He said I was his first video client, which confused me. Aren’t we ALL supposed to be sheltering in place? Isn’t that the point of healthy people like me staying home? I’m doing what little I can to ensure the doctors and nurses aren’t hopelessly overwhelmed in the weeks to come. It has nothing to do with ME.

So why are all Chip’s clients still going in?

One of us is a sucker and a fool, and I hope it isn’t me…

I have two lessons, boys and girls. They are these:

  1. People who exercise regularly – even those with ample padding and the need for deliberately baggy – and possibly smelly – gym clothes are BETTER POSITIONED TO SURVIVE THE VIRUS. If I get it, I’ll recover more rapidly because my general health is good. And that’s because of Barbara and Chip and Gwynn and Tracey and Gabby and all the big-brains at Body Dynamics. So thank you all!
  2. If you’ve ever wished that you, too, could attend Barbara’s Balance Class – next week, Body Dynamics will be opening up her class to anyone who wants to attend online. In person, the class costs $19; I don’t know what or how they’ll charge for her class during the virus – but what else do you have to do? Thursdays at 10 Eastern. (Not tomorrow; they can’t start it until next week.)

If you’re wondering if #2 is right for you, please go back and reread #1. Come on in – the water’s fine. And you can’t smell me from there!

IMG_0945By the way – just to make the point: I am DIGGING all this social isolation, unlike most people. I’m writing a romance. It’s cranking along at about two chapters a day, and I am THRILLED with the world I’m creating. I cannot too strongly encourage you to write something – or paint something – or choreograph something. Create, my friend. It passes the time and engages the brain most bigly. Onward!

Feline Fascia

2.29.20

I JUST FIGURED IT OUT.

Like all cats, mine loves to join me at the desk. If I’m working at the computer, she’s almost always nearby.

Sometimes REALLY nearby.

As I type this, she has her little cat butt snugged up against the “return” side of the keyboard and her tail is just barely twitching as it lies across the number keys. I can’t hit the delete button without getting her right at the base of her tail, which would annoy the hell out of me, but she seems to like it.

But her really, truly favorite place to lie is across my forearms.

I’ve developed great wrist muscles because so often I’m typing with a large cat holding my hands to the desk.

Why don’t you throw her off?, you ask. Why indeed. She LOVES to be thrown off; it makes her rush back to me with even louder purrs. Do it again! Do it again! I’m just going to lie right here…

She’s fully capable of stretching out over both arms. She LOVES stretching out over both arms. If I should lift one arm – say, to scratch my nose because some random cat hair is floating on the air and tickling me – she remains draped over my arm like a large, warm, purring dead thing. She hangs there until I lower my arm again, at which point she lifts her head just enough to not be smacked into the desk.

It looks HORRIBLY uncomfortable, and yet she’ll lie there for hours.

HOURS.

And just this evening it occurred to me what she was doing.

Like me at myofascial stretch class – draped unwillingly over a foam roller and very definitely not purring – my cat is loosening fascial restrictions in her abdomen.

Ah. Now I understand.

I think cats must have very pliant fascia.

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This is Selma. She is purring like an engine.

The “No”

2.28.20

It’s the societal gift that keeps on giving: The broader the waistline, the heavier the burden of guilt you carry.

It’s almost impossible to avoid it. People who are overweight don’t just feel bad for how they look – they also feel huge guilt for how they DON’T look. And yes, those are two different things – because regret is bad, but shame is corrosive.

So once I make a plan to recapture my health, I must not only find the strength to change long-ingrained habits… I also have to overcome the shame and fear that I’ll screw this up AGAIN. Won’t keep up with it – won’t remember how long real change takes – won’t have the fortitude and sisu to keep going when the SIT DOWN gene proves dominant over the GET UP gene.

In the middle of this constant, epic warfare being waged deep in the lizard part of my brain, I came down with a cold.

No, it’s not the coronavirus. I ain’t afraid o’ no COVID-19! No, this was just a run-of-the-mill cold. Scratchy throat, low energy, a mighty freight of fluids where fluids should not be (my nose is raw from all the blowing and wiping).

Every single human in the world has worked through a cold. Most simply have no choice. You feel crappy, but the work has to get done. Yes, maybe you’ll infect co-workers and that’s a shame, but if the bills have to be paid, then you saddle up and stuff fistfuls of Kleenex in every pocket.

But not me. I’m fortunate enough to have retired. No nine-to-five for me. The only thing I had on my schedule for Monday… and Tuesday…. and Wednesday… were appointments with Barbara and Tracy and Chip and the geniuses at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA.

(Oh – and also a visit to the oral surgeon who put in one of my molar implants; he wants to conduct something called a “torque test” which involves him putting a tiny little screwdriver into my mouth – I envision one of those little hex wrenches from Ikea – to tug on the implant and see if he can shift it in the bone or not. That’s bizarre and kind of creepy and also very cool; I’m sort of longing to see what THAT feels like. If it doesn’t turn, it means my jaw bone has healed over the screw and it will be time to hang the fake molar on the screw, and YES PLEASE, I’m sick of having no good chewing grinders; there’s a second hole waiting for a screw on the other side of my mouth too, and can this parenthetical aside go on for any longer??)

I certainly don’t want to infect those healthy people. (Or the oral surgeon; probably not as robust with good health as the trainers at BDI – on the other hand, he’ll practically be inside my mouth and it just seems rude to open wide while I’m crawling with cold germs. I’ll reschedule that guy.)

It would be humiliating to be the reason that Barbara had a red nose and had to stall her Boston Marathon training. (Every day she goes out, in freezing rain or bitter cold, to race like a gazelle across the veldt before the sun comes up; her commitment is terrifying and makes me want to take a nap immediately on her behalf.)

And what if long, lean Chip was suddenly wracked by body-jarring sneezes? Could I demand that he continue to provide guidance to unfit people while he clutches a big cardigan miserably around his graceful body?

NO.

So the only smart thing to do is to cancel the appointments, stay home, sniff and whine in the emptiness of my house, infect no one else at all. Rest. Recuperate. Guestimate just how many boxes of Kleenex I can go through. (Spoiler alert: A lot.)

BUT EPIC WARFARE IS WAGING IN THE LIZARD BRAIN. By the rocket’s red glare, we see the Shame Army rallying on a distant hill – a bold flag-holder waving a banner and screaming ONWARD YOU BASTARDS!

If I don’t work out for an entire week, aren’t I liable to simply freeze into a recumbent posture and refuse to ever get up again?? How will I pry myself from the warm embryo of the sick room to venture forth into the icy blackness of the Real World? If I stop – will I be able to start again?? Shame is shrieking: You’re a loser! You always give up! That’s why you look the way you do!! WHY DID YOU THINK THIS TIME WOULD BE ANY DIFFERENT??

Good lord. Pass the Kleenex.

I’m trusting the habits I’ve built up over the past three and a half years. I know that Barbara is likely to come to my house and drag me out by my hair if I give up now.

So I’m going to give my body time to heal… and then I’ll be back at it. It takes great courage to say “yes” to things that scare or alarm you. Sometimes it takes even more guts to say “no.”

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I know it’s sexist to say it, but it’s been my experience that most men don’t agonize over every decision this way; it seems to be a predominantly female trait to imagine bloodthirsty warfare when wondering if you should cancel an appointment with the trainer or not. I wonder… it must be so PEACEFUL to be a guy.

Restrictions

2.18.20

I lay belly-down over a foam roller, doing my best to be wet, slaggy pasta draped over a dowel.

This is, I hasten to assure you, not a comfortable position.

Think of it. You’re lying prone on a mat. Your hands are crossed under your head. The goal is to simply be – to feel gravity pulling you down. This is not a high-sweat exercise…

…but alas, under the softest, most vulnerable part of your belly is a six-inch round, three-foot-long hard cylinder. The soft and fluffy word “foam” in the foam roller’s name is A DAMNED LIE.

This was myofascial stretch class at Body Dynamics. The goal is to un-thicken the fascia – this mysterious, doctor-scoffed connective tissue that only massage experts seem to understand.

What – you say you’ve never heard of fascia, much less seen it? Not so. The last time you cooked a chicken breast, you had your mitts all over the fascia – that super-thin white layer that wraps the meat. Thin… but very tough.

And fascia can get thick. Fascia DOES get thick. It should be liquid and pliable – compliant and kind. But if something is wrong (you injured a muscle; you didn’t work a muscle; you ate too much sugar AHEM), the fascia solidifies.

And fascia is EVERYWHERE in your body. It’s in your brain. It’s around every nerve, and around every nerve bundle. It’s around your muscles and IN your muscles. And like a hive mind, it’s all connected to each other. You loosen up the fascia over here – it might very well ease the tension WAY over there.

Really, it’s astonishing that medical doctors just don’t seem to be very interested in fascia. The neurologist I saw when I was diagnosed (I believe incorrectly) with Guillam-Barre disease – this smart, educated woman ROLLED HER EYES when I told her I thought I had something going wrong in the fascia. “Hm. Yes. I see,” she said and turned back to her computer, disinterested.

Doctors don’t specialize in fascia. There’s no fasciologist. They just don’t seem to care about it. It’s the strangest thing.

So – back to the foam roller. Another place where fascia is – and another place where pliant, liquid fascia can become tough and hard – is in the abdomen.  And you CAN encourage the fascia to re-liquify…

…by applying relentless pressure for three to five minutes.

So if you want to release the fascia in your shoulder, you lie on a tennis ball exactly where that is most exquisitely uncomfortable, and then you continue to lie there, trying not to watch the clock and sinking into the pain. And after three to five minutes, the fascia will give up. It will go liquid again. You’ll be able to move into that point more easily.

And abdominal fascia is no different. Hence lying painfully over the foam roller while gentle Tracey, the kind and implacable masseuse instructress, walks us through the quiet, helpless agony of the belly.

Yesterday was my first time at myofascial stretch class; I wasn’t able to last the full time on my belly – and in fact, I had to move the roller closer to my hip bones and away from all that vulnerable, squishy, strongly-objecting intestinal tangle. And it took forever to relax the abdominal muscles Barbara has spent three years building up, which were doing their damnedest to protect my viscera…

…but eventually I was stretched out flaccid and gasping over the foam roller.

What happened?

Nothing. I had to raise up on my elbows pretty quickly. Everyone needs goals – mine will be building up the tolerance to endure the foam roller grinding into my abdominal cavity.

(Surely, I thought – surely this can’t be a good idea? Should I REALLY be crushing my internal organs like this?? But that’s defeatist talk. I have become an acolyte at the church and school of fascia; I can do this. Maybe next week. PROBABLY next week.)

As she guides us through these utterly easy and brutally forceful stretches, Tracey advises us to “find the restrictions – find where you’re not moving well.” She calls these tough places restrictions because the fascia is restricting movement.

And as I lay there grimacing, I decided I just LOVED that word. It implies that it’s not ME who’s been too lazy to remain fit and limber – it’s that pesky fascia that must be brought back into line. It’s been RESTRICTING me, damn it!

Why, if it wasn’t for the fascia holding me back, I’d probably be playing beach volleyball in a tight Lycra shirt and boy-short underwear. Yeah. Those fascial restrictions have a LOT to answer for!

So now I’m thinking about my health challenges (like – OH MY GOD WHO COULD POSSIBLY LIKE TO RUN THIS IS THE UTTEREST HELL I COULD SUMMON AN UBER IN TWO MINUTES SHALL I? WHY NOT??) in terms of what is restricting me – not as much in terms of what I’m failing at.

It’s a simple change… but powerful. Like a myofascial stretch.

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O if only I didn’t have fascial restrictions – this would be me. Don’t you see??

Dowager

2.15.20

What kind of old lady are you planning on being?

(I understand that occasionally a non-female casts an eye over this blog; I apologize for my gender-based lead. It’s safe to keep reading; there are no discussions of ovaries or menstruation or the detritus that winds up at the bottom of the purse that makes the mens so uncomfortable.)

As far as I can tell, you can be the terrifying, revered old lady who masterminds plots and overthrows governments. Judi Dench in the Bond movies. (You know – before they bumped her off, of course.)

Or you can be hunched over and sweet, toddling around offering butterscotchies from the depths of a capacious handbag and pinching the cheeks of long-suffering grandchildren.

Me, I have a hankering to stride around the retirement community, smelling vaguely of chlorine from lap-swimming and signing up for all the trips to the Kennedy Center. I want a vigorous old age. More, I want a comparatively SUPPLE old age.

So when Barbara and Chip combined their superpowers to expand my thoracic flexibility, I was wide-eyed in eager astonishment.

Let’s review the bidding: Barbara and Chip are both trainers at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, Virginia – a remarkable place. I see two trainers there each week – Barbara (a guru) works on the global muscles and Chip (a former dancer who, despite his history, remains grounded and charming if somewhat in the Torquemada tradition) works on the stabilizer muscles… and they talk to each other. It’s terrifying; there are aspects of my body that they know far better than I do.

And as for thoracic flexibility, that’s the part of your spine you didn’t realize was supposed to bend that way.

(I adore the word “thorax.” That’s something that only bugs have – as intoned by Mr. Domizio in tenth grade biology. “This is the abdomen of the beetle; this is the thorax. Pru – pay attention! What did I just say?” “Ummm…?”)

When the handsome man sweeps you into a graceful waltz (you living a more exciting life than me), his hand is resting on your lumbar spine. That part of the backbone curves inward.

When he slides his hand beneath your hair to your neck to draw you in for that first dewy kiss, he’s caressing your cervical spine. (He’s an anatomical kind of guy – so romantic.)

(He gets to the sacrum later that night – that’s between you and him.)

Betwixt the cervical and the lumbar is the largest part of the backbone – the thoracic spine. It curves outward. All your chest muscles are hooked to it; it feels stable and powerful. And in my experience, it’s not an area that gives the body a lot of problems.

My husband had a grave affliction between his lumbar and sacral spine that caused him to bitch a lot about his bad back – many people have this issue, I’ve discovered. That part of the spine needs an upgrade in Human 2.0 – there are design flaws in the current program.

And problems with the cervical spine – as when you’re put into a cervical collar – are The Big Bad.

But the thorax? It just goes about its business, immobile and stoic. Giving no one any problems. Slowly, slowly over the years hunching ever further forward.

But GUESS WHAT??

It’s SUPPOSED to bend the other way! You should be able to straighten that outward curve into a straight line (or something, at least, that feels like a straight line to me).

No, really. I know – it makes the brain hurt to consider it, doesn’t it?

I spend my life hunched over a computer. (Either that or rolling my eyes at Chip or Barbara.) My thoracic spine is helping – by curling forward. The problem is, if you curl that spine forward all the time, it loses the ability to curl back upright. The result?

Dowager hump.

Just like that – you’re not overthrowing governments; you’re fishing butterscotchies from the lint at the bottom of your bag. And that ain’t on MY agenda.

So every day, I stand with my back to the wall with a foam roller along the length of my spine. I arch backwards over the top of it. How far up, you ask?  Put the top of the foam roller EXACTLY where your spine doesn’t arch backwards.

Because what that means is that it doesn’t arch backwards ANYMORE from that spot – it used to, but it doesn’t now. You can reverse the trend, but it takes time to get flexibility back, and you can lose it again lickety-split. (Stressful days – the kind that make you ignore the exercises – conspire to pull you forward again. It’s insidious – a conspiracy. Probably created by some upright old lady with a master plan.)

I actually move the foam roller up and down. I bend backwards and hold it three times – then move the roller up a bit and do it four times – and then a final three times a little higher than that. After doing this for a few weeks, I’ve gotten to the point where I can feel a stretch in my pecs when I do it – the chest muscles. That means I’m actually bending the spine the way it no longer wants to bend. Yay, me!

The other day after hours of frantic computer-sitting, I found myself stretching my thorax. “What are you doing?” asked my astonished friend Kevin in his soft, high, gay man’s West Virginia accent. To be fair, I did look odd – like I was trying to push my breast bone to the ceiling and holding the pose in frozen concentration. “Thorax,” I said with a sigh. “Damned Barbara has loosened up a part of me that never minded a stressful day before and now I know when it’s tight again.”

Yes, I profaned the name of my Wizard of the Body, and I apologize. I make up for it by giving her full credit for enabling my world domination well into my 90s.

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This is me attempting to demo the thoracic spine stretch on the foam roller. Mostly it’s me trying to figure out how to hold the phone in one hand AND take an actual photo. The results speak for themselves. Sorry about that!

 

 

Crime of Opportunity

1.27.20

Once, I took a photo of Tommy Hilfiger.

To be clear, I did not particularly WANT a photo of Tommy Hilfiger – but I took it anyway. Because THERE HE WAS.

My husband and I were sitting with our then pre-teen son in the restaurant at the Beverly Hills Hotel – a location we had chosen BECAUSE my husband deeply wanted to scope celebrities. He happened to be sitting with his back to the table in the side room. So when I ID’ed Tommy Hilfiger (and that’s a proud moment for me, since I am a famously unobservant person), Jonathan was very excited.

“Take a picture!” he said.

“Yes! Yes, of course I will!” I was all caught up in the thrill of being near someone who was – at the time – the host of some reality TV show that we were watching.

And then the lovely hostess at the restaurant came up to me and asked me – so kindly – to delete the photos I’d just taken of a guest at her restaurant and I was simply smothered in shame. I didn’t want a photo of Tommy Hilfiger; there was nothing I was going to do with it. I had been crass and rude and horrible and I was a lowly worm.

I didn’t delete the good one, though.

The unwanted photo (suddenly *I* was the loathsome paparazzi) is a crime of opportunity. A crime that does me NO GOOD AT ALL – it is a break in my moral code. It betrays a weakness of character.

And that break happens all too often, I’m sorry to say.

A few days ago, my Body Dynamics massage with the astonishing Gwynn lined up like an astral eclipse with my standing work-out with brilliant Barbara; I had about half an hour between the two. I was sitting in the waiting area in the interval and thought – I know. I’ll go stretch some muscles in case Barbara wants to go outside and run in the icy monsoon raging in the streets.

I put my coat down on a little side table the PTs use for their computers… and there, right next to my large overcoat, was an innocent little tennis ball. Someone had been using it in their work-out and accidentally left it behind. No crime there; we’ve all walked away from equipment without realizing it.

But I had JUST had a conversation with Gwynn about fascia in the feet, and she’d advised me to roll my feet on a tennis ball for a minute or so every day – just to loosen up the fascia. And THERE WAS A TENNIS BALL.

I’m ashamed to tell you that I stuffed that tennis ball in the pocket of my coat and turned away quickly, thrilled at my daring and at the acquisition of an item I HAD NO USE FOR.

To be sure: I have a can of tennis balls sitting on a shelf in my bedroom, purchased expressly to roll out sore muscles. I did not need the tennis ball I stole.

I repeat: I did not need it. I stole it anyway. It was a crime of opportunity.

I began a calf stretch and darted a glance guiltily to my coat.

I switched legs and my brow furled. I was wrong to do that. Not only am I fortunate enough to not need to steal, but I was stealing from people who I sincerely regard as my friends. What the hell was I thinking?

And just as I was edging over to my coat to retrieve my ill-gotten loot, Barbara appeared and wondered what I was doing – so I had to explain why I was pulling a tennis ball from the pocket of my coat. She looked at me as if I was insane – which, yes, please? May I plead temporary insanity?

I left that ball where I found it and did not take it – but I was a bit shaken by the experience. I’m almost sixty, for Pete’s sake. Wouldn’t you think I’d have learned that just because you CAN take it doesn’t mean you SHOULD take it??!

And then – o, my friend… who can resist the crime of opportunity??

That very evening I’d gone to Panera to pick up my dinner – a nice, healthy salad. (Okay, a sandwich and a bowl of soup; don’t judge me.) (At least, don’t judge me for my menu choice!)

The crowds were thick around the to-go area, and a woman in front of me finally lost her temper. To be fair, she not only had a small child with her but could prove by her receipt that she’d been waiting 25 minutes for her food. I know that because she made it very clear to everyone around her. The people behind the counter ducked their heads like battle-hardened soldiers and kept working.

She finally got her food and left, only to return. I need my DRESSING!

I had empathy for her; she just wanted to get out of there with her child. The place was busy. We all snap from time to time, and the experience made me grateful that I wasn’t starving, didn’t have a small child with me, wasn’t expected at home at any particular time. I waited stolidly in the crowd and practiced keeping a neutral pelvis while I stood tall.

And when I got home with my dinner… GREAT GOOGLY-MOOGLY! Someone behind the counter either got my order wrong or wanted to silently thank me for my patience… because in the bag was a cookie the size of a dinner plate.

God damn it.

Now I was on the horns of a dilemma. I’ve been pretty successful in managing my sugar; I’m going with two no-sugar days followed by a day in which I can have a treat… and the Day of the Accidental Cookie was, actually, a treat day – but I was going with my sisters to the spa at the Hotel Hershey, where chocolate is a constant presence. I was saving up my treat day for a spa blow-out.

(Honestly – a cup of hot cocoa… or six… while dressed in nothing but a heavenly robe in a room that ought to be the study of a British nobleman, complete with crackling fireplace, leather armchairs, and near-silent attending servants… THAT is my idea of a spa!)

But here was this cookie. GOD wanted me to have this cookie. Who was I to say no??!

What to do, what to do… This was a crime of opportunity. I didn’t ask for the cookie – I didn’t WANT the cookie. I had plenty of food to eat, and a good reason to NOT eat the cookie. If I ate the cookie, it was Tommy Hilfiger and the tennis ball all over again. I was old enough to know better.

I ate it, of course.

It was lemon. Really, really tasty.

You can gird your loins for the challenges you know are ahead. You can make a plan and stick to it. You can be the most moral person in the world… and suddenly life will present you with irresistible temptation.

The only thing I can think is: you have to pick yourself up and keep going. Not only is tomorrah anuthah day, Scarlett – but TODAY is another day. Keep trying to be good. Keep trying to resist. Sometimes you return the tennis ball and sometimes you eat the cookie.

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Sorry I took your photo, Mr. Hilfiger. I don’t even know where it is anymore. And – quite horribly – I now realize that because I’m lifting this image without permission from Google Images, I’ve AGAIN taken your photo improperly. Sigh. I just can’t win with you, can I??!

 

Measure

1.20.20

I’VE NOTICED (she said with stern significance) that it tends to be VERY LEAN PEOPLE who insist you can eat whatever you want as long as you control your portion size.

I ask your indulgence as I reply to all the lean people worldwide: That’s just bullshit.

I know all the “portion size” tricks. Oh, they say – you can eat as much steak as would fit on the palm of your hand. Or – whatever you get at a restaurant, just eat half of it. Or – use a smaller bowl – a smaller spoon – a smaller mindset.

Twixt thee and me, darling, I am going to eat the steak that is served to me. That’s just all there is to it. If I eat half of my portion at a restaurant, then I’m left looking mournfully at the congealing, lonely food left on my plate for the eternity of time required until my dining companions have joined the joyful ranks of the Clean Plate Club, at which point a waiter or waitress will regard me with deep suspicion if I don’t want those icy remnants boxed up to take home. Really – I’m just going to throw it out when I get home; why don’t we skip the Styrofoam and head straight for the garbage?

As for smaller bowls and smaller spoons – who, pray tell, do you think you are kidding? My mind and my stomach are not at all fooled by this.

So I think we need a different kind of “measure” to determine the tiny daily nutritional victories that will ultimately lead to better health. For instance:

I’m trying to dial back the control that sugar has on my soul – but it’s really important that I don’t OMIT sugar from my meals because I have always had an all-or-nothing mentality. I can avoid sugar entirely with great success… until I fail. At which point, all effort ceases. I do NOT get back up on the horse. Well, that’s done. Pass the cookies.

So I’m going with the advice of Chip, the wise nutritionist at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA – who says: Eat 80% of your meals for fuel and nutrition; eat 20% of your meals for joy. That means that four meals out of 21 (three meals a day for a week) can have dessert… but I interpret it as a “treat” (be that what it may) once every three days.

So two days out of three are sugar-free for me… which is going pretty well since I started, oh about a week ago.

During at-home days, when I’m scrounging some kind of meal out of my empty fridge, I get to count a no-sugar day as a win… but it’s a pretty easy win. There’s just no sugar in my home. If there was some here, I would have eaten it already. I DID eat it already. This is a Safe Zone, sugar-wise.

(Well, there’s a cannister of sugar, which I use in ample quantities when I drink very large, very hot, very sweet cisterns of Earl Grey – but I’m just not drinking tea these days, so the actual raw sugar is pretty easy to resist. So far, I have not found myself snout-deep in the powder.)

The MEASURE of actual virtue can really only show up if I’m presented with the opportunity for sugar and I gracefully demur, giving a ladylike shake of my head while casting my eyes downward, indicating a very polite refusal to reconsider.

That’s a double-plus good.

The other night, my “Let’s Go Out To Dinner” crew (my sister-in-law Lura and my friend Kevin) was casting about to decide in which restaurant’s kitchen that night’s dinner might be prepared. This was my chance. “Let’s go to the Secret Garden,” I said.

Have you been? It’s this tiny restaurant in Occoquan, up a steep set of stairs. The food is good – but DARLING the desserts! Most restaurants, in my experience, are run by people who grudgingly offer desserts because they can pad bills with them. Most desserts aren’t as good as they should be…

…but someone at the Secret Garden LOVES dessert. If you order the coconut cake,  they will wheel up fully one-quarter of a cake to your table – and it’s not just incredibly ample. It’s incredibly good.

Or so I’m told. For me, coconut cake is a hard pass. Coconut – yuck. But Lura and Kevin order one piece and groan with happiness as they attempt to finish it between the two of them. I, on the other hand, order the chocolate pie which – jeezum crow. If I was a god, I’d change the “nectar and ambrosia” menu plan to “nectar and chocolate pie from the Secret Garden.”

I think it’s the crust, which is pleasingly dense and yet lovingly yielding – as if someone took a brownie with bits of toffee in it and smashed it down as flat as possible to the inside of a large pie pan before pouring in a creamy, dark chocolate filling. (Sorry – maybe I should have noted a trigger words warning first??)

And ample? Oh, my. Ample as in a pie serving – ample as in my hips.

And it’s just ONE PORTION. See, lean people? I’m watching my portion control. One piece of pie. How can you fault me for that??

Where was I?

Right. We went to the Secret Garden – but it was a no sugar day, so I sat calmly before my empty placemat while Lura and Kevin gloried in their coconut cake. I went there specifically so I could resist the chocolate pie – and then I resisted it.

And THAT, my fine friend, must be measured as a TRIPLE-PLUS GOOD for me.

Here’s the thing: When I turn down a dessert, I find I’m more likely to turn down dessert the next time it’s offered. One tiny victory breeds a second tiny victory. I can plan my treats and hold to the plan.

Keep your portion size nonsense. I’m calculating a new form of measurement.

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This isn’t the pie at the Secret Garden (I stole this photo off Google Images – no permission, so don’t tell) but that cut in the pie is the right size for a Secret Garden single serving. See that piece of pie blurry in the background? That implies a pie has eight servings. Not at the Secret Garden; a pie has FOUR servings, and I’m here to tell you that’s GLORIOUS. You know – except for the sugar part.