228 Pounds

6.1.18

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.

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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…”

Chicken

5.31.18

It’s all Chip’s fault.

I’ve been eating… not badly, but let’s say CASUALLY of late. After months of being mindful of what I ate, I’d been pretty much munching on whatever came to hand without too much thought.

(Still drinking lots of water; still exercising regularly – but why NOT have a sandwich instead of a salad? And once you hit that point, what’s a little ice cream going to hurt?)

So my guru goddess Barbara suggested I have a refresher session with the ace Body Dynamics nutritionist; a “Come To Chip,” if you will. (I won’t frown at your deities, you don’t frown at mine.)

Chip is such a nice guy. We get to talking and he makes all sorts of things seem possible. This is critical, because as you and I both know, you simply can’t make something happen if you’re sure you can’t do it – but if you are persuaded this might work, you might just pull it off.

(“Hey, Skipper! I’m up here!” “Gilligan! How are you… but you can’t fly!” “I can’t?” “No!” “Oh.” Thump.)

Chip offered me a simple challenge: I was to cook a chicken.

Nothing fancy; just buy a whole chicken and roast it. Tuck in some onions and carrots and little red potatoes around the carcass and let them roast in the goozle. It sounded so EASY. I said I’d do it.

I bought the chicken. I bought the veggies. I did NOT buy radishes, which apparently the Barefoot Contessa told Chip can be roasted with all the other vegetables. “Delicious,” pronounced Chip, and it sounded so easy. Still, there’s only so far out of my comfort zone I’m willing to go, and radishes were a step too far.

“Roasting a chicken?” said my friend Susan, “You won’t believe me, but that’s totally easy.”

“To roast a chicken,” said my son, “go online to ‘Basics with Babish: Chicken.’ It’s easy.”

So I watched an eight-minute video in which a man spay-cotched or splat-grabbed or spoof-cocked a chicken. (I don’t remember the word.) This means taking large kitchen shears and cutting the spine out of the bird. “Then we make a little snip here at the breast bone to open the bird up. We’re butterflying our chicken so it will cook faster and more evenly.”

By the end of the video, I was filled with blackness and anxiety. My shoulders had risen up around my ears, and the piece of paper I was taking notes on was filled with profanities, like “Well, what am I supposed to do with my roasting vegetables, you elegant fuck?”

Rusty came in and took one look at me and immediately hugged me. “It’s okay! You don’t have to do it! Want me to cook the chicken?”

Rusty, like every other human in his family tree, regards cooking as a little in-home adventure; he greets the concept with joy. Since he’s been home, he’s made a chicken/sausage/rice dish, and he’s twice cooked mussels succotash for his friends (the second time after popular demand). He’s fearless, and next to him – next to ANY cook – I feel small and pathetic and contemptible.

So of course I got angry. “NO!” I cried. “You will NOT cook that chicken. I will cook that damned chicken! Now get out of the kitchen, pretend you can’t see me, leave me alone!”

The “basic” recipe was utterly disgusting. I’m sure Babish, whoever he is, has kitchen shears designed for Thor the God of Thunder, as well as great big man hands – I have neither. MY kitchen shears didn’t slice through the bird quite as easily as his did in the video. I was left hacking away at rib bones and God knows what else – and you can’t put your hand out to apply stress to make the cutting easier because you’d be grabbing on to a lot of broken bones.

Once I’d hacked my way through the back of what I was determined to believe had NEVER been a living thing (two hacking passes, mind you – you have to cut on both sides of the spine, of course, to get it out), ol’ “basic” Babish told me I should reserve the spine to make chicken stock with. If a look could fry electronics, I would have killed my iPad. Straight into the refuse bag, along with the perfectly REVOLTING bag of gizzards.

Gizzards. Guh.

The purported “little snip” at the breastbone to butterfly the bird was a complete mystery; I’m more likely to uncover the lost city of Atlantis than I was to identify the location of the “little snip.” I just took both sides of the bird in either hand and applied pressure until something cracked. Do grave robbers feel this same slimy sense of horror?

Then I had to loosen the skin over the breast and along the thigh and into the drumstick, so I could “spoon in” a paste of butter and herbs. “There’s a little membrane here that we have to just get past to get in,” he said. “FASCIA,” I shouted at the screen. “I know what that is; it’s fascia, you utter butthead, and now you’re REALLY making me sick because *I* have fascia and you’d have to break through it to skim a coating of butter and herbs over my meat.”

Cooking is disgusting.

Babish was using tidy little disposable gloves to butter up his flayed chicken carcass under the skin; I didn’t have any gloves. I did it with my own lily whites, and I did it with the grim determination of the stretcher crew picking up dead bodies after the battle.

I put my desecrated bird on a wire rack on a foil-lined pan, as Babish did – and then I despairingly tucked my veggies in around the carcass, hoping at least some of the fat would drip on to them temporarily before draining through the rack to the pan below. Then I threw it in the oven.

“Forty-five minutes should do it,” Babish cheerfully assured me, “Or until the breast is 155 degrees and the thighs are 175.”

I told Rusty it was now safe to come back into the kitchen, and began the de-chickening process. (I’m paranoid about raw chicken. I’m rarely driven to actually clean; I’m a mop-clean-with-a-wet-dishcloth kind of person, but I haul out the 409 for raw chicken and clean EVERYTHING.)

After 45 minutes, the thigh was up to 180 and the breast was 145. Well, shit. NOW what?

Rusty soothingly said “Let the thighs be overcooked. You want the breast meat to come up to 155. Don’t take it out yet.”

I turned on the convection oven; that ought to help. I set the timer for four minutes.

(Why four? Why not five? Because five seemed like TOO MUCH – an amateur length of time that would result in little chicken-flavored charcoal briquets.)

At the end of four minutes, the breast meat was the same temperature, but the thighs had cooled down to 174. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT??

Four more minutes.  Then four more. By the time the 45-minute-bird had been in the oven for a full hour, Rusty and I agreed we’d just pull it out. And then what do you suppose happened?

It tasted like chicken.

I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. The vegetables were not tender and delicious; they were dessicated and lightly charred. The further we got into the chicken, the pinker it got. We began to be suspicious. “I think my stomach feels wiggy,” said the boy nervously.

“Wiggy?!” I said in a panic. “For chrissake, stop eating!”

It was nerves; we neither of us got sick – but every burp or fart was regarded with profound suspicion. We threw the whole thing out. With a certain doomsday relief, I must say.

Then we went out and bought ice cream. So all in all – backfire.

If you THINK you can’t cook, then rest assured: You can’t.

Chicken

Spatch-cocked. That was the word. Looked pretty, didn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

Count

5.20.18

I have a very firm grasp of the 26 letters. The ten digits, not so much.

In fact, the largest number I instinctively grasp is three – in that three is understandable as being “first,” “middle,” and “last.”

I’m not an idiot; I can count. I keep score at Scrabble. I can work the puzzles printed on the placemat in the local Greek family-style restaurant (the ONLY place in my life when algebra actually has value). It’s just that I’m better with letter, that’s all.

(Maybe I AM an idiot, though. I love to play blackjack, but I’ve discovered that while I can add the point value of two cards together without a thought, when that third card slaps down, my brain goes into vapor lock and addition becomes utterly impossible. Someone has to say “That’s fourteen,” for which I am pathetically grateful.)

My inability to trust numbers comes to the fore when I trot thuddingly up and down the stairs, my at-home cardio. I’m absolutely sure I’ve got the count right for the first three circuits (“first,” “next,” and “this one”), but after that I find myself beset by doubts.

Did I really count the fourth one? Or is this number five and I just THINK it’s number four?

By the time I get to seven, I’m paranoid. Maybe this is really number six. Even worse, what if this is really number EIGHT and I’m stupidly trotting up and down the stairs one time too many? Or is it TWO times too many?! God, I’m tired.

I’ve tried various methods. I’ve said the lap number out loud, telling a print of two willowy Chinese ladies on the landing how far I’ve gone. (They are above it all; sublimely disinterested in my mundane and distasteful sweating.) I’ve curled another finger into my palm at the top of the second flight, slowly forming fists as I go up and down. I’ve kept a piece of paper and a pen at the top to make a tick mark as I go flying by. (Well, not flying – but moving too rapidly for a tick mark to be anything other than awkward.)

The best method I’ve found is to gather up a handful of highlighters on my way down the stairs the first time. I leave them on a table in the basement, and every time I go up, I grab one. Just one. Then I leave it at the top. By the way, this is an exceptionally inefficient way to move highlighters from one part of the house to the other. By lap seven, I automatically think of how much more sensible it would be to gather up ALL the remaining markers and take them back upstairs together. Like – duh. Taking just one is an offense to efficiency. But I do it.

I saw a video on Facebook of actors from superhero movies working out; what those highly-paid and instinctively athletic people do regularly absolutely dwarfs my efforts, but I still find it inspirational. As I run up the stairs, I think about Hugh Jackman standing upright on top of a very large exercise ball and then squatting all the way down without falling. Jeesh. Core strength.

I think of that little Spiderman, whose workout routine is surprisingly impressive. He’s just a kid and look at what HE’s doing – damn, Sam! I can’t even explain it; it’s like he’s going up stairs that aren’t there, just hanging from two pegs.

I think of Wonder Woman doing spectacular chin-ups, and Thor in an extra-beefy body harness chaining him to the wall as he throws a medicine ball from all over a basketball court, and pretty Ryan Reynolds doing reverse crunches on an inclined plane. Oh, it’s a GOOD video.

Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool is my favorite, so the red highlighter is always the last one I run up the stairs in his honor. (Don’t tell me about Deadpool 2; my son and I had tickets yesterday and I stupidly lounged through the start. Just utterly lost track of time and missed the movie, damn it. I AM an idiot. We’ll try again tomorrow.)

I keep thinking I should assign a superhero to each color; it would give me something good to think about as I trotted. The Hulk clearly gets the green one. But then I run into Iron Man in HIS red suit, and Deadpool already owns the red one, and my lungs are full to bursting and I’m sweating and NEVER MIND just get me more oxygen – keep going.

Counting by highlighter. Whatever works.

IMG_9201Sometimes I run them up the stairs in ROY G BIV order; sometimes I grab whichever one is nearest at hand. The black one was added when Barbara made me add a tenth lap; doesn’t matter if I carry it first or middle or towards the end, I always think that the black marker lap is the extra one, and I am resentful. But it’s over soon, and my heart gets its workout and now I can go read bad novels with a clear conscience. Yay!

Hiatus

5.14.18

Truly, deeply lazy people will grab at any excuse. I know because – well, voila.

Last week I was unable to summon the energy – the determination – the sisu to make my regular Tuesday appointment with Barbara, High Wizard Trainer of the Most Glorious Order of Balance and Sweat.

NO, I said, with petulant, toddler-like determination – and unlike a toddler, I now have a foot big enough that, when planted, even Barbara cannot budge.

Instead, I wrote a whining, complaining blog post about how much exercise I’d undertaken in the last week (which, in truth, was a pretty typical week). In response, Barbara said the most glorious thing EVER – she said:

Who told you to do all that? You’re working out too hard. No wonder you’re tired.

I’m going to learn to needlepoint, and when I can do it, I’m going to needlepoint that on a long bolster pillow and then I’m going to lay that pillow across my bed and then I’m going to drape myself across the pillow and EAT BONBONS.

Barbara and I exchanged e-communications; she said she was going to revise my work-out schedule. I heaved a great, happy sigh – and then deliberately, consciously, went as silent as a bunny under the shadow of a soaring hawk. Don’t move. Not a whisker. If you move, she’ll notice!

I worked out with Grace on Wednesday, and I saw Barbara at Balance Class on Thursday; she said she was working on my revised schedule. I nodded with as little movement as possible…

…because as long as she didn’t tell me the revised schedule, I DIDN’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING.

No cardio. No jogging around the lake, no elliptical, no thudding up and down the stairs. No HEP (Home Exercise Program) – no stretching. And proving that if you give me an inch I shall most certainly take a mile or more, NO EATING RIGHT EITHER, because all efforts to live healthfully are all part and parcel of the same plan, right??

So I did not ask Barbara for the new plan. Instead I did nothing on Friday. On Saturday, I consumed most of a loaf of Snappy Sourdough but expended not one erg of energy that wasn’t absolutely necessary. On Sunday I drove fifteen hours to pick up the brat from college, and made sure to sample every fast food restaurant I went past.

(Look – they all suck. I don’t know what Body Dynamics has done to my taste buds, but I think I might rather do my taxes than eat anything from McDonalds. I’m ruined.)

And when I woke up this morning, I stood up without grimacing. The deep, growling pain from my adductor magnus is completely gone; I no longer limp for the first ten feet. My low back is flexible and happy again. If I go upstairs to get some writing done only to realize I’ve left the (now barking) dog in the back yard, I can buzz downstairs to let him in without feeling like I then need a nap.

I feel great.

I realize that leading a slothful life is bad for me long-term. I know that every idle moment now is costing me five at a time of life when I’m going to be REALLY interested in avoiding the grim reaper. I’m aware that flexibility and strength is important enough to work for…

…but a three-day hiatus is some kind of delicious.

And now I can share all this with Barbara so as we revise my schedule tomorrow, we can make intelligent choices about what I can and can’t – and could but shouldn’t – do in my quest for improved health.

And we’ll have that conversation tomorrow, at our regularly-scheduled Tuesday appointment, when I shall take up again the burden of health. I’m not giving up. But I think I’m a little smarter now, about moving forward not just for today but also in creating a plan I can live with every day.

Including the occasional hiatus!

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This is a photo of hyacinth. The words “hyacinth” and “hiatus” don’t even share the same roots, but somehow they’re associated in my mind. A hiatus sounds like a fresh, small, purple bloom amid lush greenery. Glorious but low, holding close to the ground and hiding from the shadow of the hawk’s wing. Deliciously scented, fleeting in bloom, something to be treasured. Ah, spring!

Coping

5.9.18

Regina uses the word “THREAT.” That’s an attention-getter, isn’t it?

A threat is something you don’t ignore. A threat is a hulking guy on a dark street, moving towards you with a purpose. A threat is the smoke detector going off with shocking, ear-shattering suddenness. A threat is something rustling the leaves RIGHT THERE where? THERE I don’t see anything I KNOW WHAT I HEARD I’M LEAVING it’s your backyard, you live here SHUT UP.

I have very definite notions of what a threat is – but Regina, with her training and decades of experience, has a broader definition.

(Regina is my biofeedback counselor at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA. I went to her at first because as I drew closer to the first anniversary of my husband’s death, I’d begun to forget things and go mildly crazy; Regina helped. A lot. But I stayed because her insights are like flipping the switch on the Las Vegas strip, and suddenly something dark and a little dull is lit up and flashing and moving and hoochie-coochie girls are doing a razzle-dazzle over the main doorway, and that seems like a USEFUL thing to have happen every Friday, yaknow?)

I was thinking about the concept of a threat because a friend of mine mentioned in passing that he was – as he put it – planning on applying a little 420 in response to a stressful situation. (Or he said something like that; I don’t exactly remember. I’ve always been too much of a nerd to be in the know on pot culture.)

(Jonathan, the dead husband, used to say that in high school, the code was “Is she cool?” That meant – is she likely to hang out in a nearby stand of bamboo and furtively smoke a joint with us? By this definition, I was most certainly NOT cool.)

Where was I? Trapped by parenthetical thoughts…

Right. My friend was going to take the edge off a situation with a puff or two of chemical relaxation.

So I was thinking about stress – about how everyone has a coping mechanism of one kind or another. Maybe you smoke pot or cap off your day with a glass or wine or stein of beer. Maybe you bite your nails or pick at your feet. Maybe you buy containers of Ben and Jerry’s with no intention whatsoever of making it last for more than the twenty minutes it will take to get you home from the grocery store and to the nearest spoon.

Barbara, my genius trainer at Body Dynamics, points out that exercise is an outstanding stress-reliever, and she’s right – but somehow I don’t crave half an hour of cardio as much as I crave potato chips and a good reading lamp when I’m overwhelmed by my day…

I had a point, didn’t I? I did. It was the dawning understanding that Regina would say any response you make to STRESS is actually a response you make to THREAT.

That changes the perception a little, doesn’t it? Responding to a threat is something immediate; you HAVE to do it. But every person on the planet believes – no, knows – that the presence of stress in your life is just something that’s there; like you have to eat every few hours and you’ll need a bathroom eventually and your neck muscles are tired by the end of the day from the tension created by holding back the urge to DECK THAT CREEP WITH A QUICK LEFT TO THE JAW.

We live with stress; we let it build up and we tolerate it… or we THINK we do. But really: Stress is a source of threat, and you have to respond to it. You DO respond to it. Maybe it’s getting mildly buzzed or maybe it’s eating something or maybe it’s staying up far too late because THAT at last is time that YOU control…

… but if you think you’re not responding to the stress in your life, then you’re fooling yourself.

That’s sort of interesting, isn’t it?

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“Coping.” The other definition of the word is from carpentry or masonry; it’s the decorative top of a wall. See how much you’re learning?

 

 

 

 

The Ol’ Stiff Leg

5.8.18

My sister-in-law had a schipperke named Scout.

A schipperke, if you don’t know, is a small, black dog that looks like a heraldic lion. They’re fierce and loyal and renowned for their stubbornness. And Lura’s dog added to an extremely strong personality by refusing to believe she was a dog; Scout knew that she and Lura were both ladies, and ladies of impeccable quality at that.

Lura would take Scout for a walk. Unable to access the crown in civilization’s glory (the flush toilet, of course), dogs view their walks with delight. But there were times after Scout had been for a short walk when she would decide the walk was over now.

Lura would find herself standing a few feet ahead of her dog, her arm and a long leash stretched behind her to a tiny dog with planted feet, arguing with about twenty pounds of determination.

Lura said you could plead or sweet-talk or threaten – or you could do the dog trainer trick of refusing to notice; just keep walking and the dog will follow the pack leader.

No. Nope. Not Scout. “She just gives me the ol’ stiff leg.” Lura would find herself literally dragging a small dog down the sidewalk like a dead weight at the end of a rope. This is not good for the dog OR for the neighborhood reputation.

I had occasion to think of the frustration of the ol’ stiff leg last night at three in the morning.

My adductor magnus has been as tight as a banjo string of late. This muscle, from knee to pubic bone, has been tormenting me and the wizards who train me have given me exercises to persuade it to relax a tad, but every time I sit down for a few minutes, it tightens up again and I have to limp and wince for five or ten feet when I stand to walk again.

My low back muscles are overwhelmed by something, and if I forget to hold my transverse abdominus tight like steel, I also wince during the process of standing up. Or sitting down.

I’m physically tired and have no energy.

And it was three in the morning and I still hadn’t gone to sleep. My standing appointment with Barbara today was at 11AM – eight hours away.

My spirit gave me the ol’ stiff leg.

Didn’t matter that I love working out with Barbara. Didn’t matter that the day is sunny and pleasant and lacking in the humidity that slows me to a crawl – perfect weather, in other words, to stagger around our run-walk-run loop. Didn’t matter that I have a new running skirt and am just about brave enough to wear it in public.

No. Nope. Not Pru. My willpower planted its stubborn little lion-like paws and refused to be budged. Not going. Not going to do it. No.

I emailed Barbara at three in the morning and told her I was going to skip our session. (And I forgot to email Grace to say I was going to miss stretch class after that, too – but I sure did miss it.)

It did not make me feel BETTER to give up; I felt a lot of shame. But I was also able to get to sleep. And I’ve been napping all day. I’d be napping right now if the dog hadn’t decided he was having a barf-fest, and ever since the Dog Butter Incident required not one but two rugs to be sent out for professional cleaning, I’m inclined to leap out of bed and give in when he utters that “I’m gonna york if you don’t hurry” bark.

Last Tuesday I ran a mile with Barbara.

Last Wednesday, I went for 11 minutes on the elliptical.

Last Thursday, I sweated through Barbara’s Balance Class.

Last Friday, I ran a mile and a half.

Last Saturday, I had a day off.

Last Sunday, I ran up 20 flights of stairs.

Yesterday I repeated the 20 flights of stairs.

Today I came to a halt, like a dog on the sidewalk refusing to go even one step farther.

No forward progress today. No cardio. No home exercise program.

I’m really hoping this vacation will refill my sisu reservoir. As Cole Porter said, my “will” is strong, but my “won’t” is weak. Hoping for more gumption tomorrow.

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This is the most stubborn dog on the planet. It is a good representation of the stubbornness that overcame me at three in the morning. No. Nope. Not gonna.

 

 

Check Lists

5.4.18

Embarrassing but true: I base most of my understanding about the lure of running on the movie “What Women Want.”

You’ve seen it, haven’t you? Mel Gibson is stricken with the ability to hear what women are thinking; ho-ho, how funny. Women – what can you do.

(To its credit, the movie does NOT drum up an ancient Aztec curse or a wise Chinese crone or anything to explain this, which I appreciate. It just happened, okay? Get over it.)

(And also – I’d feel a lot more comfortable citing this movie if Mel hadn’t turned out to be such an immense dick, because it really is a good movie, with Frank Sinatra and Bette Midler and Helen Hunt looking particularly lovely.)

(Where was I? Oh – running.)

So Mel reads the minds of women all around him and creates the world’s best advertisement for Nike. “The road doesn’t care if you dress sexy. The road doesn’t care if you make more money than it does. All it wants is for you to pay it a visit from time to time.” And that was the only visualization I could ever get my brain around for why anyone would run – because it was a cool, after-rain moment on an empty paved road and your legs felt strong and your shoes fit just right and you just couldn’t help but burst into a run because it felt so empowering…

Okay. That sounds good. You’d run and your brain would empty out and you’d achieve a zen state and a mystic balance of mind, body, and spirit.

Yeah. That’s not how I run.

This is my internal monolog:

All right – headphones in. Fast-walk playlist on, loud enough so I can’t hear my own gasping, panting breath. Timer? Yes, set the damned timer. Barbara says it’s not important, but I know it’s important.

Okay – ready? Here’s the line of paint on the path with the numbers 0.0 on one side and 1.5 on the other. Head towards 0.1. And – JOG.

Feels so damned thuddy. That will smooth out. Go through the body parts list:

  • Low abs engaged. Don’t tip the hips forward with the spine; it’s no good pulling the hips up by tucking the tail bone under; you have to tug it up from the front by tightening the transverse abdominus. I think of it as a flaccid, wide-but-not-deep rubber band running from hip to hip somewhere deep in the groin. Trying HARD to turn mine into something mighty, but I’m still at shot rubber band status.

 

  • Ribs down. Distance from ribs to hip bones has to stay consistent. Why else did I do two 30-second planks before I started if not to wake these muscles up for the run?

 

  • Obliques – keep ‘em on. That’s the other part of the planks. Essentially, the entire middle of my body is supposed to feel like an oak tree. It does NOT feel like an oak tree, but for limited periods measurable in seconds only, I can force the issue.

 

  • Shoulders down and not pushed back. Yes, pushing the shoulders back would seem to provide space for the rib cage to lift up, allowing those heaving sacs of air to gaspingly suck in more wind – but no. If your shoulders are back, then your wingbones are down, and those are capable of stopping the lungs from expanding out the back. OUT THE BACK?? Yes. Breathe out the back, too. So weird.

 

  • Roll from heel to toe. Why else have I been doing calf stretches every single day? This is supposed to be getting easier and less thuddy as I stretch never-before-stretched calf muscles. If I focus on it, on flexing my foot hard before every heel strike, I can ease up on the thud sensation. Jeff Goldblum isn’t watching impact tremors in a glass of water somewhere and saying “I’m really quite concerned, here” in a mild Jeff Goldblum voice.

 

  • Now, the big one: The glutes. The big, heavy glutes that I’ve been hauling around for decades. Time to make them pay their way. Still not easy to simply FEEL them into working, so…

 

  • Push off the back foot. Don’t pull forward with the front foot. The front foot is just there for balance, to catch me as I push off the back foot. With every stride, kick off the ground with the back foot. Back foot. Back foot. Back foot. Damn it. I thought running was supposed to be instinctive. It’s so not.

The mental check list is almost as long:

  • This song isn’t good for jogging. Can I open the case, wake up the phone, and hit the “next” button without completely falling over?

 

  • The headphone cord is bouncing around and annoying me. Loop the slack around a finger, or something.

 

  • Christ – I have to go up a (short but steep) little hill. Kill me now.

 

  • Oh, lord. Someone remind me to ask Barbara how to go down a hill. Can’t roll from heel to toe going downhill; I’d fall right over. Have to run on my toes. That seems like a bad idea. My carefully-tended stride is getting ugly again, and I’m thudding. I can hear Ian Malcolm. “I’m really getting quite concerned here.”

 

  • There’s someone on the path in front of me. Coming towards me – reach for eye contact at exactly the right distance. Not so far that a person with poor eyesight doesn’t see; not so close that it’s startling. Judge the moment, glance up. If contact is made, small smile and nod. Yes! Now if we meet a second time as we travel around the lake, we can add a rueful “Still at it? You, too?” smile.

 

  • There’s someone on the path in front of me. Going the same direction I’m going, walking. This is the worst. I’m going to have to pass him/her, and I will be huffing and puffing like a grampus so they’ll certainly know I’m coming, but when I slow down to walk, they’re going to pass me. And then I’ll have to pass them when I go back to jogging. This is going to be ridiculous. My choices are: (a) Play leapfrog with a small Korean woman or a retiree with a cane. (b) Run faster; get far enough ahead that s/he won’t catch up when I start walking, like I have the energy to do that. (c) Pull over and sit down for a few hours until they go home. Or possibly expire from old age. Them or me; either would be fine.

 

  • What the hell am I going to do when the Virginia weather is swampy? It’s supposed to go up to 91 today, so I actually set my alarm and got up at 6 in the morning to be running by 7. (I swear, I’m not a pod person. It’s really me.) But what happens when 7AM is already 85 degrees – and even more debilitating, when it’s HUMID? How will I possibly keep this up? I’m barely maintaining my sanity now.

 

  • Where’s the next tenth-of-a-mile marker?? Maybe it was washed out in a freak acid storm I missed; surely I’ve gone a few miles by now?? (In fact, today I managed to stagger along for a full half-mile before switching to a walk-a-tenth-jog-a-tenth pattern. Frustratingly, even though my first burst of running was 5/10ths of a mile, not last week’s 4/10ths of a mile, the run took me almost a full minute LONGER than it did last week. This is why Barbara doesn’t want me timing my runs. I hate it when she’s right.)

The road doesn’t care if you dress sexy or make more money than it does. The road just wants you to pay it a visit occasionally, so it can completely tangle up your brain and exhaust you and make your shin bones tender to the touch. Damned road.

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What women want: A comfy armchair. A great book. Something crispy/salty and something sweet/creamy to nibble on. Clothing that is in no way binding.

All right, women also want cardiovascular fitness. To be able to jog without feeling like our lungs have been scoured with a Brillo pad. A good cholesterol reading above 40. (I’ve never gotten above 30, me, but I’ve never made it a point to sweat every single day for six minutes, eleven minutes, twenty-three minutes and twenty-eight seconds at a time. Next time, my good cholesterol is going to be GOOD, by damn!)

Redesign

4.24.18

I’ve often thought the human body could use a 2.0 version – an upgrade. That spine seems to be a trouble spot for a lot of people, and a stronger system for vertebra alignment seems indicated.

Skin would be better if it could resist solar radiation better. Fat storage in an era of plenty turns out to have more negatives than positives…

…so there are lots of things I thought could do with a redesign.

Then I discovered not one but TWO things about my own body that I never knew before. It’s like I’ve been redesigned and made better!

First, did you know that your lungs push the ribs out along your BACK as well as along your front??

I didn’t. I believed that the back was supposed to be strong – muscle-bound – stalwartly firm. The lungs went out the front because the back ribs were nailed down by muscle and shoulder bones and iron and John Wayne-like true grit. So if I was, just as an idle example, gasping for air while jogging along next to Barbara, I thought all the expansion I needed to suck in more oxygen was going to come from the front.

“Why have your ribs popped up so much?” asked Barbara reasonably. She can ask reasonable questions while I’m jogging because she’s practically walking next to me. For the 10K she ran a few weekends ago, she averaged about seven minutes per mile; it took me 15 minutes to do ONE mile today – so she’s having a pleasant stroll while I’m forcing myself through an oxygen-deficient hellscape.

“So I can suck in some air, of course.” (What I actually said was “AIR,” but she understood what I meant.)

“So relax your shoulders.”

“SHOULDERS?!”

“Your shoulders are back and down.”

“KEEP… BACK… LONG.”

“Well, don’t. How can your ribs move if your back muscles are locking them into place?”

“RIBS… BACK??”

“Yes, back. Your lungs need to inflate to the back as well as the front.”

“SHUT… UP.”

“ ‘S’true. Breathe into the back of your lungs, and let your back and shoulders be easy.”

This is the sort of physical, muscular puzzle that can totally distract me from my oxygen-less state, and I actually made it a few feet further at my graceless jog.

Lungs expanding to the back?? The mind boggles. Okay – that’s something I can work on.

Once we’d arrived back at Body Dynamics and I’d stopped gasping, we talked about it. “So really, all the power of running comes from below the waist. Above the waist is just for oxygen, huh?”

Barbara made a considering face and shifted her arms back and forth. “Well, you get a little momentum from the arms…”

“Yeah, but really, running is all below the waist, huh?”

“Okay. You can think of it that way.”

(I’ve been an above-the-waist mover forever. Hence the remedial exercises needed to find my low abs and my glutes. I think and move with the brain-side of the body; meeting up with the lower half has been revelatory. Like meeting relatives from the Old Country because DNA tests suggested we were family. Cool – but you’re not coming to Christmas, are you?? Oh, you ARE? Huh.)

I was thinking about that when Barbara noted that I tend to bounce up and down when I run.

“I’m popping up to give those muscles a little break. I’m not strong enough to run in a permanent crouch.”

“What? What permanent crouch?”

“Well, to move without bobbing up and down, don’t you have to crouch down a little?”

I could see Barbara attempting to translate such an odd question into English; it was rough going. My concept was so far away from reality that she decided to break down the action of running in super-slo-mo.

And guess what? SHE powers her run off her back foot, kicking away from the earth as she moves.  And *I* power my run off my front foot, pulling my body forward from the grounding of the leading foot. So I bob up and down and she runs like she’s on rails.

It was like staring into a hypno-drawing; my brain couldn’t hold the two opposing concepts together. I was partially paralyzed and was slo-mo running around the big room at Body Dynamics, trying to figure it out. “Wait,” said Barbara.

She got a long strap with rubber tubes strung on it. We put the tubes across my hips and she held the end of the strap behind me like a farmer working a plough horse. “Run to the far wall,” she said.

I ran forward, with Barbara (who is lean but very strong) pulling me back. There was no way to move forward without kicking from the back foot; the front foot became entirely about prepping for the next push. It was exhausting. We did that twice, across the long length of the big room. Then she took away the strap and said “Run to the far wall. Don’t think about it – just do it.”

I flew across the room like I’d been shot from a cannon; it was actually scary. I felt out of control and like a car whose brakes had gone out. “What the hell?!”

“Better!” crowed Barbara. “Did you feel it?”

“Feel like a pinball being shot out of the tube? Hell yes, I did!”

“Let’s do it again.” Back I went into the plough position and I dragged Barbara across the room a few more times (thinking – damn, I just ran a mile! Why am I running again??), and then I ran again unencumbered, so powerful I couldn’t believe it.

Jeez. Is THAT how you’re supposed to run?? How do I reproduce that without forcing Barbara to allow me to drag her around before I run anywhere?

The point is – I thought the body needed a redesign; now I find the problem was user error. Typical.

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Hypno-pattern. This is me trying to think about running, as opposed to just running.

Victory-ette

4.23.18

The devil came to me last night.

He arrived (or in this case, she arrived) not with a whiff of sulfur or with a writhing, snake-like forked tail. No, the devil came in the form of a perfectly charming waitress named Alexis. She was a delight; exactly the waitress you hope for. Friendly without looking like she was going to pull up a chair and dominate the conversation. Competent without being intrusive. Fast on the drink refills.

But then, she opened her smiling mouth and said it.

“So – did we save any room for dessert?”

For the last few weeks (okay – months), I’ve gone back to being sugar’s bitch. I’m still exercising every day; I’m still making good food choices; I’m still drinking plenty of water. But on top of all that, I’m also eating sugar like there was going to be a shortage and I needed to stockpile.

I remind myself of all the things I’ve learned about sugar – that it’s poisoning my system. That it laughs like a mad scientist as it absorbs all the zinc I’m putting in through pumpkin seeds. That it shatters the digestion. That my brain, addicted to the substance, releases a tiny drop of serotonin when it needs a hit, crooning to me, “Come on baby – just a little bump. I’ll do ALL those things you love for a container of Ben and Jerry’s.”

I know this, and yet somehow I have not yet come to grips with the oomph to go back to the virtuous life I found after working with Chip, the nutritionist at Body Dynamics in Falls Church.

And I know that if I could just say “no, thanks” even ONCE, then the next time would be easier…

…yet here came the devil.  “We have an outstanding turtle cheesecake tonight,” she said, wafting pure opium vapors under my nose. “Caramel, and a drizzle of chocolate…”

I am a FRAIL HUMAN – I have weaknesses. “I’ll have that!” I gasped like a man gambling the mortgage at the craps table; I’m SURE this is going to work out for me!!

And then do you know what happened?!

It might have been that Chip the nutritionist snuck into the restaurant’s kitchen and began messing with the staff. It might have been Barbara and Grace, the trainers, teaming up to knock waiters and cooks over, one kneeling quietly behind while the other pushed athletically from the front – BAM! Down they go, chef’s toques a’flyin’. It might have been Clara from stretch class, grabbing all the turtle cheesecakes and hiding them in the vegetable fridge…

…but SOMETHING stalled the arrival of my dessert.

Time passed. Conversation faded. My water glass was empty again.

“Where IS Alexis?” we asked, looking around the restaurant as if we were coming out of a daze. The sugar craving had begun to weaken.

The seconds ticked by. Then the minutes. “Dessert should have been here by now, right?”

“Definitely.”

And then Alexis appeared, apparently wanting to see just how much power the devil had over her acolytes.

“I’m so sorry – we’re out of the turtle cheesecake. So the chef is sending out a heavenly white chocolate cheesecake for you. Is that okay?”

It was like a phone call from the governor before the electric chair switch was thrown. REPRIEVE!

“No, that’s okay – nothing for me, thanks.”

The devil looked both disappointed and embarrassed that she could not provide the offered temptation (the devil is really an extremely good waitress), but the craving had passed, and fate had intervened to give me a tiny little victory. A victory-ette.

And look – I said no once! This is definitely the start of something good!

Get thee behind me, Alexis!

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Who needs dessert when you have Chip’s spectacular breakfast? Fresh fruit, various nuts and seeds (zinc-rich pepitas!), a dusting of delicious wheat germ, the creamiest whole milk organic yogurts, and topped by a drizzle of the North’s life’s blood: maple syrup from the far reaches of Vermont. Pair that with a big glass of water and GOOD MORNING!

 

 

Threat

4.21.18

I am happy – no, horrified – to report that I am no longer furious with my dead husband. My anger has drained out of me like a bathtub once the plug was pulled. Glug, glug, glug – gone.

And as expected, anger was a far easier emotion to bear than what replaces it.

I had a fascinating session yesterday with Regina, the 5K-running biofeedback counselor. I have no idea if the biofeedback really is training my brain to be more efficient. How could I possibly assess the biofeedback’s effectiveness when Regina keeps hitting me with truth bombs every single week?? It’s not like I have a clone who’s getting JUST the biofeedback without the counseling, to judge the effectiveness of “brain training.”

Last week, you might recall, she came to the session bearing an offering on a silver salver – more priceless than gold, myrrh, or frankincense: the concept that you could have ANGER without BLAME. It took me a solid week to get my arms around the concept; I haven’t even begun to shape it to fit into my daily life yet…

…but this week’s gift was even more profound. Like – DAYUM.

After hearing Jonathan’s story filtered through my highly-subjective telling, she offered that it sounded like Jonathan’s brain implications (whatever they were) resulted in him being trapped in a permanent “threat” mode.

I sampled the concept, assessing its flavor. If that was right, then everything would be a threat to him. It wasn’t his choice, any more than you could see a coiled snake in your path, hissing and rattling, and decide to think “All things have a place in this world; I am entirely neutral to that serpent.” No – it’s a threat. No matter what you decide to do, neutrality is not an option.

Can you imagine being trapped in that mindset for FOUR YEARS? It would be an unending nightmare. You’d be afraid to leave your home. You might take to your recliner and come up with excuse after excuse to stay right there. You might see a perfectly normal stranger on the street and mutter to yourself (and whoever was near you listening), “That lady’s scaring me.”

You’d refuse to even consider switching to decaf coffee, in deference to failing kidneys.

Oh, fuck. I’m beginning to understand. At last. And I don’t like what I’m learning.

“But,” I said desperately, “Jonathan could go back to being normal – funny, engaging, kind – when he was with other people. I used to love to get him to go out to dinner with people or get involved with others because it reminded me that he was still in there.”

Regina was so kind in her delivery of bitter truth. “That tells me how important you were to him.”

What, now?

“The most powerful emotions get inverted. The people he loved the most became the greatest source of stress.”

She had more to say on the subject, and it was far more scientific than I’ve recaptured here; I kind of got rolled by the tidal wave and missed the details. But the point is – if Jonathan was ever an utter bastard to you (and I remember him making Karol cry at a summer reunion at Kathy and Gerry’s house, or suddenly announcing we had to leave and rudely walking out of Robs’ house), then now you know how close you were to his heart. Alas.

He was horrible to his mother. He was perfectly awful to his sister. He filled me with such a swirling, oily cloud of fear and rage and tears and unhappiness that I’m still trying to scrub the residue off the walls of my soul.

The only exception was his son. Jonathan acted as if he was Rusty’s brother; he was constantly playing with Rusty and giggling with him and uniting with Rusty against me, The Stern Authoritarian. While this was entertaining for my son, it was also confusing to him, and put Rusty in the unenviable position of needing to be the parent to his own father. Still, a smile from Jonathan during his last four years was rare enough that Rusty and I were both happy to get that much.

It’s not very typical that one is given The Answer to a bad situation; it’s more like someone has poorly translated instructions in a foreign language. You have to pick up a lot in the syntax, and there is often unintentional hilarity and confusion in the translation…

…but getting this explanation – the fact that Jonathan was in threat mode for four solid years – fits like a key in a lock. It opens up understanding. Now I know what he was going through, and my anger at him is … gone. Pouf.

What replaces that anger is much harder to contain. I feel such profound pity for him. I know I didn’t treat him with anything like the compassion he deserved. He needed to be protected and cared for, and I didn’t know. He didn’t know. No one knew… so he suffered, trapped in the unyielding prison walls of his own cranium, and I just rolled my eyes at him and gritted my teeth. At my best friend ever.

I feel like I betrayed him. I feel ashamed. I feel huge tidal currents of sorrow. I want to apologize. I want to help and fix it, and I can’t.

Yeah. The anger was easier.

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The last photo I ever took of Jonathan was of him, typically, playing with Rusty – who, you can see, is just trying to make a cup of coffee.