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.

 

 

Transferrable

1.11.20

I remember it with the clarity of constant, low-grade panic. There’s a road in Ireland (hell, ALL the roads in Ireland) that is as wide as a generous garden path. It twists and bends through the countryside like a ribbon of asphalt.

“Oh, how beautiful it is here,” my mother said from the passenger seat.

“It really is,” agreed my sister from the back. “Isn’t it lovely, Pru?”

I had no answer. I spent that entire vacation gripping the steering wheel like grim death, focusing only on the road – because, typically, from around the next tiny little curve would inevitably come a speeding tour bus the size of the Queen Mary, hurtling down the road on the wrong side, bearing down on us along a strip of tarmac that two bicyclists might find cozy were they riding side by side.

The car we’d rented was a standard shift. The foot pedals were in the customary place – left foot to shift, right foot for brake and accelerate – but the gear shift was under my weak left hand, not my dominant right hand. Once I shifted unwittingly from second to fifth (instead of third) in the middle of a crowded intersection; the car lost power at the worst possible moment and I very nearly killed myself, my family, and a whole host of snarling Peugeots.

Being the chauffeur for our Irish vacation quite literally gave me nightmares.

And yet now, when confronted with a task that alarms me, I say to myself that I survived driving in Ireland – I can do anything. And that accomplishment, which is so very massive in my mind, empowers me. I am made stronger in all things because of it.

I happened to be thinking of this yesterday when Barbara and I finished our mile-long trot around Falls Church, VA (the amazing Body Dynamics gym being the beginning and end of that loop).

I’ve been thinking that I’m almost ready to confront Demon Sugar again. Wrest a little control back into my life. Mostly, I’m waiting until my son goes back to college and my days descend once again into the peace of routine (that and I need a few more chances at an ice cream sundae). That’s a pretty big goal for me; saying “No, thanks” when dessert is offered is – well, that’s very challenging.

But I was taking my cool-down walk after the run yesterday, absolutely astonished that I’d made it up The Big Hill. (And really, were you in a car, you might think “that stop light at the top of the hill is red,” but that’s all you’d think – you wouldn’t think “My god, this pleasingly-broad U.S. roadway seems to be surmounting a mountain of Everest-like proportions,” although that’s what I’m thinking when I’m on foot.)

I just hate that hill. I dread it for the entirety of the run. Once I asked Barbara if we could run our loop backwards, so I could run DOWN the big hill at the beginning instead of UP the big hill at the end, and she just got that fiendish “I have a plan” Barbara-grin and said “No way – I LOVE that hill at the end of the run!”

Fine. I put my head down and focus on my feet instead of looking to the top. And I just refuse to stop trotting along. By the time I get to the top, I’m moving by sheer grit. It’s an emotional battle of massive, epic proportions, and yet there is NOT a cheering ticker tape parade at the top. I don’t know why; it really is the TRIUMPH OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT or something.

So I was walking at the end of this impossible achievement and considering how astonishing it was that I actually made it to the top of the hill. I thought, in my oxygen-deprived way, “I think I could say ‘no, thanks’ to dessert now.” Those two things – completing the run and confronting my sugar addiction – were definitely closely intertwined…

…and I realized that empowerment is transferrable.

That’s our lesson for today, boys and girls. Say it again. Empowerment is transferrable.

If you drive in Ireland, it can enable you to tackle writing the social media campaign for the Smithsonian Craft Show. If you run up the hill, it can make it possible to bypass the glory that is a sundae at Artie’s. If you DO THE IMPOSSIBLE, you don’t have to spend that power in the same place. You don’t have to drive in Bermuda if you survive Ireland – you don’t have to run up another hill if you survive the Big Hill.

You can spend that empowerment, like coins from the bank, wherever you need it.

OH MY GOD.

We draw strength more from the dreadful things we survive than from an easy day of doing what makes us comfortable. Little victories beget larger victories.

I can say “no” to sugar. I drove in Ireland; I can do anything.

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As I was writing this, sitting in my bed in the grey light of pre-dawn (sometimes the urge to write strikes me at odd times), I got a text from the kid. Apparently he left for college before I woke up – perhaps his departure is what woke me. He’s already at the Maryland House, getting gas and coffee on his way to Vermont. So (A) wow, boy – you got out of here early! (B) I’m sad and happy that he’s gone. And (C) Guh. I guess I’m tackling sugar now. Pull it together, Prudence. Time to expend a little empowerment.

 

Reflection

1.4.20

Seriously, now: How often have you caught your reflection in a mirror and thought – “Oh, yeah. I look GOOD.”

You don’t have to answer; I already know. The answer is NEVER.

And I’m not talking about you looking at a photo of you from twenty years ago and saying “What was I so worried about? I looked fine.” Because twenty years ago, you were STILL walking past your reflection and wincing.

We do it to ourselves… but also, there’s a huge industry, like a vast, invisible machine with cogs and gears and belts and dials humming all around us unseen, designed to keep us feeling like we JUST DON’T LOOK LIKE WE SHOULD. I know perfectly beautiful women who have injected botulism into their faces or who have been “cool sculpted.” A lady I know – renowned for her classic looks – has begun doing that thing where you pull back the skin at your temples, stare at someone, and say “Don’t you think I should have my eyes done?”

And what I’m wondering is – if we’ve spent our lives feeling like we’re not attractive enough, or not as attractive as we COULD be… then will it actually make a difference if we have our eyes done?

I’m thinking – the problem isn’t in the reflection. It’s in the mind.

I’m very fortunate. By the grace of whatever benevolent God is looking out for me, I’m now 60. People die, you know; we’ve all seen it. The fact that we’re still here, wasting time on blogs, is proof that we’ve been more fortunate than a lot of people.

And on the surface, this is how I think about being sixty:

For the first fifty years of my life, I knew (I KNEW) I didn’t look like I was supposed to. Far too fat. If I was thinner, I would have actually lived the life I was supposed to have. I was burdened as much by my guilt as by my hips. Then in my fifties, I looked in the mirror and thought – wait. This is how women in their 50s are SUPPOSED to look. I had reached… The Thickening. Only for me, it was just life as usual. So – there’s relief there. I got to lay down a lot of guilt. That felt pretty good.

And now that I’m 60, I look in the mirror and I see all fingers and toes still attached. I see an unbent spine. I see graying hair, but damn – I earned those grays, and no one is going to take them from me! I begin to think… you know, for sixty? I look pretty good!

But further down, below the part of me that worries about my appearance, I’m reflecting in a different way. I’m thinking that I probably always looked pretty good. Influenced by societal norms and a vicious beauty industry, I’d sabotaged myself. And maybe I should take deliberate steps to counter that.

Like what, you ask?

How about post a photo on Facebook of what I look like when I wake up in the morning? (Okay – I brushed my hair and straightened my collar.) How about saying not just to myself but to anyone listening that we’re all looking pretty good.

We’re here. We’re strong. We’ve been burnished in the forge of life and we’re beginning to gleam as a result. Yes, I could wish for a leaner silhouette – but now weighing less is a goal because I’m tired of not being able to get off the floor without going butt-first.

You know the move. You’re sitting like a groovy hippie on the floor – see how young I am? Time to get up. Groan. (1) Hands and knees. (2) Straighten the knees until the butt is in the air. (3) Walk the feet under and then push off with your hands. (4) Straighten up using your back. (5) Groan and bitch.

But people who are smaller do this: (1) Kneel upright. (2) Put one foot out; now you’re in the classic “Will you marry me” pose. (3) Use the glutes to straighten the leg on the floor. (4) Wonder why the pudge next to you looks like a giraffe going down for a drink – a giraffe that’s groaning and bitching.

So yeah. I’d like to lose a few pounds in the new year, but only because my nascent glute control deserves a little support (or lack thereof) from this powerful, capable body that’s been successfully and diligently carting my brain around for six remarkable decades. Time for a little self-appreciation, I’m thinking, instead of self-sabotage.

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I’m not going to wince at my reflection any more. See? Pretty good for sixty!

Slow

11.25.19

You take a walk. The air is fresh and bright, the fall leaves crisp pleasingly beneath your feet, the dog is asleep at home so you don’t need to stop every ten feet to sniff things or leave a post on Urinary Facebook. (With applause to John Tweedy for the concept.)

You’re probably walking at about three miles an hour. That’s a nice pace – an arm-swinger, but probably not one that will make you pant.

I go for a run. I’m togged out in my fat lady version of running clothes – leggings and a longer top so no one is forced to observe too closely the insulation that I’m carrying on the rear elevation. I’ve timed it so the high school kids have gotten in their fancy cars and driven away, and the track teams have already slipped past like a pony-tail-bouncing herd of gazelles teasing a lion.

I’m going at the blistering pace of FOUR miles an hour. Yes, it takes me fifteen full minutes to cover a mile – which I could walk in twenty.

And every damned time I have to fight the urge to berate myself. YES I am slow. YES I spend more time walking on my “run” than I care to admit. YES my hands tremble at the end and my lungs feel like someone has taken sand paper to them.

But – and this is the really critical point – actual, long-lasting change (like from a hippo to a gazelle) comes only very SLOWLY.

SO FUCKING SLOWLY.

A person waiting for me to return from my run, someone tapping their toe impatiently at the open garage door, would just have to be patient; I’m going as fast as I can.

And my expectations, tapping their toes with nervous energy, will just have to be patient, too. I’m evolving just as fast as I can.

Now I chant three things as I run, instead of two. The first one was “use your abs, use your abs, use your abs…” which is only a valuable thing to say until your abs get tired. After that, mouthing this chant is useful only because it makes startled onlookers give you a wide berth.

The second thing I learned to chant was “use your abs, use your glutes – use your abs, use your glutes,” which is all but useless because I’m still having a hard time turning the glutes on. (Freeloaders.) Running up a hill helps, but damn it, then you have to run up a hill.

And now I’m chanting “use your abs, use your glutes, breeeeeathe deeeeeep,” which often makes me cough and that spoils everything. HOWEVER I think I’m running farther before shambling back into a walk, so the deep breathing seems to be making a gradual difference.

Still – four miles an hour. (Itself a ludicrous proposition, as I can barely make it around a one-mile loop. Going for a four-mile run is the gauzy, impossible ambition of an hallucinogenic dream.) Slow.

Slow – slow – slow.

I run slowly. I evolve slowly. I don’t give up.

Well – not yet, anyway.

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When I run, I alternate between hoping no one I know sees me and praying someone I know will give me a reason to stop so we can chat casually on the sidewalk while we both ignore the fact that I’m gasping for air and panting like a Labrador watching you serve the chicken.

Show a Little Backbone, Wilya??

11.19.21

Betcha nickel that when my sister Lexie saw the blog post title of “Show a little backbone, wilya?,” she added the other line of “That’s just my pet snake Reggie.”

I know that because Lexie and I must continually throttle the urge to quote entire passages of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to you whether you want to hear them or not.

The joke about that particular scene was not the large python crawling up Harrison Ford’s thigh at the time – the joke was that Indy had just displayed a cheer-worthy amount of spine in facing down booby traps and devious guides and blow-dart-wielding natives, only to be undone by his lone phobia, snakes.

(“I hate snakes, Jock! Hate ‘em!”)

The point is – the backbone is adaptable. Yours is loose in some parts and tight as hell in others, to make up for the looseness somewhere along its path.

For me, the low spine – the lumbar area, mostly behind your waist – is super-loose. I’m flexy as hell in the low back. But my thoracic region (call it the bra strap region, if you’re the bra-wearing type) is so tight as a result that I didn’t even know I was supposed to be able to move it the way I should.

Here’s how I know.

Barbara (the best trainer in the world at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA) take a foam roller that’s been cut in half – so it looks like a hot dog sliced longways, only made of hard foam that even my weight can’t crush. She puts it against the wall and has me lean on it so the top of the foam roller is a few inches below my neck, and the bottom is somewhere below my tail bone.

“Push your spine against the foam roller. Use more abs. MORE abs. Okay – now without bending your neck, touch the back of your head to the wall.”

“Without bending my neck?” I was awash in confusion. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Use your back. Your spine. Bend back from where the foam roller ends.”

“Bend back?? From here??” I made some confused little gestures with my shoulders, bending at most a quarter of an inch. “Nothing moves there – I don’t bend that way. Neither do you. You’ve got your anatomy wrong for once.”

Not at all. She demonstrated, and her head almost brushed the wall. SHE BENDS THE WRONG WAY THERE. Way up high. Between the shoulder blades.

Or rather – I don’t bend the right way there.

“It’s because your lumbar region is so loose. The thoracic region has stiffened up to compensate. We’ll get you loosened. It’ll take a while.”

This made me think about my mother-in-law, a tough, smart woman masquerading as a sweet southern belle. She speaks with a gentile drawl and charms everyone she meets, but she’s hiding a whip-fast wit and – apparently – the genetic code for healthy old age. She’s 93, and her only issue now is that she doesn’t stand up straight.

She and my son were in a horrible car accident nine years ago (I mean like the kind where they use the jaws of life to pry you out of the car). Doctors told us she probably wouldn’t survive the night… but she did survive. She recovered – and she’s up and wandering around, annoying her daughter and smiling on me – so bonus points to her.

But she uses a walker and gazes intently at her feet as she goes. No wonder; I wouldn’t want to fall, either. Still, her back has now permanently hunched her over; it’s extremely hard for her to straighten up.

And I think… if she could go back five years and work on her spine flexibility, would she?

What about ten years? How much better was it before the accident?

What if she could go back 34 years, to my age of 59, and work on whatever was beginning to be out of whack in her back bone? If she’d done it, would she be standing tall today?

Is it worth it for me to listen to Barbara and loosen up my thoracic spine now, when it’s just an interesting exercise in futility??

HELL, YES.

So I’m going to show a little backbone and follow where Barbara leads. You get credit for the places in your life where you’ve been tough and strong – but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the places where you’re less capable. The pet boa constrictors ARE going to come along. And I want to be ready when they show up.

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Really. Wouldn’t you rather look at a photo of Harrison Ford in his glory than even the most beautiful drawing of a spine? Yeah. Me, too.