Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Queue the 'Theme from Rocky,' please

You have probably heard that as you age, you lose elasticity in your skin, right?
Here's how it shows up: When you go to the pool for an hour and you wear a swim cap and goggles, you can count on the imprint from your swim paraphernalia staying embedded in your skin for the next four hours.
Three weeks in, and my learn-to-swim project is going, well, swimmingly. I suppose I am making progress, though I would like to hammer out that whole breathing thing. If ONLY I didn't need air, right?
Learning to swim in a group setting is another challenge. I have 12 experts shouting encouragement and offering advice as they motor by me in their swim lanes or wait for me to tool along from one end to the other. I love my To Be Re friends, and I welcome their contribution ...
OK, to be honest, I struggle with the "welcome" part of that last sentence. "Shut the hell up" is what I want to say. "I'll get it." But I'm an evolved grown-up and I don't say things like that. Out loud.
Last year, when I started To Be Re, one of my biggest struggles was the jump rope. I hated that thing. I dropped some good cash in the cussing jar at home (f-bombs cost $5) while the out-of-control rope gave me welts and I clumsily tangled my feet. I watched others jump while alternating feet, then I watched them criss-cross the rope, and I got it. I studied and I got it. I cursed my way there, but I got it. I jump rope like a boxer, my friends. Queue the Theme From Rocky, please.
I know I can get this swimming thing down. I am This Close.
When I go home after the pool and see the bags under my eyes left by my goggles (as if I need anything to add to the bags mother nature blessed me with), I say, "You're a swimmer."
I'm starting to actually believe it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Threw myself a pity party; I was the only guest

As if learning to swim in eight weeks is not enough of a challenge, the universe (as my friend Diane would say) has given me more hurdles.
For three weeks, I have battled migraines. I won't whine here (my mom said I did that with her on the phone an hour ago), but I will VENT because I am FRUSTRATED!
When I was pregnant 12 years ago, everyone had an anecdote or advice to share - women AND men. Back then it was kind of fun, but sometimes I felt like I just wanted to have my own experience and not hear about everyone's water breaking, babies' heads crowning and episiotomy stitches (ewww, please). But our fresh experiences allow others to revive their stale ones, so whatever.
Anyway. Back to me.
Everyone has a remedy, diagnosis, treatment or theory about my headaches and dizziness. Y'all are gettin' on my nerves, which are short-circuited anyway. Yesterday, I knocked over a vase that I keep in a precarious position in my kitchen. I knock it over on a good day, being the quasi-clutz that I am, but because of my vertigo, I knock things over and drop things more often.
Yesterday was the last time I knocked over the vase. After spilling its contents on the floor, I picked it up and hurled it at the wall, breaking it into a thousand gratifying pieces. Then I fell to pieces on the kitchen floor and cried like a big baby. Threw myself a pity party, and I was the only guest.
Swimming worries me. This triathlon worries me. Diane and I swam on Saturday, and I made a little progress, but I have so far to go. I'm still working on breathing in air rather than water and trying to roll versus lift out of the water. I feel more comfortable, but I get frustrated that I continue to sink.
"Do you take in water when you swim," I asked Diane, "even a little bit?"
My friend, who tells it like it is, said, "Oh, hell no," shaking her head emphatically and laughing.
I tried to quiet my mind while I swam the 25-yard drills, but here is what it was saying: "How are you going to do TEN of these in EIGHT weeks? You are NEVER going to be READY! If you don't figure this out you are going to have to DOGGY paddle for 250 yards for your mini-tri! You are going to look stupid!"
Those are the hurdles I have created for myself. The universe has created migraines and vertigo.
I have a lot of work to do.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Peace, joy and all that

I believe in God. I can't help it. Too many thing have happened in my life that go beyond coincidence. I look to the divine to explain.
I'm feeling resistant to the holiday season this year.
My aunt, who has been killing herself with cigarettes for 40+ years has been in and out of the hospital over the last few weeks with cancer and complications of the treatment. Since moving to Arizona, she and I have had a holiday tradition of baking our tushes off this time of year (and eating WAY too much of our creations); we didn't get to do that this year (thankful for the calories saved).
The man I love, who I thought would be with me celebrating this season as a family, took a side trip down Indulgence Lane and sidelined our plans for the future.
Boo hoo. Poor me.
I believe in angels. Not the kind that have wings and flutter around all pretty and graceful, but earthly forms.
I received an e-mail from an unexpected angel last night - someone who lived a block away from me when I was growing up. I won't share the details of it because he shared it in confidence, but he reminded me to think about what matters. I know it is a simple, obvious and common-sense answer to my plea for help, but sometimes we get so caught up in our own self-absorption, self-pity that we forget the obvious.
Here is what my friend wrote:
"The joy I get from Christmas is not from the revelry; it's from the peace. The joy is an extension of that peace."
Here is my Christmas peace: My aunt has been given a respite from her suffering. She is home and able to move around and talk and laugh. "It turns out cigarettes cause cancer," she said, jokingly. She is well enough to being cancer treatments next week, and her will-survive attitude brings tears to my eyes.
The love of my life is fighting for his own life with a new determination that I have never seen. He's beautiful and strong and determined to be with me next Christmas, and I am proud of him.
Other reasons to be grateful:
  • My son, who is the light of my life, is healthy, happy, and a constant source of joy.
  • My friends who are beautiful inside and out and share wisdom daily and help me Keep It Real.
  • My family.  My eccentric mother, my wise father ... and all the kookiness ... smooches and hugs to them all.
God bless us, everyone, right?

Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm the Pulsar and the water is my road

I learned to drive a stick shift in 1988, when I purchased my second car, a 1989 Nissan Pulsar. Remember the model? It had T tops that snapped off and stored in the hatchback. It was a perfect car for a 22-year-old living in West Palm Beach, Florida. I looked good driving that car to Singer Island, my favorite beach.

My Pulsar was a beautiful metallic green, and, unfortunately, a stick shift. I didn't know how to drive a manual car, but I wanted that car.

And the salesman wanted that sale, so he gave me 10-minute lesson on the clutch and sent me on my way.

I jerked and grinded and cursed my way around South Florida for months, longing for the day when the coordination between left-foot-on-the-clutch, right-foot-on-the-gas, right-hand-on-the-gearshift and left-hand-on-the-steering-wheel became second nature. I'd watch my tachometer and, just as the salesman said, when the RPMs got between four and five, push in the clutch, let up on gas, release the clutch slowly, when you feel the grab, change gears and give it gas. My success gauge was, if my passenger's head didn't thrust forward when I changed gears, I was a smooth operator.

Here I am in that situation again, but this time, I'm the Pulsar and the water is my road.

My sprint triathlon is Feb. 28. I have eight weeks to learn to swim 250 yards.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The fa-la-la-la-las have skipped my aura.

I know I'm a Scrooge this year. It's Dec. 18, and I haven't put out a single holiday decoration, haven't sent a Christmas card and just started my shopping two days ago, much to my son's horror.
I can't explain it.
The fa-la-la-la-las have skipped my aura.
I have unopened Christmas cards on my desk at home, and I didn't do a thing to deck the halls at work. I'm just not into it this year. Really: I'd kinda like to skip it.
But here is something that gets me every year, regardless of my mood: I received a blank holiday card in my newspaper address to my carrier. Apparently, I am supposed to insert some cash, sign the card with a warm-and-fuzzy message and mail it back to him. He's made it easy by including a self-addressed envelope.
He didn't include a stamp.
I have a general beef about tipping. I don't mind tipping food servers because they are compensated by their employers based on estimated tips. When it comes to paying people for jobs they are already supposed to do, I get stingy.
I don't tip my dentist, doctor, banker, real estate agent, accountant, mechanic, mailman or grocer, so why do I have to tip my hair dresser, aesthetician and laser hair removal technician? I'm paying them to provide a service. Why do I have to pay them extra for doing it well?
My newspaper carrier does a good job; he delivers the paper by 6 a.m. daily, and I have never had to call for a missing paper. (And, in the interest of full disclosure, I work for the newspaper, too).
It's not as if he has to trudge through rain, slush and snow to get to my door.
I remember working as a carhop at Pietro's Coventry Drive-In in Akron, Ohio, (where I schlepped through the rain, snow and slush) and the owners told me if I wanted to get better tips, I should stand at by the cars and wait for the customers to tip me. (People thought because we were a drive-in restaurant that they didn't have to tip the wait staff, who were paid a paltry $1 an hour.)
I never felt comfortable asking for tips. And I bristle when someone blatantly asks one of me.
The newspaper carrier didn't even include a holiday wish TO ME! Humbug!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Flushing my sinuses

I begin every day with by reading a devotional from the book "God Calling: A Devotional Diary." The book was a gift from my former pastor, Rev. David B. Bowie, and I try to read it daily because it gives me a little spiritual high-five as I begin my days.
Saturday's entry was particularly serendipitous. The entry talks about fear and trust and using fear to quiet evil. It's kind of like reading your daily horoscope; if you try hard enough, you can find meaning or truth in the words. Next year, when I read the Dec. 12 entry, it will likely have an entirely different meaning.
'Specially because I will have mastered swimming.
"You must not allow fear to enter. Talk to me. Think of me."
I did a little praying in the days and hours leading up to my first swimming lesson Saturday morning. I decided to let go of my fear because, first of all, I would be surrounded by people I trust and adore.
Keith made arrangements for two better swimmers to work with me and another person who was in the same boat (pun totally intended) as me when it comes to swimming.
And, second, because fear leads to evil - gossip, hate, anger, lies.

This is what I learned on Saturday:
  1. Taking in large amounts of water through the nose is a great way to flush your sinuses.
  2. Clinging to the side of the pool will ruin a good manicure.
  3. Being muscular doesn't keep you afloat.
  4. The key to swimming is relaxing in the water and trusting the water (I'm still working on that one).
  5. Hiding the fact that I can't swim became such a habit, that I didn't even do it consciously.
  6. Hiding the fact that I can't swim was just silly.
Rick and Cary, the two people who helped us swim, were fabulously patient.
We jumped into the warm water (Yes, 85 degrees feels really warm when it's 45 outside), and Rick and Cary talked to us about the different types of strokes and asked us where we wanted to start.
"We want to learn how to tread water," we both said. We'd huddled poolside and agreed this is where we needed to start. The beginning.
Cary showed me her technique, which was this frog-like movement. She was slow and graceful as her neck and head bobbed confidently above the water line. I tried her technique and pumped furiously to keep my chin barely above the line."Why am I working so hard?" I asked her, nearly winded.
She said it's because I'm too tense. I need to trust the water. Oh, poo.
Rick took me through some drills. I did the breast stroke, which feels very unladylike, and a thing he called "Superman," where I swam underwater with my arms in front and used my legs to propel forward. Tuck your chin, kick your legs, wrists together out front, exhale under water (or flush your sinuses), roll your head to one side and inhale air (or flush your sinuses) - so much to remember.
By the end of the hour, I was convinced I could conquer swimming.
I text messaged Keith later that day and thanked him for creating the opportunity. I have three months to learn to stop flushing my sinuses in the water because ... drumroll please ... I've decided to do a sprint triathlon in March.
I am all over this swimming thing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Waves of fear

Tomorrow is the big day - I get to go swimming. Can you see my forced smile and the thumbs-up sign I'm giving? Weee.

Keith sent an impressive Adobe Flashed invitation accompanied by the music from "Mission Impossible." The message begins, "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves taking on areas of your being where you lack power ..."

Because I am pretty sure I'm the center of the universe, I think this challenge and Keith's message are directed at me. Before we started this three-week workshop, I confessed to him that I don't know how to swim. I asked him if any of these mystery challenges would involve water (Please say no, please say no).

He's asked us not to discuss the challenge with anyone (does blogging about it count as discussion?), so I don't know if my fellow To Be Re-ers are swimmers or not. He asked us to identify ourselves as novice, average or expert swimmers. Huh, no category for "Hate to Swim-ers"?

Honestly, I am not afraid of water. I just don't LIKE it. It's wet. And cold. And, when you go to lakes and oceans, there are things floating in it. Living things. Slimy things. Pools are OK, but the water is usually cold.

To my horror, I learned last night that this pool we'll be splashing into is OUTSIDE. Of course it's outside. Why would anyone in Arizona build a pool inside a building? But this is December and we're having unusually cold weather. Of course we are. It was 36 degrees F this morning. I want to cry like a baby, fall to the ground, pound my fists on the pavement and scream, "I'M NOT GOING!!!!"

The water at this pool, I am told, is about 85 degrees. I got out my meat thermometer and ran my kitchen tap until it reached 85. Not quite as warm as a hot shower, but warmer than I expected.

I am not excited about this, people. I am not sure this is a place I WANT to be powerful. I am feeling the 17-year-old rebel burnout from Kenmore High School in Akron, Ohio, getting restless. But I made a promise to myself three years ago when I turned 40: I am not going to let fear stop me from doing things.

Oh, crap.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Write me a prescription for good customer service

I had an appointment with a new doctor this afternoon at 3 p.m. I arrived dutifully 20 minutes early to complete the 800 pages of paperwork, which included an acknowledgment that I could be charged $25 if I am late or cancel in less than 24 hours within an appointment time.
Know where I'm going with this?
Shortly after 3 p.m., I go into the exam room. The assistant takes vitals and tells me I'm next.
The doctor's thin walls allow me to hear his conversation with another patient. He takes her family history and she tells him that no one in her family has had the same problem, blah, blah, blah. My mind travels between their conversation and the unending stream of messages from my company through my Blackberry.
At least I am able to get some work done while I wait.
As my ears travel back to the conversation on the other side of the wall, I note that their topic has traveled from her bowels to real estate.
"You can get a one bedroom for under one-fifty," she tells him.
It is 3:45 p.m. At that point, I decide I've waited long enough. I gather my things and walk out. The office staff is apologetic.
"I can't imagine what is keeping him so long," his assistant says.
"He's talking about real estate with another patient," I say.
I just had a conversation with someone recently about how in today's economy, customer service is what keeps businesses alive. Medical practices, however, are kind of immune to customer service demands. We tend to put physicians on pedestals and treat them as superior to us, rather than people we've hired to do a job.
Would you tolerate it if your mechanic kept you waiting that long? Would you be patient if your dry cleaner left you in the lobby for 45 minutes? If you had a hair appointment at 1 p.m., and 30 minutes late you overheard your stylist chatting with her previous client about, oh, say, REAL ESTATE, wouldn't you be ticked?
I am.
The right thing for this doctor to do would be to call me and apologize for keeping me waiting so long. If he's heard of "customer service," he'd do that. But he won't. I'm back at square one wondering whether I should reschedule with him or start over to find someone else. The thing is: They're all like this.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I'd rather jump than get whacked in the head

I met this guy a couple of years ago through an online dating site. We met for coffee  at Coffee Plantation when it was at the Biltmore mall. As we strolled through the storefronts and told each other about our lives, he told me that based on our telephone conversations prior to meeting, he thought I was an idealist.
I made a face that made me appear to contemplate the comment, when, in fact, I had no idea what he meant.
How so? I asked.
"I don't know," he said. "Just something you said."
I never got out of him what he meant, and since our "relationship" didn't develop beyond the first meet (He was looking for a new mom for his kids, who'd lost theirs to alcoholism (tragic story). He wanted to know when we could introduce our kids to each other before I even learned his last name.)
I was recently reminded of his words (and the subsequent vocabulary lesson I learned when I Googled "idealism.").
A dictionary definition states idealism as "placing ideals before practical considerations."
Doesn't everyone do that from time to time? We have visions of the way things should be, and then life gets in the way and mucks up our idealistic views.
When I was pregnant with my son, I had an ideal dream of how my birth experience would go. I envisioned the middle-of-the-night water breakage, the sudden onset of labor pains, the scramble to find the car keys and the exciting rush to the hospital.
My son, however, had other plans. He was quite cozy in my womb and lingered there for an extra two weeks.
So, I had a scheduled delivery, which sent me to the hospital in tears because life got in the way of my ideal birth experience. I let myself boo-hoo for a few minutes, and then I decided that no matter what life threw my way, I was going to enjoy my birth experience. And I did, even when life threw me on an operating table for a C-section. I still had a good time joking with the doctors who were arguing over which side of my body to set my organs (this is what they told me over the sheet, and I asked them to play nice and get on with it.)
The point is - we think things should happen in a certain way, the way we fall in love, the way we move through our careers, the way we raise our children, the way we drive to work every day. Then life throws in a curve ball.
An idealist would stand there and get whacked upside the head or dodge the pitch entirely. A realist would prepare himself by adjusting his position so he can jump for the ball, maybe skinning his knees as he dives to catch it, and the ball lands in his glove with a good, solid, controlled "smack."

In memory of ...

I worked with David McClendon only a short time at the Lansing State Journal. He came on board just before I left the copy desk for custom publishing. He was at my going-away celebration in Old Town Lansing. We were acquainted enough to be "linked" on Linked In, but not quite buddy enough to be Facebook friends, ha ha. Thank goodness for Facebook: Another former colleague posted David's obituary and his blog, which chronicles his battle with sarcoidosis. I had no idea.

It's good reading.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

I miss him

Our courtship lasted 18 months. When I first met him, he was bold, confident and I was drawn to his dark, good looks and stocky build.

He had the most beautiful eyes, and I loved the way he'd look at me. When I saw myself through his eyes, I was a gorgeous creature with flawless features. He didn't have to say a word: When he looked at me, I could tell what he was thinking: "My god, woman, you are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen."

In the morning as I would get ready for work, he would stretch across the bed and watch me put on my make-up and do my hair. He didn't have to say a word; I could tell what he was thinking: "Your beauty is natural. Why do you do so much foo foo?"

He was bold and self-confident - two traits I admire very much. He knew how to get what he wanted, and he wasn't afraid to go after it. When someone told him "no," he didn't let that stop him. He'd find another way to get what he wanted. He was clever, suave and sexy.

I miss my ex-boyfriend's cat.

(Reprinted from my myspace blog, Sept. 20, 2008)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

'It isn't easy being Jew'

I was talking with someone recently who said she is expecting houseguests soon, and she lamented that they are vegetarians, with a roll of her eyes. "I'm not going to have any of that at my house," she said.

I'm amazed that I know people who say things like that.

Anyway, it made me think about the houseguest I had over Thanksgiving weekend. She is an American expatriate who lives in Israel and is an orthodox Jew.

The orthodox rely on strict interpretation of the Torah (I had to look that up on wikipedia.org), which means, among other things: married women do not show their hair in public; they follow strict kosher dietary laws; they observe the sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday; and they dress modestly, wearing long sleeves and clothes that cover most of their bodies.

I looked at it as a mini-immersion into another culture. It was a learning experience, and helped me understand and respect people who have orthodox views - even those wacky vegetarians.

As my house guest explained to me, being orthodox is not easy. After all, they are expected to follow 613 mitzvoth - or commandments. This was echoed by a  Russian, Gabriel, who works at Segal's Kosher Foods in Phoenix, and who was an angel (wink, wink) during my guest's visit.

"It isn't easy being Jew," he said, after telling us about a doctor who has been in the process of converting for eight years. Eight years!

My houseguest has been practicing orthodox Judaism since the 1980s, and she no longer refers to herself as a convert. She's Jewish. Period. She said the religion is difficult, but people support each other and keep together as a community.

The community members help each other prepare for shabbat, for example, by preparing hot meals and keeping them warmed over the 24-hour observation period. Members cannot light or extinguish flames during shabbat, so they are unable to cook or heat food, turn off or on lights, and drive or ride in vehicles. (Shabbat starts Friday at sundown and ends Saturday at sundown.)

I can't help but wonder what drives the orthodox to be so devout. What do they think would happen if they failed to observe one of the mitzvoth? Last week, I realized that my question misses the point.

When a group of people observes similar rituals, they create community, which most of us want and need. I belong to several communities - my family, my girlfriends, my To Be Re family and my job, to name a few. With my To Be Re fitness family, I depend on the "rituals" of cardio, weights and nutrition to keep me fit. To Be Re members depend on each other for support; we share recipes and tips, and we cheer each other on. I've never been devoted to a health and wellness program this long.  And it's all because of community.

The other thing I realize about orthodox practices is that rituals prepare individuals for mindful meditation and reflection, especially during the sabbath. As they go through the mechanics of preparing food, lighting candles and bathing, they quiet their demons and awaken their spirituality.

I am grateful to have had the experience. Shalom.

My FB war with my mother

I've offended my mother. Again.
She joined the ranks of Facebook recently and, with much reluctance, I befriended her.
Now, don't get me wrong. My mom and I are close. We talk regularly, and there is very little about my life that she doesn't know. She probably knows more about me than most of my friends know.
Why do I hesitate to add her as my friend?
Here's why: My mother complained to me that so-and-so posts boring status updates on their wall and they show up on her wall. "I don't care that so-and-so is going to bed. Why do they feel the need to tell the world?"
"Then ignore them," I said. "You can block their posts."
Thanksgiving week rolls around and posts from my mother start showing up on my wall. 
Peeled 10 pounds of potatoes!
Cooked two turkeys and made pies. I'm exhausted!
Stuffing is ready for Thursday!
The next time we speak on the phone, I ask her why she posts these things on my wall.
"Well, I think it's interesting that a 64-year-old woman is doing all this work by herself," she said.
"But you do it every year," I said. "And so do a lot of people. It's as uninteresting as your friend who drinks wine before she goes to bed."
(I am pretty sure she doesn't understand the difference between posts to her wall and posts to others' walls.)
We're at war, people. My mother launches acerbic grenades on my stats posts: ""FAR more interesting than someone peeling ten pounds of potatoes.  Oh yeah." and I fend them off with rapid-fire delete button.