Thursday, January 21, 2010

The problem with signs

I was giving a building tour to the new intern at work this week, and I pointed to a sign in the hall that reads, "Area of Rescue Assistance."
"Those are the stairs," I told her. "I worked here for about six months and wondered where the stairs are and what an 'area of rescue assistance' is."
I figured the "area of rescue assistance" was a response to 9-11 and was some sort of emergency telephone booth. The sign has no symbol that represents a staircase, and even though it does have an "Exit" sign, it wasn't obvious to me.
Call it a blond moment.
The problem with signs is that while we get caught up in the legality and officiality of the notice, we lose the message.
I noted a sign posted at my gym that reads "Cell phone usage permitted only in designated areas." Hmmm. I didn't see any designated areas. Does it mean where a sign is posted, you are not permitted to use a cell phone? And, if so, how far does the restricted area extend? As far as you can read it? If there is no sign, is that a designated area?
So many unanswered questions.
My favorite sign was posted in the restroom at the community newspaper I worked for in Michigan. It read: "Please utilize the courtesy flush and deodorizer spray."
I had no idea what a courtesy flush was, and it took me several weeks to muster the courage to ask. I wanted to make sure I was never busted for not using a courtesy flush because the company restroom is the last place I want to be caught being discourteous. What I learned is, the flush at the end of the bathroom visit is the obligatory flush. The courtesy flush happens immediately after you drop, thereby minimizing lingering odors.
I like to apply the 5-year-old test to signs: If a kindergartener were to read that sign - assuming, of course that he or she reads English - would he or she understand the instructions?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fearless over 40

I really thought I was the only adult on the planet who didn't know how to swim.
I kept it a secret from everyone - even my ex-husband, to whom I was married for 10 years. No idea that I couldn't swim.
"Think about it," I said. "When did you ever seem me swim?"
My son thought it was because I didn't want to be seen in a bathing suit, and I have to admit that was part of the reason, but a very small part.
I remember one vacation, when I still married to his dad, and we went to an amusement park that had water slides and a lazy river on which visitors lounge on innertubes and twirl through the rapids. I sent my son and his dad down the river while I found a comfy bench and read a book - by myself. I was an expert at feigning this or that reason - I look fat in a bathing suit, it's that time of the month, I'm afraid of heights (water slides), I'll take pictures while you guys have fun, blah blah blah.
Admitting I was overweight or afraid of heights was easier than admitting I didn't know how to swim.
My son is fearless. The other day, he and my boyfriend were talking about skydiving, and my son said he wanted to do it, too.
"Really?" I said to him, surprised.
"It would be like flying," he said.
Funny, I thought it would be like falling.
I remind myself when he and I have these conversations, I made a vow to myself to be Fearless at 40. Fear didn't stop me from traveling to France alone in 2001, but it stopped me from trekking to the uppermost level of the Eiffel Tower. I got to the second level, took in the views of Paris, and told myself, "Yup. Good enough. Let's get you down from here."
Nearly 10 years later, I am filled with regret.
Last night, a girlfriend and I had our first swim lesson with Anne, the swim coach, who is EXCELLENT. She had us doing drills where we wrapped our arms around our legs, held our breath and curled up like an egg under water. It let us feel our buoyancy. I held my breath forever. In fact, I got kinda bored, so I came up for air. Thirty-five seconds, she said. Not quite near forever, and I could have held it longer.
More breathing exercises taught me I take in WAY too much air when I swim, which explains why I get winded - and drink water - and showed me that I need only a tiny gulp of air because ... lo' and behold ... I'll be getting another one in about two seconds.
I have been amazed at the people I know who have admitted that they don't now how to swim. A manager here at work said he learned how to swim as an adult and, coincidentally, used the same swim coach that my friend and I are working with. He went from being a nonswimmer to doing Iron Man triathlons and swimming 2.5 miles.
I have six weeks to master swimming 250 yards, nonstop.
I am Fearless over 40. I will do it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Family jewels, misbehaving and stress-less

I'm driving behind a van the other day, and I notice something strange hanging from the rear bumper. I think to myself, "Those look like big testicles." But they can't be testicles because, why would someone hang big fake testicles from his rear bumper? Naively, I think "I wonder if that guy knows that he has something hanging from his bumper that looks like testicles."The closer I get to the van, the more I realize that it is just very possible that these objects are supposed to look like big gonads - like the size you'd see on a stallion. Mondo.
I say to my boyfriend, "What is that?" pointing to the van in front of us. "Testicles," he confirms.
That driver has a message to send to the world. He has courage. He is brave. He is not afraid of anything. Don't mess with him.
People who use their vehicles to tell the world who they are intrigue me.
Vanity plates are big in Arizona - drivers let the world know that they are lawyers, CPAs, moms, spoiled rotten, bikers, hikers and MZBHAVN.
The guy I have seen driving in my neighborhood with the bumper sticker "No Wife. No Boss. No Stress," he has a message, too, right? He's happy. He's well adjusted. He doesn't need you. Don't mess with him.
(How'd you like to go on a date with a guy who has that message on his vehicle? Think that gets him much action?)
The guy with the testicles? Ick.
MZBHAVN? Doubt it.
The stress-less dude? The word "lonely" pops in my head.
I can't help but wonder if people who plaster messages on their bumpers and hang them from their tailgates are trying to persuade us or convince themselves of their greatness, happiness and confidence.

Friday, January 8, 2010

I'm breaking up with sugar ... again.

Today, as I carried my plate of fresh strawberries and blackberries to my office, a couple of coworkers oooed and aaahed over my snack.

"We'd look like her if we ate like that," one of them said.

If they saw what I ate for dinner last night, they wouldn't ooh and ah.

For dinner last night I had the equivalent of six chocolate-chip cookes in raw cookie dough. How does this happen, you might wonder? I'm so into nutrition and fitness, everyone points out.

Cue the sappy sad-story background music: I worked a long day yesterday, didn't have food with me (I normally pack three to four light meals that I eat throughout the day), I was stressed and, shoot, I am just going to say it: It's that time of the month. Sitting in my office at 5:30 p.m., I thought about hitting the vending machine. "No," I told myself. "Nothing but poison in there."

Then I remembered: I bought a tub of cookie dough from a coworker who was selling it for her kids' fundraiser. Chocolate CHUNK cookie dough. It was in the freezer in the lunchroom. Precisely at 5:44 p.m. yesterday, my friend, Fred, called just as I began to wedge my plastic spoon into the frozen dough. I cradled my cell phone between my ear and shoulder as the first spoon snapped in half because the cookie dough was too strong.

The next chunk flew across the room. I ate it off the floor. Ten-second rule.

Over the next two hours, I estimate I ate the equivalent of six cookies' worth of cookie dough. According to the label, that's 1,260 calories, 66 grams of fat, 720 mg of sodium, 162 grams of carbohydrates and 18 grams of protein.

I felt sick that evening, though I relished the big chunks of chocolate. I love chocolate, and I love it even more when it is frozen. I thought about eating a good, nutritious dinner afterward, but the thought of more food turned my stomach.

When I got home, I baked the rest of the cookie dough. Baked cookies don't hold nearly the temptation that the dough does.

I confessed to Fred, who rode next to me in spin class this morning, "I ate cookie dough for dinner last night," as we pedaled to a Lady Gaga beat. "I ate it while we were on the phone," I told him. No judgment from Fred. He gets it. He sent me a text later today that said, "Stop that, sister" and acknowledged that we all need to get back on healthy eating.

This binge was preceded by an eight cocoa-dusted truffle binge last week, thanks to my new boss, who left them for me for the holidays. In case you were wondering, you can eat six cocoa-dusted truffles as you walk from my office to the lunchroom. Real slowly. (You can eat two more once you get there.)

OK, that's all I have to say about my sugar binge. It's over. I'm breaking up with chocolate and getting back on track.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I want to ooze ease

It's Day 30 of my chronic headache, and I'm curled up on the couch with my laptop and one of my cats, Lily.

I am envious of Lily's ability to relax. Her head rests on my leg and occasionally, she lifts her paw and puts it on my arm, asking me to pet her. I comply because I cannot resist her sweetness. I want to achieve the level of ease that she oozes. The way her body meets the fabric of the couch says she knows tranquility.

Cats, I am guessing, do not get muscle tension headaches. The most stressful events in my cats' lives are (1) and empty food bowl and (2) a full litter box. My cats are brilliant at resolving those two issues. They knock stuff off my shelves and bat them around the tiled floor. They know the tile makes more noise than the carpet. They know I will take action.


On the advice of several friends, I visited a chiropractor for the first time in my life. I worked for an orthopedic surgeon from 1985 to 1992 who was anti-chiropractic, and he would roll in his grave if he knew what I did today.

But, frankly, I am tired of conventional medicine. I don't want to take medication. I don't want see any more specialists. I don't want to have any more tests, scans or blood work. I don't want to wait in any more lobbies and fill out form after form and sign HIPPA releases and carry those little white squares of scribble to the pharmacy. It's. Not. Working.

The chiropractor poked and pulled around my neck and said my symptoms sound less like migraines and more like muscle tension headaches.

To admit I am stressed feels like admitting I am weak.

I don't want to admit that I have muscle tension anything, which appears to be the root of my problem. Stress is the root of so much evil.

As much time and effort I spend on good nutrition and regular exercise, it's not enough. I need to be more like Lily. I need to relax and let my body melt into the couch. I need to stretch regularly. I need to bat my eyes and get people to do things for me. I need to refuse to do anything I don't feel comfortable doing (ever try to snuggle a cat who wants to be left alone?). I need to stare at random spots on the wall and suddenly dart from the room ...

Monday, January 4, 2010

If you ash your cigarettes in the rug, you won't get cockroaches

The first time I smoked must have been around my son's age. I was young enough to require a summer babysitter, Jennifer, who introduced me to cigarettes and taught me to inhale properly. She and I would watch the ABC soap operas and flick our ashes in my mom's shag green carpet. Jennifer said if you do that, you'll never have cockroaches.
Jennifer didn't force me to smoke. I asked her to teach me. I was always looking for ways to age myself.
Three places sold cigarettesto minors in my neighborhood: Highland Market (when the mom or daughter-in-law were working), Rizzi's Pizza (when the counter clerk wasn't looking we could quickly pump quarters in the cigarette machine) and Open Pantry on Carnegie Avenue in Castle Homes (technically off limits as I was not supposed to ride on that side of the tracks without my mom's permission).
One dollar would buy a pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights (for 75 cents) and a two-pack of Sweetart Chewies.
When I was in 11th grade, my high school got a new principal, and, in an effort to battle smoking in the bathroom and gym locker rooms, he created a smoking area between the school parking lot and the entrance to the building. He was a genius: It worked.
I was reminded of this recently when I was complaining to my friend Mary about having to walk through the smokers to get into my building at work. They are supposed to use a designated area behind the building that is away from traffic (Which, by the way, is right outside my company's gym, so while fitness fanatics put in miles on treadmills, steppers and elliptical machines, they watch their coworkers contribute to the Phoenix smog), yet they puff away in front of the building, and I hold my breath as I pass them by.
I've become one of THOSE non-smokers, and Mary, who smokes, says that I pronounce "smoking" with contempt in my voice. I tell her she's just feeling guilt.
"You used to be one of those smokers when we were in school and everyone had to walk by us to get into the building," she reminded me.
Your poinT (emphasis on the T)?
Being a reformed smoker isn't easy. You can easily be accused of being a hypocrite. You can relate to the love affair that smokers have with the ritual of lighting a cigarette (I always preferred the sizzle of a match over the engineered flame of a Bic). And you can relate to the misery the habit causes - the heaviness on your chest in the morning, the flegmy cough, the stinky clothes and the inability to go up and down stairs without becoming winded.
I never wanted to be one of THOSE non-smokers. But here I am, waking up on the wrong side of the bed and wanting to tell my HR department that smokers should have their own dedicated elevator so they don't stink up the other ones for nonsmokers.