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8 Aug

I’ve had a rough week and have tried hard to not sink into a funk over it. One thing that helps me when things aren’t going the way I’d like is to put together a gratitude list: an inventory of what I’m thankful for. It works wonders to improve my mood.

This little exercise can go beyond the obvious things–family, friends, health, having some measure of prosperity. People complain a lot about what this world has come to, but by thinking of what has made a difference in my life (even in little ways), I can start to see beyond the negativity.

Here’s a list of three “small” things that have made a big impact for me:

1. DOGS: The dogs my husband and I have owned together have made my life so much richer. They have taught me more than school, more than religion, and more than any person about what it means to be living in the moment. They are companions in ways beyond human understanding.


2. ALLERGY MEDICINE: This week, in the midst of my “meh” attitude, I also ran out of allergy medicine and had to go for a couple of days without it. I had the itchy eyes, ears, and throat along with the nonstop sneezing–the whole bit. It was dangerously close to “Phase 2” allergy symptoms, which for me translates to eyes swollen shut, ear infections, and feeling like a wreck. Like a flu without the diagnosis.

Back before the days of Zyrtec, I felt this way for most of April and May because of the tree pollen, and then again for most of July and August because of whatever is blooming then. I had to stay in the AC and take Benadryl; this was before the days of non-drowsy. I felt sluggish most of the time. If I didn’t take the Benadryl, I had sneezy fits and spent most of the time walking around with Kleenex up my nose. Not pretty.

It’s no joke that allergy medicine has really changed my life. I can’t imagine going without it, and this week was a good reminder that I’m thankful I don’t have to.

3. ANTIDEPRESSANTS: I come from a long line of women who worry too much. Not normal worrying–I’m talking the kind of worrying that makes you not go out of the house for 10 years. Yep, that was my Mom. Severe panic attacks and agoraphobia. My Grandma had the worrying problem, too–but she took care of it by smoking a lot.

When I was young, my version of the worrying first showed up as a fear of choking to death. Perhaps I’d seen too many PSAs about how to do the Heimlich maneuver; this was something that was getting a lot of publicity at the time. Somehow, in my 8-year-old mind, this translated into needing to chew the life out of my food.

There was a time when I probably wasn’t getting enough to eat because I was so worried about choking. I remember sitting at the table until late at night because I couldn’t leave the table until I finished everything on my plate. Believe me, eating takes a heck of a long time when you chew every bite 200x.

By the time I was a young woman, with the stress of college and responsibility, the worrying got worse. I was an overachieving perfectionist. I obsessed over little things that really didn’t matter–mostly my grades and whether or not people liked me. This took a toll on me.

I had several incidents where I felt completely out of control over my life and overcome with anxiety. One time when I got up 15 minutes late for a babysitting job, I felt so bad about the mistake I’d made and had an overwhelming sense of shame. I started hyperventilating, shaking uncontrollably, and had a hard time clearing my head again. Every criticism I could make of myself ganged up on me all at once.

Looking back, it’s pretty clear that I was having panic attacks from the time I became a teenager. They leveled off for a while only to return after my daughter was born and again when I was pregnant with my son. Remembering what my Mom went through during the time when she was so incapacitated by anxiety that she was afraid to go out of the house, I knew that I couldn’t go through that. I needed to work, for my livelihood and to satisfy my obsession for problem-solving (also clearly an issue, but a productive one in this case). So, working with my doctor to take some tests and rule out heart or thyroid issues as the cause for my periodic “episodes,” we came to the conclusion that my genes had caught up with me.

I was extremely resistant to taking medication for this issue. For me, it was a sign of personal failure. But after talking with the doctor, my husband, and family members, I was encouraged to think of it more as a family health issue, which it is–much like heart issues running in the family. I don’t have patience with people who issue judgment over mental illness. It is serious business in the same manner as medical health problems and deserves equal attention.

After trying one antidepressant that made me paradoxically more anxious, I was reluctant to give it another go and white-knuckled severe anxiety for about six months. This was no cake walk and prompted me to trust in just one more try. Luckily, the second time it worked.

I still take the pediatric dose in the summer and slightly higher in the winter and am thankful to carry on with my affairs without the crippling anxiety I’d come to know. It’s a good feeling to know that I can manage this health issue without having to resort to unhealthy medications like alcohol and nicotine. My own experience has given me compassion for others, including my daughter, who also face similar challenges.

The Deeper Business of Being Beautiful Inside

4 Mar

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.11.10 PMIn a moving speech given prior to her Oscar win for supporting actress, Lupita Nyong’o encouraged women to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

It’s a simple but difficult proposition.

In the same Oscar ceremony where Nyong’o won her award, 81-year-old actress Kim Novak also appeared–noticeably and disturbingly altered by plastic surgery.

What a contrast. I was named after Kim Novak, so I’ve always paid attention to her over the years. It’s sad that she felt she had to go to such lengths.

Why can’t an 81-year-old woman look 81? Grandmas rock. I always thought my grandmothers and older aunties were cool, even if they wore funny teased-up hairdos and cat-eye glasses with rhinestones. They made excellent peanut butter cookies, smoked Salem cigarettes, and ate Chinese food. Their skin was soft and pale–protected from the sun because it was a sign of poverty to have so much color on your face. By night, they wore Pond’s cold cream, and by day they wore little to no makeup. Well, maybe a little bit of lipstick.

It was a shock to see Novak’s face, but why? There’s an expectation that women will look young for as long as we can. With many women my age, it starts off with Botox or collagen injections. Mouths go from normal-looking to Joker-esque. Courteney Cox, Demi Moore, Cameron Diaz, et al. And it just gets stranger-looking from there. Joan Rivers and Madonna–why? Looking one’s age is better than looking like someone else–or like a puffed-up doll.

I read today that Kim Novak was criticized from a young age and began altering her look long before preparing for last night’s Oscars. Even during the era of Bell, Book, and Candle and Vertigo? What a shame.

I remember when I was a teenager looking at myself in the mirror and not liking what I saw. At the time, I pretty much felt like an ugly duckling and looked nothing like Kim Novak in the movies. I don’t think I started liking what I saw until I was in my late 30s. I regret not appreciating even little things about myself, inside and out, much earlier.

Now, it’s fine. I am content with what I see and who I am. There are scars, lines, and wrinkles on my face. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them. I have light skin, freckles, a noticeable nose, larger than I would like pores, and a stripe of silver hair in my center part. I procrastinate and indulge my children more than I should. So what?

If I saw something different, it would be a lesser version of me. Why go to all the trouble of changing what it took so long to earn? I don’t want to go back to my 20s or look like I could be 20. Why not go forward?

A natural face at any age is more beautiful than plastic. And Nyong’o is right: it’s inner beauty that makes for happiness. We need more Betty White than Kim Novak.

Influenza Wang-Dang-Doodle

18 Dec

This week I’ve had the flu, and it’s given me new perspective on living without it.

Currently on Day#5 of a Super-Fun Flu Saga, I cannot remember being this immobilized since I was sick as a child. It’s brought back some memories. I was sick with strep throat and other childhood variety ailments more than once during the week before Christmas.

Unfortunately for my parents, I was a sleepwalker when feverish. My routine included wandering around the house like a zombie at the height of my fever (usually 2-4 am) and waking up Mom in my delirium, saying overly creative things. It freaked her out, so she tapped me (gently) on my cheeks to get my attention and wake me up.

Good thing I don’t do that anymore.

Here are some of the unique benefits to having the flu as an adult:

  1. Koko Taylor Voice. Either I have no voice at all, or I sound like the now-deceased blues singer Koko Taylor. She has taken up residence in my vocal cords and is experiencing new life every time I open my mouth. While I appreciate the concept of temporarily channeling the elderly African American “Queen of the Blues,” I would like for her to move on to another host right about now. I’m tired of pitching a wang-dang-doodle, all night long or for any other imaginable length of time.
  2. Going back to old-school food basics. Green or chamomile tea with lemon, OJ or Emergen-C, oatmeal, chicken broth, crackers, ice-cold water with lemon and 2 ibuprofen, cough syrup, REPEAT. This is my routine. These are the only things that taste good. I will probably not eat any of the foods again for quite some time after this is said and done. And while I do clearly have the flu, by God I sure won’t be getting scurvy anytime soon. I’m going through two lemons per day on this diet. And I have lost weight but would not recommend the approach to anyone.
  3. Plenty of time for TV-watching, random videos, and reading. I don’t tend to watch much TV, so the allure is not there, but I have been sucked into the same “dog and cat video vortex” that seems to grab my daughter at least 99 times per day. Titles like “Watch boxer and kitten play together” and “See boxers getting into mischief” have enticed me more than I’d like to admit. And while I have enjoyed reading more of James Herriot’s stories about being a young vet in the English countryside, I can only do this for so long. It’s maddening to be so bored but to have little energy to do anything else. Despite my husband’s warnings of “Don’t you dare do any work today,” I have snuck in a fair amount of it because it keeps me from feeling so idle.
  4. New use for exercise wear and off-season clothes. It’s not very comfortable sleeping with a fever. People tend to think that sick folks get a lot of rest, but the rest is not restful, and it’s not what I would call “a good night’s sleep.” Body aches make me toss and turn, and the coughing fits wake me in the middle of the night. Probably worse is having a dream that I’ve been caught in a warm rainstorm and am for some reason laying in the puddles–except the rainstorm is from my fever and the puddles are my bed. That’s where wicking exercise-wear and summertime tank tops and shorts come in. Normally at this time of year I’m cold, but not so thanks to high body temps brought on by the flu. I’ve been riding at 100 for the past few days, and it dropped to 99.5 this morning. So we are making progress.

I’m really going to be thankful when everything is back to normal, without the flu wang-dang-doodle. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate my husband’s patience and caregiving.

And one final note: Please, people…get your flu shots. It’s so worth it. I didn’t get mine, which I greatly regret.

The Unlikely Boxer

11 Aug

Image courtesy of John Kasawa /

Three weeks ago, I tried a boxing class with my daughter at Title Boxing Club. My motivation was this:

Curiosity and FREE CLASS!

Long story short:

  1. I felt like I was going to die at least 10 times during this first session. Not just out of breath dying–I mean actually losing consciousness, possibly for an extended period of time. KO style, without anyone actually being there to knock me out.
  2. I found it strangely therapeutic to focus on the technique of straight punches, upper cuts, jabs, and hooks.
  3. After the class I signed us up for monthly membership because we felt so good.
  4. And now we are going 3x per week. This is the minimum as prescribed by my husband, who knows my history with exercise and doubts that this time will be any different. So far, he is wrong. So there.

Admittedly, I’m not the last person in the world you’d expect to be interested. While in grad school, I was very involved in a Tae Kwon Do club, but I never kept up with it after I graduated. The thrill only lasts so long. I get bored. But the difference with this boxing thing is that every class is taught by someone else–people with exotic names like Mondo, Seamus, and Adli–and it seems that even with the same instructor every class is somewhat different.

So it’s keeping my interest for the moment. Is it a coincidence that I have been less angry lately? Probably not. As my boss, who also has been doing these classes, pointed out: “It’s bad-a$$.”

It is safe to say that I’m not a motivated exercise type of person. It all sounds good in concept, but my general preference is to sit this one (and every other one) out. This year, I signed up as a Virtual Rider for Pelotonia–a perfect solution for my laid-back (lazy?) personality type.

So far, the boxing is well beyond virtual for me. We did a kickboxing class with an instructor named Reggie a couple of days ago, and it took me back to my Tae Kwon Do days. I can actually feel muscles in my legs again for the first time in years. The full-body and combined cardio/strengthening benefits also came back to me. It felt good to explain to my daughter proper kicking techniques….which I do remember.

And another first for me: Reggie had us doing sit-ups, while holding weight balls. I actually did 50 sit-ups. This is not something that I would ever do on my own. In fact, I can say with complete assurance that it’s the first time I’ve EVER done 50 sit-ups,  let alone while holding a weight, so thanks to Reggie for making all of us push through.

Added bonus to all of this: I get to spend some quality time with my teenage daughter, who’s also enjoying the experience and doesn’t seem to be too embarrassed by me so far. We laugh together, at our own lameness and at the other “boxers” who get overly pumped up and make funny noises while they do their thing.

I’m no Rocky, but I’m ready for the next round!

Apres Zumba

22 Jun


Tonight was my first Zumba class ever.

It reminded me a lot of aerobics. Combined with dance moves that don’t come naturally for people of English origin. My genes don’t take kindly to shoulder rolls, meringue, or excessive hip-shaking.They upset the natural balance of being uptight and anxiety-ridden.

But I did it anyway, and it was kind of fun.

Plus I didn’t fall down or run into anyone else, which means that I consider the experience a win for myself and a few other ladies.

I’m confident that if evaluated on my technique and/or artistry, I would have scored in the bottom decile of the class. My contribution pretty much involved bouncing around like a goofball for an hour, a few beats behind the instructor at all times, trying not to APPEAR too winded.

I was careful to position myself in the back of the room, well behind my daughter who was also in the class. Two reasons for this: Not wanting to embarrass her, and if I couldn’t see the instructor I could watch my daughter and figure out what I was supposed to be doing.

One benefit to the Zumba is that the instructor didn’t seem quite as intent as my yoga instructor on killing me during the class. I didn’t feel close to death at any time, which also gives Zumba extra points.

Permission to Zumba

14 Jun


I have discovered that embarrassing my teenaged daughter is a relative thing.

A few weeks ago, she decided to take a Zumba class. This is a new fitness approach developed by a Colombian man and involves a vast menu of dance moves, including belly-dancing, hip-hop, and meringue–interspersed with squats, martial arts, and the occasional Bollywood move.

I offered to join her and was quickly rebuffed. “Please don’t.”

It’s true that I have been accused of being a great embarrassment to her. Sad, I know.

Well then. So much for bonding with my daughter before she becomes a fully licensed driver in October and I never see her again. (This is what will happen if she follows in my pattern as a teenager. Luckily, so far she has not followed in my footsteps except in a few good ways, so she’ll probably stick around.)

But tonight, she went to the class and came back to report: “Um, it’s okay if you want to come with me. There’s no one my age there. It’s all older ladies like you.”

And so, just like that, I have been granted permission to Zumba.

Apparently my attendance is only a problem if other teens are present. I probably would have felt the same way at her age. I’ll take this opportunity to spend some time with my firstborn.

Whetstone Rec Older Ladies, watch out for me and my daughter. We are ready to Zumba like nobody’s business.

The Squeeze

24 Mar

Ambro /

Don’t get me wrong: Being 44 (or “fo-fo” as I have been saying, just to make it sound better) has been great so far. I really can’t complain. My brain and body appear to still be functioning per specs.

But there are medical precautions that enter the picture upon “middle age” that make it oh-so-more interesting. My husband told me that once you hit 50 (he is much closer to it than me-HA!), you have to get an annual colonoscopy. Yes, every year. Ick.

And recently I had a little freak-out over the stupid mammogram process, which I am now supposed to be doing on a regular basis. I really despise this stuff…mainly because it forces me to think about mortality, which I really don’t want to consider.

So after having the reminder “get boobs smashed” on my to-do list for about a year, and dodging repeated questions from both my primary physician and my gynecologist about when I am going to get it done, I finally did it. Hadn’t had one done in about 10 years, which is not good, I know, but as I said I prefer to ignore these types of things.

My rationalization process goes something like this: If it’s on my to-do list I’m paying lip service to it, even if I haven’t actually done it yet. Right.

I was so proud of myself. It was really not a big deal. Except for the technician, who seemed to be about 12 years old and a bit unsure of herself.

Until my doctor’s assistant called me after a few days. “Sweetie, the doctor needs you to go back and get the mammogram re-done because they couldn’t get a good reading,” said Maxine. “They need to use a special machine on you. The doc says not to worry–it’s normal for small ladies like you.”

I always knew I was special, but this is too much. A “special machine?” What the heck. And I am now a “small lady?????”

Take heed, young women who don’t know about this:

If you fall into the category of “B wannabe,” this too will be your fate. You must cash in on your “special” status by paying a visit to the machine built for “small ladies.”

Great. I am so looking forward to this.

P.S. Because I tend to obsess about things more than necessary, of course I worried about all of this after I set up the “special machine” appointment. Sent an anxious email to my doc delivered this reassuring result: “I would tell you if something was wrong, and there isn’t anything to worry about. It’s the curse of the small woman. Now, go get smashed!” Gosh, I love my doc.

So Muchmas

19 Dec

Image: John Kasawa /


I really am blessed. I have all of my family members around me, happy and healthy, as we close in on the holidaze.

Counting down, it’s just six days to Christmas. We had my family over yesterday. I enjoyed seeing my nephews, niece, sister-in-law, Mom, and Dad. I missed seeing my brother (but to be fair can see him anytime because he’s in town.)

My husband cooked up a big pancake breakfast, and I made real hot chocolate and smoothies for everyone. It felt good to get the house cleaned up and host a shin-dig. I particularly enjoyed watching my 3-year-old niece open her gifts (art stuff) and experiment with her new watercolors, paintbrushes, and over-sized SpongeBob coloring book.

There’s a bittersweet-ness to the holidays that has me down, though. I wish I felt closer to my family of origin. At this time of the year when everybody gathers around, there’s a sort of expectation that everything’s perfect. Well folks, it isn’t, in so many ways. Everybody has their story about this–nothing to feel ashamed or sorry for myself about–just reality.

My challenge this year, I think, is to break free of the expectations around Christmas. How much to spend. How much to feel that overwhelming sense of togetherness. How much to givegivegivegive. And forgive. How much to expect. That’s the problem with the holidays. It’s the “much-ness” that gets me down.

There’s an expectation that this time of year is the coming together of all that is good in life–family, acquisition, food and drink, generosity, the overall milk of human kindness. Yet when all of the pieces don’t come together it’s easy to feel disappointed and resentful. Like I am not working hard enough or am not innately good enough to attract that fairy dust of muchness around me.

In the end, families, friends, and life in general will be what they will be. Children will appreciate what suits them and not me. Parents will be themselves–not the superheroes that I at times imagine them to be. Friends will remember or not remember that my birthday is tomorrow and that I do not want a combined birthday-Christmas present (TAKE NOTE!). Husbands will be unnecessarily grumpy or inexplicably kind. And I can choose to take it all too seriously–or let it go and let it be.

Winter Blahs, Begone

1 Dec

The dark days are upon us. Leaving work at 6 pm and driving home in the dark is the pits. For me, it’s not the cold that gives me the winter blahs, it’s the short days and lack of sun. Put me in Montana with three feet of snow and clear blue skies, and I’m good. Too bad I live in grey and dark Oh-io.

There are certain tricks I’ve learned over the years to help make it to March.

1. Get blonder.

I know this may seem vain, but bear with me. I’m not a fan of extreme ways to enhance appearance. For myself, I’d consider it a waste of money to use Botox or get plastic surgery. I was brought up to believe that you stuck with what God gave you and made the best of it, end of story. Anyway, I barely have enough time to blow-dry my hair in the morning and would be embarrassed to spend hours and ridiculous amounts of money drastically changing the way I look. But in moderation there are certain enhancements that I can buy into.

Physical beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. And good looks, whatever dose of them we each get, don’t always stand the test of time. So why not celebrate the things that make us uniquely beautiful, in our own ways? This is my rationalization, plus the fact that it’s winter and something has to get cranked up a notch.

If there can’t be sun, then by God there will be blonde.

My favorite way to do this involves periodic use of a $15 product from the Target hair care aisle: John Frieda’s Sheer Blonde Go Blonder Controlled Lightening Spray. One bottle lasts me an entire year and keeps my dark blonde hair from getting sad and dishwatery in the winter. It’s basically straight-up hydrogen peroxide jacked up with some chamomile and lemon for organic-y marketing purposes. Now that I have glimpses of silver along with the blonde, the bottle does double duty. Money well spent for an extra dose of feel-good.

2. Go to bed and wake up earlier.

I try to align my active times with the light. My natural tendency is to stay up late. I’m much more of a night than morning person by nature. But I am lucky to have a husband who gets up on his own at 4:30 am. Too bad we don’t have cows. He wakes me up at 6 am, when the sun is getting ready to rise. I’m fairly out of it when I first get up, but I sit in our east-facing sunroom/greenhouse and drink coffee to get myself jump-started.

3. If unable to visit tropical climes, go to hot yoga.

Hot yoga is a type of yoga practice done in rooms heated up to 95-100 degrees. It is also called Bikram, after the man who invented it. The workout is vigorous because of the heat and the vinyasa style of movement, which basically connects all of the poses together and incorporates various series of poses that require you to work your core and move aerobically. You also integrate balancing, push-up-like moves, and overall strengthening.

The technical term for the way you move through these poses and combine them into series is called ashtanga yoga. It has been practiced for centuries, and in combination with the heat you get an incredible workout that releases toxins and puts you in la-la land at the end. You finish by laying on the ground, so you can kind of drift off if you don’t want to meditate like you’re supposed to be doing.

I can’t stand to do this when it’s warm because the heat is too intense for me then, but yoga all meet my needs in the cold months. My favorite studio here in Columbus is V Power Yoga.

4. Go outside even if you have to put on ski pants and end up looking like the Michelin Man.

Staying inside and sitting around combine to make me a grumpier and unhappier person in the winter. I have come to enjoy outdoor sports like skiing and hiking in the snow. Returning back home or the lodge and sitting in front of the fireplace is much more satisfying after brisk outdoor exercise. I wish we reliably had more snow here…I’ve had my eye on some snowshoes but can’t justify the expense if I can only use them a few times per year.

So there you have it, more free advice. Going into winter #44, I guess it’s about time I learn to live with it!