The Unlikely Boxer

11 Aug
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Image courtesy of John Kasawa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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!

French Lesson

10 Aug
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Image courtesy of num_skyman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I sit here on the back porch on a beautiful morning, enjoying my tankard of strong coffee and yogurt with fruit and granola, I’m appreciating the simpler things in life. Less is more in most cases, especially when it comes to food.

Some of this I learned while living with a family in southwestern France as an au pair, back in the Pleistocene Age (1989). Here’s why my breakfast made me think of this:

Plain yogurt is better than any other yogurt. Why?

There are no extra ingredients.

It is tart, has a lovely texture, and 100% real. The flavor is even better if left to sit close to room temperature. (Most Americans find this gross, but in France it is quite normal.)

Mountain High, Fage, or Stonyfield are my personal preferences. We buy the giant containers and use them up. Because it’s an Ohio company and because the milk is extraordinary, I want to also try Snowville Creamery’s plain yogurt.

And forget the 0% fat. For a dessert yogurt or a special treat, go for full fat…it’s the good kind so nothing to feel bad about. And for everyday use, 2% is fine unless you really need to shed pounds.

I always substitute plain yogurt for anytime sour cream is required (with burritos or tacos, gazpacho, baked potatoes). The flavor is better, and you get more goodness out of the experience because of the live and active cultures, or probiotics.

Especially interesting to point out that I learned this NOT while in the notoriously liberal Paris, but while living in an area of France well-known for its political, cultural, and culinary traditionalism. The family I lived with supported Jean-Marie Le Pen, an ultra-conservative politician whose daughter is following in his footsteps. (Note that I did not share the family’s positive opinion of Le Pen!)

My family in France earned their living through veal farming (the famous black and white “Limousin” cows named for the region) and a small factory that made animal food. But unlike many American farmers, they did not support the use of small pens or antibiotics. They never used them and would not consider it because they found both practices fundamentally wrong, in keeping with their traditional views on farming practice and healthy eating. I received regular lectures from my family about the negatives of antibiotics and why eating such tainted meat was unthinkable “en France.”

So that’s my take on being simple, brought to you by my breakfast and my memories of simple living in France.

No Dance In This House

3 Aug
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Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I’ve written a post.

But it’s true. The blog has had no love from me lately.

I just haven’t been inspired. Lots of writing to do at work, and lots of writing to read by my students at the Glenn School. I needed a break from extracurricular writing.

But now I’m back.

I’ve had an entire year of utterly or nearly embarrassing my children, so there’s a lot to catch up on.

One of my less popular ideas quickly vetoed by the family:

Inter-generational dance party!!!!

What’s not to like? Here’s what I had in mind:

  • Awesome playlist ranging from Motorhead to The Clash, from Prince to Robin Thicke
  • Invitations to all people who love to dance: young, old, and in-between
  • No alcohol or illegal substances, and an 8-11 pm timeframe so kids could come with parents and enjoy

In short, just good, clean fun.

Let me just say that the idea did not go over well with the young ones or the old one (i.e., grumpy husband). Everyone quickly scrambled to come up with sleepover plans with friends, or, in the case of my husband, one night at a hotel.

Well, apparently my children are just too darned self-conscious. Or perhaps worried that friends would not want to see their mother dancing. It breaks my heart that these kids can’t just let loose and enjoy the moment. I’ve always enjoyed dancing–even when I was supposed to be self-conscious as a teenager. Guess I didn’t pass on that gene, or maybe they’ll loosen up as they get older.

And my husband keeps the hours of a dairy farmer. Going to bed at 8 pm does not work when there’s a dance party going on in your house.

Well, I still have the playlist, but I’ll be like Billy Idol dancing with myself.

Herbert Hoover’s Tennis Game

9 Oct

Image courtesy of Dan / freedigitalphotos.net

Back in the early 1930s, my great-grandfather and his farmer friends had a date with President Herbert Hoover. At the time, the productive farms in Ohio’s Ross and Vinton Counties were struggling–like most other “real people” during the Great Depression. These farmers combined their limited resources for a trip to D.C. to talk with the president they helped to elect, to explain why they so desperately needed low-interest loans to help them get through those tough times.

A bit of background about these farmers:

Like my family, most had settled in the Scioto River Valley in the late 1700s, when Ohio was still the Northwest Territory. They built the towns like Richmondale, Eagle Mills, and Ratcliffburg. They planted and put down roots in the little dales surrounding the Salt Creek, where they could forge their own way for their families and generate enough of a profit to feed everyone and lead good enough lives. By no means wealthy, they were satisfied with the self-sufficient way of life that they had developed through their own hardscrabble and grit. Most among them were “traditional conservatives”–Republicans who had voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928.

Everything changed with the Depression. My grandmother, a teenager and young woman during most of the Depression, counted herself lucky to be just one step away from having to wear a flour sack for a dress. When my great-grandfathers George Washington Brown and Noah Ezekiel Ratcliff made the decision to travel to Washington with the dozen or so other farmers, it was a calculated risk.  They pooled their resources with the group, thinking that it was a worthwhile investment for the future of the land their families had worked for generations.

But the end of the story was not a happy one. When they arrived in D.C., they were told by the president’s scheduler that he was double-booked for their meeting. Instead of keeping the date with them, the president was playing tennis.

What a foreign concept to a group of farmers. How could someone have enough time to do something as frivolous as play tennis–let alone do that instead of keeping a scheduled appointment with constituents? Later in his administration, under pressure, Hoover did end up making a decision to create low-interest loans for farmers, and then FDR expanded the program.

But it was too late for my family. They like many others around them lost their farms. My Grandfather Ratcliff went to work at Meade Paper Plant before moving up to Columbus, where he got a job in construction and became one of the first presidents of his union affiliate, Local 44, representing asbestos workers. My dad went on to follow him in that role, both as a construction worker and union president. I grew up living in twin singles for much of my childhood–hardly the life that is often portrayed for a “union boss’s” family. But I never felt less than successful or well cared-for, so the move north was a positive one for the family overall.

As they say, things happen for a reason. If the family hadn’t moved out of Appalachia, I probably would not have had the same incentives to attend college. And there’s a larger lesson in this bit of family history.

Being insulted is not something easily forgotten in a “culture of honor.” Certainly my family, like other families who came to America from isolated areas such as Northern England or Sicily, continued to maintain a stubborn and independent streak in order to survive in the post-American Revolution “Wild West.” This way of life and attitude is what helped them to succeed as farmers, and what motivated them to make a change in party after the tennis game incident.

My father tells this story today, not to emphasize the reasons behind my family’s change in political party, but to explain the difference between wise and unknowing leadership. Timing and thoughtful decisions make a difference, for real people.

Bottle Patrol

28 Jul

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Everyone has their thing.

My husband’s thing is to be OCD about windows and doors in the house, specifically windows and doors being open or closed at certain times of day. And fans being on or off at corresponding times of day, to maximize air flow in our “naturally” air-conditioned home.

And my thing is bottles. That’s right: bottles.

Specifically, it drives me crazy when people (i.e., my husband, and following in his footsteps my son) open a new bottle of something when there is already an available bottle that is not yet empty.

This is a significant issue in the refrigerator and in our bathroom. It happens with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and personal care products. I have come to believe that this issue is associated with the regular requests from my husband and son that go something like:

Where is my ___________?

Note that I get this question on a daily basis, in person, via text and voice mail. I can guarantee that if I have an early morning flight, as soon as I arrive at my destination I will hear this question from either my husband or my son.

Another variation on this same theme:

I can’t find the milk (I just bought) in the refrigerator. Where did you put it?

My response:

If you just bought it and put it in there, why can you not find it yourself? Do you still have eyes?

And,

Why do I have to know where all of your stuff is?

If I am not around to answer these questions, then a new bottle of (fill in the blank) gets opened.

I have dubbed myself “Bottle Patrol” in order to keep this problem in check. This is a real-life story about the hell I go through to keep this house organized in terms of bottles.

Two weeks ago, I had to consolidate body wash, dandruff shampoo, and conditioner in the bathroom because there were so many opened bottles of the same thing. It took me an hour to do this, upending bottles and draining them into corresponding already open bottles, rinsing out the empty ones, and putting empty and washed bottles into the recycling.

This morning, Bottle Patrol was on duty yet again. This is often the case after my husband makes the bi-weekly trip to Costco. He grew up Mormon and therefore has a natural instinct for stockpiling large amounts of supplies. The man has strong survivalist tendencies. His philosophy of “More is better” gets him in trouble with the Bottle Patrol.

Upon entering the bathroom this morning, I noticed that the problem I’d cleaned up two weeks ago had reappeared:

Three bottles of dandruff shampoo (two as of yet unopened) and two bottles of body wash (one still unopened) were overpopulating the shelf in the shower.

My response (he was not here to hear me say it):

No, no, and NO! Why do you keep doing this! We have tons of storage space for all your extra supplies. Why do you have to put the new bottles into rotation when the old one is not yet empty? Why, why, WHY?

I often go on to ask myself:

What does he think will happen that he puts so many flipping bottles of stuff in the shower? Will he for some reason be taking a shower and finish off the opened bottle of dandruff shampoo, and then have to be forced to open BOTH of the new bottles? The man has no hair. I cannot imagine this happening!

My son, as mentioned, has these same tendencies. Being a newly minted pre-teen, he is all of a sudden uber-hygiene-aware. He is stuck on Dove Men’s Body Wash EXTRA FRESH with Cooling Agent and Micro-Moisture. Promptly upon opening a new bottle, he announces:

Mom, I need more of the Dove Men’s Body Wash, THE GREEN EXTRA FRESH KIND. Can you get me three bottles?

Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to bottle accumulation.

I will train that kid, but my husband is beyond help.

Superheroes

10 Jul

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We are all suckers for a good superhero.

Everybody has their favorite:

  • Batgirl
  • Superman
  • Thor
  • Wonder Woman
  • Spiderman
  • Elastigirl

Okay, the last one is not a bona fide superhero. But I still like her special power, plus her hairdo.

Back to the topic:

Why is it that we are in awe of superheroes and their superpowers?

While watching Thor with my son over the weekend, I was thinking about this question. Besides the obvious reasons for why I enjoy Thor, there are more respectable and legitimate reasons to explain superhero worship, based upon my less than extensive research:

  • They have back-story. Superheroes tend to acquire their superpowers as a result of overcoming trials and tribulations. By enduring adversity, they rise above and conquer. They’ve worked hard to be super, and we like them more because we’ve seen them be vulnerable.
  • Superheroes have awesome costumes. The costume-maker in The Incredibles is a classic character that makes the costumes for her superhero cast come alive. Each costume is fitted specifically to the superhero’s needs, including being fire-retardant when necessary. Note to Wonder Woman: I urge you to secure Edna’s services. She could fashion a costume that would not prevent you from breathing.
  • The characters can do everything we imagine being able to master in our dreams. Flying, catching things on fire, freezing stuff, disappearing, shooting poison arrows with our eyes, bending metal, seeing through walls, etc. Superheroes mean serious business, and they have the powers to back up their promises. This is a superhero-worthy list of superpowers that goes into depth on all of the possibilities, by category. Who doesn’t want to have that level of bad-a$$-ness?
  • Superheroes save people’s lives. An extension of the above noted superpowers, the life-saving ability cannot be overrated. Superheroes have doctor complex out the yin-yang. Saving lives makes your own more valuable. This is an automatic confidence-booster, and I encourage anyone to do it whenever possible. Learn CPR. Who knows when it might come in handy?
  • They stand out in a crowd. Superheroes often wear garish colors that go well beyond the worst combinations of sports jersey hues. They look like bugs, bats, the American flag, or mythical figures on steroids. But they rock it. Who doesn’t want to pump up the volume like this every once in a while? It certainly makes the day more interesting.
  • Superheroes are real people in disguise. I personally think this is the best reason. Putting on a mask throws everyone off. What an easy way to become something you are not.

Every once in a while, we get to approach superhero-dom in our daily lives, in the eyes of our kids or our co-workers. And we get to watch others outperform normal expectations and impress us beyond belief. Then we go back to being normal.

It’s this chance to be “super” every once in a while that makes life worth living, but being “normal” on most days is such an important part of the appeal. Striving, never giving up, and believing we can be our best…this is the power of the “real-life” superhero.

Like Riding a Motorcycle

9 Jul

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About halfway back during our return trip to Columbus from the Outer Banks, the AC died in our car. I think this was karmic payback. Since we missed all the power outages while we were playing on the beach and enjoying air-conditioned goodness in our our vacation manse, we had to pay the price.

While simultaneously being deafened, windburned, and sunburned due to open windows all through the Blue Ridge mountains, I tried to imagine myself on a motorcycle. (It worked out pretty well unless the complaining from my kids in the back seat interrupted the flow of my imagination.)

In my motorcycle dream, I looked like Penelope Cruz in a Pedro Almodovar movie, gracefully accelerating my motorcycle across the Spanish flatlands with wind turbines in the background. (To keep the dream alive, there had to be many wind metaphors, along with me looking like Penelope Cruz with windblown hair.)

The reality is that I looked more like the crazy lady riding the moped in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. My hair achieved a variety of full-volume not even possible with repeated blow-drying. I accentuated this look with a Starbuck’s coffee frappuccino serving as a functional air conditioner in the old school “before we had cup-holders” position.

Ah, the sophisticated look of a mid-40s lady. Yep, that’s me.