Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thingies and Stuff

When the kids and I pass by the store "Fitness Things," we feel somewhat unsatisfied. Couldn't they have taken an extra moment or two around the board room table and come up with another name? One that gets to the true heart of their mission?

We worked on some possibilities we feel they should consider. Here are the top contenders.

Fitness 'R' Us

Fitness Crap 'N' Stuff

Thingies Related To Fitness

Fitness Things But No Potato Chips

Several Products Having Something To Do With Exercise

Greg, too, is working on creative projects with the kids. Check out the Theophiles at The Musical Diary of Greg Scheer.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

23.5 Books Read* This Year

I just began The Forgotten Affairs of Youth, if you must know; if finished, it would close out the Alexander McCall Smith category of books read* this year. That's the best I can do: sort. Despite all this writing, I'm not one for reviews. But if you're interested to know more about one or the other, comment on this post and I'll be happy to tell you more.

Boxing/sports books
A surprising number. Add to this I actually read through the sports section of the newspaper now, as well.
On Boxing, Joyce Carol Oates
More Than A Champion, Jan Philip Reentsma
The Sweetest Thing, Mischa Merz
The Boxer's Heart, Kate Sekules
Spirituality of Sport, Susan Saint Sing
Born To Run, Christopher McDougall

Alexander McCall Smith novels
He's just the best. In every way one can be the best.
The Charming Quirks of Others
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party
The Dog Who Came In From The Cold

Joyce Carol Oates novels
She's in the boxing category, too; she's that cool.
Little Bird of Heaven
Missing Mom
Middle Age: A Romance

Other Fiction
All by women! Hadn't caught that before.
The Rest of Life, Mary Gordon
Final Payments, Mary Gordon
Desperate Characters, Paula Fox
A Visit From The Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
Once Upon A Time, There Was You, Elizabeth Berg

At Random
Aristotle's Poetics, introduction Joe Sachs
Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid, Lemony Snicket
Slouching Toward Nirvana, Charles Bukowski
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train, Stephen Adley Guirgis
Blue Nights, Joan Didion

  1. Take note of books you, too, have finished, which overlap with the lists here. Comment below on the connections.
  2. Find a theme woven throughout the choice of books listed above. Perhaps the dangling head on the cover of Aristotle's Poetics has something to do with the boxing books, or with Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid. Explain the themes below.

* "read" meaning "finished"; this year, quite a few books were started, and sometimes nearly finished, before being tossed aside. As I tell my kids, there are too many good books out there; don't waste time on the bad ones.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Everything I Needed To Know: One Foot In Front Of The Other

As I write, the bone of my kneecap is bruised. The vastus medialis in that same leg has stopped firing, the adductor longus has atrophied, and the patellar tendon thickened and swelled. Both arms are limited by what's called tennis elbow, my right more than my left.

The situation could be much worse; there could be sprains, a tear, I could need surgery. However, I'm a person who discovered something she enjoys and is good at, right when people are settling into middle age, and this something requires the use of these body parts.

But let me tell you why I have hope.

In this second installment of Everything I Needed To Know I Learned In My 41st Year, I'll explain the two sides of achieving a goal, based on my experience.

one step at a time
It started in November. I thought about how far I'd come athletically, from a chiropractor calling me everything but The Elephant Man, to tackling the sport ESPN has deemed most demanding. In the past year, especially, I'd seen significant improvement in endurance and agility. When a coach was convinced I used to play soccer, I shook my head in amazement and vowed to keep up those ladder drills.

Then I put two and two together. If the awkward bookworm could do this, anyone can do anything, and also the bookworm boxer can do a lot more. I vowed to take baby steps to reach two important personal goals: finish my book project, and compete in boxing.

Baby steps. No problem.

The book project went according to plan. I dedicated extra hours each week, and in a short period of time brought the manuscript to a nearly finished point. The book has always flowed well once I could bring myself to work on it, but I rarely would--the nature of its structure demands immersion in the material, and I never had that kind of time; too, the story is an intense one, and holding the writing often required a tissue in the other hand.

Kevin, whose story this is, has been nothing but patient and trusting in me, but I felt I owed it to the people I interviewed to finish it. They trusted me with their stories. Even now, people call or write to talk and cry with me. It's a beautiful story, and I'm privileged to work on it.

Right now I'm waiting on some documents, and with a few more hours should be ready to send it to the agent who showed interest.

Baby steps. As planned. So far.

acute trauma
As for boxing, I had my training plan in stone, leading up to a match in February or April. And then my knee went from feeling funny to being out of commission (my doctors say "acute trauma"--that there's no way I don't remember it happening. A guy at the gym is convinced I drink heavily). My tennis elbow(s) had been a major problem I'd been avoiding, so I figured I'd get therapy on them, too, while working on the leg.

That's both upper and lower body, you may have noticed. Suddenly there wasn't much of anything I could do. Of course, the situation could be much worse--there could be a tear or strain, a need for surgery. But I had goals to reach! How quickly one loses ground.

i'm not actually in control
Thus commenced a brief existential crisis. Who am I without what I can do? I'd be at the gym doing the little things, and I'd become angry. If there's one lesson to be learned in the gym by trainers and trainees alike, it's this: you've got to be doing stuff that suits your personality, or you'll lose motivation. I like a challenge. I like heavy stuff. I'd do one set of these pseudo exercises and then try one set of another boring thing and get annoyed, get nowhere.

And then I remembered my lesson: baby steps. One step at a time will get you there, even when you're thrown back to start, at which point you'll start again.

so start again
I've lost a lot of ground. I can't have any impact on my knee, which means it's very difficult to keep up my endurance. And right during the months when I can actually breathe (no allergies).

But after a few hours wasted in physical therapy, I'm seeing a chiropractor who is also a trainer and a strength coach. Jason Ross knows bones and muscles, and he's a miracle worker. Where the PT had me avoid all lifting, Ross told me the first day what to do while doing pull-ups--he assumed I'd be doing them. 100 squats a day to get the VM firing again. Moving into single-leg squats this week. I love this guy.

I can see progress in my arms and my leg. I've lost a lot of ground, but I know I can get back. It's an opportunity to reevaluate what's important, and also for something else I haven't learned yet. I can tell there are still a few more lessons my knee and my arms want to teach me.

accept where you are before you can travel further
There is an acceptance to moving on and growing. Part of my early crisis was due to the feeling I should be doing something, but not yet knowing what--waiting for the MRI, trying stuff and getting re-injured. But once you know what you're dealing with, you can make your choices.

It reminds me of when Theo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and people were mailing me lists of scripture verses to pray for his healing. While well-intentioned, this gesture only served to make us feel like it's our fault that he still had the disease. If we did all this praying, we would make the healing come to pass, seemed to be the theory. The power was ours, and since he still was diabetic, clearly we weren't doing our part.

But no. We needed to spend energy on how to manage his care. We needed to accept and move on.

The point that we're not really in control was brought home then, and when my November plans were foiled. But I can try again. I now have accepted that I can't run or jump, but I can do squats. I can't presently do front raises with 25s, but 15s, finally, don't hurt my elbows. I have accepted these limitations and will not jeopardize my recovery. I will take one step at a time.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

A post from '09. Merry Christmas to all.

Sometimes God chooses unlikely routes of communication.

That's what we talked about Monday night at The Open Door, a homeless shelter for women. How the people called by God aren't always obvious choices (see John the Baptist) and the ways chosen by God don't make immediate sense (see Mary: young, single and not wealthy, carrying the Savior of the world in her womb).

John the Baptist was sent to "prepare the way of the Lord," as we heard in a reading. Mary was the way the Lord had chosen, as we saw in a sketch by my friend John Cosper. But why? Why do this? Why should God put on flesh and be born of a woman?

I cast parts for "The Incarnation" from Cloth for the Cradle, and told everyone we'd read the script through once, tune it up, then perform it for ourselves at the end of the night.

We read. We discussed the meaning. I gathered the two narrators and God, and asked them to pick up the pace.

"I thought I was doing a good job of that," said Evelyn, who prides herself--rightly so--on her excellent reading abilities.

"You were," I told her, "but what feels fast to you will be just the right energy for the audience. At the end, though, don't rush it, Keesha. Linger a little with that last image. Pat: Don't overplay God's emotions or they'll turn comic. Mimes: Exaggerate both your actions and your frozen poses. Don't draw attention to yourself when important things are going on upstage, but at the end, take the spotlight." Everyone nodded in agreement.

Though I mostly run exercises with the women, I'm always looking for ways to throw in terminology and teach actual theatre conventions. I held up the long piece of gold lame I had used as a prop during the read-through, grabbed from under my Christmas tree earlier that evening.

"Did you see how the cloth became a symbol of God's attempts at communicating with us--the rainbow, the manna, the Red Sea? And how it turned into the primary form of communication, when I folded it into the form of a swaddled baby?"

The symbolism is important, I pointed out. Right about then, Evelyn starts toward me.

Evelyn has a bottle-blonde crewcut and wears two quilted jackets she never takes off. The pockets--two on each--bulge with her belongings.

"Here," she says, handing me a small, ratty teddy bear with a ribbon on its neck, the kind you wrap around gifts and use a pair of scissors to curl. I'm confused for a moment, thinking she's thanking me with a gift; I don't know Evelyn well, and though she's aggressively good-natured, I see hints that I could send her reeling with a single look. I want to be sure about this teddy.

"The baby," she says. Oh dear, I think, she wants Teddy to be Baby Jesus. Someone within hearing distance yells a nay to that idea, but Evelyn insists. I start to catch on--she thinks it will add substance to the cloth, make it look like there's a real baby inside.

"Like this? Is it okay that the bear isn't visible?" It is. Evelyn is happy with the final product.

I stuff Teddy into the left pocket of my hoodie, shove the cloth under my arm, and hold the script with the other hand. Carly, one of the mimes, has a moment of stage fright, but she agrees to go on. We're ready for the show.

"The Incarnation," I announce.

"Is this where I'm supposed to stand?" Keesha asks.

"Yes. The Incarnation, Take Two. Wait a minute," I say, "One last thing. If you stumble over your words or movements--which you might, seeing that you've only read it once before--carry on. Don't draw attention to yourself or giggle and make jokes--just pick up and carry on. Doesn't matter that we're our own audience. It's a lesson for the stage but it's also a life lesson, right?"

Amen, they say.

"The Incarnation, Take Three."

"God looked around and saw the world which he had made a long time ago, and what he saw upset him," read Keesha, nice and clear.

"In one place, preachers were talking about peace, priests were talking about peace, prophets were talking about peace. So much talking, but there was no peace. There was only talking to hide the noises of war." The mimes concluded their preaching and held their pose.

"In another place," read Evelyn, "People were building; building banks and warehouses, building monuments to their own greed..." A mighty orator now, Evelyn was catching her stride. "So much building, while the poor became poorer, and the scales of justice were biased to the rich." The mimes put down their hammers, and Pat--God--sighed on cue.

On through the sketch they went, solidly. God tried various means to communicate with his people, but to no avail. Finally, God said, "I'll send...I'll send...I'll go there myself."

I turned toward the lockers, pulled Teddy from my pocket, and wrapped him safe and sound in luminous gold.

Symbolism is important, yes; but sometimes the meaning isn't quite obvious, or doesn't make immediate sense.

And sometimes there are so many layers you keep finding one after the other, like a present inside a present inside a present.

"So the Word became flesh, tiny and frail flesh," Keesha proclaimed reverently, with care. God carried the golden gift to Mary and Joseph. Pat outstretched her hands to complete the final image, an unlikely symbol of God making contact, a nativity for those with no place to lay their heads.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Your Holiday Sea Monkey Update

There was one bunny and then none, no frogs then a bunch of tadpoles then several frogs then none, four mice then three then two and now two in separate cages.

And then there are the sea monkeys. Once a packet of dust on a toystore shelf, now mating happily into the new year.

Track their timeline back to September, when the sea monkeys were given to Theo on the occasion of his 8th birthday, under the assumption they'd provide a week's worth of entertainment.

Now it's December, with no signs of this letting up.

The large sea monkey population continues its happy swirling and weeks-long mating. But these are not September's monkeys, who made a feminist of Amy, as she watched the large, egg-sac heavy female struggle to swim for food with a mate hanging on; these are the grandchildren of the grandchildren. Generations upon generations have come and gone as I prepare meals in my kitchen.

If I don't feed them, they hover, facing me at the sink, their large eyes (eyes?) on me, their little bodies treading water to hold this pose of intimidation.

I expect personality from the mice, somewhat larger creatures with clearly defined eyes and cute little furry bodies. Of the 4 original mice, one was always a bully. "B" we wrote on his back, to remind us he'd Bite if picked up, this Bully, a very Bad mouse. Finally we had to give him his own cage.

But I do not expect character traits in dust from an envelope.

Sea monkeys staring me down? What a magical time of year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Today: At Random

This is the album that will get me through the holidays; the sweet melancholy is perfect on a cold winter day like this. With songs like "Did I Make You Cry?", this guy has captured the nuances of Christmas, and couldn't be more right on with this album, quirky as it is.

I especially like my profile of 88Improv for Northwestern College, mostly because it's really difficult to write about an improv troupe without having been to their show.

A lot of what I'm paid to do at the Y is talk. Answer questions, get to know people, develop relationships--I'm a wellness coach, not a trainer, so my goal is to simply move people toward the next step, which involves getting to know where they are right now.

There's a woman who has thanked me every day for the six months after I taught her to stretch after running, so today I thought I'd really blow her mind and offer to show her the nautilus machines. This worked as planned, and I'm thrilled she's finally building strength right when a woman's body fights its loss.

But then another woman begged for a nautilus orientation, and I agreed, reluctantly, only after insisting she visit her doctor about her shoulder and knee issues. We took things very easy and I suggested she seriously consider starting in the pool, not on the equipment.

A third woman I told to stop exercising altogether. Or mostly, or just take a break--she's 60, and, motivated by a significant weight loss, is high intensity queen. She exercises all the time, and now she's getting sick all the time. I've been coaching her to take some time off, let her body catch up. She's too worried the weight will come back.

It was nice to notice that, even with all the gabbing, I'm not just saying the same things to everyone. I repeat myself often, because many people don't know the basics, but at least I'm making it personal.

Monday, December 19, 2011

KO In The Classroom

Right across the hall from "Holiday Craftmaking," and down a few classrooms from "Knitting," Simon's mom taught kids how to punch.

Having finally figured out how to make volunteering in my children's classrooms enjoyable (hint: choose something you like doing), I offered to teach boxing for a Happening Hobbies event, right alongside knitting, guitar, origami and zumba.

Four 25-minute classes with 25 kids a piece. They make 5th and 6th graders big nowadays; some of those boys I'd put at 150+, and I could see in their eyes that all they wanted for Christmas was to hit stuff. The mitts took some concentration and serious arm tension (wouldn't have looked good if the teacher was taken out).

You can read in one of my favorite posts the mantra my kids and I usually recite on days when I volunteer; this time, when asked why I did this, I added, "So you can say, 'My mom can beat up your mom.'"

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You Did It. Now for One More Hurdle

UPDATE: Shari didn't win. The money went to a brewing co-op idea, which was actually a good one, if you're into brewing beer. It was a fun ride, and it's not over yet; Shari will continue to help her community, money or no money. Thanks for your support and votes along the way--especially to my husband, who helped us get the presentation slides done and emailed at precisely the minute they were due.

Thanks to all of you and an awesome popular vote, Shari made it to the top five finalists of 5x5 night, and is now one step away from a chance at winning $5000 and making her dream come true.

She'll present her idea, THE VILLAGE: Mothers Raising Mothers, next Tuesday night at the Grand Rapids Art Museum to a panel of judges and a live audience. Tickets are $5, doors open at 5pm, and each finalist has 5 minutes (get it?). Come and take part!

Special thanks to Lisa Bledsoe of The Glowing Edge and Joe Maher of jmimages photography for lending out last minute creativity to the project.

Shari and I met tonight, a little dazed, to prepare for Tuesday. Though a bit overwhelmed, she's not surprised ("God did this") nor is she finished dreaming.

"I just want to leave this world a better place than how I found it," she said.

Friday, December 9, 2011

As It Turns Out, I'm Not Invincible

I have been prescribed a brace for my knee, a splint for my wrist, and a band for my elbow.

The doctor said she needs to "shut me down" for a while.

The physical therapist said I must "avoid the tendency to overdo things." We had just met.

I left the brace fitting hurriedly, apologizing.

"I'm so sorry to rush, but I need to teach an exercise class," I said, and limped out the door.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Everything I Needed To Know: Power of One

Everything I Needed To Know I Learned In My Fortieth Year. Let's start this series. Except... the title should probably reference my 41st year, not the 40th, if what I learned settled in post-birthday #40. Right? Who out there can do math?


Such a silly story, but I can't stop thinking about it.

Kids at the bus stop. Standing on a corner and crossing the street to get on the bus, every day. Every day crossing the street in front of the bus, backing up when the bus driver yells for them to wait for the safety bar to extend, waiting for the bar, crossing again. Every day.

Until the day my husband was out of town and bus stop duty was my turn. I saw the crossing. I scratched my head. I conducted research with the other parents and determined, the next morning, that there was no good reason to stand where everyone was standing.

"Kids, we're crossing the road."

Parents thanked me. Admitted they didn't know why they were standing where they did. Admitted they did it "just because." Every day they had their kids join in on something they were pretty sure didn't make sense. A whole mess of them. Just because.

It took a few days for the change to set in. But now, months later, nobody remembers standing over there.

A small moment in time; my bus story. It's no Rosa Parks bus story, but for me, the implications are profound.

I can change the world. Anybody can. People laugh when I say the shoebomber changed the world, but it's true: people everywhere, everywhere, must take off their shoes before boarding a plane. This man changed everything, and not for good. The moral of my bus story is that you can change things for the good.

In my first post on the year's lessons , I mentioned noticing that all my lessons have a parallel component, like two sides of a coin.

Here, it's this: You don't have to change the world yourself. I didn't say by yourself, I meant you, changing the world through another channel.

When I first heard that a video of my reading with ex-prisoners was played in prison, sparking conversation and tears, the first thing I did was try to figure out what I was doing that very moment.

Probably in my laundry room, I figured, moping in self-pity over the big piles.

The next thing I did was mesh the two thoughts together: I can put time into this one thing, and as I go about the quotidian tasks of life, it can go on making a difference without me.

When I taught Theatre of the Oppressed at a conference, some of my students came to me after and pledged themselves to helping various causes: the sex trade, race relations. I could do this one thing, prep hard and draw on all my training and experience, and it could keep going, and keep changing lives.

When I learned that a local initiative invests up to $5000 in good ideas, I thought of my friend Shari. I could invest a little research and writing time, and Shari's dream, The Village, could come true and help a whole lot of people. (Only a couple more days left to vote:

The bus. It keeps traveling through my mind, moving me to the place where goodwill and potential and hard work meet. All aboard!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Everything I Needed To Know I Learned In My 40th Year

I'm 41 now, and this past year, I learned a lot. Mostly in the last few months. Call me slow; it took four decades to figure out some stuff most of you probably already know (about yourselves, or about me).

But some of the lessons are quite paradoxical, as I saw once I began scribbling them down. Two sides of the same coin. I had hoped to list out my lessons in a post on December 31 and call it good, but now we're looking at a series, in order to get at all angles.

A word on self-awareness: I'm not a fan. At least of the public kind--a part of me is convinced that in the same way that no cashier cards me anymore, and no one is a bit surprised when I tell them my age, you do not care what I learned this year. But another part of me knows that some of what I've finally put together mentally is universal. So that's my only goal here--in this wrap-up and in this blog: relating to you. Hoping to trigger some of these same revelations in you.

And a word on December: Busy. Man, it's busy. But I blog best when life is moving right along, and it's a good excuse to say goodbye to this year by writing about it. You're busy, too, which is why I appreciate you waving alongside me, as well. Bye bye, 2011; thanks for the good time.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

One Of The Few Times Facebook Would Be Useful

UPDATE: A copy was found! Amazing how difficult this series was to track down.


Christmas: I'm buying the kids' toys and thinking I'll surprise them with gifts I know they'll like that weren't on their list. And then it occurred to me that they'd be just as happy, if not happier, if I simply bought the gifts they requested. It's that simple! In the end, they're getting a mix, and I got a lesson: Just ask. And go with what you're told.

When some friends were going through a tough time, I figured I'd just ask what would make it better.

There was no predicting this answer: Dr. Who. Dr. Who will make it better.

These friends have spent months recovering from a crisis, and one thing that's helping is sitting the family down to watch Dr. Who (the newer one, with David Tennnant) together. They finished Season 1 and would really love to start Season 2, but they can't find it locally, and it's pricey online.

If any of you live around Grand Rapids and own a copy you'd be willing to lend out, please comment here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Please Do This One Thing For Me--and for her, and for them

When I spar with Shari, a friend and trainer at the boxing gym, I can hardly land a clean punch. There's no hitting this woman: she'll block your jab and smack away your right hand, no matter how fast the attack. And then she'll wrap you in a hug and tell you what a great job you did.

That's Shari in a nutshell. Life has thrown her a variety of punches, including cancer and a son's disability, but nothing knocks her down, and nothing gets in the way of her concern for others, especially young people.

Even before Shari told me some of her many ideas on how she'd like to help people, I could see the natural way she dealt out love, especially the tough kind, to the kids in our gym. She is exactly what they need. Which means she can do a lot of good elsewhere, too, as she's proven time and again.

A local initiative called 5x5 night awards up to $5000 for great ideas. I helped Shari write up the idea she's most passionate about: Mothers raising mothers. Experienced moms mentoring teen moms through parenthood and life. Our boxing gym has offered space, so the money can be directed toward making the dream happen.

If enough people vote for her idea, she'll be able to present it at their event later this month and possibly win the money. All it takes is going to and clicking on the green button labeled "Register Now to Vote."

Once you're registered, view the ideas and vote for Shari and THE VILLAGE.

This morning, when we were on the phone working out details of getting together to get this online, Shari started talking to me about bullying, something about a new kind of neighborhood watch, how she's designed a window sticker. I realized that even as we were preparing to launch one great idea, she was ready with the next.

Your vote will mean a lot to a lot of people. Please note that voting ends in just ten days; vote before December 13.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Want To Be A Princess

In the final paragraph of The New Yorker profile of Rita Jenrette, a Texan who married a prince and became Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, writer Ariel Levy ends with the idea that could the Principessa visit her younger self, much suffering would be spared. She'd tell her, "You're going to be a princess."

Royalty can't travel back in time, however, and all any of us can do is look back. The long view of where life went when we were busy living it--this can be reassuring. Sometimes it's not.

Three years ago, when I volunteered for the Obama campaign, which met up in a boxing gym, you couldn't have told me that I'd be up in that ring sparring. As I waited for instructions, I looked around and thought, Wow! A boxing gym. Pretty cool. Then I took off with my assigned partner and hung election day reminders on the broken down doors of the nearby neighborhood.

Three years ago, while I tried to survive an aerobic kickboxing class, I would have laughed if you'd told me I'd be teaching something similar. And that laugh would have taken the oxygen I needed to keep up with a 70-year-old next to me.

These are minor achievements, yet they're markers I can track from very specific moments in time. They teach me that if I keep moving forward, keep listening and growing, life might just give me a royal surprise.

Has life handed you some welcome surprises?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Larry, George, and Janet

Next month I need to take an exam for work. It's a three-part test: multiple choice questions on exercise and physiological processes; essays on case studies; training my boss who will pretend to be one of the case studies.

We were given a preview of the case studies. We're to pick two, but three of them appealed to me.

George, who is 40, wants to lose some pounds before a trip next spring. He doesn't like to exercise. Janet is a mom in her 30s and an aerobic queen. She wants to tone the back of her arms, etc. Larry, in his 20s, wants to reduce his body fat from 18% to 14%. He knows his way around the weight room, but never stays consistent in his routine.

That night I woke up thinking of Larry. His BMI, that is--and I worried for him. He's healthy! Why is he obsessing over his body fat percentage? Larry was upsetting me. I knew I'd have to choose him.

And George. He'd be a nice challenge. I like that he used to play on a basketball rec league--I'd sneak in some basketball moves to help him find enjoyment in exercise. Maybe after a few weeks with me, he could even get off those beta blockers!

But Janet, well, she lost my empathy. At first I wanted to meet with her to set her straight on this spot-reducing business--not possible--but then she just annoyed me. I pictured her in her matching exercise clothes and sporty cap and just knew we wouldn't get along.

Larry, George and Janet exist only on paper. But I swear I met up with Larry yesterday in the weight room. He was hopping from one thing to the next with no real purpose, and eventually, on the bench press, got in trouble. I rescued him from under his bar and tried to make light of it, knowing that no guy really wants a girl saving him from heavy weight. I was kind, because I cared.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It Was A Good Day

My boxing gym won five trophies last night at a local club show. Five wins, five completely different styles: a heavyweight who moved well; a hundred-pounder who danced more than he punched; a young man nobody believed had never fought before; a deaf state champion against a man with arms longer than should be allowable; and a guy who stood looking with me at the bout list, plotting when and how he could get to Burger King and back in time for his turn. I'm pretty sure he was serious.

Way to go, MLK!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Oh No

The uniform reaction of all mothers looking in on the final wrestling practice was this: "Ewww."

The boys, every last one of them, had their shirts off. They played a kind of flag football with their tops hanging from their bottoms, and it would be the last wrestling activity my son, Simon, would try.

Simon is tall, and lining him up according to height for a sparring showdown showed no deference to his lack of athleticism. He stood dangerously close in line to Jack, a 12-year-old who tips the scale past 180; the boy he did end up wrestling the last day, a kid about his height but with something of a gut, proved too heavy. Simon gave him a good fight but a short one, and that was that. He comes by his fear of the sport honestly.

Though his group would go on to compete in duals, we didn't push him to do so, as the compromise to try this new sport was taxing enough.

On all of us. Mainly me.

"I'll follow your exercise plan, Mom," he told me. He figures I'll let him out of a sport or class if he promises to obey a routine I write up. But his father and I know better. This "routine" will require Mom to stand guard for an hour over Simon's bad posture and form, with the result that no one's happy.

"You'd be crying to go back to wrestling," I said. Five minutes on the rowing machine last week proved this to be true--the crying part, at least.

So here we are again, back to square one, where Mom stands wondering how to help her kid through adolescence. Lord knows I try. I model everything possible--regular exercise, reading, charitable works, good hygiene.

Yet the deodorant stands at full height, and no one wants to sweat. Only the reading has stuck.

The other week, I took my kids to the boxing gym on sparring night thinking they'd enjoy being close to the action. (I'm not convinced this is the sport for them, by the way; I'd rather be the one taking the punches.)

They brought their books.

They're ringside, literally within spitting distance, sweat flying their way, boxers on the ropes just a foot from their faces, and they, the children I bore, opened their books.

From ewww to ohhhh. Oh, what to do?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Rules of Sustenance

Head over to The Other Journal, of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, to read my essay The Rules of Sustenance. It's a story from my time on staff at a homeless shelter, and one you haven't read here on my blog. Enjoy it, leave lots of comments, and browse the rest of their thoughtful site.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier was felled by a short bout with liver cancer.

Not by the violence of the heavyweight rounds, the kidney punches, or left hooks to the head. Cancer is what took him down.

You never know what's gonna get you. In the end, the obvious danger may not be the worst.

I've pasted a letter above my desk. It begins, "Your follow-up mammography examination showed an area that we believe is probably benign (not cancer)."


You never know what's gonna get you. So what do we do?

Step into the ring. Keep fighting.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Getting Rid Of The Children's Pets, One Lonely Creature At A Time (The Video)

Theo, age 8, spent the summer collecting frogs and tadpoles from a nearby creek. With the help of his friend Ethan, who is 9 and can answer any and all questions on amphibians, Theo learned to distinguish leopard frogs from tree frogs, and studied their development daily on our back deck.

Theo was so enamored with the whole operation that he wanted to purchase some more exotic strains. We visited a Pets Mart and hovered near a tank until a saleswoman came by.

The right saleswoman, I should say; with disheveled hair and wire-frame glasses favoring one ear, this woman was all about the frogs. She hunched forward as if to let out a call that might travel the road back to our creek.

My main concern was the amount of upkeep these $30 pets would require. "What do these frogs need, because our frogs from the creek...," I started to say, and immediately realized I had violated a sacred rule: removing the animal from its natural habitat.

I tried to play it off. So did she--at first.

"Well, first you'd need a tank, which I assume you already have," she said. I nodded.

"Then you'll need a water filtration system. I'm sure you already have one, because I'm sure you realize that frogs can't live in tap water."

Here I stuttered. And lied just a little. "Uh, creek water, is what we've been using," I said, angling for her good graces. Kill two birds with one big stone: get the water right (though we had added some from the tap) and make the new habitat fairly close to the original one from which we yanked these poor creatures, causing them untold mental anguish.

Creek water appeased her, but only slightly.

"And you'll need to feed them. I'm sure you're buying frog food already."

"Mosquitoes!" Theo chimed in. At this point I believe the two of them had a bit of a tiff on the dietary requirements of respective breeds. I diverted the conversation with a quick thank you and a "Oh, look at the birds!"

We made no purchase that day, yet somehow, the tadpoles turned to froglets without a filtration system, and the frogs survived without vitamin-packed food pellets. And yet, just as with the bunny, after a while there were creatures in our care getting ignored and making me feel guilty.

I mean, they're just sitting there all day. What kind of life is that? I'd wonder from my computer chair.

So once again, I pulled out the ol' "They'll have a better life somewhere else" line, and once again I meant it. The weather was turning, and I didn't want frozen frogs on my deck; already I had dried frogs imprinted, like fossils, on the wood, from when Theo lined up some that didn't exactly take to tap water.

We released them to the creek to do whatever it is that frogs do to stay warm (note to self: ask Ethan).

Theo seemed pleased that the frogs hung out on nearby rocks as he carried out this process, feeling a sense of satisfaction of having raised them and let them go for nature to do as she will.

Note to fish and sea monkeys: You're next.

Be sure to read the heartless story of giving away my son's bunny and also how I killed off all the ants on the farm.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


While my son stood next to me, a wad of bloody tissue up one nostril, the wrestling coach said, "There's something about facing a kid your size and, even if you lose or get hurt, knowing you can take it."

Simon, whose nose was now 1.5 times its normal width, wasn't feeling the love. But I understood.

I have come to understand that my week doesn't begin until I've been boxing. I need to wrestle--box--my demons before I feel I've earned my self-esteem for the week. Or maybe I need to be knocked out of my head, both literally and metaphorically, in order to relax and enjoy life. Either way, it works for me.

As soon as I can get my knee healed up, I'll be sparring again, because I miss that day-after, on-top-of-the-world sensation. I'm thinking of bringing Simon along so he can see what his mom is made of. All my push toward sports hasn't added up to much, so, as they say in writing, "Show, don't tell."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Best (Worst?) Halloween Story Ever

My children are named Simon and Theo, and not for The Chipmunks, though we acknowledged, even at the second birth, that this connection would be made.

One Halloween, we went so far as to dress them as their chipmunk namesakes. I, Amy, was the remaining chipmunk, Alvin.

At thrift stores I found long turtlenecks in red, blue and green. For Simon I found black glasses (which would complete a Harry Potter costume a few years later), and for me, a red cap.

However, the costumes didn't feel finished with only these suggestive hints toward the characters. I tried shading with brown makeup to highlight chubby chipmunk cheeks, but the look still wasn't complete.

Teeth, I thought. The defining feature of a chipmunk is its teeth.

Once again I experimented with makeup, thinking I'd black out all but their front two top teeth. The makeup for this was waxy and wouldn't stay stuck. I'll just buy teeth, I thought.

I drove to several costume shops and quickly determined that their stash of brown with crowns wouldn't do.

At the last store, a saleswoman approached me. By now I'm tired of this hunt, so I come right out with it.

"Do you have buck teeth?" I ask.

She opened her mouth to answer, and I saw that she did.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Sacrament of Work

There's an element of vulnerability in each of the jobs I do that sometimes shatters me.

The ex-offenders entrust their stories to me, the playwright, to find ways to communicate them to a broader audience. Today I heard stories of stabbings and molestation. And repentance. I am the keeper of these stories.

For my book project, I've been given the journals of a woman who died in a car crash. That her former husband would hand me this tall pile is humbling, and to read her private thoughts a sacred act. I met with the man who killed her because he would do anything for this family. He willingly gave me his very difficult story. Molestation. Murder. And forgiveness.

At the gym, one of my jobs is to clean exercise equipment. I know so many of the people who use these machines, their habits and schedules, that when I clean, I can picture who I'm cleaning for. I wipe away the sweat and dirt and make it new, for them.

A man I didn't know, running on a machine the other night, lied to me about his daughter's age. I caught him on it but tried to keep friendly, insisting that she could exercise today but not next time.

Later, as I cleaned a treadmill near him, he struck up a conversation. I stood holding my cleaning rags and talking; this posture, somehow, undid him.

"I'm sorry I lied," he said. "I'm so ashamed."

"It's okay," I said.

"I'm so ashamed." His family came back into the room. He had to leave; he moved toward the cleaning station in order to do the expected quick wipedown after his workout.

"I'll clean it for you," I said.

"No. Are you sure? No, I'll--"

"I'll do it."

I sprayed down the machine, and all that wasn't clean was wiped away.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This Pill, Broken For You

I'm reading The New Yorker today and in a theatre review see the name of an actor I once knew. This happens here and there for those of us in the business: You're at the movies, a face appears onscreen, and either you yell out the actor's name right then in your surprise, or else a vague feeling of intimacy sweeps over you, ultimately giving way to the memory of communicating this guy's five-minute pre-show call in the shower. Stage managers spend a lot of time with undressed actors.

Throughout the 1990s, I worked in Pittsburgh theaters. For one particular festival, performers were brought in, sometimes with their own stage managers, and this was the case with the actor whose name came up today. With the other shows I'd usually call cues from the booth, but D's stage manager insisted that he sit up there, and that I wasn't really needed.

Then he ran up and down the aisles swinging a thurible of incense while chanting. I opted to sit offstage and keep quiet but available.

D had arrived in town wearing a neck brace and requiring extra care after a minor car accident, but he was performing well. He was funny. He filled his one man show with characters he could play with comic soul and depth, and I sat absorbed off left until the moment when he walked toward me--not entirely odd--and kept walking.

I froze. This was one of the main professional theaters in town, not some little back alley joint, and an actor doesn't leave the stage of his one person show. I'm not to be needed. The incense was intended to prevent moments like these.


I may have asked some clarifying questions in my horror. GREEN?


Then he calmly walked into the lights.

I dashed backstage, ran through the green room, burst into the dressing room. The green pill was there, as promised, but it was small. Cut it in half? How? I tried. It was crumbling.

If a little green pill is worth walking offtstage for, every bit of powder counts, I figured. I can't keep sawing.

So I used my teeth.

I stretched my lips out of the way and bit down. Then I stood offstage with the moist remains cupped in my hand.

D finished a character and headed toward me again. I raised my hands to him with all the solemnity of a Catholic priest. He took the pill, this shadowed figure backlit by the stage, his face in my hands. And then the show did go on, as it always finds a way to do.

Later that night, I would learn that D's neck pain hit him midshow, and he was grateful for my efforts. His stage manager thanked me for going against his wishes.

Eighteen years later, I think to myself that there's no way half a homeopathic pill kicked in before the end of the show, and that the effects were purely psychological. Also, that someone who would walk offtstage for half a pill midshow, and who was convinced it saved him, would have been horrified had he known that someone's saliva was involved.

But what he didn't know couldn't hurt him. Helped him, in fact.

I give full credit to the incense.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Miss Him

Freddie went back to his rightful owners, and there's no longer anyone winking at me as I pass through the living room. Instead, I must contend with these damned sea monkeys, who swish and swirl and mate happily all the live long day. If the sea monkeys are a music video for Rare Earth's I Just Want To Celebrate, Freddie is Philip Glass--the same thing over and over with only the occasional changeup. His winks were among the few movements of his day. A much more manageable approach to life than the sea monkeys'...or is it?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How To Choose Your Kid's Sport, Part 2

Simon on his bike. Can you read the sign he made and pasted onto his back? "My dad made me do this."

After writing the first post on how my son and I are similar, and the ways I try to help him find a sport now instead of in his 40s, I realized I was a lot like him as a kid.

Never would I have had the wit or chutzpah to make a sign like this, but I certainly didn't take to athletic activity. And what I'm doing now with my son was also tried by my mother: buy the kid some athleticism and grace by enrolling in a class.

Mine was ballet.

Dear God.

The little pink plastic carrier opened at the top, for my leotard, and on the side, near the bottom, to hold my peach silk slippers. I liked the whole contraption. The class I could do without, but I was obedient back then, and did everything I was told. I plied and whatnot, without much flair.

Then one day I no longer had to go. Talk of "missing too many classes," "not allowed."

For years I referred to this as my "getting kicked out of ballet." Now, as a parent myself, I realize this was more about my mom than me. She didn't get me there, and surely I didn't remind her.

The thought counts for something. Though ballet is the last place I'd think to start a backward kid like me, it was among the few options available to little girls in my small western Pennsylvania town. It didn't take with me. Few physical endeavors did, though I would go on to play tennis in high school. Only in my mid-30s, when, in a pilates class, I felt my abdominal muscles contract, would I find the trigger for everything that followed.

Though I'm seemingly following in my mother's footsteps, the similarities end at handing over the money for a class. She would go on to find fault in much of my physical appearance, and I see now that ballet was just the beginning of trying to change me. But I am not trying to change Simon; rather, I'm trying to help him find that trigger to move him toward physical and emotional wellbeing. I'm convinced it lies in sports, for him, because the rest he has down. The comics that litter my dining room table are witty and well-crafted. The substitute lyrics for Justin Bieber's That Should Be Me, written on the spot this morning, were hilarious. He's a good boy.

We'll see how this wrestling business turns out. My little pink box ended up carrying Barbies instead of ballet shoes, and it's just as well, because now I carry a big Converse bag filled with boxing shoes and 12oz gloves. Simon's backpack, when he left this morning, held his shorts for afterschool practice, and I have to wonder what it will hold next.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One Mean Dolphin Sandwich

Music on the way to a massage: Nine Inch Nails

Music at the massage: ocean waves/pan flute/dolphins

Music on way home from massage: Nine Inch Nails

Monday, October 24, 2011

What I Do With Bananas

As I am unable to reconcile banana carb counts with skin and without*, I choose to go without--which means if I'm packing a banana for my diabetic son to take to school, it must be peeled, then wrapped again.

So I make squids.

Simon's photo doesn't quite capture both eyes of my giant squid, but you get the idea. I hear he's pretty slimy by lunchtime. Realistic!

*Advice on this from you other d-moms would be appreciated. We do 6g per 1-oz unpeeled.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How To Choose A Sport

There are two types of people in the world: those who watch boxing movies and then want to beat someone up, and those who watch them and don't.

My family splits down the middle.

Simon, 11, is a lot like his mom. He's gentle, and yet you sense a buried fierceness in there. He's strong. At his age, he is unable to harness any of that power, but he's drawn to try.

Only to a point. Also like his mother, Simon suffers from attachment issues, and he's not about to give himself completely to anything he enjoys. Disappointment may come, so why get involved in the first place?

When I first saw him punch, I knew he loved it. I held the mitts for him here at home and encouraged him to keep going. Nah, he said, and headed back for his book.

When he came home from school after a PE class in wrestling, I saw him beam with delight. I got to flip a kid onto the mat! he said. Then he went back to his book.

I stopped in to talk to the PE teacher about the wrestling. Among the list of concerns I had was Simon's lack of body awareness--he's awkward, and doesn't move from his core. Won't he get hurt?

The teacher eased my fears. He told me about his own son, a nonathlete, and how this was a great sport for him. After talking it over with Greg, about how we've got to get the kid in something, how the moodiness is here, the deodorant is needed, he needs an outlet and fast, I signed up Simon. And he was horrified.

But he made it through the first week, with a promise from me that he can be done in a month, when the class finishes. I told him day one will not look anything like the last week. That we can't be good at something all at once. How his wits will save him in a sport like this. That he needs to learn what it feels like to literally throw himself into something and see it through to the end.

My prediction: He'll enjoy it but won't want to do it again, and we'll have to start this process over (we've tried your basic boot camp classes here and there, as well). He likes swimming, but that won't provide the aggression outlet. Boxing requires too much core and legs, and he's not ready. Football, too much agility.

I'm running out of sports that suit his personality, which is where you need to begin. I, for one, could never take up running. People in my circle are always running 5Ks, but I could never run a 5K. This is not a matter of strength or endurance. My mind will not let me do anything hovering on the brink of tedium; ask me sometime about my foray into knitting. The only way you'd ever find me running a race was if zombies were chasing me.

So while any race is hard work, which I would never discredit, running is not the sport for me. Personality and sport must meet somewhere, and mine tend toward power and a higher level of risk. Why do it otherwise?

Simon is 11 years old and 115 pounds. If he leans into me, I could fall over. I've told him that the minute I can no longer pick him up, I'll stop feeding him. (He's got a while--I can pick up his father.)

After watching a boxing clip with me, he exclaimed, I just want to BEAT SOMEONE UP! I really do! He was downright beside himself.

Me, too! I said.

Then he went back to his book, and I to my blog.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

RERUN: How To Get To The Other Side

Hello? Are you there? I've committed to writing a post a day this month. Today, I am full of feeling but out of ideas. Here's an old one that captures some of what I want to say, and thankfully, I've said it already.


The introduction of Roadkill, the armadillo character in the film Rango, is startling: a tire width indentation has cut through his middle, leaving tread tracks, and he struggles for breath. The animation here is more realism than not, and the effect is disturbing. Yet you can't look away, and the view from your seat places you directly into his struggle as he says, "I must get to the other side."

The other side, he's heard, is where enlightenment is to be found. He knows this is a metaphor, even; "We all have our journeys to make." Over the course of the film, the lead character Rango, a chameleon, will find this to be true, and when the two characters meet again on the other side, some wisdom has indeed been gained, the smoke cleared.

The other side, however, is just that, and each creature must return to the side from whence he came. The armadillo, still a bit battered, must hope that traffic patterns align with his stars, and Rango must return to the site of all that led him to his new revelations, one fraught with large snakes and despairing souls brought so low they could be capable of anything.

Even when we've reached the other side, we need to go back.

There is no arriving, then. There is arriving, regrouping, and returning. And you will most likely be battered and bruised as early as the first leg of that journey.

In my bathroom right now there is one butterfly and four chrysalises. We have watched as tiny caterpillars became small ones, then large ones, then fat ones, and as they made their way upward to hang, upside down, for about a week's time. Inside the chrysalis, a caterpillar's parts turn to soup; and in one of nature's most miraculous events, that fat furry caterpillar becomes a fragile, flying thing of beauty.

In the hours after it emerges, the butterfly doesn't yet know what it can do.

And soon, we'll release it outside, where dangers abound.

But the caterpillar can now fly. The next stage of its journey has begun.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Because I Could Get Hit By A Bus

With the insurance paperwork, multiple doctors, a list of prescriptions, school forms and daily tasks, managing a child's type 1 diabetes feels a lot like a part-time job that lasts all day. It's not the only thing you do, but it's something you do all day long, and hopefully, there's a team of at least one working with you. My husband gets cc'ed on any diabetes-related email I write, because he might be the one to get the call from school tomorrow. Any insulin dose change gets written into our log, highlighted with a post-it, and verbally called out to Greg (or virally: You saw the Levemir change tonight, Dear?)

This system of cross-referencing at every turn makes this "job" feel like one I did many years ago. As a stage manager in professional theaters, I kept many a prompt book, which contained all the information needed to run a performance. Light cues, actors' blocking, costume notes...all in there. I was groomed in the "hit by a bus" school of stage management, which instructed us to be so clear as to be able to be dead and yet: the show would go on.

With diabetes, I have to think this way. I have to organize in a highly logical fashion, because Greg needs to be able to make decisions in my absence, and vice versa.

It's a very practical method, if a bit morbid and facetious, but selfless, too. Others come first: the show must go on, your death be damned.

What if we approached every job, every day, like this?

If this is all there is, how might I best spend today? What's best for those left? Have I done the best job I can with what I've been given?

It's tough to sustain this day in and day out, both on the job and as an approach to life. Today, there were things I did not do that I should have, and words left unsaid.

But I'm indoors now, and counting on tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Putting the Personal In Tire Flipping

My left arm will not extend above my head. Yesterday, I couldn't make use of either forearm.

I blame the tire flipping.

Lately, I've been trying new approaches to my exercise routine. A little P90x here, some basic grunty strength training there. Raw, straightforward lifting no longer does for me what it once did, and though I've lost strength, I don't miss it a bit. I often spend my Y time on power routines, hence the tire flipping. It's only a hundred pounds, so I thought I'd do a 3 minute round. Then another. Then I couldn't use my forearms.

After not vomiting, I wondered how it is possible to kick my own butt. Shouldn't it be like tickling--impossible to do to yourself?

When I design workouts for my husband, I know to avoid anything he might find tedious. I need to throw in supersets and some crazy stuff no one else in the weight room is doing. That's why it's called personal training--you tailor it to the person.

One of my coworkers saw me arrive to take his shift one day not long ago and declared, "Train me, Amy." I'm looking at him--young, big, soccer player, rides a motorcycle to work--and made some quick assessments. One, he's an athlete. Two, he's a bit of a wild man in need of excitement. Three, he just got out of school for personal training and doesn't need me instructing him in your basic moves.

Before you know it, I've got a barbell loaded up and standing on one end, and a fellow trainer is commenting, "Now that's a broken nose waiting to happen."

I knew he wouldn't sue me, and I knew he'd love it, which is why I chose the exercises I did. I was right on both counts.

Now I'm prepping to train a woman I don't know well. She's told me the muscles that give her trouble, and she names these with remarkable precision, due to her professional field. She's had some injuries, and I need to take it easy with her.

No tire flipping. No one size fits all.

So even though I'm the one you find in the weight room hanging upside down off the back extension, I can't be asking that of her. I'll keep things controlled but challenging, and be ready to adapt when necessary.

I like being imaginative and unique, but I realize the need to pull out your basic meat and potatoes once in a while.

With maybe a little gourmet dish on the side.

There's a smaller tire near the hundred pounder, after all. A minute wouldn't hurt anybody, right?

blogging every day, trying not to be like this

Monday, October 17, 2011

Meet Bobby, Frank, Fred and Charlie (RIP)

Just hours after Dottie's departure, we saved these sweet little mice from the jaws of some cagebound rattler. You call 'em feeder mice, we call 'em pets; a buck seventy-five's worth of utter cuteness.

(Charlie, seen here in the food dish, died during the night. Ah, but do not grieve for him; he lived a short, eventful life.)

(blogging through November but trying not to be like this)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mr. Rogers Was Right

Here's a reprint of a post from November 2009. Some of the details have changed--I'm now nearly 41, and my dress size keeps shrinking--but the essence of what's here is still on my mind today.


Since 1985, English musician and musicologist Clive Wearing has had what neurologist Oliver Sacks calls "the most devastating case of amnesia ever recorded": a memory span of mere seconds. Along with the present his past has slipped away as well, including the memory of meeting his wife, Deborah, and falling in love with her.

Yet emotional memory provides Clive with a basis to remember Deborah at a fundamental level, as Sacks writes in "The Abyss" (The New Yorker, September 24, 2007):
For many years he failed to recognize Deborah if she chanced to walk past, and even now he cannot say what she looks like unless he is actually looking at her. Her appearance, her voice, her scent, the way they behave with each other, and the intensity of their emotions and interactions--all this confirms her identity, and his own.
To Clive, his wife was more than the sum of her parts, and was, in fact, unrecognizable in parts; but taken wholly, she was Deborah. The essence of the woman he loved was something Clive could never forget.

It's a moving story, and it's helpful in getting amateur actors to understand that a simple posture change does not a character make. Yes, you may need to lower your voice, thrust out your jaw, and slouch a little, but if these traits fail to converge into the core of a character, your portrayal will not ring true.

Off the stage, I find the story reassuring.

As a mother about to begin her fortieth year, I think a lot about identity. As a woman down to size 4 from an 18 (Greg says I'm "every woman in the world" to him), I often wonder about what's left when you strip the non-essentials away.

Attending my twentieth high school reunion last year was interesting in this regard, as was my short sojourn on facebook. After 15, 20 years, you are distilled down in the minds of people from your past, and it's surprising what they'll think, say, and expect. That's a book right there, but I'll just say that the Distillation of Amy was mostly positive, leaving me pleased, if somewhat bitter ("If you all liked me so much, why didn't I have more dates?").

On Monday night at the homeless shelter, I noticed three things:
1. nobody laughed at my jokes,
2. my deep thoughts were quickly bypassed,
3. everybody was glad to have me there.

Reconciling these observations took some time, I tell you. I like to think that at some level I'm funny and interesting, and if pressed I'd say these qualities make people want to be around me, if they do at all. Take away a small-busted gal's sense of humor, and what's she got?

But here was a roomful of people who liked me for me.

Much as I like to define myself by my wit, intellect, or deltoids, these women respond to something deeper at the core of who I am. It's humbling both to have your best traits ignored and to be appreciated anyway. Humbling, healthy, and right on.

(here's someone who says it best)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Goodbye Dottie

I will be the first to admit that I've used the term "evil" when referring to our bunny.

And that maybe on occasion I've let her out to "play" in the backyard until a neighbor knocked on the door to report that "the bunny has escaped." This only happened two times. Maybe three.

But I meant it when I told my son that sometimes, when we love someone, we have to let them go. We have to do what's best for them, which may not be what we want. And maybe I didn't bring up the parts about them coming back if they were really yours, etc.

Dottie first came home with us about five years ago, while Greg was traveling in Uganda. Internet connections were spotty, and I remember getting out a short email that said, "And by the way, we have a pet." Dottie unofficially became Simon's pet, arriving right when he needed something furry to hug and hold. She stayed in his room at our first apartment in Grand Rapids; I have pictures of him reading with her on his lap.

When we moved to our new house, we tried giving Dottie her own little room in the basement, but soon we realized that the furnace was sucking in bunny fur and spreading it all over the house. Somehow, our animal allergies weren't triggered back in the apartment, but here, both Greg and I really suffered. Dottie moved to the garage.

In good weather, we'd move her outdoors for the day. But in winter, she stayed in the garage. You don't send your kids to play in the garage in Michigan in February. Dottie was fed and cared for, but we couldn't give her the time she deserved. Too, the kids loved her, but it began to be an "in theory" love that Greg and I noticed wasn't fleshed out with any action.

So when our new neighbors asked us some bunny care questions, I told them to hold off on that purchase. I talked to Simon and planted the idea that with winter coming, maybe Dottie would have a better life with them. We had approached this topic last year, but he wasn't ready. Again, I let him make the decision.

Days later I was ichatting with Greg, who this time was in Ukraine.
"Remember how, when you were in Uganda, we got a pet?" I wrote.
"Uh oh."
"No, it's all good."

The family came today to get Dottie and all her earthly belongings. I apologized for her long nails, but they didn't care--the young girl just wanted to brush her fur, and the dad dreamed aloud of specs for the cage he would build. He told me of their fenced-in backyard, and the room waiting in their basement. And does she like the peel of apples, or just the core, or should he peel some slices?

She'll be fine. As will we; Simon knows he made a good decision, and frankly, he's grateful to be relieved of cleaning duties.

Plus, I promised a hamster.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Your Friday Sea Monkey Update

Big mommas: running the place
Babies: growing faster than you can say, "But where's its crown?"
Stud monkey: expired

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In The Stars For Me: A Man

SCORPIO (Oct. 23 - Nov. 21)--You've been looking forward to promoting a certain idea for some time, and today's evolution tells you that the time is now.

I had read my horoscope not long after saying this to my coach: "I need a man."

While on the heavy bag, a girl approached me. We had been partners last week, and I liked her--tall, thin, peppy, with a pleasant demeanor. She had boxed just a little in Ohio before moving back here.

"You ever street fight?" she asked me.
"No," I said.
"Really. Why--have you?" I couldn't quite picture it.
"Oh yeah. Twelve, maybe 15 times. You can do anything in a street fight--claw, scratch, pull they hair."
"And what's that like?"
"It feels good. That's why I took up boxing. Because when I street fight, I make sure I win."

Next thing I know the coach is asking me if I can spar the next night. I couldn't. Woulda been with hair-pulling girl. She's working hard on technique, but I can't imagine that her do-or-die instincts are fully knocked out quite yet.

"How about a man?" I said to the coach. It's not unheard of to spar males with females, but in my gym you don't see it. I hadn't had an opponent for awhile because the female contingent was limited. Now that more are showing up, the coaches are looking to me to spar them.

Some of you might be wondering why I consider it safer to spar with a man than a woman, no matter how crazy she may be. Because craziness is key--I'm not sure what she might do, and if the coaches would catch her beforehand. Things happen fast, and it's her instincts I'm worried about, not her motives. Whereas we had one girl step on her opponent's foot, holding her in place while she snapped her head up. Could have called it an accident except hmmm, she did it again.

Generally speaking, the guys in our gym are the most dedicated of the sexes. They're the ones jumping rope, sparring intensely, getting their roadwork in outside of gym time. A few are smart enough to know how to control their power with someone like me; if they do this, my game will step up a good deal in order to meet their fancy footwork and combos.

It's just what I need: A man. The coach said he'd think about it. But I'm pretty sure it's in the stars.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Amazing The Stuff You Find Online

Happened on this photo from the conference I taught last year. Participating in my theatre exercise here, in the foreground, is Doug Berky, a very funny guy.

Also found this video, wherein I wave my hands a lot when I talk. Must be those Italian genes.

And then this photo, which my husband says looks like I'm flipping someone off.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Category Can't Contain This

Lisa over at The Glowing Edge has my blog listed under "Women and Sports." Girlboxing has me under "Boxing Blogs." And D-Mom Blog has me as a D-Mom, of course: a mom of a type 1 diabetic.

But when I signed up for National Blog Posting Month in October, those categories didn't exist. Their list includes health, hobbies and anonymous foaming. I went for "Humor."

Looking now over the posts of the last 10 days, I'd call about half of them funny. Like, if there was a funny meter, the arrow would point just past the middle.

There are a couple sad ones, like yesterday's; thoughtful ones, like the one about my theatre work with former prisoners; and then a few I read later and wonder why I chose to bring up that topic in public.

I'll work on the funny. In fact, I'm saving one of my funniest stories for the last day of this month. It's Halloween-themed, but my kids make me tell it to them all year round. So stick around, you.

blogging every day whether you like it or not

Monday, October 10, 2011

A1celebration (under a dark cloud)

The body's report card validated our work: Theo's A1c level was 6.9 today, down from 8.3 three months ago.

Good control of diabetes prevents future complications, and this number proves we have good control. We were patted on the back for our work. I felt really proud sitting there with my healthy son, a big binder spilling intensive insulin therapy worksheets onto my lap.

Good control prevents future complications. Control + genes = risk for complications. Genes are unchageable, which is why our endocrinologist focuses his efforts on control. He's a brilliant man. He talks more about the books my kids are reading than diabetes, and I really like him for that.

At an appointment the day after our diagnosis, the nurse had to step out of the room for a moment. I picked up a brochure from the handful of materials we were to take home that day, and just as she reentered the room, I casually flipped it over to read the back. "Uh uh," she said, gently taking it from me. "You don't need to be thinking about all that right now."

It was a list of all the health problems that could happen to my son. She was right; day two was not the time.

I took her cue, though, and avoided this talk for a long while. I held firm to the good control rule. I'd will the complications away with my math and diligence.

Until last week, when Theo had his diabetic retinopathy exam. He looked good, which the doc said he would use as a baseline before seeing us back in a year. We'll be like this next year, I knew, because we have good control.

"We'll avoid eye problems because we have good control," I said to him with confidence, not even bothering to phrase this as a question.

"Uh, no, unfortunately," he said. He kindly explained that the exams are held to catch and treat problems early. He looked me in the eyes and pretended they weren't filling with tears.

Today, at the endocrinologist, after a discussion of the children's book series The Time Warp Trio, I asked Dr. P about diabetic retinopathy. He gave me a thorough view of all sides, reassuring me that our good control would indeed make a difference.

And then he reminded me that none of life is completely in our hands.

When you spend every day counting every carb in everything your kid eats, it's hard to believe you're not God. And yet there are days when we do everything right, and his blood sugar runs high or low with no explanation.

Keeping all these charts are life's games that we must continue to play, but might not win. And yet today, we'll celebrate our small victory.

blogging every day in October

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My New Boxing Gear

Initially I had chosen some cheaper gloves, but when they didn't fit right, TITLE Boxing hooked me up. I love you, TITLE!

These gloves have both gel and foam, which protect my old lady hands. I went back to regular wraps (instead of gel) with them, though, and suffered, at least in one hand. Let's blame it on my powerful right, shall we? Because I like the gloves. And all the coaches were jealous.

These shoes are listed at TITLE as boxing shoes, but they came with a tag that labeled them "wrestling." My man at TITLE--yes, they treat me as if I, a beginning boxer, am I major account--told me they're for both sports. The extra ankle support takes some getting used to, but I'm tired of the tread on my usual trainers grabbing the cloth in the ring.

And I couldn't resist the wasp on the bottom of this shoe, but once I owned them, the metaphor tripped me up. Do I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, or simply smoosh them with my new shoes? Either way: badass. Shiny and badass.

And finally,

When I've been boxing, I tend to bob and weave a lot--with my car.

Maybe I should ask TITLE about this.

(for National Blog Posting Month)