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.