Friday, December 27, 2013

Books I Read This Year: 2013

Roughly 22 books read this year. I was busy. Here's the rundown:


Bough Down: David Foster Wallace died. Say Her Name: his wife drowned. Proof of Heaven: he died but came back to life. The Obituary Writer, you see what I'm getting at: it just happened this way. I was not looking to read frequently about death. Neil Gaiman's The Ocean At The End of the Lane was pretty dark, as well. And We Need To Talk About Kevin, my god; excellent writing, awful subject.


If you're feeling bad about yourself, two people: Mother Teresa and Mister Rogers. Mother Teresa soldiered through so much suffering you'll slap yourself for all your disgusting self-pity. Mister Rogers will stand you upright again, hold you against that red sweater and tell you how special you are. I'm Proud Of You by Tim Madigan is not the best book about Mister Rogers, but the stories relayed inside will buoy you. I can't get them out of my mind.


Elizabeth Berg: as with most summers, I turned to her in June while feeling dull and out of good reading material. Only one Alexander McCall Smith this year to ease my troubles: Trains and Lovers.


With the internet, we may now connect with authors. We want to do this; this is not always a good thing. Here in Grand Rapids we have the biyearly Festival of Faith & Writing, which one year I attended in order to hear from certain writers. But my favorite memoirist, friends, was a bore. The man who fashioned the perfect sentence: a pompous ass.

These writers were still a step removed, whereas I actually made or attempted contact with the following writers of books read this year.

The World's Strongest Librarian, by Josh Hanagarne. Josh Hanagarne, who is now my friend. Well, friend as in facebook, along with 1,960 other people. But I can call friend the librarian who wrote an endearing memoir on managing Tourette's through powerlifting. I loved the book for its perfect pitch writing, conversational yet never simplistic or empty. His insider look at kettlebell workshops is priceless, and his underground gym guru, Adam T Glass, puts hope and humor into my profession. Maybe someday I'll be friends with Glass, too.

Drama High, by Michael Sokolove. I really liked this book about a drama program in a small Pennsylvania town, so, feeling benevolent, I wrote to Sokolove on his website to say so. And then nothing happened. This man is not my friend.

Intervention: Course Corrections for The Athlete and Trainer, by Dan John. Despite Dan John's down-to-earth style of writing, I'm starstruck by the man: he's brilliant. A former discus thrower and longtime strength coach, Dan has insights that other big names in the field are just now putting names on, stuff the guy's been doing for years. Sometimes, even he can't explain why something works, but it does, like his 40-day strength program, which I tried for 21 days: brilliant. I'm still parsing out the benefits I gained from this stint in September. And of course, I wrote to him to tell him so. And HE WROTE BACK. Sigh. I wrote again later to accuse him of making me fat, and HE WROTE ANOTHER TWO SENTENCES. These were not in depth communications by any means, but I heard from Dan John. I think I can call him friend.


Carry On, Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton. Melton's writing masquerades as light mommy blogging, but she's quite skilled and insightful. At times molehills become mountains, but I forgave her and read to the end. Her blog, however, didn't keep me there.

Someone, by Alice McDermott. I'd missed her writing, and this book has some luscious sensory descriptions. But I was put off when more than a few pages had the same adjective twice. You just don't do that. I read on thinking there was a grand scheme I'd missed, but in the end, these seem to be mistakes. Someone of McDermott's caliber deserves an editor with a sharper eye.

My Mistake, by Daniel Menaker. Speaking of mistakes... it was fun to read the insider scoop by New Yorker editor Menaker.

The Burgess Boys, E. Strout and Open Heart, Elie Wiesel. These authors are always solid.

When The Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka. Strange, compelling read. I should state here that there are books I don't like and don't finish, and some I don't like but do finish. To these I give credit for holding my attention. I started a couple others, like The Lost Carving and Water for Elephants, only to eventually say, Nah.


My favorite fiction this year: Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, by Jessica Soffer, The Thorn And The Blossom by Theodora Goss, and, above all, The Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver. Shriver's prose is so deceptively simple; you're in without your consent, and she holds you as she pleases. Whereas some of these titles I had to look up again to recall the plot, with The Post-Birthday World, I can still smell the snooker table.

For favorite nonfiction, see Books By Humans: Hanagarne wins the prize for best overall, while John wins for teaching me the most useful stuff in an enjoyable way.


Children's books do not usually make my list, but this book is a grand exception. I've read hundreds, maybe thousands of books to my children, but no book has ever been quite as bad as Tinky's Magic Cookies. Say it with me: Tinky's...Magic...Cookies. I believe the book made it into our library pile because one of the kids connected Tinky with Cookies, and thought for sure some bathroom humor was at hand. Instead, some moral-ish tale of a dog carrying cookies on a walk...I just...let's stop. The story, and the accompanying illustrations, are beyond a believable description. You see that at the start of this blog post, I reign in my urge to tell you the names of the authors who disappointed me, but this author gets no mercy. And no cookies.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Subversive Take On Holiday Eating

I sent this letter to my personal training clients yesterday.

This is my first holiday season as a trainer, and I suppose I’m expected to hold forth on such topics as what to eat, what to avoid, and how, in general, to manage the temptations that come this time of year.

But if you’ve worked with me for any length of time, you know that my take on personal training is just that—training the person—and that I believe in education and not the quick fix. Anybody can get you to sweat or dictate your diet; my job, as I see it, is to help you understand why we do what we do, so that you can go off and do it without me, and sustain these habits for a lifetime. Work myself out of the job, as it were.

Same goes for my advice on food this time of year, and also the busyness of the holidays that may cut into your best intentions to exercise. You can find top ten lists anywhere (everywhere!) on portion control, healthy recipes, and better food choices (if you can't, let me know and I'll guide you). But I'd rather that when you gather around the buffet or the television, you see the bigger picture, which is this: the holidays are a handful of moments in a whole, long lifetime. That is, the key to weight loss and health is consistency, which means we are allowed to enjoy special foods and events, because we'll be back working on this again in just a day or two. This is not advice to overeat but simply to enjoy

Have I ever told you about my $600 meal? The side of me that has worked in homeless shelters and with the poor wants to crawl in a hole before admitting the price of that bill, but here's why I can't: that meal, shared with my husband at a Chicago restaurant, was the single most thrilling aesthetic event of my life. It was a Broadway show, a great book, an amazing circus act and a soaring symphony, all wrapped up in twelve courses. Be careful asking me about it, because my voice will go up in volume and I'll start waving my arms. I don't regret the meal or the money spent for an instant.

Too many advice articles would have us forget that we have been given aesthetic pleasures here on earth to enjoy with our whole being. Enjoyment does not equal engorgement or excess, but rather a slowing down and taking in. With family and friends. An appreciation for what is in front of us, whether it be a bite or a good friend. That's my "advice" this holiday season, and what I wish for you.


Monday, November 25, 2013

my worries

that you'll make fun of the big guys. When a guy told me that lifting weights, to him, was like "...mmmmmm. Y'know? Like MMMMMMMMM. It just feels MMMMmmmmmm," two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was what you're thinking right now; the second, that I understand him completely. I'm not yet to the point of explaining this phenomenon at any level of convincing argument, but I will put out there the idea that some of us need to explore our world by moving our bodies. While lifting weights in a gym may at first appear limited in scope, we must start here. We must exert our strength, feel it, then process the rest of life. Some of us spend too much time doing the former and don't get to the latter. But don't make fun. You spend time on other stuff, don't you, whereas our hobby is, at base, healthy.

that Jesus took Manny out of the game. Manny Pacquiao defeated Brandon Rios Saturday night with a sound beating, thank you Jesus, his first win since reconciling with his wife. The philandering Manny had won 54 fights, whereas monogamous, converted Manny found himself facedown on the canvas. All hopes for a Pacquiao-Mayweather matchup had gone out the window a couple of years ago, in my opinion, when Jesus took Manny's speed. Possessing both--boxing skill and faith--are apparently incompatible; the New York Times published an article on this topic just before the recent fight, detailing the ways trainers try to keep the edge in their boxers (no sex for 10-30 days before the fight, depending on the coach). Some day I will write a book on testosterone, fidelity and achievement, and I will mention Norman Mailer and quote War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. But for now, I will just say I'm glad Manny's back. I doubt he's ready for Floyd, but finally, again, there's a force in boxing to reckon with and behold.

that I'm losing my own edge. If I learned anything from my very brief foray into bodybuilding, it's this: size takes time. There was a day I did 50 sets of chest and back; had I followed the program religiously, I'd have come back that evening to work calves and abs, probably 30 more. When you've been lifting consistently for a while, it takes major effort to see gains in size or strength; your body and brain have become efficient, and instead of growing bigger, the brain figures out a new neural pathway to lift the heavier weight you picked up. So when I lift heavier and heavier, I'm mostly training my brain, not the muscles. Fifty sets really is necessary to see growth in size for me, but I don't have that kind of time. Plus, protein shakes make me fat. So what now? Maintenance mode 'til the holidays are done, then some deadlift work. I will lift 4 plates (225lbs) in the new year.

that you'll think I'm shallow. Go ahead, trace the arc of these "worries," and you will be forgiven for putting me in a box. Size? Testosterone? Protein shakes? I do think on these topics quite a bit, and I'm paid to do so. But there's another side of me, several of them, that I haven't shown for a while. The writer side is putting a book to bed this week over the holiday break. The mother side of me is having a hard time with some recent problems with Theo's diabetes. So sometimes it's nice just to talk about muscles and Manny. It's just so mmmmmmmmmmm.

Monday, November 4, 2013

INTENSE: my halloween post

You will note that I refrained from posting my buck teeth story this Halloween. This took tremendous restraint, as it is one of my best stories, told each year to my kids as they gather at my feet near the fireplace. Something like that.

The love of Halloween and its scares is rooted, I think, in a desire to touch the void, the precipice of high emotion. A safe freefall. Halloween is safe, whereas other means to this end can be otherwise. At Slugtoberfest last weekend, I found myself missing this via the route of boxing; my God, there's nothing like having someone swing at your head. I'd put boxing on the scale just between Halloween and drugs as it's unsafe, yet happening with a timed end.

The holiday, then, gives me an opportunity to think through the Halloween moments of my life thus far. Times at the brink. I did this before, I believe, but I am unable to find anything on my own blog, and my memory is bad, so this will seem fresh and new to all of us. I will avoid the obvious; childbirth is almost a cliche--you have to know that it was intense for me to give birth, and especially to a 10lb 12oz boy. Having the type 1 diabetes diagnosis come down on this boy--of course that was difficult. But I'm looking here to remember other key, large, unexpected moments. As the leaves fall and the weather turns cold, I want to remember the heat of my life so far.

Happy Halloween.

swimming with manatees. In early 2000, Greg and I drove down from our home in Tallahassee to Homosassa Springs State Park, where we paid our money, got in a boat, and were dropped off mid-river to the instructions "watch out for swimming snakes." Soon enough, not snakes but half-ton creatures approached us for a looksee and a scratch. After some friendly staredowns the manatees would swim over and allow you to scratch their bellies; mine would cross his flippers over his chest and roll in circles as I scratched him, like a playful kitten. At dinner that evening, Greg and I kept looking at each other and saying Wow. It was hard to find any other words.

stopping an illegal act.  I wish I could say more, as this recent experience is probably at the top of my intense list. My expectations, what was undone, what was said and left unsaid--all surprises stemming from an unplanned act on my part. I was left shaking. My children were witnesses.

boxing. Like I said: nothing like the real thing. Even if you've done poorly, you feel invincible, like bring it on. I miss it. I can do without the real risks, but I miss the danger.

simon fainting. Not long after Theo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I had Simon in the bathroom for a haircut. He stood to save my back, and midsentence, fell forward and smashed into the doorframe. He ricocheted and slammed his head on the sink, then fell on the floor. He was out for a few seconds, and I was screaming. He had fainted from locked knees, that's all, but with diabetes on my mind and such a violent fall, it was an awful experience.

mugging. Two times in my life I've stared down a potential real danger, one involving a knife held to my face, and each time my instincts told me to do something contrary to what any book might say. This worked; mostly, I just stayed and faced it. I could read the people each time, in the moment, and I knew that if I acted a certain way, they wouldn't follow through. I wouldn't recommend this type of response--i.e., you should go running if someone has a knife and you have a clear path--but I trust my sixth sense. I hope it's always there for me.

shelters. Working in a homeless shelter provided many moments of chaotic intensity, but my memory now zooms in on a time in a teen shelter that I've written about before (but can't find; yeesh). I was teaching a theatre class to at-risk girls, a three-day affair. The first day was spent slowly reeling in the outliers; the second having right at it, with an intense exploration of racism; the third, a meditation on the theme of forgiveness. The exercises traveled to a level beyond anything I had planned, and I the other adults who were my observer/students were blown away by what was created in that room. One girl had told me on the first day that she was "bad." Her tone meant to imply irretrievably so, that she was beyond help. But by day 3, she had become an active catalyst for the transformative art happening among us, and I could see her changing, even in that short period of time. Let me add here that I was young in my theatre teaching, not yet a parent myself, and I had not developed even the slight touch of nurturing instincts that I have now (yes, you should read that as I only have even the slightest touch now, after 13 years and two children). But I knew I had to speak to her. At the closing ceremony, I was told to stand before each of my participants and give them a special pin. I stood in front of this girl, and the tears fell. "You're not bad, Gina," I told her, and she looked at me and said, "I know that now."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Body, The Experiment: Day 26

The 40-Day program got shortened considerably, when I woke up on Day 26 and thought, Uh-uh. I did this enough. We're done here.

But seeing as how I had committed five weeks to a strength-building program, I knew that before moving on to anything else, I had to test strength. With the able spotting of a bodybuilder friend (who likes to say things like "Do you know where I can find a good veterinarian? [flexes biceps] Cause these puppies are SICK!!!"), I went to the bench and pressed 130lbs, which is my all-time best but I had only done it once, and several years ago at that. So I considered this an accomplishment and sign of improved strength.

I then went to the deadlift. 200 had been my max, but 195 felt reasonable, so I loaded 210 on and slowly brought the bar up. That's improvement, too.

Dan John's 40-Day Program, shortened to 26, even, brought me significant benefits. Strength, yes, but also improved shoulder health. Less achy days: the regular but low-rep lifting kept me in good form. The courage to face some lifts I had feared (back squat, overhead squat). And to trust in the process: I have full respect for Dan and Pavel, and though I was feeling a bit heavy from the lack of cardio, I knew I should give their ideas a go.

Yes, I said it: no cardio. I did virtually none for 6+ weeks. Sure, my heart rate went up on the kettlebell swings, and certainly on the heavy lifts. But no sustained sweating all this time. I was feeling thick, but the scale didn't shift too much to the right. Here's me on Day 26:

AFTER: No Cardio for 6 weeks
...which should teach you women a lesson. Muscle burns fat; build the muscle. Lift heavy. Stop it with the 7-pound dumbbells, already. My foundation of muscle took care of me over this time period, and let me tell you, I ate. See my last post, where I detail just how much. I was eating a lot and not moving, just lifting heavy and building strength, and yet I didn't get (too) fat. There's a major lesson there.

I did lose some agility during the program; I went to demonstrate the agility ladder to a client, and went kerthunk kerthunk. But this was to be expected, once I thought about it, and I accepted this loss within the idea that my goals for this time sat elsewhere.

But now it's time quite literally to move on, and after my feats of strength I went home and carried a 50lb bag of rice around the outside of my house, just because. I shadowboxed, I did pushups. I moved and moved, and by the next morning, the thickness was gone.

Also by the next morning, I couldn't move. Even today, I'm still sore (but I did the rice thing again anyway).

Next up: a hypertrophy test. Four, maybe 5 weeks I'm going to try to build some size. Gun show, Admit One. Right this way, esteemed veterinarian. Yeah.

Friday, October 4, 2013

go raw

I have a client right now who is excited about deadlifts. Seeing the weight go up boosts him, naturally, and he tries to go higher. When I worked with him this week, though, I saw that without his hand wraps, not much progress happens. Hand wraps have their purpose, but I know this man's goals, and felt he'd reach them more solidly by dropping the weight and losing the wraps for a time.

Nobody wants to do that.

Nobody wants to swallow their pride and lose their shortcut to success. To his credit, he agreed with me, and it got me thinking: what do I rely on? Not my gloves or wraps but in life, what do I need?

Do I need constant feedback on facebook for energy? Coffee to make me happy? Compliments to stroke my ego?

In powerlifting competitions, there are often two categories: equipped and raw. Equipped, you lay your wraps and gloves on the table and they say okay, put 'em on. Raw, it's just you and that heavy bar.

Fight the need for equipment and go raw a while. Tell me how it goes.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I guess you'd call this "bulking"

I fell over yesterday.

Same thing last week Wednesday. Boom, onto my behind.

Already at Day 10 of Dan John's 40-day workout, I should have known that increasing the weight on my overhead squat tends to make me fall over. Which surely does not garner me new personal training clients in my gym--would you pay the woman who just dodged a falling barbell, and is sitting on her butt on the floor?

The idea behind this workout is a simple one of strength-building. Do the same 5 or so lifts every day for 40 days and they'll get easier, which in turn signals that you're getting stronger. Something told me this would be a great program to help a client of mine meet his goals, but one, I didn't think he'd commit to the tedium, and two, I hadn't tried it myself.

So I'm trying it myself. And I have to keep reminding myself of this: that this is an experiment, designed by well-respected authorities in the strength and conditioning field (Pavel's behind it, too), which I will follow in a month with doing whatever I want. In fact, I'm keeping a list of all the exercises I miss, like a love letter to Santa.

There is something nice about just showing up and not thinking about what I need to do: what Dan John calls the bus bench workout--on schedule--as opposed to the park bench workout, where you're free to do as you feel. And knowing some smart guys are behind it. And seeing the weight go up ten pounds on my 5-rep deadlift today.

(May I just pause here to point out that while I was loading 120 pounds onto a 45-pound bar, one woman in the weight room was saying to the other, "Should we start with the 5s or the 7s?"?)

But what's not nice is my new tendency to eat six meals a day, and not the small ones like you're supposed to. Yesterday, I had breakfast after my breakfast, and after my second supper, ate two large sausages for dessert. You can see these when I turn to the side.

I like that instead of jumping between different kinds of exercises, I'm mastering each one, letting my body take in its effects, and concentrating through each of the five reps per set. Only five, so you can't (shouldn't) lose focus, or they'll be gone before you know it. This daily liturgy of lifts is soothing.

And with a warmup on the bike or treadmill, I'm doing more of that than I would in a week, as well.

So aside from the falling over and the strain on our food budget, the program is promising. It's good to just flat out build strength every once in a while, especially as I have people who pay me because they know it's something I do. And then, after this, I'm curious to try hypertrophy, as I know how it's done but haven't pursued it all out. As a personal trainer, I tend to only want to teach stuff I've done myself, as my body knows it as well as my mind. So I've got some work to do. Day 11, I'm ready for you.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Summer, when few books are read and profundity is scarce.

When the mind must dwell lightly upon passing thoughts, as a sparrow lands on a branch before it alights. Kids are calling. Work is fit in.

Every year at this time I write a blog post lamenting my shallow life. I'd like to reach deep and capture those few thoughts splashing around, but the sunblock does its job. I settle into moments, instead, and these morph late August into lists--of gym shoes, highlighters, and 4oz glue sticks, which have been a school supply requirement since Simon first put on a backpack, but which don't exist, you can't tell me they do.

A new phenomenon is claiming my insights and intuitions this time around, namely my job as personal trainer.

Before: Amy experiences her world, sees experiences as a writer does, processes them on paper.

Now: Amy meets with clients who tell her about their worlds. Ideas form and she walks them through some steps she hopes will help.

Whereas my intuition before helped me see an experience from a bird's eye view and later reflect, now I am wrapped into the world of another, in a way that feels way beyond a collection of exercises.

Before: the experience was the material, the writing a reflection.

Now: the person is the material, the session my reflection.

With four clients, I find my head is filled with their needs, and just as you suddenly see the model of your new car everywhere after you buy it, in my reading I think, Yes, this is good for her, wow, he'll really enjoy that.

Thankfully, I am able to reign in some of this, else I could get overrun. Writing ideas down for future reference helps, as does thinking one session at a time. For even though I think long-term for my clients, each session seems to dictate the next, and an injury thrown in can mean toss the plan altogether.

I like it. A lot. Some day I'll write about my very first client, who provided me an experience that threatened to have me quit before I even got going. This was an exception, I learned, and thankfully, after therapy (yes, it was that bad) and peer encouragement, I'm still here; my four clients since have been a joy.

Part of me laments this phase of different thinking--let's call it that--but there's something to this "active writing" that I'm doing. Instead of words moving themselves around on paper, movements do--their order, how I present them, their effectiveness and reception. It's the same process, really. I've always noticed this, as with my theatre work and teaching as well, but I enjoy it more in this form. It's not the exercise component per se, as I've never thoroughly enjoyed teaching large group classes. It's the one-on-one, coupled with the movement.

I've been reading up on Kung Fu lately--see, it's not all laundry and lists--particularly the practices of Sifu Shi Yan Ming. He calls the practice at USA Shaolin Temple "action meditation." The movements mean something.

Action meditation: that's what training feels like to me. It's a nice balance, actually. For me, the last several years have been about moving beyond thinking. I'd done a lot of thinking, and prided myself as an intellectual. But now, I need to plunge my hands deep into the world; this latest incarnation, so far, has been the best fit.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Through the Looking Glass

Each time Theo and I stepped into the elevator at the Radisson in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, we were sure to wave at our counterparts in the mirror. "Are you heading to the steamboat cruise, too?" we'd ask. The door would open behind us--and simultaneously them--and we'd each turn to step further into our own dimensions.

A weekend at a type 1 diabetes event feels a lot like that: a parallel universe where people are testing their blood sugars, counting carbs, giving shots. They're worrying about the same stuff we do and they're pulling out the same black pouch with the same silver meter. One offers up a carb count for that piece of pie. Another woman's kid is approved for an artificial pancreas trial, and she cries at the thought of not asking about blood sugars for just that one day.

The JDRF Ride to Cure took our family to Wisconsin for three days, which we extended to five for a family vacation. Greg and Simon fell easily into the rhythm of the event, participating in meetings, meals, and practice rides along with the other 240 riders. Theo and I meandered through the fun little town, musing philosophically on what we'd do on our last day on earth. Theo put this question to me, which he followed up with "if you knew it was your last day."

We waited at the finish line for the guys, singing loudly to the music welcoming back the riders. It was a cover up, I admit, because seeing the bikes return stirred up a surprising turn of emotion in me. Break it down and you know that the Ride to Cure is really about raising funds, with the ride itself icing on the carb-laden cake. But couple a physical act with a ideological one, and each mirrors the other's power, doubling it. I watched an older rider come in smiling, but then she'd close her lips and compose herself. Smile, close lips. I knew how she felt. For on the other side of the finish line, the inflatable arch read "START." We've ridden our miles, but it's not over yet.

Managing type 1 diabetes, we get caught up in the daily details of numbers and shots, but then we are faced with the bigger picture before us: this all comes down to a thing more significant. To food, that basic of human sustenance. Food, which should be enjoyed and relished, that has become a daily chore and challenge.

You can understand, then, how diabetes awareness and events become like religious rituals. Indeed, the meetings resembled the Christian rallies of my youth, complete with testimonies, altar calls, and tears. You're charged with a higher purpose, and you leave convinced that this weekend made a difference. But then you catch sight of a 2009 Ride To Cure t-shirt, and you wonder how can it be that we're not there yet, that Jesus has not yet arrived for his second coming.

And yet this aspect, too, was meaningful; this was Simon's first time participating in such a heady event, and even my passive, back seat son was stirred. For our television debut, the reporter had a hard time getting him to articulate why he'd ride and raise money for his brother, but that's okay: Greg and I know there's nothing he enjoys more than to make his brother laugh, and every time we close their bedroom door at night we hear, "So what do you want to talk about?"

I have seen Simon make sacrifices so as not to isolate his brother at mealtimes. They are unspoken, but the mirror knows. And on the ride, after never having gone more than 30 miles, he went 58. For six and a half hours.

The weekend in Wisconsin was, hopefully, life-changing, as the money raised by 240 riders will make a serious dent in the disease. We're back to the other side, now, and happy to be home, though the memory of those parallel lives will not leave us any time soon. On our last evening there, JDRF played a video that started off miserably: You can't imagine a world without diabetes, the screen read, moving on to articulate all of the thoughts we never quite say, but always feel. And just when we were ready to turn on the lights and call all this to a halt, the sentences reversed, and what sounded despairing was now hopeful, thanks to the effect all these donations will have on research. A brilliant, magical mirroring of reality, reminding us that it is possible to cross over, and step--ride, even--to the other side.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Almost There

Yeah, I get the calls, too.

--If we send you a packet, can we count on your donation of ten dollars or more?

--No, I'm sorry, but we've been giving a lot of money to another charity lately.

--Yes, ma'am, we understand that there are many worthy charities asking for your contribution. By giving to us, however, you will help thousands of children struggling with X disease. Can they count on you for your support?

At this juncture, during recent calls I find myself telling the telemarketer that surely their cause is worthwhile, as is mine, but that funds are limited. Sometimes I even explain that my son has the disease I'm raising money for. One woman said sorry; another hung up.

Knowing how often these calls come, I thank everyone who has followed our journey toward this very week, to the JDRF ride in Wisconsin, for your money, your prayers, your lending of bikes and bike racks, and your ears. Type 1 diabetes is one of those under the radar diseases, in a sense, as no one really knows about it unless they've had a direct connection with someone diagnosed. Even then, you really have no idea until you live with it. We can be annoying, us T1Ders, if we start listing out the daily regimen of math and woe. But we only want you to understand. Why we want a cure.

We raised over $6000 for the Ride to Cure Diabetes. 80% of all money raised goes directly to research. You can track some of how that happened here on the blog, or talk to us some time.

You can see some of the publicity we garnered online--a nice article in a small local paper; one on Fox17's site; and if you didn't catch the awesome television news clip on that article, see it here

Theo was diagnosed three years ago last week; after doing research for an essay contest on life 100 years ago, we now know we can be grateful it hadn't been much earlier. Theo's essay didn't win any prizes, but I think he captures the close-to-home reality that unfortunately is based on truth. For more on the making of this essay and my take, see a previous blog post.

The Cure
By Theo Scheer

Every word the doctor said was blocked out by my thinking. This doesn’t mean I was thinking a lot. In fact, the only words that passed through my mind were, “No. This can’t be happening. No.”
The thing that caused me to be here was stupid Diabetes. “Well, what will it be, Theo? The potato therapy, the rice cure, or the oat cure?” the doctor said. They were all funny names, but I didn’t feel like laughing. “Well?” said the doctor who was getting impatient with my silence. “Oat c-c-cure,” I slowly said. “Alright Theo, this is what we’re gonna do. Every two hours I’ll come with a plate of eight ounces of oatmeal and eight ounces of butter. And you’ll eat it, of course.”
I was too stunned to speak. That’s a lot of oatmeal and butter. And I don’t even like oatmeal that much. I wish I could punch Diabetes in the face. I wish I could be back home, lying on the sofa, eating cracker jacks. I wish the percentage of me dying was a little lower.
“We’ll be right back,” said my mom, grabbing the doctor by the shirtsleeve. My mom rushed down the hallway. She suddenly stopped in the middle of the hallway and fiercely let the doctor’s sleeve go.
“Oatmeal? OATMEAL??? EIGHT OUNCES OF OATMEAL AND EIGHT OUNCES OF BUTTER? YOU ACTUALLY THINK THAT THAT WILL CURE MY SON’S DISEASE? Sir, I am no doctor, and I am almost certain that will not actually help Diabetes.”
The doctor no longer looked afraid. He straightened his back and said, “Ma’am, repeat what you said a few seconds earlier.”
“It will not actually help Diabetes?” she asked.
“Before that,” the doctor replied.
“I am no doctor?” she tried.
“Exactly. You are no doctor. You are just a plain country girl,” the doctor said, prancing around the hallway. “And I would never expect better science from someone like you.”
The doctor turned his head back to my mother only to see he was just staring at a wall. She was gone.
The click clack, click clack of the horse-drawn carriage was the only noise I’d heard since my mother dragged me out of the doctor’s office. “I’ll show these weirdoes what a plain ‘country girl’ can do. If someone’s gonna find a cure for my son, it’s gonna be me.”
Once we got into our home, the doorbell rang. My mom opened it, expecting a salesman. But it was no salesman. It wasn’t a person at all.
It was a huge bowl filled with oatmeal and butter.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Tale of Three Complaints, filled with tickles and giggles

Three recent letters to three different companies. Which do you think I'll patronize again?

Name: Amy Scheer

Message: For my 9-year-old son's type 1 diabetes, we have to count the carbs in his meal, divide it by a number (different at every meal) to determine the amount of insulin he needs, and administer a shot. Though there are many variables at play, this math usually serves us well. Tonight I served your clementines at dinner, and carefully weighed my son's to match it up with your nutrition label. An hour later, his blood sugar was dangerously low--30, the lowest he's ever been. We gave him a sugar source and he recovered, thankfully. The only questionable food we counted was the clementine, so I checked the nutrition facts at another source, which would put your carb count at almost twice what it should be. I am fairly certain that this is what caused his low, which is why I ask that you please doublecheck your nutrition facts. Some consumers simply use these numbers for dietary reasons, but for diabetics, it can be a matter of life and death. Please take care of this so that others don't encounter the situation we did. Thank you.


Dear Amy:

Thanks for bringing this matter to our attention. We will definitely check our Clementines nutritional information, and make any necessary adjustments.

We are very glad to hear that your son recovered from his low blood sugar condition, and we hope that he is now well. We recognize that families like yours have to pay close attention to their family members' diets, and we certainly want to provide the most accurate information available. Unfortunately, as you know, the sugar and carb content can differ from one piece of fresh fruit to another, and the dietary analysis from one nutritional authoritiy to another often differs as well. Nevertheless, we will take your comments under advisement, and make any changes that are deemed necessary.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.




To: Kraft

For my son's diabetes, we have to count the carbs in his meal to determine how much insulin he needs. I'm wondering about your counts on "grilled cheese explosion" mac n cheese. Is it 59g of carbs for a cup, or for half a box? The nutrition label says both. That's a pretty high carb count, so we need to be sure--and I'm worried that half a box isn't quite a cup.

Thank you,

Amy Scheer


Subject: Re: Your Comment/Question

Date: July 29, 2013 9:31:59 AM EDT

Thank You for Contacting Us!

Hi Amy,

Thank you for visiting

Please refer to the nutrition facts panel on the packaging.

The product package is always your best resource for current ingredient and nutritional information.

If you haven't done so already, please add our site to your favorites and visit us again soon!

Consumer Relations

I called to get a more direct answer, which never came. Subsequently, they sent me a coupon good for one box of mac and cheese, "not to exceed $1.43."


JUL 25, 2013 | 10:22AM EDT

Name: Amy

Subject: [Mindvalley Support - Product Inquiries]

I'm interested in purchasing the Lee Holden Qi product. I'm wondering if the $99 buys you anything tangible--actual DVDs or CDs? Thanks.

JUL 30, 2013 | 11:52PM EDT

Hello Amy!

This is Suzie from the Mindvalley team=D

I am very sorry for the late reply! If you still need my help…

This program is only available in digital version at the moment; if this changes we will let you know!! =)

Please get back to me if you need anything else, have a funny day filled with tickles and giggles!


Mindvalley Experience Manager

Inspiring us this week: Omharmonics

Did I WOW your day? Click on the link below to rate my support:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

One Month From The Ride, and Getting Closer To A Cure

Theo had eight shots yesterday.

He'll have four, usually, on a given day, but with meals out and lots of high blood sugars yesterday, there were more. One was at 3am. I'm tired. Greg's tired from a 2am check a few nights before.

Do I want your sympathy? Yes. Because three of those shots were given at night, causing me lots of anxiety. It's difficult to talk about--you give your kid insulin to bring down a blood sugar, but then you wonder if he's just high from the excitement of the new television, and if he'll drop down too low while he's sleeping. While you're sleeping. So you set your alarm for 2, 3am, and pray he's safe until then.

Some recent developments in diabetes research show remarkable possibilities. "Boston Children's Hospital Finds Root Cause of Diabetes." On June 13, this astounding headline snuck through the internet mostly unnoticed, except by parents like us. This breakthrough won't see its theories tested on children for years, and yet the hope it brings makes me confident when I ask for the final sum of the $6000 we committed to raise for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF); I know the money is going to good use.

With the bike ride in Wisconsin one month away, we're down to the final $675 or so. Can you help us cross the finish line before we go?

Greg and Simon are doing the riding, by the way. Greg replaced me mainly because we have a bike that fits him. But trust me, I'm putting the miles in on organizing this trip and our donations. Simon has done his part raising money and is now focussing his efforts on the bike.

Theo has raised money, too, and continues to be a good sport about sharing his personal story.

He recently entered an essay contest on the theme "What would your life be like one hundred years ago?" Diabetes treatment was much different then, of course, so he wrote about that based on some research we did.

At one point, he came to me and said, "Mom, I don't know what should happen to me in the end."

"Well," I said, stalling a bit, "I'm afraid you wouldn't have made it back then. You would have died."

He looked down. Then he caught my eye and said, "I know what to do."

He showed me the essay later: a mean doctor declares the diagnosis and a strange treatment, and the mom--me, one hundred years ago--stands up to him and lets him know that she'll fix her boy, thank you very much. She'll figure this thing out.

The essay ends there, with the reader not knowing which way things will go.

But I know how I want this to go. Lacking the level of courage as my fictional counterpart, I want these researchers to figure things out--to have billions at their disposal to do what they need to do.

Help them by helping us.


Visit Simon's page. 
Don't worry if he passes his "goal." Simon's donations will be put toward our total fundraising goal.

Visit Greg's page. 
Greg doesn't look like he has much, but if they haven't already, they'll be putting the money I raised into his account.

My page is going away. It might still be there, but don't give to it--please click on the above links for Greg and Simon, instead.

Mail a check. 
Write a check to JDRF with "Simon and Greg Scheer" in the memo line. Mail it to:

JDRF Michigan Great Lakes West Chapter
4595 Broadmoor Ave SE Suite 230
Kentwood, MI 49512

Only checks $100 and over will receive a tax letter, whereas any amount given online receives recognition.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Back To Start

After giving the same answer to a second person who asked if I competed over the weekend, I thought, Well now, that's about what it is, isn't it?

That's about the point where I am in life and not just the deadlift, am I seeing this right?

No, I didn't compete, I said. I'm reworking my form, which means back to basics, lifting 135 instead of 200. Getting it right with the lower weights until my body memorizes what to do, and is ready for the stress of more.

(Oh, and the shins. They're killing me. It's one thing to rule out the option of wearing a skirt the day after deadlifting, to hide the streaks of purple, but it's another to scrape yourself silly while also maneuvering a heavy bar. Eventually, I give up not because the weight's too heavy, but because my shins hurt.)

There's some fear with perfecting form--fear of pain but also of taking too long to get things right, which also becomes a problem of pride, because people seeing me lift light might think that's all I can do, and we can't have that.

Fear of failure, too. That's one aspect of boxing I miss--the constant reinforcement of the natural cycle of things. Hit, get hit. Succeed, fail.

That first time they secured my gloves, vaselined my cheeks, tightened my headgear at the crown, I knew just one thing: I could conquer the world. Not that I dominated in my first sparring session, but that I stepped in that ring, took punches and gave them. Nothing, nothing I would ever face in my life could be more difficult than what I just did.

It's a posture of strength but also of analysis, overcoming obstacles, facing obstacles--that glove coming at your head. And of taking risks. Only in taking risks--letting your hand go for a punch, which simultaneously opens up a spot for your opponent to hit--do we have a chance at winning.

"I hope you'll make mistakes," writer Neil Gaiman told the graduating class of Philadelphia's University of the Arts, in 2012. "If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something."

At the deadlift, I'm rehearsing my form and making a mess of my legs. I humbly play with fewer plates.

And life? I'm trying something new--personal training--that's also an expanded, intense, intimate version of what I've been doing for nearly three years. I'm back to start but still on the same gameboard, and I'm a little afraid. Of failure, of taking too long to get it down...of success, even, to be honest.

"Make interesting, amazing, glorious, fantastic mistakes," Gaiman had said. "Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here."

Risky, isn't it? I'm afraid. Are you taking enough risks to be afraid?

Friday, June 14, 2013

To Bruise Or Not To Bruise

Buy shin guards or stop deadlifting? That is the question. And the exclamation: my kids say the big bruise you see here looks like an upside down exclamation mark. In deep purple.

Thanks to a visit to the chiro and a session with my boss, I'm improving on my form and looking forward to moving up in weight. (Still not sure how I was pulling 200 with an nonfiring left glute.) This will not improve upon the bruising--it's a given with the move--though I'm told the shins toughen up in time. I'm also calling on my retired Adidas stingers for help; as wrestling shoes used for boxing, I'm convinced their low soles will help me deadlift. Why not?

Too many changes to allow me time to be ready for a meet next Saturday, though I haven't ruled out competing for fun. In addition to my boxing/wrestling shoes, I will surely be wearing some long pants, because man, this shin hurts.

So why do this? It's a great question, one I've been putting to some guys at the gym. Yes, usually guys, because they tend to feel as I do: we have to lift heavy stuff. I know the meaning's deeper than that, but it's hard to get at without sounding like all I care about is looks. Read back a few posts to get that idea out of your head.

I'm thankful that this is now my trade, as every exercise I do helps me help others. Experiments are necessary, which is incredibly awesome, as I love them. Ask me about the Bag O' Rice workout I conducted today--outside, in full view of the neighbors, with 50lbs of rice above my head. (You know you want me to train you.)

Do I need to know what motivates me? It's like analyzing a lover's nose to pinpoint his or her beauty. I'm just going to lift that rice, raise that bar, and bruise that shin. Maybe all next weekend; I'll let you know.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

It's All Good

Too busy to produce one coherent post; here are some recent developments, instead.

In the category of how often does this happen: I'm looking at graduation announcements in the paper and I say to Simon, "I snapped this girl's head back with my fist."


I used to pay to write my own college papers. Thanks probably to drinking too much coffee today, I flashed back to sitting in the sculpture room at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, where I'd hand write essays (yes) and take them back to my typewriter (egads) for a clean copy. I never did have any notions of being a writer, yet something in me knew the words would flow best around great art. So I paid to sit there.


I'm a personal trainer now. At the risk of making too much of this, it seems fitting to stop and think about how I got to this point. Most directly, I began the certification process thanks to a man at my gym who claimed a year ago that he's saving up part of his family's budget to have me train him. (If his wife is reading, maybe she can verify the truth of this, as her man is prone to hyperbole). I proffered all sorts of excuses, which held him off for some months, until the day he said something both really nice and mean, something along the lines of, "You're too scared to do what you're good at."

I realized he was right--not just with personal training, but with most everything else.

This whole process has been one of facing such fears, from studying difficult equations and physiological processes to taking a three hour, brain-numbing examination. To realizing that Oh, now I'm going to be meeting with people one on one. They're paying to be with me. Refer to Fear #1.

But mostly I'm excited for the challenge. I know I know my stuff, and it's just a matter now of getting my feet wet. I have two most excellent, very different clients waiting for me to get oriented to the Y's protocol and have at it.


All of sudden I have three new jobs. You know about the personal training. I'm also about to begin working as a coach in the Y's Diabetes Prevention Program, aimed at people who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Classes will be held out in the community, in inner city churches and clinics. My experience at the homeless shelter helped land me this job, and I'm happy to get back out there and teach.

Also, I'm doing some PR writing for the Y now. Yes, all of these new jobs start within a couple weeks of each other. Busy, but all good.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

First Aid

Over the past three weeks I've had some 39 hours of training. A good deal of this has been for a new position I'm taking on, as a coach in a diabetes prevention program; some was spent preparing me for my personal trainer certification exam; and it took a couple hours to learn CPR/AED, a requirement for CPTs.

I've learned a great deal, and among these new insights is the idea that I and my family have been protected. From knowing too much. And facing this disease we manage every day.

You have to understand that our quarterly endocrinologist appointments deal in the dailyness of type 1 diabetes. There is no time set aside to update us on possible future complications for Theo, and who would want that with the boy sitting there. So we live in this mindset of if I count the carbs in this food item, divide it by the ratio set for this time of day, administer a shot, these are our duties, this is diabetes. Diabetes is counting, multiplying, dividing; shots; carrying around a bag of stuff everywhere we go. We can't think much beyond that, and I stay clear of the blogs. I worry at night, putting him to bed, but that's something you have to get over as best you can, and quick.

This is my mindset as I enter these trainings, and I am taken aback when I come to understand that the presentation of diabetes (type 2, but the complications are the same) in this setting is a scare tactic, necessarily so. As a "coach," I don't want people to cross over from a prediabetic state to having type 2. I want to warn them what will happen if they do. And so I am trained on why diabetes is so bad. What it will do to you. How you will be at greater risk for other major health conditions.

And when we went around the room to introduce ourselves and explain our connection to diabetes, I was not prepared to hear a woman say her cousin died from type 1. She sat two places away from me. I  didn't think I'd recover in time. I didn't allow myself to fall into the pit that had suddenly presented itself, gave my intro, made it through. Managed to hold diabetes at arm's length throughout the remaining discussions and hours.

Made it through the exam preparation, corrected the teacher on the timing of blood glucose checks during exercise. Made it. Until CPR training, when the video showed a guy who had collapsed and was unresponsive.

"First, check that the scene is safe." Scene is safe!

"Try to get a response." Hey, buddy, you okay? Huh? Hey! You!

"Check for medical ID bracelets."

They find one: DIABETIC.

The lights are off for the video, and they'll be coming on again. All these strangers will be staring at the odd woman with red eyes, wet cheeks, and a runny nose. There is not much time to recover, but I do.

This is diabetes. Going along like it's nothing but numbers and needles and then bam, reminders that we're dealing with something deadly.

There have been moments during our fundraising for the JDRF bike ride when I've feared we're exploiting either Theo or our connection to the disease, but I always come back to this: type 1 is ugly. Awareness helps. Money can make a difference. And frankly, the kids are proud of the press. Especially a recent article in the paper.

I know there are worse conditions to have. But this one just breaks my heart when I let it.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Conferences With Powerlifters

I'm the demo model for the deadlift. As I'm setting up, a guy the size of a La-Z-Boy yells, "It ain't right 'til your shins bleed."

I figure this is as good a time as any to ask for solutions to this very problem, which I'd been having.

"What do you do about that, by the way? What do you wear--shin guards?" I ask.

"Nothin'," he says.

"So just... hamburger."


Monday, May 6, 2013

I've Been Elsewhere.

Have you been looking for me? Sorry I've been away.

This is a season of interviewing for a new job, pursuing a certification for a different job, having to schedule random other exams in order to qualify for the cert for the second job, and still working the first job in the meanwhile. And preparing for a son's debut as Crocodile Guy in the third grade musical, and working to convince older son to not wear underwear beneath his biking shorts.

Speaking of biking--I'll tell you more about the new jobs later--I've been posting updates on our fundraising pages. What fundraising pages? Our family will ride 30 miles in Wisconsin this summer to raise money for diabetes research. It's personal for us, as Crocodile Guy son has type 1. We've raised four of the six thousand required for us to go, and it's been a real bonding experience for the family. Read more about it here, and give if you can:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Apologetics of the Body

And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
--Walt Whitman, "I Sing The Body Electric"

I bought a 50-pound bag of rice not to cook but to lift over my head and throw to the ground. I heard of a hill and drove the twenty minutes there to run it up and down, then drove the twenty minutes back.

I was asked by someone who doesn't know me well if I'm "still competing," and when it became clear she knew only the part of me that buys the rice and runs up hills, this bothered me.

And it bothered me that it bothered me.

So let's run up that hill together and see what's at the crest of my approaching midlife career shift, a certification in personal training after years of working in the arts and activities of the mind.

I think what we'll find is that the body needs no justification. Call me a gym rat, laugh at football players on a scholarship, assume the thick-necked among us are dumb, and I will tell you your identity cannot hide from your body image and abilities. I'll tell you that working with people on health and wellness means I have access to their full selves, because parts cannot be separated out without absurdist efforts.

Day One of theatre games with homeless women I told them that their bodies--prostitutes, some of them, sexual abuse survivors nearly all--their bodies are temples. Their bodies are homes, the only kind they have right now, the only place of regular familiarity; they must honor and care for what has been given.

But you might next scoff at my efforts to sculpt the deltoids and I'll remind you that God considered the human body the most worthy vessel for his arrival on earth, its frailties vehicles for a grand story of hope and, finally, strength.

No justification needed. Except to myself, for my feelings of discomfort. This woman knew only that I work in fitness, a field so branded by shakeweights and top ten tips that it's hard to appreciate the true successes. I wanted her to know that I read Yeats at home, and Zizek, and I teach theatre sometimes, and write some plays, and there's a book I'm trying to get published.

Because the body is tied up with the mind and soul, so, too, are my thoughts. It's embarrassing to admit how long I'd gone without purposeful movement, which is, as it turns out, how I learn and process the world. Because of time wasted, I want to help others see the big picture. The view from the hilltop.

I will have you, too, lifting that giant bag of rice once (and if) you're ready. Then maybe we'll talk recipes, or philosophy, or how you're feeling about it all. I'd like to think I'll draw like-minded clients, at least in spirit, the kind who'd appreciate an intuitive trainer.

One who likes the books but throws them out sometimes. With her nicely-sculpted arm. A June exam, here I come.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

good boys/lifting/bad things

I was accused this morning at breakfast for not keeping up with the blog.

"But I have nothing to say," I protested, feeling at once morally upright and also dishonest. For many thoughts have come to me, but none warranting an entire post. And now that I've ventured onto Facebook, those thoughts want to go shorthand for immediate consumption and liking.

The epigraph to Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes gives credit to Ortega y Gasset for this:

Tell me to what you pay attention, and I will tell you who you are.

Yawning bunnies, Gasset. Cats in boxes, guns, Thomas Kinkaid paintings with religious sayings and also what we had for breakfast. Yummy! You like this.

I regret not having spent the winter months developing a deeper mindfulness, since you have to lay dormant anyway. And here we are in April--never mind this morning's snow--and the outside beckons, or at least the guilt to get the kids moving and out there. As the wind blows leaves and litter through the air today, I will throw a few thoughts around.

good boys
Many of you know we're raising money for diabetes research and a bike ride this summer. I've written elsewhere detailing each family member's contribution to the cause, with Simon's being the selling of comics at school--copies of hand-drawn originals, which are quite well done. Some kids have balked at his permission to do such a thing, even for charity, and others are happy to buy; he's made about 6o bucks.

Each afternoon he comes home from school and reports on the cash before dropping it into a jar. Recently, he arrived with a few extra bucks from his friend, who is selling his own wares for our cause.

This friend is making duct tape wallets, selling them to friends, and giving the proceeds to Simon for our ride. A twelve-year-old boy. A wild one, too--I've taken him and his brother to the movies, and these kids can't stop moving or talking. But his heart is right where it needs to be.

Now when Simon comes home, he reports on what he's made and what his buddy made, then drops both into the jar. I can't get over this act of generosity.

First instinct is to say rest cured my elbow of its two-year stint with lateral epicondylitis, but in the end recovery came, I believe, from not hitting stuff. This obvious fact was a good reason to finally end my stint with boxing, because I really do wish to have all parts functioning well into old age.

And this includes my head. There's no getting around the fact that in boxing, you get hit where your hard drive is stored. I have taken just two hard hits to the head, and that was enough to make me question the whole enterprise, at least for myself. Deep down, I regret having not had the time to study boxing properly, to make defense an instinct, because I do love the sport and feel I have the smarts to strategize, as well as the strength and power to do some damage. In the end, I didn't get that far, though I had a few moments of glory.

So I'm back to lifting, and enjoying the pure strength of it. In the final analysis, I am a meathead. I like muscle and I like lifting heavy stuff; there's not much more to it than that. I should be training for that aforementioned bike ride, but doggone it if it doesn't interest me at all, beyond doing something for diabetes. If I'm going to get calluses anywhere, I'd rather they be on my hands and not my butt.

There's a deadlift competition in July, and I've told myself to train slow and steady out of recovery. This was mostly working until last week, when I thought I was adding 5lb plates to either side of the bar but they were really tens. This went on for a couple of sets, while I was "taking it easy," and only when cleaning off the bar did I do the math properly. And patted myself on the back.

bad things
As the boys grow into new interests, memories return from my own childhood, and I tell them stories. Lately, many of these stories seem to reinforce exactly the things I don't let them do. Constant video game playing (though I had to collect quarters and get myself to an arcade). Junkfood eating (not my fault, but a fact). TV always on (also not my fault, though I could have diverted my attention).

Then you start to remember those who wronged you, or educated you in ways beyond your age, and though emotions are still part of those memories, you recall that you survived. And you know that your kids will, too, because you turned out mostly okay. With a lot to say, even when you stay quiet.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Their Stories Leave With Them, Unless

As I turned into the parking lot of the church today, an ending felt at hand: this funeral would be the final gathering for my friend Norm, the last of the official celebrations, and though we'd still speak of him at the Y, still honor his favorite chair, in time other people and activity would fill the space that he once took up on this earth.

But of course he occupied a large part of many hearts, and I'm sure that others find, as I do, that memories flow easily this week. Norm sneaking out of his chair to unplug the vacuum cleaner while I was using it. Pulling me off to the side (while I was vacuuming) to tell me I was made for bigger things. The story of sponsoring a girl's tuition to art college, just because he noticed her talent.

That these memories live in me and in others is reassuring, because Norm and I had held several conversations around the idea of collaborating on a book of his stories. A war vet and successful businessman, he had some tales to tell.

"People will like these stories," he'd say to me, and then, "What up, yo?" a non-sequitur of slang that I could never quite answer with anything but a laugh.

I never doubted his appeal. Seemingly mild-mannered, the man could surprise you. He'd carefully park his Astor Martin in the handicapped space at the Y, but rev that thing up on the highway. He'd pull out his saxophone and play a tune when a business deal closed with success. When I directed him to the best corned beef in town and the store later stopped carrying it, he talked to the owner, leveraging his power in the food industry.

"You notice it's back on the shelf now," he'd say with a wicked grin.

It wasn't but a month or two ago that Norm approached me again about the book. He really wanted to get his stories down and I was willing, but he didn't call. A couple of weeks ago he took a fall; this past Saturday, he suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Norm's stories, some, went with him. Those that didn't should be shared. It's a reminder to get stories while you can, write them down, even, and when the time comes for the final chapter, turn back to page one and start reading again.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

161 digits and $425 for diabetes

You came through, peoples--you responded to the challenge and gave lots of money toward our goal of 6K. Your reward is here: a recitation of 161 digits by the boy himself.

Not bad, huh? It was a happy Pi Day indeed, with pi and actual pie and a party, to boot. Amazingly, the insulin dose at lunch today came out to 3.14; it's like the calculator knew.

If you didn't have a chance to give, there's still time to do so. Visit my JDRF page. Much appreciated.

And a hearty thanks to all donors who stepped up to the pi plate!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Theo's Pi Challenge (time-sensitive material)

UPDATE: Pi Day is here, and we're thankful especially for the 11 people who stepped up to the pie plate and donated. Look for a video of Theo's recitation of 150+ digits within the next 24 hours. And no, it's not too late to give! Theo worked on a few extra digits just in case. 


As you've read here before, my older son and I are riding thirty miles through Wisconsin to raise money for diabetes research, in honor of my younger son, who has type 1.

And as you know from reading here, you get the raw deal from me. No cover ups. On facebook, I posted the video you'll find below; here you'll get the full story.

Because there are two of us riding, we must meet two fundraising goals, totaling 6K. And while the cause is important to us, it's difficult to ask for money. Sometimes I just want to tell people what we're doing, but the telling naturally tends toward a request. And sometimes I want to turn people over and shake the change from their pockets, because life with diabetes is hard. And researchers have been making steady progress that deserves more money to continue. (Never mind that Theo is dead set against an artificial pancreas; he might change his mind down the road.)

Each of us have been working toward raising the 6K. I'm the manager of this operation, handling the marketing, thank you letters, and coordination of family efforts. Greg is planning a hymn sing to raise some cash. And he's watching the kids tonight while I work concessions at a Bob Seger concert (proceeds from our booth are divided among the accounts of the riders).

But I'm most proud of the kids. Simon, a gifted artist, has been selling his comics at school for a buck a piece. It's tough for him to draw attention to himself, but he met the task and is keeping them coming by offering a new comic every Monday. The response from his fellow students has varied from jealousy that they can't sell their own comics (we received special permission from the principal) to a kid who paid Simon twenty bucks of his own money and asked that he receive just two issues. (He also promised he'd cure diabetes. He was frustrated when he said this, like, why do all this fundraising stuff? Just cure it already.)

And Theo's doing his bit, too, as you'll see below. The other day he looked at some postcards I made to advertise our campaign and he said, "Mom, for the bike ride you're all emotional and stuff, but around here, we're just like, har har, diabetes." Which about sums it up--life lived with diabetes is travelling down the road with blinders on, because there's so much management just to keep him alive. But when the time comes to talk about it, and draw attention to the disease, you face what you're up against. It's good to do every once in a while. Every 30 miles or so, you stop and take in your surroundings, good and bad. Then you get back on the bike and keep going.

Check out Theo's challenge. It's only good for a few days, though you can donate all the way through til summer. If you're so moved, donate at (rider Amy Scheer).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Value of Problem People

At the opening of the animated film "Wreck-It Ralph," the villains of various video games sit on or float above folding chairs and come to terms with the anti-hero status imposed upon them. The mantra of Bad-Anon is "I'm bad and that's good. I will never be good and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be than me." As Ralph will discover, bad guys have a vital role to play in shaping their virtual worlds.


In "I Am Bruce Lee," Jon Jones, a UFC world champion, muses on the meaning of Lee's famous fighting philosophy of "honestly expressing yourself." Gentle and soft-spoken, Jones says, almost apologetically, "I actually feel as if I'm helping people as I'm punching them in the face. I'm beating weakness out of them. I'm making them a better person." The camera cuts to Jones's elbow, then his knee, in an opponent's face.


"It is quite perplexing," writes Nassim Nicholas Taleb in "Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder," that those from whom we have benefited the most aren't those who have tried to help us (say with "advice") but rather those who have actively tried--but eventually failed--to harm us."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Here's What Helped Me

I can't get the images from my mind: Anna on the floor in a cobra pose, Joseph hanging from the bar, arms locked out, knees together, slowly raising up and down.

--Here's what helped me, Amy.
--This is what the therapist had me do.

I work in a service field. When I clock in for my shift, I agree to stand at the service of others, whether by instructing them on exercise form or by keeping clean the equipment they'll use. This is where my deep joy in my work derives: I use what I know to make you feel better.

When I hurt my elbow, I'd talk about it here and there to members at the gym. People would check in with me, ask how I was feeling, offer earnest sympathy. Yet few of these folks suffered the same injury, so conversations often ended at sorry.

But when I walked around on a shift last week with an involuntary grimace on my face, and I told anyone who asked that I threw out my lower back, the help came. Low back pain is a common complaint, and what I found was a community ready to serve me.

--Here's what helped me, Amy.
--This is what the therapist had me do.

Phone calls. Mindy took time from her three small children home on President's Day to talk me through my problems. Anna on the floor. Joseph demonstrating the one successful technique he discovered after trying everything else.

Gifts, all. It's said that receiving can be more difficult than giving, but I am nothing less than grateful. Not entirely for the advice--some worked, some didn't--but for the care and concern. For the ways that those I serve choose to serve me.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

INTERVIEW: Lou Schuler on aging and exercise

Lou Schuler is witty, smart, and one of my favorite fitness writers. He and Alwyn Cosgrove are co-authors on The New Rules of Lifting series, and one of their recent titles, The New Rules of Lifting for Life, hit me where I am. Lou agreed to talk with me again here, as our last interview was such a good time.

Lou, I found your book right when I was kicking myself for taking up boxing at the not-so-tender age of 40. You say the gym brings out the teenager in all of us, and I've got the MRI scans to prove it. Is there a way that our spunk and fight can be balanced with the realities of aging?

Our mistakes make us wise. My biggest mistake is that I started playing basketball in my mid 30s. By the time I finally quit playing, in my mid 40s, I couldn't even run or jump anymore. I had to walk up and down the court.

Now, in my mid 50s, I think my hardest-earned skill is my ability to limit the damage when I tweak something, or when I'm under the weather.

Take today, for instance. I had planned to work out several days in a row, doing lower-volume workouts each day, just to see if I felt better than I do with my traditional three-times-a-week program. But when I woke up this morning I realized I'm developing a cold. Working out today will only dump new stress on top of the stress of fighting off an illness. So I'll hold off on my experiment for a day or two.

The great thing about doing this as long as I have -- since 1970, when I was 13 -- is that I'm free of black and white thinking about fitness and diet. There's always tomorrow.

Yes, but don't you miss basketball? It's depressing when age wins out.

You know, in general, I really miss playing sports. For all the pain, there's something about friendly competition that's more fun than any other type of exercise I get. I can remember my best shots and steals and blocks with more clarity than some of the pivotal moments in my kids' lives. I know that makes me sound bad as a father, but really, it says more about my athletic abilities. We're talking about maybe six really cool plays in 10 years.

But let's use this to pivot to something that your readers might care about, which is their own fitness programs. What I learned from sports--and this has some support in the research--is that we always work harder when we have that adrenaline going. We try a little harder when we think we're letting down teammates, or when we see someone we consider a peer going faster or lifting something heavier. Just that little bit of competition, or peer pressure, or whatever it is, seems to unlock something that makes us try harder, and ultimately achieve more.

And trying harder is what you push for in the book--you mention a study showing that resistance training can actually reverse aging in skeletal muscle. I like how you put it: "It's inevitable that you'll decline from your peak--whatever it may be, and whenever you might achieve it--but it's not inevitable that you grow feeble."

This is something I think about a lot, especially since my mom began her decline into Alzheimer's. When I was a kid I thought she was pretty awesome. She was a small woman, but she had biceps like apples. My older brother and I would bring friends over to see Mom's muscles. I think she maybe indulged us once, and after that made it clear it was not cool to put our mother on display.

I remember one time I asked my dad to make us a muscle for us. If my petite mother had these big, round muscles hiding in her skinny arms, then my big, fat father must've had biceps like cantaloupes. After all, he was a former marine drill sergeant and MP and a pretty scary guy. When he tried...nothing. Whatever he had couldn't even rise through the fat. He told us it was because he had a bad back. 

That was the big fitness lesson in my young life: It was better to be thin but have flex-worthy muscles than to be fat. I never wanted to be a guy who couldn't make a muscle. As it turned out, I had my mom's genetics for thinness, but I must have my dad's genetics for muscle bellies because for all my years of lifting I'll never have biceps half as good as my mom's. 

So those were my earliest role models: the strong parent who was never injured and could do just about anything around the house, and the weak parent who always had an excuse for not doing anything. 

But the story takes a twist as dementia set in. Mom stopped eating during her last years living alone. We live a thousand miles away, so I only saw her once a year at most. My siblings who lived closer thought her diet was reduced to chocolate, peanuts, and a light beer every night. I don't think she intentionally starved herself, but it had the same effect. She deteriorated pretty fast. We'll never know to what extent dementia was inevitable, or how much the diet may have contributed. 

That's why I think so much about strength and aging these days. Even now, at 86, my mom's still ambulatory. Her strength didn't stop her mental decline, but it kept her independent for a lot longer than anyone expected. My dad, on the other hand, died in his sleep when he was 69, which is only 13 years older than I am now. Given his weight and all his other self-imposed health problems, it's kind of amazing that he made it that far. 

If you told me those were only two choices, I'd take my mom's path. With 30 more years, I'll at least be able to see my kids grow up. But of course I don't see those as the only choices. I hope that all the things I'm doing now -- the workouts, the protein-rich diet--will maybe keep the lights on a little longer. And with my books I hope to get as many people as possible to join me.

Protein and weights, then. But what do we do about the complaints from our joints and connective tissues? Is this why we're directed to yoga and the pool the older we get?

If someone is steered from the weight room to the pool or yoga studio, I'd want to hear why. If the joint problem is caused by laxity--that is, too much range of motion--then yoga could very well make it worse. If the problem is tightness in the shoulder capsule, then swimming could make it worse.

With just about any non-acute injury, blood is your ally. You need to get those nutrients into the joints. You do that by working with light to moderate weights, or some percentage of your own body weight, through a pain-free range of motion. 

It feels kind of weird to try to give generic rehab information, but I think the research is clear enough that the worst thing we can do is sacrifice strength and lean tissue. That's guaranteed to make your life worse down the road.

New Rule #3 is "Your body won't change without consistent hard work." No matter a person's age, it's never too late to begin, is it?

No, it's never too late. Or too early. I should note here that even without changing your body in a dramatic way, you can still get the health benefits that come with training. And you'll certainly feel better.

But let me pivot back to where we started: 

With age, we certainly have some disadvantages, relative to our younger selves. We've lost some strength, endurance, and muscle mass. Our bodies don't recover as fast from one workout to the next. On a percentage basis, we can make some pretty impressive gains, but we're starting from a lower base, and we'll peak at a lower level than we would have if we'd started earlier. 

But the one big advantage we have is, as I said, the wisdom of our mistakes. We can pull back before we push ourselves too far. When something starts to hurt, we understand it'll only get worse if we don't figure out what the problem is and take steps to fix it, even if the most important step is giving it time to rest and recover. It doesn't make for a very inspiring Facebook update--"Today I was awesome! I spent the whole day not aggravating the elbow I tweaked in my last workout!"--but it gives us a fighting chance to do the most important thing, which is to show up for the next workout ready to go.

As long as we keep going, we win. Take that, youth and inexperience!

Check out all of Lou's books at .