Adventures at the Gym

Summer is a wonderful season, don’t you think?  I mean there are vacations and beaches and weekend get-aways and tans and painted toenails and sun-bleached hair … and that swimsuit … that wicked swimsuit that you just know won’t fit this year.

So off to the gym with hopes of trimming and slimming so that clothes fit better and self-esteem is boosted.

Right?

Ah, well …

Let me tell you about my trip to Gold’s Gym on Memorial Day …

I was sort of looking forward to meeting the personal trainer I’m supposed to meet on a monthly basis.  I figure I need the nudging of someone who knows the best/right way to loose weight and fat.  I psyched myself out in the morning, taking my time getting ready and making sure I had everything I needed to make this workout exceptional.

The first problem was that I wrote down the appointment time of 10:30.  Wrong.  According to my trainer, my appointment started at 10:00.  Luckily I arrived at the gym early, so I only lost 15 minutes of prime workout time.

Let me say that my trainer seems to be a nice guy.  Knowledgeable.  Patient.  Understanding.  All the qualities I need in a trainer.  I nodded and smiled and asked questions as he laid out the way things would work – I got it, and the usual thoughts of “what kind of hell is he going to put me through” never entered my mind.

The workout started out okay.  He showed me some of the weights and machines, ran me through the workout’s repetitions and how to do it properly.  I was in the swing of things.

Then we got to the big ball.  You know, the huge rubber workout ball.  Well, there was no way I felt comfortable on the things.  First, I’m thinking, “what if the ball bursts when I sit on it?”  Then, when I’m supposed to be positioned on it to do crunches, I felt like I was slipping off.  Enough.  I told him I couldn’t get past that “slipping” feeling – and he said it was okay.  I felt bad.  We moved on to the next exercise.

Step-ups.  One foot planted firmly on a platform, step up and lift your knee up waist high.  Easy, right?  Except if you’ve got a weak ankle and are unsteady as tree branch in the wind.  So I did a few reps but couldn’t finish that either.  A trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods to get an ankle brace should fix that problem (I know they’ll have exactly what I need).

So maybe not the stellar workout that I planned, but it was close enough that my body knew I worked out later that day and on Tuesday.  Thank God for Motrin!

Now being the people watcher that I am, I couldn’t help noticing how un-busy the gym was.  The people that were there were mostly older, mostly guys, and then people like me who were walking around with their trainers.  I only signed up for the once per month sessions, but of course the gym offers a variety of programs tailored to people’s needs and budgets.  Here’s the thing – being at the gym makes me feel good.  I see others there who are pumped and lean and sexy as anything.  And then there are almost as many people there who are just like me – there because we’re not all of the aforementioned things.

My trainer is a cool guy and I think I’m going to like working out with him.  Of course, as he starts pushing me to do more and more, I might change my mind.

A Perfect Sunday before Memorial Day

Today was the day I took all of Josh’s dorm room bedding and my queen comforter to the laundromat.  My washer and dryer couldn’t have handled the volume.  I enjoyed doing this little task – it gave me time to read more of “War and Peace.”  I’m hoping I’ll finish the novel sometime in the next couple of years … 🙂

When I got home I went down to the basement to get some Diet Snapple to put into the fridge.  Buddy followed me because he wanted to go outside.  So I let him out and decided to sit with him for a few minutes.  And then I noticed all of the weeds and the edging that needed to be done.  I donned my garden gloves and grass trimmers and started clipping away.  It was hot and a bit humid.  I was sweating.

I got half a brown lawn bag full of weeds and grass clippings by the time I was done.  Buddy sat patiently by the door waiting to go inside and cool down.  As I carried him up the stairs (he’s getting older and has arthritis in his right front leg) I remembered the Snapple.  I finally got a few bottles in the fridge.

Then I listened to a song Jamie wants to learn for the Deer Creek Fiddler’s Convention and tried to learn the chords on the guitar.  And then I listened to “The Scarlet Tide” from the movie “Cold Mountain.”  It would be cool to play that song too.

I tackled a few things in the garage afterward, like taking the bottle holder off my bike (it’s too close when I dismount) and straightening some things up.  Then paying bills and listening to Lady Gaga songs on iTunes.  Sitting outside again with Buddy and taking more photos of the birds in the backyard.  The driving range with Jamie after he got off work.  Steaks on the grill.  A bottle of wine.  “Criminal Minds” marathon on A&E.

What a perfect day, don’t you think?

Biking on the NCR Trail

Sunday was a nice day.  Mid 70’s, mix of clouds and sun, and no rain forecasted until late afternoon. We decided to take the bikes to the NCR (Northern Central Railroad) trail and ride for a while.  Specifically, my son had been riding his bike everyday for exercise and was interested in riding the trail.  Heck, we’ve only been living in Maryland since 1999 and had talked about driving out to the trail many times in the past (I bought a bike rack for the car maybe – oh, 7 or 8 years ago and first used it a couple of weeks ago), so it was high time to hit the trail.

He did enjoy it, as a matter of fact.  He rode 21 miles roundtrip.  Me?  Did I make the 10 miles I did when my boyfriend and I took our bikes up there a couple of weeks prior?  Nope.  Barely made 7 miles this time.  I made the mistake of going to the gym (the place I haven’t been in months) and having a “free” personal training session Saturday morning.  I didn’t really think anything of it until I got on the bike and rode a mile or so.  Then my thighs started screaming (literally, as in ‘what are you doing … What Are You Doing … WHAT ARE YOU DOING … WHAT THE %?*!?& ARE YOU DOING???’).  I might have walked more than I rode (in miles) and probably sat more than rode or walked (in time).

But something nice came out of it.  There are spots along the trail with picnic tables or benches.  I picked a bench on the river side of the trail.  I got off the bike and sat there, rubbing my thighs, and thinking “you are a sorry excuse for a person who is trying to get in shape.”  As I sat there I realized a couple of things.

First, a high percentage of the population that either bikes, jogs, runs, or walks the trail do so in their own little world.  Some, not many, acknowledge my existence when I smile and say “hello”, “hi”, or “good morning.”  Most people turn their heads as soon as eye contact is made or just look at you with that “you talkin’ to me?” expression.  Those who walk/run/jog with their dogs probably are the friendliest.  Families (mom and/or dad with one or more children) are hit or miss.  Some respond; others do not.  I’m not crazy, I want them to know – I am not going to kidnap your child and I am not thinking indecent thoughts.  I am merely trying to be friendly.

But second, and better than everything I wrote in the previous paragraph, is that I connected with nature.  I sat on the bench and listened to what was going on around me.  When I first got there I thought I was near a waterfall.  And then it hit me that the sound was the wind rustling the leaves in the tops of the tall trees on the other side of the trail.  I watched as the trees swayed gently and listened as the wind skipped across the new leaves.  I listened to the river flowing, to the woodpecker that was having a field day on some unsuspecting bark, to small rocks and pebbles as they were displaced by bike tires or gym shoes.

Do you know how you take a spice jar from your kitchen cabinet, open it, dip your thumb and fingers inside, take some of the spice, and then sprinkle in it your sauce or on your steak?  You rub the spice softly between your fingers as you move your hand back and forth over the top of whatever you’re spicing up.  That’s what the sun did to my face as I sat on the bench.  The sun sprinkled its rays over me – and that made me smile.  It felt really good just sitting there, recovering from the last several minutes of bike riding, and taking in everything that was around me.

The NCR trail is a calming place.  Even when I’m riding my bike I feel peaceful (no matter if I’m sweating, sneezing (did I mention I have allergies?), panting, or in pain).  I feel like Baby (the baby dinosaur in “Dinosaurs” – the TV shows from years ago) because when I think of my bike, all I can say is, “Again!  Again!”

Where Did All the Shags Go?

Have you ever had an amazing haircut that you’ve never been able to get replicated?  Mine was back in high school, back when the shag was all the rage and every hairstylist in the country knew how to do it perfectly.  There wasn’t much I liked about myself back then, but that haircut made me feel extraordinary.  Life as a teenager was bearable because I looked cool, man.

Alas, thirty-some years later I desperately want that shag again and can’t find one picture in any magazine or one photo on the world wide web that looks like the hair cut I had back then.  Why is that?  Shags are supposedly back in style – I have seen pictures in hairstyle magazines claiming to be “shags” but come on – they are calling every length, every layered cut a “shag” cut.  NO, NO, NO! Those are only imitation shags – not the real thing!  DON’T BE FOOLED!

I wish we had had the internet in the 70’s.  Then there would be a plethora of pictures of girls with their shag haircuts.

Now, if I were back in Chicago and had access to my mom’s gazillion photos that are tucked away in envelopes and photo boxes and albums that are falling apart, I might be able to find at least one picture of me in that beautiful shag cut.  Maybe the next time I go back home I’ll be able to rifle through the pictures.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could find one?

I tried to explain the cut but find it very difficult.  Multiple layers (don’t know how long they should be and they always ask), tight against the back of the neck (really – what does that look like?), wispy bangs.  Why is that so hard?  I can see it in my mind … why can’t they?

Hmm … maybe if I can locate a retired hairstylist who used to cut hair in the 1970’s she might remember how to shag a head   🙂

“My Reading Life” by Pat Conroy

"My Reading Life"

"My Reading Life"

I can’t say enough about audio books.  I finished Pat Conroy’s MY READING LIFE during my last trip to Vermont to pickup my son for the summer.  I have to hand it to Mr. Conroy – he piques interest in books I never thought I’d be interested in reading.  So what did I do the moment I got home from Vermont?  I ordered WAR AND PEACE for my Kindle.

They say that in order to be a writer one has to read.  I get it.  I totally get it.  When I saw MY READING LIFE setting in a hurt books bin at work, I picked it up and read the back of the box.  I immediately knew it was something I wanted to read.  I mean, if you’ve got someone like Pat Conroy (THE GREAT SANTINI, THE PRINCE OF TIDES, SOUTH OF BROAD, THE WATER IS WIDE, BEACH MUSIC – just to name some of his novels) recommending the great books he has personally read, how can you go wrong?  So what is on his list of “must reads” …

WAR AND PEACE, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Thomas Wolfe, James Dickey, and many more …

His story – his autobiography – and the way he tells it is amazing.  The people he met – Joan Baez, Michael Jackson – it’s a great list.  But what truly inspired me was his telling of his relationship with his English teacher.  I could fully relate to how a teacher can inspire and change a kid’s life.

I like his style.  He’s an extrovert who knows how to strike up a conversation no matter where he is.  Mr. Conroy is witty and charming, helpful when someone needs assistance, and apparently brutally honest when honesty is called for.  He’s a no-nonsense person.  I am grateful that he read his book instead of someone who wouldn’t have given it the nuance it needs.

If I can learn to write a small fraction as well as someone like Mr. Conroy does, and learn by reading some of the great novels of our time – well, I’ll be a happy person.

Thanks, Mr. Conroy.

“The Weird Sisters” by Eleanor Brown

"The Weird Sisters"

"The Weird Sisters"

I needed a new audio book for my last trip from Vermont.  I looked around on Amazon.com and found the book, THE WEIRD SISTERS.  Excellent!

I read a review in the NY Times last week that I thought did not give credit to the story.  It was written by one of their male staffers.  I couldn’t help but post a comment on his review that I think he got it wrong because he isn’t a mother or a sister – or for that fact – a female.  He wanted to fact check certain pieces of the book, which may be something that other people do too, but in all honesty it will detract from the story.

You see, the book is about three sisters who have been living their own, totally different lives in different parts of the US.  But family circumstances (their mother has cancer) draw them back home.  The tale describes how they feel about each other, about their parents, about the things they’ve done in their lives, and where their lives are headed.

You don’t need to count the years and the events described in the book to believe that these things could have ultimately happened to someone.  Honestly, some of the incidents in the book are a little “out there” but so what?  Every story has parts that a reader may or may not believe in, and that’s what makes a novel a personal experience.  It’s what allows people to compare notes, to talk about how the book made them feel.

I’m a mom.  I’m a sister.  I’m the eldest of two girls.  My dad is nothing like the father in THE WEIRD SISTERS and my mom is nothing like the mother.  Are there certain things that I can relate to as a sister?  Sure.  Good things and not so good things.  Things I wish I had done with my sister.

Eleanor Brown, the author, did a good job.  She should be commended on this, her first novel.  Maybe a few things in the book should have been more relative to other things she wrote, but again, the story is still a good one.

If you want to read about a family that is somewhat dysfunctional, a father who lives in the words of Shakespeare, a mom who has words of wisdom, and three sisters who love each other more than they know, then you should read this.  By the way, it’s written in a different way – the sisters taking turns narrating the tale.  It’s cool.

“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen

"Water for Elephants"

"Water for Elephants"

I finished reading WATER FOR ELEPHANTS a couple of weeks ago.  Good book – interesting characters and some intense moments.  I admit that I skipped through a few parts when the action with the horses or the elephant got a little too graphic.  Skipping those passages did not diminish the impact of what was happening.

I want to see the movie but I’ll wait for it to come out on DVD.  I’m one of those who have a hard time justifying the price of going to the theater these days.  Don’t get me wrong – I will go out to see big blockbusters – movies in the vein of STAR WARS, HARRY POTTER, the Twilight movies, BATMAN – I think you get the picture (pun intended).

The thing about WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is that I don’t like circuses but I was drawn to the book.  First, it was on sale at Barnes & Noble; second, it had a sticker that said it was now a major motion picture; and third, the blurb on the back of the audio drew me in.  Why?  Well I think what got me was how it described three characters – Jacob, Marlena, and Rosie – with these words:

“The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.”

Marlena is married to a circus boss who treats her like a queen and then turns around and treats her like trash.  Jacob is there due to unfortunate circumstances.  Poor Rosie (the elephant) is there because that’s where fate put her.  They think Rosie is stupid, but she’s probably one of the smartest characters in the book.

I like reading depression-era stories when they’re well written.  I like escaping into the lives of people who may have been like my grandparents.  I think of how the States were back then and all of the stories of gangsters and cops and floozies – I don’t know – it was an interesting time.

I enjoy reading stories where love finds people who should be together but aren’t, and it intrigues me to find out how the author arranges circumstances to bring those people together.  Sara Gruen did it well.  It’s a good read.