Friday, October 21, 2016

Yes, wardrobes have expiration dates

It has been more than 16 years since I left the corporate environment. And it has taken me about as long to purge my closet of corporate attire.

The first few passes culled items that showed wear, poor buying choices, and extremely out-of-date clothing. (Think shoulder pads.) The next few passes were harder.

It was much easier to make choices when, as a kid, I simply outgrew things. No such luck anymore. Growth spurts stopped in my teens. And, luckily, I’ve been relatively consistent in weight, so my wardrobe still fits. It just may not fit the latest style.

It’s not that I’m a fashion maven or trendy. I buy for the long term, preferring pieces that mix and match with what I already own. What I rarely think about is expiration dates on wardrobe items. And I should.

Case in point: I recently attended a wedding wearing clothing of different vintages and a pair of pumps that had seen many a corporate hallway. It wasn’t until I sat down at the ceremony that I noticed a chunk of outsole missing from my shoe. I quickly shifted my position to hide the flaw and all was well. Or so I thought.

At the first dance, the harsh reality of shoe failure hit. Just a few step-touch, step-touch moves and both soles cracked and crumbled. Chunks of sole resembling cake icing were left in my wake. I beat a hasty retreat to the table and, soon after, to the car.

At least it wasn’t as bad as the great pantyhose failure a few years ago. I had tapped my stash of stockings, a holdover from when they were a corporate necessity, for a night in the city. Things were fine through the movie and dinner, but quickly unraveled on the walk back to the car. (For those of you old enough to remember Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, think of the Ruth Buzzi old-lady character with stockings pooling around her ankles.)

They say things come in threes, so I can only imagine what my third wardrobe failure will be. I can only be more vigilant in inspection whenever I pull something out of the closet to wear.

I have long respected expiration dates on medicines, food, and beverages. Now I’m adding shoes, stockings, and other clothing items to the list. Apparently wardrobes have expiration dates, too.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

It's my race, and I'll cry if I want to

#ThrowbackThursday: With the annual Delco RRC Cross Country Championships this weekend, it seems appropriate to republish this column, which originally ran December 1993 in the Road Runners Club newsletter. 

Some people get more out of running than others. Devotees go on at length about the many advantages, both physical and mental. A few even talk about a spiritual side of running. But you don't often hear about the crying.

I don't know whether crying makes you run faster or if it just takes your mind off the mindless repetition of left-right-left-right-left-right. I've never tried the crying technique because I've had such success with my "bitching and moaning" training program (where you run while complaining about everything and anything.)

I was first introduced to crying runs a few years back at the annual Delco RRC Cross Country Championships at Rose Tree Park. Each year, I've seen the number of disciples grow until this year it reached a new high.

I'd like to avoid saying that crying is gender based, but so far only the high school girls have been spotted sobbing their way through the 5K course. (The boys have their own idiosyncrasies: I've heard cursing in cadence and seen far too many "recycled" lunches.)

Not all the girls cry on the course, just a few. But those few are so good at it, it's like watching a new art form emerge. When they go by, you don't know whether to offer a tissue or applaud the effort.

I hope you don't get the impression that I'm hard-hearted or cruel. I do my duty as course marshal and make sure the runners are all right. But you have to stand in awe of a physically fit, well-built junior at the back of the pack who can crank up the decibels every time her male team members cheer her onward. That's what got me thinking this was more a theatrical performance than a physical phenomenon. 

It also reminded me of my 18-month-old nephew who only likes to cry when he knows people are watching. He'll screw up his face, let out a few howls, take a few deep breaths, and then peek to see if he's got your attention.

One of the reasons I'm attracted to running is that anything goes. You can wear what you want, run when and where you want, and there's no single form that's right for everyone. So, if crying helps some people to run better, who am I to question? And if it becomes a trend, just remember where you heard it first.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Exercise is taking off, but will commitment follow?

 #ThrowbackThursday: Originally published January 4, 2006, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

Pick up any magazine or newspaper and you’re bound to find a story touting exercise. It used to be that 30 minutes three or four times a week would do the trick. Now the experts are saying daily exercise is best. Well, maybe you can take a day off every now and then, but you better have a really good reason.

Thirty minutes doesn’t seem too onerous, considering it takes me two hours to complete my gym workouts. Okay, 90 minutes, if I cut out the chit-chat, although that’s the charm of going to the gym. With Power Yoga, we’re still getting warmed up after 30 minutes. We’ve barely touched on the balance poses and abdominal work. It’s a 75-minute workout on a short night.

It’s hard to justify jogging, or even aqua-jogging, for only 30 minutes. It doesn’t seem worth the effort of changing clothes, showering and the load of laundry that follows. It’s a good thing I have a flexible schedule, or I’d have to give up my day job to fit everything in. For those who actually have to be somewhere 40 hours a week, it may be tough to find time to exercise. But it’s not impossible.

One of the hottest franchises around is the express workout, typically a single-gender facility with a circuit of machines. It’s the exercise equivalent of musical chairs, only no one gets kicked out when it’s time to switch. In 30 minutes or less, you’ve got yourself a complete workout.

If you can’t make even that much of a time commitment, there’s something else you can try. It’s called a Range of Motion machine, or ROM. It promises a complete workout in only four minutes. Honest. All it takes is a willingness to both suspend disbelief and pay the incredible sum of $14,615.

A ROM looks more like a time-machine chassis than any Nautilus, Cybex, NordicTrack or StairMaster equipment you might stumble over at your local health club. It has pedals and handles and who knows what else, because you really can’t figure out how it works by the picture. It appears to be a purely mechanical device, but it magically adapts its resistance every single second to match your ability. I guess when you’ve only got four minutes, every second counts.

Does it work? I won’t even guess. The company makes the amazing claim that 97% of all rentals become sales. But just as amazing to me is where it chooses to advertise. In Scientific American. How is it that scientists have gotten to be a target audience for this sales pitch? Are they too busy thinking great thoughts to spend anything but the minimal amount of time exercising? Do brainiacs have such deep pockets that they’d spend for a workout machine about what it costs to buy a new PT Cruiser, Ford Focus or Mazda 3 sedan? I guess scientists are used to thinking outside the box; who knew they also think outside the budget.

When it comes to exercise, it doesn’t matter whether you go to a gym, buy a machine or strap on a pair of sneaks. If you can squeeze in 30 minutes of walking, biking, kick-boxing, whatever, that’s great. If you have the time and inclination to extend your workouts, you can extend the benefits, too.  

If you only have four minutes and beaucoup bucks to spare, there’s a solution out there waiting for you. I only hope you don’t spend $15k for a high-tech clothing rack, which is the fate of too many home exercise machines.

It doesn’t take money or equipment to become fit. It takes commitment. Find an activity you can stick with and make it a regular part of your day. Every day.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ta-da! moments work against ruts

#ThrowbackThursday: Originally published May 3, 2006, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

Exercise is all about repetition. Doing something over and over again to get faster, better, stronger. To build stamina. To stay in shape.

Think about runners putting in their miles. Swimmers doing laps. Weight lifters pumping iron. Yoga students practicing poses. Why else do batting cages and driving ranges exist? Repetition is the way to perfect your form and improve your game.

All this repetition takes time, and to make sure it gets done, you have to establish a routine. I know someone who sets his alarm clock for 4:20 every morning so he can get a full workout in before his paying workday starts.

I know many others who devote certain days to specific exercises—or to exercising specific parts of the body. If it’s Monday, it must be upper body weights; Tuesday, speed work on the track, and so on.

Some people carve their routines in stone, they’re that inflexible with their schedules. They’re like Billy Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, doing the same things in an endless loop.

That’s one of the dangers of routines; it doesn’t take much for them to turn into ruts. Then you find yourself becoming bored, losing momentum, hitting a plateau.

Routines, by their very nature, are hard to change. That’s why they’re called routines. For those who can’t, or won’t, change their routines, it helps to find new ways to inject fun into workouts. I do it by imagining Ta-da! moments.

These are the small breakthroughs that let you know you’re making progress. They can come when you truly get lost in what you’re doing or when you visualize a positive outcome and it happens. Batters who are hitting well often say the ball looks bigger. So do tennis players. Basketball players say the hoop seems so big, they can’t miss. It’s a mental phenomenon with an impact on reality.

Ta-da! moments are intrinsically motivating. I don’t even have to say the word aloud to smile and feel the energy. Think of the finale of every magic trick ever done. The woman who had been sawed in half moments earlier climbs out of the box in one piece, and Ta-da! The only thing left to do is bow.

I started thinking about “Ta-da” moments after visiting the chiropractor. Like a magician, most of his work is staging. You’re brought into a room, you answer questions about how you’re feeling, you climb onto the table, maybe get a heating pad while you relax and wait. Then, at the right moment, the doc sweeps into the room for the main event. He performs a few quick, expert moves and— Ta-da!—you’re back in alignment.

Once I applied the Ta-da! concept to exercise, I began noticing moments everywhere. Keeping up with the boys on a weekday run. Finally being able to balance my entire weight on two hands in a squatting yoga pose. Finding that my aqua jogging has improved my road running. Moving up in weights at the gym. All Ta-da! moments.

Repetition gives you the discipline you need to make progress. It can also dig a rut so deep you begin to feel stale. To keep things fresh and interesting, it helps to find a new perspective.

For most of us, no matter how hard or long we exercise, there will never be any first-place finishes or gold medals. But there are always Ta-da! moments to be found. You just have to start looking for them.
                                                                * * *

Friday, August 26, 2016

You gotta laugh

I have reached full saturation with negative, combative, downright nasty news. I can no longer stand to listen to political commentary. I am beyond disappointed with all the politicians, actors, and athletes who are being investigated, charged, and convicted of wrongdoing. I am disheartened with all the violence and disrespect against anyone considered different.

Life is too short, and too amazing, for all that. And so I am taking a holiday from the nastiness and looking for laughter.

Some of the comedy bits that have made me laugh lately include these:

From the late John Pinette
On working with a trainer at the gym to lose weight:

“Then he says to me, ‘Give me a situp.’ I said, ‘Oh, Nay Nay!’ I don't do ‘Ups.’ I told him that when I signed up. I don't do ‘Ups’. I do ‘Downs.’ Sit down, lay down, Black-Jack I'll double-down...Give me a cheeseburger I'll wolf it down. Put on a little music, I'll boogie down. But I don't do ‘Ups.’ Ups defy gravity...Gravity is a law...I obey the law.”

From the late Mitch Hedberg:
“One time I had a Jack and Coke and it had a lime in it. And I saw that the lime was floating. That’s good news, man. Next time I’m on a boat and it capsizes, I will reach for a lime. I’ll be water skiing without a life preserver on and people will say, ‘What the hell?’ And I will pull out a lime. And a lemon, too. I’m saved by the buoyancy of citrus.”

“I bought a house. I bought a two-bedroom house. But it’s up to me how many bedrooms there are though, isn’t it. This bedroom has an oven in it. This bedroom has a lot of people sitting around watching TV. This bedroom is AKA a hallway. This bedroom is over in that guy’s house. ‘Sir, you have one of my bedrooms. Stay out.’ I’ve got a king-size bed. I don’t know any kings, but if one came over, I guess he’d be comfortable. ‘Oh, you’re a king you say, well you won’t believe what I have in store for you. It’s for your exact specifications.’ When I was a boy, I laid in my twin-size bed and wondered where my brother was.”

From still-alive-and-well Kevin Meaney:

“We couldn't wear tight pants growing up in my family. ‘You're not wearing those tight pants out, Mister. Put your big pants on. Going outside with tight pants on. We’re big pants people. Get upstairs to your room and put your big pants on. The Loferman’s are coming over and you're wearing tight pants. Why? Your father doesn't wear tight pants.”

From sometime-local-resident and always a celebrity Wanda Sykes

“We all really should be organ donors. I mean, c’mon why are you holding on to it? You’re dead. Give it up. Let somebody else use it. Although, I hope whoever gets my liver, God bless ‘em. There aint gonna be much left on it. But I don’t understand why people don’t want to give. Some people say, ‘Well, it’s my religion.’ …You scared when you get to heaven your God gonna be like, ‘Where the hell are your eyes? Ain’t this a bitch. You up here with empty eye sockets. Where are your eyes? You can’t even see all this pretty shit I got up here for you.’”

So forgo the news and look for laughs. At least until the elections are over. If there's something we all could use more of, it's laughter in our lives.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

All the news that’s fit to print

If I hadn’t been at the breakfast table reading the print newspaper — or what we used to call the newspaper — I would have missed it. It was a piece about the stir John Oliver caused on his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” about the newspaper industry. The short version, as he later tweeted, is the industry “is suffering. That’s bad news for journalists — both real and fictional.”

In his video segment, he said it was bad news for the public, which will suffer because of “our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce.”

Oliver had well researched and reasoned arguments for his concerns. I only have my shallow preferences and self-interests to support his thesis. I happen to love newsprint.

It's not that I'm against digital news. I read that, too. Nothing beats the immediacy of breaking news or watching how stories develop by the hour. But a steady diet of digital is like having dessert for dinner. I can only consume so much digital news, maybe one or two screens' worth, which on my iPhone isn't very much. It’s like, SQUIRREL! Something else captures my attention.

In print, I see the complete story laid out and can decide what to read and what to skim. There are graphic and tactile qualities to the piece. And a nice rustle of pages as I flip forward and back.

I don’t mind spilling coffee on my newspaper; not so much my iPhone. I don’t mind leaving a just-read paper behind in my travels for others to read; again, not so with an iPhone. Well, you get the point.

Occasionally, when people find out I subscribe to the paper, they ask whether I still have a certain article or section. One woman was quoted in a trend piece and eager to see hard copy. She had read the story online, but having the real thing was special.

One thing that has never happened to me while reading a newspaper is being interrupted by a popup, asking, “Do you want to subscribe?” “Do you want a live chat?” “Are you dealing with male pattern baldness?” Yes, online publications do that.

To me, it’s not about print versus digital. I want print and digital. And while I’m always looking for a bargain, free news isn't always a bargain if it decimates the profession of journalism and the papers they work for. I still want real news, not crowd-sourced input or infotainment. I want critical, investigative reporting that brings important issues to light. And, yes, I am willing to support that work with paid subscriptions, which attracts ad dollars, which keeps papers afloat.

I love the work of "fictional journalists" like Oliver, but I also subscribe to print publications so I can read the work of real ones.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Size really does matter

There is a drawer in my mother’s refrigerator stuffed to overflowing with little packets of condiments. She gets them with every dinner served in her retirement community, and she squirrels them away.

I add to the cache with every visit. When I stop to get us sandwiches, I can’t resist adding a few of everything to my order. I just can't be sure she'll have, or be able to find, the exact condiment needed. Silly me. By now, she must have gallons of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and relish, all in single-serve packets.

On the other end of the spectrum are the colossal boxes, bottles, jars, and cans sold by membership-only warehouse clubs. Often, like potato chips, you can’t have just one. Products are packaged in pairs and cartons and, quite possibly, pallets.

I’ve walked those warehouse aisles with my husband, begging him not to stock up. Who can lift a gallon of liquid laundry detergent without spill or sprain? Won’t 88 ounces of ketchup (five-and-a-half pounds) pass the expiration date well before the two-pack bottles are used up? Am I the only person who can barely get a hand around the 1.5-liter-bottle of mouthwash?

Another place size matters is restaurants. Some feature “small plate” menus, with the idea being to order more and different things to share. It’s an approach that doesn’t work well for me. It's hard to share generously while still getting enough of the tasty parts and, with multiple plates, any sense of portion control goes out the window.

Other restaurants equate volume with quality, figuring an overfilled plate makes for happy customers. But more isn’t always more. If it’s not truly and amazingly delicious, less is more appropriate.

Sometimes I feel like Goldilocks. Some sizes are too small. Some too big. What I want  is something that’s just right – in size and volume – to suit the specific occasion. It matters. It really does matter.