Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ta-da! moments work against ruts

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.
                                                                * * *

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

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.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What kind of person are you?

There are no bumper stickers on my car. No tattoos on my body. I don’t wave flags indicating my heritage or wear jewelry with religious symbols.

I never gave my non-identification a thought until I received a gift that signals exactly the type of person I am: a cat person.

Actually, I am both a cat and dog person, but the gift in question was a handbag embroidered with cats. It was cute. Cats are cute. And so I stuffed my wallet, keys, and smartphone in my new handbag without hesitation.

Then the comments began. My running buddy immediately noticed the bag and claimed she loved it. Her husband, well known for his animosity toward cats, responded that he hated it. I gave little notice to either comment.

It wasn’t until I visited a new local restaurant that I began to recognize the conversation-starting capability of this handbag. My first visit prompted the hostess to ask about the bag and my cats, and then she told me about her cats. Several weeks later, when I walked into the restaurant a second time, she remembered me. More precisely, she remembered my handbag…and a fellow cat-lover.

I found another kindred spirit in the elevator of my mother’s independent living community. The woman wanted to know where she could buy a similar handbag and was disappointed when I couldn’t name a store. But in the minute or so we traveled vertically together, I learned she was a member of the community's Cat Lovers Club and had probably met my mother at a recent meeting.

The cat connection happened again last week on vacation. I walked into a store in Cape May, and one of the shopkeepers remarked about my cat bag. It wasn’t even the woman at the register, but a young man at the back of the store. He used it as entree into a broader discussion encompassing cats, handbags, vacations, home towns, and the weather. He was so friendly I felt bad about trying to escape back to the beach.

The power of pets to connect people is clear to me. Or maybe it’s handbags. I used to have an embroidered one from Ten Thousand Villages that got its share of comments, too. Either way, it’s nice to carry around such a convenient conversation starter. These days it works so much better than “How about those Phillies?”

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What do you do with old photos?

Binders circa 1930
My mother asked, “What will you do with all my photographs when I’m gone?”

Being her smart aleck kid, I said, “They’re going with you.”

The joke’s on me, though. After sorting through a small fraction of inventory during her move from house to apartment, I developed a sentimental attachment to quite a few.

The problem is she has several large plastic bins filled with family photos. I don’t know how she collected so many, because I don't recall ever seeing her with camera in hand. My brother thinks digitizing them is the answer. I don’t know if it’s worth the trouble and, even if it was, would we really be able to throw away the old prints?

This is more than a philosophical question for me. I printed my first black & white photos in a small science-class darkroom in junior high. In high school, I converted a closet into a part-time darkroom and continued printing there. For a few years, I worked for a pharmaceutical giant as a photographic specialist. There I furthered my skills printing photographs used, in those pre-PowerPoint days, in business presentations and also for product publicity and scientific test results. One perk of the job was the freedom to print my own work as well.
A recent and rare sighting: 35 mm film on store shelves.

Now I have a walk-in closet packed with slides, contact sheets, negative sleeves, and prints, prints, and more prints. Compounding the problem (or the riches) is the fact my husband is an avid photographer, and so we also have boxes of prints cataloguing his early years of documenting events for family and friends. If it weren’t for digital photography, we would have had to build an addition years ago to hold our growing collection of images.

Lately, I’ve taken to giving old photos to the people who are in them. I don’t know if I’m doing them any favors, as most focus on how young they used to look 20, 25, even 30 years ago. Seems no one likes to be reminded about time marching on.

And so my closet shelves will continue to groan under the weight of boxes of memories of years past, barely lightened by the few photos I manage to give away. If I can avoid adding to the stockpile, and not inherit my mother’s stash of photographs, I will consider myself a very, very lucky girl.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Are you smarter than your critters?

This gazania lasted one day before being chewed to the ground.
Some people are street smart. Some are book smart. Some know a lot about one or two things; others know a little about a lot of things. But few would be able to consistently outsmart the critters in my neighborhood.

Whether it’s the squirrels commandeering bird feeders, rabbits chewing garden plants, chipmunks snacking on flower bulbs, or carpenter bees boring into picnic benches, they are quick to adapt and find their way around any human-designed barriers.

Enter the search terms “squirrels” and “bird feeders” into YouTube, and you’ll get more than 50,000 results. Obviously, my household isn’t the only one trying to baffle one species while feeding another.

After the failure of several guaranteed squirrel-proof bird feeders, I have conceded that territory to the animal kingdom. Let the squirrels and birds duke it out for seed. I’m just there for the show.

My line in the sand is the garden. Here, rabbits are the culprit. Cute, yes. But there are oh so many. And they are oh so bold. I can be reading on the porch, only to look up into the round, black eyes of a rabbit nonchalantly chewing my flowers. He won’t stop. He won’t leave. And he ignores my pleadings to eat the weeds.

I am agreeable to compromise, willing to sacrifice a few plants as appetizers. What I hate is losing freshly planted plots of greens. Fences won't work in this area of the yard, and traps are out because I don’t want to cause bodily harm to bunnies.

After some strategizing and head-scratching, I came up with a plan to protect the latest batch of tender, young basil plants. The solution seemed plausible and possible, with the added bonus of finding a new use for my growing stack of old take-out soup containers. By cutting off the bottom, I was left with a plastic cylinder that would protect lower leaves and stems from easy rabbit pickings. Time will tell whether I’ve really outsmarted those rascally rabbits, and if I buy enough time, the plants will mature enough to survive a nibble or two.

Now my battles in the animal kingdom have moved indoors, where the contestants are cat claws versus lace curtains. The cats won round one, and I have since replaced the shredded panels. I also attempted to stack the deck for the inevitable round two by imposing tighter access to window sills and installing curtain holdbacks. But the cats are cunning, showing off their advantage by sharpening and stretching their claws whenever I’m in sight.

Forget about the TV game show “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader.” A harder challenge would be to find contestants who can prove themselves smarter than the average house cat or squirrel. These critters have proven their ability to outwit, outlast, outplay as well as any Survivor castaway, with clear evidence of their victories throughout my home and garden.