Sunday, July 31, 2011

Advice for talking to cool people

If you want to spend time with someone who is cool, so cool in fact that they are in high demand and hard to corner for "alone time," then here is my advice: go hiking.

This guarantees that you will have several hours of uninterrupted conversation. The only other people you will encounter will be other hikers who are either a) fast athlete-types who pass by quickly; b) slow leisure-hikers (usually accompanied by children or pets) who are easy to avoid; or c) going the opposite direction. Other than that, it's just you, your cool hiking buddy, and the mountainside.

In case you're curious, I know all this good advice from recent personal experience. My sister agreed to hike with me last weekend, and we spent FIVE HOURS together! I didn't have to compete for attention with husbands (hers or mine), pets, work, or errands.

In case you get tongue-tied around your cool hiking buddy, here are some suggested conversation topics (also the product of recent personal experience since we talked all five hours without getting bored):
  1. Cooking. We compared notes on recent kitchen-experiments. She made a delicious sounding soup. I made quinoa salad. Good ideas were exchanged.
  2. Family vacation disasters. "Remember that time we forgot the tent poles? What about the trip when we got rained out and drove across-state til we found sunshine? Or how about the time I lost Elliot?" (this might be trickier if you're not talking to a sibling).
  3. Anonymous co-workers. This is a good source for hilarious stories because you get to freely describe your fellow employees' quirks and office drama(s). At least until your hiking buddy's boss appears on the very same trail for an impromptu introduction. Awkward.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Isn't that for old people?

Picture my mom as Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, swinging a guitar case down the city streets of Austria, singing "I Have Confidence."

She's not Jessica Tandy in the last scene of Driving Miss Daisy, being spoon fed by Morgan Freeman.

It just doesn't compute when I try to imagine Mom in a nursing home. But her decline due to Alzheimer's is forcing me to think about it. The woman I know is more likely to storm the gates armed with love notes and hand made gifts, showering the elderly with kisses and little hand-squeezes, delivering flowers and singing hymns (to bless others, not because it's the only thing she remembers).

Last night Dad, Olivia and I attended a workshop called "Choosing the Right Care Setting for a Family Member." Doesn't that title just give you the heebie jeebies? NOT a pleasant topic.

During the presentation, silent criticism was my defense mechanism against bursting into tears.

The presenters were not highly acclaimed public speakers. They were both about Mom's age. They seemed like very compassionate women, skilled in their jobs as facilitators of support and assistance, but they were nervous and relied too heavily on their props (microphone with a short cord, power point, remote control for power point, lots of gesturing toward their pile of handouts).

Their attempts at levity were one-liners about the certainty of aging and death. We were not a jovial crowd of attendees and we didn't laugh easily. The women sitting behind us were white-haired and frail; I assume they were there as caretakers of their spouses. My sister and I were the youngest participants by a decade or two. It sucked. I kept thinking about the irony of my two grandmothers, ages 86 and 91, still living alone. But we weren't researching care for them (which would be just as unfortunate, but at least somewhat expected). We were there for our 58 year old mother instead.

The presenters talked about our options:
  • In-Home care (been there, done that: Mom's had a part-time caregiver coming to my parents' house for the last three years or so).
  • Retirement Community (for independent folks; no personal care included).
  • Assisted Living Facility (good for seniors with minor physical limitations).
  • Adult Family Home (I picture a bed and breakfast with supervision).
  • Skilled Nursing Facility (full spectrum of physical and mental assistance).
  • Specialized Care Facility (usually designed for dementia patients; a secure environment, sometimes described specifically as "memory care"). This is most likely our next step.
They also talked about the cost of these services and the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. It was all very introductory but involved so many hypothetical scenarios I got antsy. I was distracted, wondering what my family can afford, how much Medicaid actually covers, and hoping Mom doesn't end up in a ghetto nursing home (I don't know if such a thing even exists in our hometown, but I imagined the worst).

When the presenters asked if anyone had questions, several people voiced frustration with stubborn parents.

"My mom is 88 and she hasn't left her house in 2 years. She refuses to have in-home care and won't go to a Home. She keeps falling. My five siblings and I know we're enabling her by pouring her juice for her and helping her up off the bathroom floor. But what else do we do?"

"My brother refuses to be helped."

"My mother says she doesn't care if she never sees me again, and when I told her that was fine but that I needed a break, she wandered off. I was hoping she'd wander really FAR off so I could call 911. But she didn't. I'm just going crazy with her."
Someone else described (very succinctly) how backwards it feels to be a child making decisions for a parent. Even as adults, she said, it doesn't feel normal. There were lots of murmurs of agreement.

It made me thankful for Mom's sweet spirit. She has NEVER been short-tempered or bitter throughout this whole ordeal. She's not demanding at all (sometimes I wish she was, just so I knew how to help her).

The whole experience last night was surreal. It seems so wrong to picture my mom (vibrant, beautiful, creative, talented) in a convalescent-retirement-senior-assisted-nursing-old-folks'-HOME. The associations that come to mind are sterile, antiseptic-smelling, and white-haired. Slumped shoulders, pushing a walker, slipper-feet shuffling down carpeted hospital hallways. A sea of pastel colors, cheap hotel furniture, sweatshirts with collars. Mom's barely old enough to qualify for a senior's discount at Denny's, and here we are choosing a "Care Setting."

Livi and I held it together until the very end of the workshop. As we were leaving, one of Mom's caregiving friends hugged us and told us how much she loves our mom. Then we lost it. Our stoicism gave way to hot tears and quivering chins.

"Thank you," we choked. "We love her, too."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Happy dance

Exercise makes me feel better.

Note to self:
Self, remember this observation next time you're feeling lethargic and can't muster the motivation to get off the couch while watching Storage Wars and snacking on chips and salsa.

Exercise is like therapy: sucky until it's over, then I feel AWESOME! The nights I go to the gym, I come home all amped up and cheerful. I do laundry, clean the kitchen (even sanitize the counter tops; usually reserved for special occasions), sing, cook something, crack jokes, dance, call my sister and beg to hang out (What? You're exhausted from working overtime? Are you sure you don't want to take a walk with me?).

Last night Hubbins caught me dancing to Bulletproof by La Roux. (Listen to this song. I dare you not to get jiggy with it). I say "caught" because I was in my craft room with the door closed, the lights off, and the volume UP. I realized he was peeking through the door jam and I screamed. He made fun of me and I got all bashful and indignant, but I was secretly proud that I was doing something as scandalous and happy as throwing my own private dance party. For the record: my dancing is what would happen if Napoleon Dynamite and Richard Simmons taught hip hop. Feast your eyes on THAT visual!

I'm reveling in the happy feelings right now because I know this evening is going to be less fun. Dad, Livi and I are attending a workshop at the hospital on how to choose long term care service and assisted living facilities. This is most likely in Mom's near future. I'm taking big breaths and steeling myself for tonight's tough topic.

I think my next dance party should be with Mom. I'll play the Fiddler On The Roof soundtrack, Barrage, and something by Aaron Copeland.

A word from my nephew

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011


The fantasy
Me: age 4

The reality



I went to spin class at the YMCA tonight. WOW. Not at all what I expected. One of my boot camp instructors teaches spin too, and she encouraged me and my workout buddy Michelle to come check it out. She assured us it was appropriate for ALL levels of fitness! Even beginners! 

This should have clued me in. 
  1. She could tell we were exercise amateurs. 
  2. Anything appropriate for "ALL fitness levels" is especially hard for newbies.
We showed up right on time to the small, full classroom. There were 12 bikes total, and since Michelle called at 6am to reserve our spot, there were still two available for us (right in the middle).

One of the men who arrived just before us was carrying a bike helmet. The instructor said, "I don't have room for you tonight Bill. Did you call to get your name on the list?"

"Yeah, I called," he said. "Seven a.m. They told me 'you're in!'" 

"Huh. Really." The instructor said without asking. "I didn't see your name on the list." She looked around the room. "Allison bailed so I guess there's space."

"If not, that's OK" Bill said, shrugging. "I guess I'll take a real ride instead." 

"Oooh," the other regular-attenders chimed in, "A real ride," they repeated, exaggerating his tone of superiority.

"And it would be an inferior workout!" he quickly added.

Nice recovery. Everyone laughed.

One woman opened the window nearest to her and turned on the free-standing fans (the building is OLD and not air conditioned). Each bike had a small sweat-towel on the handlebars. 

The teacher showed Michelle and I how to adjust the bikes for maximum pain effectiveness. Seat at hip level? Check. Pedal extended to keep foot directly below knee? Check. Handlebars a comfortable distance? Check. 

"You're ready!" She chirped.

Then she broke the news to us: "First timers usually feel like..." she hesitated, "like they want to die."


"OK, let's get started!" She shouted.

The woman next to Michelle leaned toward us and said, "Just keep in mind, she yells because she loves us."

We got on our bikes as the inspirational techno-perk soundtrack began. My seat seemed too tall. I tried to balance my weight. 

It was then I realized that the primary point of contact between my body and this equipment was my CROTCH. And the seat was shaped like a cake server. But with less cushion. There was no comfortable way to sit on such a surface. 

"Add some tension; we're biking on a flat surface."

Flat surface? Check.

I looked at the classmates ahead of me. They seemed to be in no discomfort. But the regular attenders were all serious athletes. Calf muscles rippled around us and I noticed a distinct lack of body fat on any of them. They had those hard-core biking shoes on. They wore T-shirts advertising local athletic events.

I looked at the clock: five minutes in. OUCH.

The forty-five minute class took us on a hill-infested ride. We slowly added tension, increased speed, stood up, pushed hard, sat back down (OUCH) and maintained our pace. The tiny room got HOT. I saw sweat fall from my head to the floor. My hair clung to the back of my neck. I breathed like a woman in labor. I watched my legs pump and enjoyed seeing them work (considerably slower than the rest of the class). It took a lot of concentration to keep going. 

During the "downhill" stretches, I let go of the handlebars, sat upright and drank from my water bottle. I really wanted to stand on solid ground. Standing on the pedals was a relief though, as circulation slowly returned. My (ahem) lady bits fell asleep. As did my toes and butt and a few fingers. Sharp tingling added a little distraction (OUCH).

I realized being on stationary bikes was a privilege. Under any other circumstances, I would never be able to keep up with these classmates. I watched the feet in front of me spin, blurring with speed. I was part of the pack. I was in the peloton

Finally, class was over. Michelle and I slowly dismounted our bikes, breathing hard, sweating profusely, and grinning through gritted teeth. We did it!

We stretched and guzzled water. 

Now its time to go soak in the bath. 

I may never walk normally again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A confession, an observation, and a few celebrations

I had an unfortunate incident yesterday involving chocolate cake and ice cream. We had leftovers in our fridge at work from a staff birthday party, and I couldn't stop day dreaming about it. I finally just dished myself up a generous portion. I was so self-conscious about eating it at my desk (when no one else was), I was really sneaky about it and felt guilty from the very first mouthful.

So I ate it fast.

Then I felt sick.

Then I hated myself.

I didn't enjoy it. It felt like a wad of tar and remorse in my gut. 

Lesson learned: when I feel the need to "sneak" food, something isn't right. If I can't enjoy it, don't bother. Had to give myself the "you screwed up, but you can do better" pep talk for the rest of the day. Bleh.

Last night while watching TV with Hubbins I said, "being on a diet and seeing restaurant commercials is like watching porn." Have you noticed this? When I see food prepared in slow-motion and served as the camera zooms in for a close-up, I start drooling. It's tantalizing and off-limits; the images are airbrushed and totally unattainable (I've ordered some of those exact meals, and they look nothing like the commercial). Next time you see an ad involving food, pay close attention.

I attended all eight sessions of boot camp in the month of June, and haven't missed one yet in July. I love it. And by "love" I mean I'm grateful when every 60-minute session is done. It's kicking my butt, but giving me more energy.

Hubbins and I ran again over the weekend, our favorite 2.6 mile loop. It's full of hills which actually makes it more bearable...the "I think I can, I think I can" huffing and puffing is rewarded with glorious gravity on the downhill side. We ran 12 minute miles!

Still juicing up a storm. Here is a handy reference guide for anyone interested:
Since I challenged myself with better eating and more activity last month, I've lost 6 pounds and 2 inches around my middle! 

Friday, July 8, 2011

DIY: Something pretty on your table (for free!) Tin Can Vase

1. Wash and dry a tin can (I used 15 oz size)

2. Cut two pieces of paper: one 10" x 4.25," one 10" x 2"

3. Attach both pieces of paper to the can
(I used double sided tape and a little glue)
and tie with ribbon.

4. Put some flowers in your new vase.

Ta da!

I left these little bouquets in the fridge overnight
(to keep them away from the cats) and everything opened up nicely.

I picked roses and strawberries and used herbs from my garden as greenery:
rosemary, lavender, oregano, basil, mint, fennel, and mustard.
Very fragrant!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Achievements: Turning 30, Juicing, Running, 4th of July

Happy 4th of July!

Lots of good things happening here.

I turned 30 in June! I celebrated with family and friends, barbecue-potluck style.

Mom in law and nephew (5 months)
I was kind of expecting an emotional break down about being soooo ooold. But it never came. I know so many awesome 30-somethings, I just feel like I'm one of the cool kids now. Anyway, 30 is the new 21.


 I like having another benchmark for newness (like New Year's, or back-to-school mode in September). I expect nothing but the best from my thirties. The week of my birthday, I kept wanting to announce, "THIS is the dawning of a NEW era!" 

But then I remembered that line is from Scar's speech in The Lion King. The rest of the sentence is " which lion and hyena come together!" Oops.

Not quite what I was after.

I've used my new juicer (birthday gift) consistently for the last two weeks, usually twice a day. YUM. There's more produce in our fridge right now than I've ever eaten before. We keep buying more because we're consuming so much good stuff. I'm losing minimal pounds and inches, but feeling great and enjoying this foray into better health.

Even though I'm back on Weight Watchers and drinking vegetable juice everyday, I'm not calling it anything more than a health fad for now. There have been too many times that I think my lifestyle has made a complete one-eighty (Presto chango! I'm a health nut!) only to slip back to my normal, unhealthy eating habits and inactivity. So, all pressure is off, and I'm just enjoying myself. I feel really good.

Celery, romaine, peach, ginger, jicama, wheat grass juice

Spinach, strawberry, blueberry salad: orange vinaigrette made with the juicer

Hubbins is enjoying the juicer less so. He swallows it like NyQuil, doing his best not to taste it. He makes the same face the cat does when kitty gets hairball laxative jammed down his throat. 

This may fall under the category of TMI, but oh well: my BO smells different. Think eau de celery. Weird. 


Remember all my bitching and moaning about jogging? Well. I ran this weekend for the first time in two years. And I did it...the whole 2.6 mile loop all in one go!!! This tops the charts of "things I'm proud of and never want to do again." Boot camp at the YMCA is obviously paying off. Good job, lungs and legs. 

Naturally, I celebrated by buying a new pair of shoes. We're running again tomorrow and I must accessorize appropriately.

Hope you're enjoying the holiday...happy Independence Day!