Exercise: It Must Be Done

I used to ride around the neighborhood on a bike, run around the playground in elementary school, take Phys Ed every day in junior high. Saturday morning cartoons were done at noon, and although cable started popping up by the time I was in my early teens, we lived out in a very rural area and had to be satisfied with four channels through my high school graduation.

As I have gotten older and fought and won the battle of the bulge, I have realized that being active was a lot easier when we were younger. Working 40 plus hours a week, running errands, doing household chores and yardwork, we may feel as though we are burning calories, so we feel we are justified in eating that extra helping of cake.

Now, in addition to laundry and vacuuming and grocery shopping, I have added exercise to my to-do list.  It’s not something I always feel like doing, but then, I don’t always feel like washing clothes and ironing shirts.  Yet, it must be done.

While I was losing the weight (40 pounds five years ago, and I’ve kept it off since) my go-to exercise was the elliptical machine.  I could pop in my earbuds and tune into the TV attached to the machine and if USA Network wasn’t showing a Law and Order SVU marathon, I could read my book.  I have since discovered exercise classes.  These indeed are hidden gems.  There’s a bonus to exercise classes that I don’t think is readily apparent.  It boosts your confidence in a very sneaky way.

I started taking Zumba classes, then about three months ago I began going to Body Pump, which is an hour-long weight lifting class.  I do Zumba on Tuesday evening, Body Pump on Wednesday evening, and on Saturday morning Body Pump is followed immediately by a Zumba class.

At first, I was very self conscious in Zumba.  I didn’t know the moves, the music was unfamiliar, and I felt like I was crashing a party where everyone already knew everyone else.  But I stuck with it.  And I realized that if I was so focused on the instructor and trying to keep up with her, everyone else was too.  And that meant no one was watching my pitiful attempts to cha-cha and salsa and booty shake.  I saw a joke online that said you’re not out of step in Zumba class.  You’re merely performing an unscheduled solo.  The instructor of the Tuesday class is a tiny little thing and I still have not figured out what she shakes to move the way she does.  But she kicks our butts, and I come out of that class sweaty and extremely pleased with myself.

My first Body Pump class was also humbling.  At first I started out with baby weights and I couldn’t complete any of the sets.  But as time went on, I was able to go farther and heavier.  It’s a tough class, and even the instructors struggle at times.  But if I have to take a breather, I’m not the only one.  If I was able to whip through everything, that would mean I’m not challenging myself.  And if I’m not challenging myself, what’s the point?  I’m not there to impress anyone, I’m there to improve myself.  That may mean I can’t finish a set of dips off the bench for triceps, or have to stop jumping for a few seconds in Zumba.  But I’m there for the next class, trying to do a little bit better.

Sometimes a new person to the Zumba class worries about keeping up.  I laugh and tell them, “No one can.  Don’t worry about it.”  And that’s the sneaky thing about exercise classes…they force you to face your shyness and self-consciousness and realize that everyone has been in the same boat you are, new and unsure.  Once you understand no one is watching you, that they’re too busy concentrating on themselves and the instructor, that is the moment of liberation.

I’ve discovered some new music for my iPod, I can do a pretty decent squat now, and I really enjoy the stretch that comes from working the muscles in the chest.  I also learned a simple truth, that I have never ever left the gym thinking, “Damn, I wish I hadn’t done that.”



The Speed of Truth

We live in a wonderful age of technology.  So much information, entertainment, and education is available at our fingertips or with the click of a mouse.  We’ve become so used to “googling” our questions and getting instant answers I fear we may be losing our healthy skepticism.

I’ve been guilty of this.  I have read an article critical of a public figure I disagreed with politically and posted it on Facebook (with the accompanying neener neener), only to discover the article came from a satirical site.  In the turmoil of the George Zimmerman case, Spike Lee tweeted the address of the Zimmerman family.  Set aside the fact that this was hugely irresponsible in light of the high passions that were running…it was the wrong address!  The people who lived there, although having a son with a similar name, were not related.  Spike Lee later apologized and compensated the family for the disruption to their lives.  But the incorrect claim is still out there, waiting for some nutjob to find it.

In the past few days, someone tweeted that the identity of Juror B37, who appeared anonymously on CNN after the conclusion of the Zimmerman trial, was the wife of a prominent Orlando attorney.  The truth is Juror B37 is not the wife of the attorney.  The juror is older with grown children.  Yet according to Twitchy.com, a Twitter curation site, people believe this tweet to be true and have searched for the attorney’s wife on Facebook, going so far as to comment on her children and wishing death threats on her family.

It’s been said a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.  The internet is forever.  Once a false claim is posted it cannot be erased and it can be incredibly difficult to link it to the truth.  My go-to site for checking out urban myths is Snopes.com, yet when I have posted links debunking myths (no, drinking ice water after a meal will not cause cancer) some people dismiss the proof that what they posted is wrong.

None of us like to admit we’ve made a mistake or an error in judgement.  With the fast and furious nature of today’s information, even news outlets are guilty of a failure to be skeptical.  Because everything happens so quickly now, there is a race to be FIRST!1!1!! and misinformation can be disseminated very quickly.  A San Francisco TV station recently broadcast the supposed names of the four pilots of the Asiana flight that burned at the airport.  The names, both offensive and incorrect, were a clear joke to anyone who saw the story, and we wondered how anyone could fall for such an obvious prank.  Reddit.com posted what it thought was a picture of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects in an attempt to help the search.  The  problem was the photo was not of the Tsarnaev brothers and named an innocent college student who was later found dead of a suicide.  Truth can take some time to catch up to the lie, and sadly, sometimes it’s too late.

I recently posted, then quickly deleted a link on Facebook.  I read a news story online that some black Baltimore youths beat up a Hispanic man while shouting, “This is for Trayvon.”  My reaction was to post it and be “FIRST” without fully reading the story, which is just that police are investigating the claim of a witness.  We don’t know if the witness is telling the truth.  The victim confirms the account of the beating, but does not say what the attackers were yelling.

Once I realized that the report of the attack was secondhand, I deleted my post.  I am going to be more careful spreading information, whether in person or online.  I want to add to the clarity, not the confusion.

Cooking, baking, and Iron Chef contests

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My husband is disabled due to an on the job accident that happened thirteen years ago.  While some couples go hiking or play tennis together, we are limited in what we can do together as a couple.  Because of my job, there are weekends when I am on call and I can’t be far from a computer, so we have to find things to do around the house.  We have discovered cooking a meal together can be a lot of fun.

We have enough of the more esoteric kitchen gadgets (a wok, a KitchenAid stand mixer, a deep fryer) that we can make some pretty complicated meals.  Our last three adventures have been planned around a foreign cuisine.  For our Chinese meal, we not only made sesame beef in the wok, but bought wonton skins to make egg rolls, wonton soup, and fried shrimp wonton.  For our Italian meal, we made tiramisu (I’d never made custard before, but it turned out pretty well, even if we don’t have a double boiler) bruschetta and veal parmesan.  Most recently we had Mexican, with sour cream chicken enchiladas and tres leches cake.  I made the whipped cream topping from scratch and found it was so easy I will never buy Cool Whip again.  The KitchenAid mixer was very useful in that regard…I just dumped the heavy whipping cream, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in the bowl, turned on the mixer, and let it do its thing.

Because I work full time and my husband doesn’t know how he will feel from day to day, our children have to had learn early how to cook.  My son makes mean chocolate lava cakes.  My daughter got so famous baking her muffins and cupcakes that my co-workers would ask me, “When is Shannon going to bake again?”  Several years ago we were on an Alton Brown kick and the children liked watching Iron Chef.  We decided to stage an Iron Chef contest for them.  The children had a grocery budget and used our recipe books to plan the meal.  We thought they’d be making one dish, but they were yanking the recipe books off the shelves and trash-talking each other over who was going to win and planning not only the main meal, but an appetizer and dessert too.

In the end, it didn’t matter who won Iron Chef.  The kids had a blast and we enjoyed two delicious dinners.  My husband and I have found that cooking a nice dinner from scratch can be a lot of fun, and we hope the children are learning valuable lifeskills.  After all, anyone can throw a frozen meal into the oven (and we do have some of those, for convenience’s sake) but knowing how to make chocolate lava cakes or homemade muffins is always sure to impress.

The Fading Art of Reading for Pleasure

My mother taught me how to read before I started kindergarten.  Reading for pleasure was bred into my very bones.  I MUST always have something handy to read.  I have been to Ancient Rome, fled a burning Atlanta ahead of the Yankees, flown past the solar system, stalked vampires in a small Maine town, ridden giant worms in the desert, slain mammoths, patched up a wounded Highlander fleeing from the English, experienced any number of brave (and chilling and glorious) new worlds.  A well-written book by an imaginative writer is one of life’s true delights.

We have bookshelves in every room of our house.  One of my husband’s favorite past-times is making a Barnes and Noble run.  I prefer to go the library, probably because there are only a handful of authors I trust enough to buy their new books outright.  I prefer to borrow first, and if I know I will re-read, I will THEN go buy it.

I take my book with me when I run errands.  I read during my lunch hour, while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office or the DMV, even on vacation.  Last Christmas my husband gave me a Kindle, and when I discovered I could borrow library books (on my Kindle!) I was in seventh heaven.  I have borrowed the latest Gillian Flynn, Dan Brown, and Kate Attkinson novels without having to change out of my pajamas.  I get antsy when I am coming to the end of a book and I haven’t decided what to read next.

What I find troubling, however, is that I have encountered many people who don’t read.  To me, that’s like saying, “I don’t breathe.”  Unlike computer games or watching TV, where everything is portrayed for you, books force you to create the image in your head.  Clark Gable was an excellent Rhett Butler.  I don’t quite know that was how he looked when I first read Gone With the Wind.  The monster in Stephen King’s IT was a thousand times more frightening in my head than the feeble portrayal in the mini-series.  My husband and I have instilled in our children a love for reading (we fought over who got to read the final Harry Potter book first.  Since I paid for it, I won) but I wonder how many other children are spending time with computer games or checking Facebook statuses or texting rather than settling down with a big, juicy novel and immersing themselves in another world?  One can explore and experience and encounter in the safety of one’s own living room, trusting the author to be a faithful guide.  After all, if you love to read, you are never bored.