Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Don't exercise before bed

Here's proof that exercise wakes you up, sometimes too much so.

Yesterday (OK, and the day before and the day before) I hadn't been able to fit in Joanne's home exercise routine, so I finally did it at night, after Chinese food, cleaning up the kitchen, talking on the phone and doing other little things to procrastinate.

At about 10 p.m., I lifted weights, did my version of pushups and my pathetic jumping jacks, worked my quads and ran up and down the stairs, the confused dog going up and down with me. (By running up and down the stairs, I mean walking as fast as I can without tripping.)

Afterwards, I felt like I had had several cups of coffee. I stayed up past midnight, puttering around and eating chocolate chip ice cream. I think I read someplace that you shouldn't exercise right before bed. Now I know why.

I'm seeing Jo at our book group tomorrow, and I wanted to report that I made some progress. Bottom line: Exercise during the day.

Today I have physical therapy and tennis, so I'm going to skip Jo's workout. At physical therapy, they think I still need more help with balance and strength.

I'm going to Pittsburgh Friday for a weekend with my friend Emily. Among other things, we might go to her country place for a hike in the woods, and I want to be able to stay on my feet. Too bad I can't take my walking stick with me, but I bet they have sticks in the woods there. Or maybe take my cane? That would get me good treatment on the airplane, but I don't think so. I hate that thing.

Now that I have looked it up, I understand why it's not good to exercise before sleep. Here's what the National Sleep Foundation says:

Sleep experts have cautioned people to avoid strenuous exercise right before sleep and even up to three hours before bedtime. That's because exercise has an alerting effect and raises your body temperature. This rise leads to a corresponding fall in temperature five to six hours later, which makes sleep easier then. If you've been exercising close to bedtime and having trouble falling or staying asleep, try to arrange your workout earlier in the day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Displacement of the couch potatoes

The feng shui of our house is all out of whack.

This is because the couch in our den is temporarily gone. At first I thought I'd buy a new couch The fabric on the top of the cushions was ripped. For a time I covered the tears with afghans draped over the top, but I realized this looked totally pathetic and something needed to be done.

I shopped for a small sectional to fit into the small room but couldn't find anything. Obviously they've been made, because I did get the one we have. But that was years ago, and if there's an affordable one out there, I couldn't find it.

Plan B went into effect: I am getting it recovered. I chose a family company that I found on google and felt good about it because they had done work for a neighbor whose taste I value.

So I went through books and found a fabric that I like. It is chocolate, the same color as the dog.

They took the couch out last week and this is what was underneath it:

Two dog toys
Several pencils
A couple of Sports Illustrated magazines, and
A check that someone had accused me of throwing out, which I obviously didn't do, unless I tossed it under the couch.

The feng shui problem is that we hang out on that couch, and Maddie sits on a corner of it. The TV is in that room, and Joe and I usually watch "Jeopardy" or whatever in there.

The living room is nicer and bigger, but everyone sits in the den where the TV is. I don't watch much TV, but I do like a couple of shows, mostly "The Good Wife," the news and MSNBC.

I brought a dining room chair in the den to watch something, but it wasn't the same.

The room feels very strange and empty, and we have had to revise our ways. For the first couple of days, Maddie was so disoriented that she paced from room to room or sat down looking at me.

The other day I was cleaning up in the kitchen and noticed she wasn't on her bed in there. I looked in the dining room and still couldn't find her...until I walked into the living room and found her settled onto a corner of the good couch.

I yelled at her to get down but felt so bad that I went and found the blanket that she used on the other couch and put in the corner of the living room couch. She jumped right back up. Talk about lax parenting.

Now we have a new routine. She takes her corner of the couch and I take the other one and read. It's not as restful as stretching out on the sectional, but it works for now.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


If you've had a bone marrow transplant, on Thanksgiving you're probably like me, feeling grateful for our  donors, those incredibly generous people who gave us another chance at life. Not that we aren't grateful every day, but when we pause to give thanks for everyone we love and all the good things we have, our donors are right up there at the top of our list.

So a shout-out to Denise. Today on Thanksgiving I am thinking about you.

Our Thanksgiving was different this year. Instead of having it here as is our tradition, Joe and I went to Ben and Meg's in Stamford for a dinner bringing together parents and siblings from both sides of their families. I brought my mother's beautiful serving pieces, symbolically placing my mother (and my father) at the table. Katie was there too, via Skype in Spain.

Everything was wonderful, from the delicious food to the turkey-shaped butter to the festive mood centering around Ben and Meg's upcoming wedding. I enjoyed talking to everyone, including to Jane, Meghan's mother, my future machatunista (Yiddish for the mother of your child's spouse).

It is in many ways a difficult time of year. My mother died six years ago on Nov. 26. Right before Thanksgiving I had been in New York, and I was torn about whether to stay or to go home and have Thanksgiving with my family. My mother was fading fast, in and out of consciousness and unable to get out of bed, so it would have meant sitting in her  room with my aunt and my cousin.

She told me she wanted me to go home, so I did. After she died I thought I would never stop crying, of course about her death but also from thinking I should have been there for Thanksgiving. My cousin Joanne told me that I had given my mother the best gift possible by complying with her wishes and allowing her to think of me at home with my kids.

I don't have regrets anymore, just good memories and the feeling that they are still here. So I am thankful for that too.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Strength training for hobbled runners

Back around 2002 or 2003, I used to run a big loop around the area, up and down hills, with my friend Joann. That all stopped when I was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003 after noticing that I was having trouble finishing the St. Patrick's Road Race.

Afterwards, she said she had noticed that I was having trouble keeping up with her. I had chalked it up to her superior fitness level, but it was obviously more than that.

Though we're no longer running partners, we're in the same book group. She's a nurse and a personal trainer, so I value her opinion about fitness. As the last meeting wound down, I told her that I really want to get back into running shape but don't seem to "have it" ever since my falls over the summer. Tennis is OK because there is not the constant motion.

This time last year, I was training for the Turkey Trot, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Holyoke, and soon after that for the St. Patrick's race, which I ran in March. Those are the rhythms of the local running scene, but not for me this year.

Jo told me about a client who was no longer able to run, and who, despite initial reservations, grew to like the strength training she did instead.

"What you need is strength training," Jo said.

So on Saturday, I went to the exercise room that she has in her house and she gave me a program.

When I got to the stop of her stairs, I paused and said, "I'm walking like a little old lady."

"You're too young for that. Let's get to work," Jo said.

We started with jumping jacks (jumping jacks?") and went through three circuits, with aerobics in between. She wants me to use free weights, and she made a good point: It's fine to use the machines at the gym as I've been doing (erratically), but machines provide all the stability, while using free weights makes you work on your balance.

At one point she got down on the floor and did some push-ups, telling me to do the same thing.

I stood there and looked at her.

OK, she said, put your knees down, lower yourself towards the floor, and do the intention of a push-up.  That I could do. I wonder, is there such a thing as the intention of strength-training without actually doing it? It's so much more fun to open the door and head out running. But that is not to be for now.

We'll see how it goes. I am going to walk the dog and then come home and get to it...unless I am too tired.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sweet memories

While walking after school from P.S. 6 to my mother's jewelry store on 86th street and Lexington Ave. – seven or so blocks – I usually stopped for a Nestles Crunch or a Ring Ding.

I loved the taste of Nestles Crunch (still do), but Ring Dings provided a more total experience. After unwrapping the cellophane, I admired the perfect swirl of chocolate on a Ring Ding. The devil's food cake, chocolate frosting and creme filling were delicious. Never mind that the Ring Ding landed in my stomach like the hockey puck that it resembled. I don't think we considered that it was bad for us. This was perfect junk food before there even was such a label.

Twinkies, on the other hand, were always a bit too much. So were Sno Balls. And let's not leave out Hostess cupcakes and Wonder Bread.

Were you a Paul or John person, a George or Ringo person, a Twinkies, cupcake, or a Ring Ding person? These were important questions. (Hardly anyone picked poor Ringo.)

These musings are inspired by the closing of Hostess Brands, which, based in Irving, Tex., announced yesterday that it was stopping production after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after being unable to negotiate its labor contracts with unions, including one that went on strike.

If we were to eat a Hostess treat now (or maybe you're still eating them), perhaps it would be like Proust and his madeleine, opening up our remembrance of sticky fingers and school days.

You could go to right now to the supermarket, buy one of the last Hostess brands available and keep it on your shelf forever due to the plethora of chemical compounds that don't go bad, although the company says that the shelf life of Twinkies, Ring Dings, Sno Balls and cupcakes  is only about 20 days.

But I am happier to hold the Ring Ding in memory and eat my Nestles Crunch.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Geography lesson

I made a whopping $60 Tuesday substituting in a sixth grade social studies class and then spent way too much of it on Chinese food for Joe and me.

One of the eternal questions about Chinese food is why we often buy too much and still not end up feeling full. Joe was watching something, so I ate in the kitchen. I nearly fell off my chair and hardly ate my food as I caught up with the last three episodes of Season 4 of "Breaking Bad." What an incredibly interesting and addictive – and gruesome – show.

But back to reality. The sixth-graders were a well-behaved bunch, in contrast to the rowdy fifth-graders I had last week. We worked on longitude and latitude, taking coordinates and finding the corresponding country on the map.

We had a little fun pronouncing difficult country names such as Papua New Guinea. They found the pronunciation hard to believe.

As a bonus, the teacher left me some Hershey kisses. That made my day

I have been reading about the turmoil in Spain, where Katie is and I am going in a month. Yesterday there were strikes in Spain as part of a coordinated effort in Europe protesting austerity measures. There were also cancellations of flights by the troubled airline Iberia, which I am supposed to take.

Well I just Skyped with Katie and she said all was peaceful. She went to see the demonstration in Seville, where there were throngs of people, many handing out leaflets espousing views of various parties, unlike here where the political landscape is dominated by just the two parties.

She is learning so much, not just in the classroom...and she's having fun!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A good day in the sunshine

Ten things that made me happy:

1. A bag of Swedish fish.

2: On an unseasonably warm day, a walk in the woods with a friend and the dog.

3: Watching the stream flow by.

4: Finding a sturdy walking stick, just my size and polished by nature.

5. Going to used book stores and finding some bargains to add to the pile.

6. Eating lunch outside in Northampton, the dog tied next to the table.

7. Doing errands downtown...and buying the bag of Swedish fish.

8. Back home, lying on the couch and talking to friends in New York.

9. Getting picked up by another friend to go back to Northampton for a delicious dinner.

10. Flopping into bed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's cold in here

Got a call from the Middle School early this morning about subbing in a computer technology class today, and I replied, from underneath a pile of quilts, that I would do it as long as I didn't have to answer too many questions.

Then I remembered that I have no heat and need to wait here for the gas company, so I reluctantly called back and canceled the sub job.

Given all the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, I can't really complain. Still, it is pretty cold in here. I am wearing a shirt, a sweatshirt and a fleece vest. Maddie will have to wait for her walk until the problem is resolved. This has happened for no apparent reason.

I am still on a high from election night. Joe and I watched together, all the way to 2 a.m. and Obama's incredible speech. We stood and applauded. What a moment.

There is a "good" side of the couch where you can lie down facing the TV, while on the other side you have to sit up or displace the dog and lie sideways.

Joe started out on the good side, and midway through the evening I got up and switched while he was out of the room. He practically freaked out. Obama was starting to win in the battleground states, and Joe said that if we changed I would jinx it and it would be my fault if Obama lost.

I suspect he just wanted to stay on the good side, but I wasn't taking any chances. Somewhere around 1 a.m., I pushed Maddie off and lay down on the "bad" side and dozed.

I had been eating grapes, and I asked if it would thwart Obama's momentum should I stop eating them. Joe didn't think so. You can only take these things so far.

I had my own superstition. For weeks, I drank out of my Obama mug, figuring that it would be bad luck if I switched. Then I worried that I might drop the mug and bring on bad luck.

Now I am drinking out of my I "heart" NY mug.

My hometown needs all the love I can send it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Just when I thought it was safe to go out...

...I get knocked over by a big red dog.

Maddie and I went on another walk yesterday sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Dogs group.

 It was a beautiful walk on one of the paths at Mt. Toby in Sunderland. I was holding up the rear with a new friend, Kirsten, who traded war stories with me. Her golden and Maddie were running around, when along came an Irish setter that was not part of our group. The dog began dashing around...and dashed right into me, knocking me to the ground. I fell hard on my rear.

The owners each took a hand and pulled me up, and after I assured them that I was OK, they went on their way. Kirsten and I continued to climb the hill, but I realized that I was a little lightheaded, so I decided to not go all the way.

Kirsten was going to walk back down with me, but her dog had disappeared up ahead, so she went to get the dog, and I sat down on a rock to wait. Maddie had been going ahead with the pack, but she always turned around to check in with me. When she saw I had stopped walking, she came all the way back and sat with me. Good dog.

She wandered around the woods a little and at one point got bored enough that she played with a big stick, one of her favorite things to do. Like so:

Kirsten returned with her dog, and we headed down, joined by Michelle, one of the group's organizers, who had come to check on us.

It's a nice group, and as you walk you touch on all kinds of topics. Kirsten and I talked about how we each had been through a lot and were both just glad to be there.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Back to school

Last year, to supplement my income from freelance writing, I tutored Springfield fourth graders in English. But this year the company that ran the program, E.nopi, is no longer offering it in Massachusetts.

When the friend who recommended the job to me said it paid for her tennis, I thought it sounded like a good idea, so I signed up. This year I need something else.

I signed up for substitute teaching (a glutton for punishment?) but hadn't been called, so I followed a teacher-friend's advice and went to the South Hadley Middle School and Mosier Elementary yesterday to introduce myself. My kids went to these schools, and I saw a lot of familiar faces. Apparently I was familiar too; a staffer in the Middle School office said, "Oh, you're the newspaper writer!"

My friend told me not to go to the high school because they would grind me up there. She was probably right. I remember how we treated subs.

My freelance assignments come in spurts. Some weeks I am working on a few things and other weeks, like this one, are quiet. At work, some weeks were busier than others too, but at least I was being paid in the slower times.

Anyway, I was surprised to get a call at 6:50 this morning saying that there was a spot for me in a fifth grade class at the Middle School if I wanted it, and that I should be there at 7:30. People who know me are aware that I can be a slow-poke; they never saw me move so quickly.

The day was exhausting. I went upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, downstairs and back again throughout the day. I had to cancel physical therapy, but I got a workout anyway.

I knew teachers work hard, but now I appreciate their efforts even more.

The classroom teacher hadn't left very thorough instructions, so other teachers helped me figure some things out. This is not a very good situation when you have a room of restless fifth-graders waiting for instructions.

I kept a list of rule-breakers for the teacher to write up when she came back. So and so twisted so and so's arm. Three boys kicked so and so at recess. Etc.

I was grateful to one girl who offered to be my guide about when certain things needed to be done and where supplies were kept. She was a sweetie.

And hey, I learned a thing or two as we read about the Mayans and the Incas.

I ended the day by being a bus monitor.

Who knew?