My Journey to Strong: Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Cardio is Not a Walk in the Park

Dear Reader:

OMG, I knew so little the day I walked through the door at Zone Fitness! During my first meeting with my personal trainer, Jonathan, we discussed the importance of both cardio (fitness slang for cardiovascular activity) and weight training. I told him that I was intimidated by weights.

“But, I like cardio,” I offered. “In fact, I exercise four days a week and count my steps!”

I learned very quickly, though, that my idea of cardio was not the same as Jonathan’s. I discovered that I fell far short of meeting the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association and by extension my doctor. Intensity matters! It only counts as cardio when you elevate your heart rate into an aerobic zone, which is 55 to 85 percent of your maximum. Any movement is good, but I was really short-changing myself. I was not working or sweating enough to achieve my weight loss goals or maintain my health. 

Real cardio is hard. The machine I’m sitting on in the picture above is a Cybex arc. I’d never given one a go and, let’s just say, the first time was an experience. I felt like I was going to die after 5 minutes, but I needed to make friends with that machine because it’s designed to be easier on the joints than an elliptical and burn 16% more calories than a treadmill.

I’m proud to say that I can now burn 400 calories in a 35 minute workout on the arc. Getting there required me to trust my trainer. I’d constantly joke that I hoped picking me up after my heart attack was included in my dues. But, honestly, I was scared. I had to learn that I couldn’t/shouldn’t jump off the machine when my inner monologue changed from…you can do this, Michele to …this feels horrible, Tom will kill me if I die in the gym, I don’t know if I can continue, I hate this blanking machine!

Jonathan identified this highly unpleasant feeling:  metabolic pain. (I’ll let you google that for the scientific explanation.) I only needed to know that it wasn’t a sign that I was going to die, but instead a sign that I was getting a good work out. We monitored my heart rate and Jonathan checked in frequently to ensure that I was expending the correct amount of energy.

“How are you doing?” he’d ask me. In those moments, I wasn’t sure I liked him.  My inner monologue went something like this…Can’t you tell by the look on my face?, Didn’t you notice that drop of sweat that just fell to the floor by your foot? Can’t you think of a better question? I later learned that Jonathan was administering the “talk test.” (You should be working so hard that you can’t carry on a conversation, but easy enough that you can contribute short sentences.)

After the first week of cardio training, it did get easier for me to keep pushing. I know what to expect. I can sense what my heart rate is before I check my reading. In short, I know my body better. Cardio has become a three-day a week activity, but I’m not saying it’s easy. Just when I’ve got my workout nailed, my trainer tweaks the settings! That brings me to my third bit of newly acquired wisdom on My Journey to Strong.

You only improve your fitness when you challenge your body.

Michele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awaiting my Arrival

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“The greatest fear dogs know is the fear that you will not come back when you go out the door without them.”

― Stanley Coren

Dear Reader:

It doesn’t take a professor of canine psychology like Dr. Coren to observe what any dog owner knows; our faithful companions do not like to be left behind. I would add that there is no one who is obviously more enthralled to greet me than my dog!

Before the jumping, tail wagging and cuddling, comes the barking that I can hear when I open the door of my car. As I approach my front gate, I can see Winnie’s face peering out hoping to see me.

How can anyone resist the simple joy of owning a dog? I do not know.

Michele

 

Chocolate Me, Please!

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Dear Reader:

Last night our neighbors joined us for cocktails. They always bring a treat of some kind when they visit and usually it’s a pink one! This time, though, I was surprised by the presentation.

“Oh, that’s for Tom,” Marietta said as I enthusiastically reached for the Lula’s chocolates.

“Um…oh…really?!” I exclaimed.

“Well, I just read your latest post,” she continued, “and we can see that you’ve lost weight.”

“Well, you really weren’t that big,” Frank added.

Oh, how I love my neighbors! After I thanked them for both the compliments and the truffles, I explained that I do still eat chocolate. (If you are contemplating sending me a box, dear reader, please feel free to do so!)

My personal trainer, Jonathan, has given me a suggested menu and I follow it in a flexible manner. I’m eating more protein and vegetables and generally less food, but I still have an occasional treat. I can’t imagine living without wine or dessert, in moderation, despite my new appreciation for salmon salad!

Tonight, however, I will be eating clean and skipping alcohol in recognition of the fact that I drank and ate more than I usually do last night. When friends come to visit, I’m an “eat, drink and be merry” kind of gal. You can’t take the Italian out of me.

Michele

 

 

 

 

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Look What I Can Do!

Dear Reader:

I’m a visual person and this seems to be how I decide what I want to invest my energy in. Last January I pictured myself blogging in my pink shed. By March, I was writing to you!

This year I pictured a stronger me; I never thought I’d say that. I’m lifting weights; I never thought I’d do that! And, I’m making progress!

When I hobbled in to meet my personal trainer, I was nine pounds heavier with a swollen, blue ankle. Jonathan was supportive and instructive. He was careful to reinforce the correct position for every exercise so that I would not experience a “gym injury” of any kind. After all, I confessed that I am an extremely experienced and talented klutz. My friends asked if I felt that he was pushing me to my max, and I had to respond negatively….until.

I made a quick trip over to see my daughter who is an active college student. Her routine includes Boot Camp in the Park every Sunday. How could I say no?! The trainer modified some of the activities to take into account my weak ankle, but I pulled my weight…figuratively and literally! I felt so proud of myself that I sent a photo to my trainer.

Oops! I returned home to an amped up routine.

“Ack, you don’t feel sorry for me anymore, do you?!” I asked Jonathan.

“Nope, think I saw you dragging a weighted tire through the park!” he answered.

When, way back when, I was in high school, kids divided themselves up into four groups: jocks, brains, socials and stoners. I fell into the “brains” group. I’ve always felt most comfortable pursuing intellectual goals. My recent foray into the gym has not been easy and so I feel that much more pride in my commitment and effort. I am getting stronger! I love that. This brings me to my second bit of newly acquired wisdom on My Journey to Strong.

We are capable of more than we think! 

Michele

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Brother

Birthdays, siblings, brother, death, death of brother

Dear Reader:

He would be 54 years old  today, but instead he rests under a marker that reads: “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not here—I do not sleep.”

Today,  I can not help but remember my brother. Perhaps, you, too, have a special birthday you remember but no longer celebrate in the conventional fashion. Or, maybe your mind turns to a loved one on the anniversary of his death. Loss will touch us all and I have found that it can be such a comfort to share the experience with others. I hope you will not mind if I share my experience of loss with you today on this day that can not help but move me.

During his 36 years of life,  my brother, Matt Lehman, occupied a large place in my heart and in the imaginations of family and friends. He was handsome, stylish and charming. (Think Matt Dillon, seriously!) He was a salesman and a collector. He’d been born with long eyelashes and affecting eyes. And bat his eyelashes, he did! The gesture was even more disarming when it was combined with his ready smile. He radiated enthusiasm, as if for him the entire world and everything in it was exciting. He was a joy to be around, and so everyone wanted to be his friend.

Matt was the youngest of three siblings. He was like the exclamation point after his two sisters. And, he certainly was not meant to be the first to die. But, as he told me one day after a visit to the cancer treatment center “how can I ask ‘why me’ when there’s a 12 year old child sitting next to me waiting for his chemo treatment?”

There was never any hope given other than the  possibility that treatment could extend his life a bit. It was in July 2000 that I received his phone call telling me it was cancer, “not a good kind,” and the doctors had estimated he had four months left. In the end, he lived a full year after his diagnosis. He made the most of that year generously sharing the time he had left with those who loved him.

I vividly remember an exchange with Matt during one of our last visits. His faith was unshakable; he was going “home.” I did not share his strong beliefs, but I found myself explaining that I couldn’t go with him just then. I needed to stay and raise my 4-year-old daughter. My baby brother was going somewhere and some part of me felt that I should go with him or instead of him. Or maybe, some part of me wondered how I could bear my grief.

For a long time after Matt’s death, I felt sure that every ring of the phone would bring news of illness or death. And, of course, just below the surface was the fear that came with being brutally reminded of my own mortality. But, I have celebrated the milestones of 40 and 50 remembering that my brother never did. I am grateful for the years I’ve been given to test my commitment to my husband (shaken but never destroyed!) and to watch my daughter grow into an adult I admire, respect and love.

And, so  with tears in my eyes and a big smile on my face, I remember my dear brother today but not beside the headstone that bears his name.  For he is not there. He lives with me in my heart and I know in the hearts of many others.

I welcome you to share your remembrances of those you have loved and lost.

Love,

*Shell

*This nickname died with my brother. When he was young, he could not manage to say Michele and so I was Shell to him for as long as he lived.

 

 

This post was originally written on February 19, 2017 and posted after my blog went live on March 24.

 

 

 

It’s Time for my #MeToo Moment

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Dear Reader:

I’ve written about personal and painful subjects in these posts:  In Praise of Prozac and Mean Mothers and Happy Birthday, Brother. Yet, I have been hesitant to share my #Me Too moments with you. Even now, I’m not writing because I need to write, but instead, because I feel a responsibility to write. I must be part of this historical conversation.

I’m lucky to have never encountered a Weinstein in my life, but to this day, I’m affected by three experiences I had with doctors when I was much younger.

Doctor #1:  I visited your office because my father knew you through his work as a pharmaceutical salesman and thought you were a great guy. I was seventeen years old and I had a horrible sore throat. While my father was in the next room, your hands travelled from my throat down my body and it seemed you thought I’d feel complimented with your assessment of my shape.

Doctor #2:  My general practitioner recommended you highly. I was already uncomfortable as I waited for you on the exam table cloaked in paper; no woman looks forward to a gynecological exam. I can not say why you decided to recite adjectives to describe my body when you began the exam at my breasts, but I can remember the fear and disgust I felt as you finished my pelvic exam. No, dear reader, I did not have the presence of mind, at that time, to bolt from the table before enduring the final indignity.

Doctor #3:  You came as a surprise to me. It had been five years since I encountered Doctor #2. I’d come to work that day sicker than I knew I was and my boss insisted I see a doctor. A co-worker recommended the clinic just up the street where she’d seen a couple good doctors. Unfortunately, none of the doctors that were recommended were available,  so I saw you. You started with my throat and worked your way down just as Doctor #1 had done so many years before.

I’d had this experience already twice in my life and yet I still couldn’t quite believe what had happened. I returned to work in shock. Despite my inability to clearly articulate what had happened to me, my boss understood.

“Yes, it really happened,” she said to me.

I can still see her face and remember her kindness. She told me I could stay and work if I felt up to it. I spent the day at my desk with a never-ending cup of tea forcing myself to forget the doctor.

But, the next morning when I woke up, the first face I saw was Doctor #3 and I was ANGRY. A decade had passed since I’d encountered Doctor #1. I felt stronger. So, I filed a written complaint with the Medical Board of California. A couple of weeks later, a board representative visited me to discuss my claim. It was quite obvious that the gentleman did not believe me. I found myself declaring, with great certainty, that there must have been other complaints about this doctor.

“There are no other complaints,” he said. “And, this man has been in practice for many years. He’s close to retirement and this is unfortunate.”

By this, he clearly meant my complaint and not the doctor’s behavior.

“Well,” I said ,”don’t send your wife or daughter or mother to see him!”

None of my experiences rise to the level of what so many other unfortunate women have encountered, but it’s surprising to me how much anger I still feel as I write this post. To this day, my blood pressure literally rises whenever I encounter a new doctor. I feel great sympathy and admiration for the young women who have courageously told their stories and brought Dr. Larry Nassar down.

My husband’s reaction to the #Me Too movement must be common. He often looks at me as we watch the news of the day and expresses surprise at how prevalent sexual harassment and abuse are in our society. I’m not surprised, but then I’m a woman.

Michele 

 

 

 

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 1

 

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Chapter 1: Fear is an Excellent Motivator

 

Dear Reader:

The day I met my personal trainer, my ankle was still swollen and blue from the fall I’d taken the week before. I wore work-out clothing and furry slippers. My husband chauffeured me to my appointment as I hadn’t driven since my mishap. Indeed, I had barely left the couch.

We pulled up to a small office building where the first thing I noticed was the stairs leading to the upper floor. Thankfully, the gym is tucked behind the stairs on the ground floor. I hobbled in and Jonathan greeted me with energy and enthusiasm (two things I lacked).

“We’re lucky you’re on the bottom floor,” I said. “And, by the way, I’m so nervous that I need a drink!

He laughed and offered me something to drink. I declined feeling sure that he meant to bring me nothing more potent than a glass of water. And, of course, it was a joke (sort of)! I had come ready to talk about getting in shape. We began by discussing my goals. They were as follows:

  1. Fall less often
  2. Fall less often and
  3. Fall less often

I told him, what only those really close to me know, that I fall with some regularity. My last meeting with the pavement really scared me. I explained that fear was my primary motivation:  fear of injury, fear of doctors and hospitals and fear of aging badly. I was anxious to know if my goal was doable and he assured me that it was.

“Balance is strength,” he said, and “strength is balance.”

To prove his point, he asked me to attempt the 1-legged standing balance test. I passed! I was even able to balance on my still recovering right ankle! He explained that strength would determine my ability to respond to challenges to my balance. I could offset my inherent klutziness and my tendency to spend too much time dreaming, plotting and planning rather than observing my surroundings.  I was elated… for a brief moment.

Then it was time for me to be weighed, pinched and measured.  I turned away when Jonathan checked my reading on the scale. I did not peak at my measurements as he listed them on my chart. And I displayed no curiosity about my fat to muscle ratio. I just submitted to the process. I was focused on getting stronger. I’d worry about getting thinner later. That brings me to my first bit of newly acquired wisdom on my Journey to Strong.

Wriggle into your black leggings and check your vanity and embarrassment at the gym door!  Just do it!

Michele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Calla Lilies are in Bloom Again

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This beauty just appeared on the hill leading down to my shed! The pure white color of the Calla Lily makes it a popular choice for both weddings and funerals.

“The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower — suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day, and now I place them here in the memory of something that has died.”

Dear Reader:

Katherine Hepburn spoke that line in The Lake, a long-forgotten play. I adore listening to her let the words roll off her tongue in her stylistic Mid-Atlantic accent, and, indeed, the line’s iambic pentameter sounds wonderful spoken in my California accent, too.

If you are a close reader, you are wondering how I’m able to hear her words. Let me tell you the story; it’s a great one! You see Katherine, it seems, was as tough as the characters she became famous for playing in her films.

The Lake was both a critical and popular flop. The same critics who had lauded Hepburn’s work in films wrote that the stage had exposed her to be lacking in great talent. Dorothy Parker famously said that her performance “ran the gamut of human emotion from A to B.” On top of that, the play was directed by Jed Harris, who was an infamous “big bad wolf” of American theatre. He was known for his abusive behavior to actresses (sound familiar?!). Harris intended to take the show on the road as he had sunk all his money into it. Hepburn, who was desperate to leave the play, wrote him a check for her life savings (around 14,000 dollars) and was released from her contract. She later said the experience was an important lesson in accepting responsibility for her own career.

Four years later, Hepburn was cast in Stage Door, a film about several aspiring actresses living together in a boardinghouse and competing for the same role in a play. The fictional play within the film prominently features the calla-lily- line. The director, Gregory La Cava, lifted it from The Lake Hepburn’s character practices it in rehearsal over and over, always without much feeling. But in the movie’s tragic climax, she memorably delivers the line with great emotion. Following the success of Stage Door,  that line became one of Hepburn’s signature catchphrases. She had turned her famous flop into a testament to tenacity. Now, that’s a strong woman.

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They say that every person has a story to tell. It seems to me that every flower has something to say, as well!

Michele

P.S. Unfortunately, the elegant calla lily is poisonous; I do not let the puppy roam the hill as she is still in the “everything and anything goes in my mouth stage”.

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

Eternal Motion

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Dear Reader:

A poem for you inspired by my last visit to Maui:

listening to the crash of the waves and the crackle of the wind in the palms 

i feel an

overwhelming sense of gratitude and wonder 

so many cares lost in the rhythm of life

the waves break again and again and wash the past from the present

 

the young woman looks to the sea impressed by the force of nature 

the mature woman finds peace in the continuity

 

one can not only see eternal motion

one can feel it

the water advances then repeats

an ever-changing whole of blue possibility

Tell me, where do find your inner poet?

Michele