Commas from the Universe (aka: Forced Pauses)

Commas exist for a reason. They give us a way to separate ideas, or to list multiple items without miscommunication. They also tend to spark wild debates over the use of the Oxford Comma (the “gif” vs. “jif” argument of the literary world). But love commas or hate them, we can all agree that written language simply could not get along with them.

The thing about commas is, they allow us to pause. Take a beat. Which can be a real lifesaver, apparently.

I tend to be the opposite of lazy most of the time. Go go go, from before the sun rises to long after it sets. I have a full-time career. I’m a full-time mom to teens. I cook most of our family meals, and write novels and short stories in my spare time. I also workout nearly every day, and run at least 15-20 miles per week. A routine like this takes a lot of organization and a lot of energy. Which thankfully, I have. Most of the time.

But once in a while, the universe decides it’s tired of watching me run around in a blur, juggling my very active lifestyle. So what does it do? It inserts a comma in my life.

Pause.

Next thing you know, I’m stuck in bed with a cold. Any active person can tell you — we can’t stand getting sick. It keeps us from our runs and workouts and Very Important Business Meetings. Who has time for commas, when we are driven to GoGoGo?

Eventually, the pause ends, and I can get back to the business of busyness.

A couple of weeks ago, the universe inserted another pause into my life. I was out for one of my usual Saturday long runs. Since I’m not in training for anything right now, I was only planning to run for 8 miles along one of my favorite trails. I ran four miles out, and was on the run back when my knee began to complain. At first, it was just a twinge, so I continued pounding the pavement. But by five miles, the pain was excruciating. Youch! By six miles, I was walking. No, limping. So much for a good long run.

But as I limped along the trail, no longer in a hurry, I began to notice my surroundings. It was such a lovely, cold autumn day. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, and a huge flock of hawks circled overhead, stalking their prey. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a deep golden glow on the river. Someone had stopped by this way, I saw, and stacked river stones into a tower. The leaves had finished their fiery show and had mostly taken their bows, drifting to the earth.

Rock tower

I met a stranger along the path, who was also walking, and helped her identify a weird fungus-looking plant (using iNaturalist — a great app for nature-lovers). By the time I returned to my car, I was no longer frustrated by being temporarily handicapped by a bum knee.

I slowed down for a few days, then tried to ease back into running. But this past weekend, the awful pain appeared again after running 6 miles. So it was back to walking, and observing, and listening to audiobooks instead of high-energy running music. Today, I feel great, and every inch of me is screaming to get out on the trail and run again soon, but I figure I’d better, well, pause, and go get that knee examined, before I aggravate the injury. Sometimes, it sucks to slow down. But just like you have to know when to throw in a comma to keep everything flowing well, you also have to know when to take a pause in some part of your life. Everything looks different when you slow down for a moment and look around. You may not be moving forward as quickly as you’d planned. But the views can be breathtaking.

That Time I Almost Ran a Marathon (aka: New Moon Bella)

So I almost ran a marathon this December. I was dangerously close. After months of saying that marathon runners must be insane (my daughter and ex-boyfriend included), I found myself training for one. By the time I managed to run 16 miles, I had made up my mind. This was it. I was totally going to go for it. So when I got home, still exhausted and sweaty from my run, I navigated to the website of the California International Marathon — the same one my daughter finished last year.

Sold out.

Disappointment and relief flooded me at the same time. Disappointment, because I really, really wanted to run that marathon! Relief, because I don’t trust my reasons for wanting to run that marathon.

running-a-marathon

There are a million great reasons for someone to want to run an entire marathon. For the bragging rights. Because they’re competitive runners. Because it’s a bucket list goal. Because they’re masochists and crave the pain. I don’t know. I suppose there are as many good reasons as there are types of people who enter to run these things. But I have no desire to brag about my accomplishments. I don’t really keep a bucket list. And god knows I’m not a competitive runner, with my typical middle-age pace.

I do it for him.

Yes, I’m talking about my ex-boyfriend, Mr. Right-for-Me, the wonderful guy I dated last year and will never get over. Let’s call him Z. The last letter of the alphabet for the last man I will ever love.

Don’t take me wrong. I don’t want to run a marathon because I believe that finishing one will impress him so much that he will come back. (Okay, maybe I kind of hope that a teensy bit). It’s not about that. I’m marathon training because I am New Moon Bella.

All right, stop pretending that you don’t know who I’m talking about. I know that you guys all read or watched the Twilight series about Bella and her sparkly perfect vampire lover, Edward. Now remember what happened when Edward suddenly left Bella’s life? He disappeared. Didn’t call. Didn’t write. Didn’t appear. The seasons passed by, and Bella was a sad wreck without him. Then one day, she discovered that by doing insane things, by pushing herself far beyond her limits, she could make Edward appear. She began riding motorcycles, cliff jumping, putting herself in dangerous situations, because when she did, a vivid vision of Edward would materialize, and he would talk to her in the voice of reason. His voice, his appearance, became her drug, her reason to keep going.

bella-and-edward

So that’s me. I can run a wimpy little 5K, and nothing. But if I keep pushing myself far beyond my limits, run to the point that my lungs are burning, and my legs are ready to collapse, and there he is. Z. On the trail with me, as vivid as life. I hear his voice, his wonderful, distinct, gentle voice, encouraging me to just keep going, keep pushing, just one more mile. And when I make it to the end, I hear his words of pride, filling me with so much warmth I could almost turn around and run some more. Almost.

running path one more mile

So there it is. I am disappointed that the marathon is sold out, because I wanted to run it with him. Even though he has disappeared from my life, and I am here without him. Even though he would not really be there with me (and knowing that still hurts so sharply that I can barely breathe). But it is like knowing that if you fall asleep just the right way, then someone you love, someone whose presence you crave deeply will appear with you in a dream. If I run just one more mile, just one more mile, just one more mile, then he will appear before me on the running trail, his voice leading me toward him.

I think I’ll keep running.

The Energizer Bunny is My Spirit Animal (aka: Energy!)

Energy!

Energy!

The word itself demands an exclamation point. Caps, bold, and italics, even. ENERGY!!

As it now Friday afternoon, and many of you zombies are slumped over at your desks, waiting for the weekend to kick in, the word energy is more like an expletive. Or a plea. Or a complete unknown. Energy? What on earth is that?

That’s when I pull out my cheerleader megaphone and do a few cartwheels to encourage you all.

I’ve got energy, yes I do! I’ve got energy, how about you?

(Okay, you didn’t have to use your last remaining reserves of energy to throw tomatoes. How rude! )

Energy is one of those things that so many people wish they had way more of. But like free time, like money, like low-calorie meals that fill you up and taste great, it’s one of those things that always seems to be in short supply for many people. That’s a real bummer, since it takes energy to do so many of the things we want to do. To climb out of bed each morning. To focus at work. To shuttle kids around to activities, and clean the house, and cook healthy meals, and get to the gym, and plan social events, and weed the garden, and schedule that dental appointment we keep putting off. Ack! No wonder everyone’s so exhausted.

I wish I could tell you that there is some magical way to acquire more energy. After all, it has always come naturally to me. Ever since I was very young, I’ve had this inner well of mental and physical energy that makes it very, very hard to mesh with you couch potato types. I become very restless if I don’t exercise daily and push my mental and physical limits on a regular basis. I am definitely the get-up-and-go type. Laziness does not come easily to me. The Energizer Bunny is probably my spirit animal.

energizer_bunny_still_going

According to recent scientific studies, my high energy levels are most likely hard-wired in my genetics. Which is funny, because I grew up in a family of TV-loving, exercise-shunning, sleep-in-on-weekends couch potatoes. Clearly, I was born on Jupiter and swapped at birth.

So I’m sorry to say that, if you were not born with lightning in your veins like me, then you probably struggle to find enough energy to do everything that you want to do. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to boost your energy levels, even if your spirit animal is a sloth.

SLEEEEEEP I can’t emphasize this one enough. Way too many Americans don’t get enough good, regular sleep. 7-8 hours per night, peeps. That does not include time spent in bed reading, watching TV, or other…um…nocturnal activities. Improve your sleep by setting a relaxing routine during the hour leading up to bedtime. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Make your bedroom comfy and relaxing. Bottom line: want more energy throughout the day? Go to sleep!

sleepytime

EXERCISE It may sound counterintuitive. I mean, how are you supposed to go for a run, or ride a bike, or hit the gym after work when you don’t have the energy? But exercise itself actually gives you energy. Remember mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cells? Well, they also produce this chemical called ATP, which your body uses as energy. So guess what happens when you work out? Your body produces more mitochondria, which means more ATP, which means more energy! So if you’re facing a sluggish moment in the middle of your work day, go for a walk. Climb some stairs. Hit the gym near your workplace for a midday pick-me-up. It’s more effective than coffee.

CUT THE SUGAR If you have a sweet tooth like me, this one is soooo hard to do! But sugar and simplex carbs (think white bread) are the enemy of lasting energy. They’re fine for an immediate boost of energy, but you’ll crash quickly and feel more tired than you did before. If you want carbs for energy, go for yummy whole grains, fruit, or veggies.

CHOOSE ENERGETIC HOBBIES If you center your free time around couch potato activities, then you’ll be stuck in the same inactive rut. Once you’re engaged in a good TV show or video game, it’s hard to make yourself stop and go for a walk or work in the garden. But if you work active activities into your schedule, and give those first priority, then it’s easier to convince yourself to do them, even if it’s just to “get it over with.” Who knows? You may get so used to being active that the couch seems a lot less appealing!

running going motion energy athletic

THINK ENERGETIC THOUGHTS I believe that the mind, body, and spirit are strongly connected. By focusing on how tired you feel, how difficult it is to exercise, and on the hundreds of little excuses you’ve made up for why you’d rather lie around the house, you are encouraging your own energy levels to drop. When you shift your thoughts in a positive way about your energy levels, you will experience a positive increase.

Well, this post is getting a little long, and my body is already anxious to get up and move. If you try these tips and still find that your energy levels are low, be sure to check in with your doctor. Sometimes, low energy levels can indicate low iron levels, sleep apnea, or other underlying health issues. But if they are effective, then great! We can start a club for Energizer Bunnies, and keep it going and going and going…

Get On Your Feet (aka: Training Your Tootsies)

Take a deep sniff. Smell that? No, it’s not a bag of stale Cheetos™.  It’s the oh-too familiar whiff of a very hard-working, under-rated part of our bodies.

That’s right. Our feet.

Most of us are born with two of these babies. Most of them have ten toes, sometimes long and skinny, like fingers, and sometimes short and stubby, like plump little balls. Some are flat and stompy, built to be encased in wide sneakers. Others have a delicate Barbie-arch that slides perfectly into high heeled shoes. Many are somewhere in between.

Do you ever think about how important feet are? Those of us who have them often take them for granted. We stuff them into cheap, too-tight shoes, then trudge through shopping malls, and across parking lots, and around the fields where our kids play sports. Then we complain when our poor tootsies get all swollen and blistered. Some of us torture our feet by making them run long distances on hard pavements. Many other people spend hours every day with their feet sitting on the floor beneath their desks, forgetting that feet, like dogs, need to take a walk, sometimes.

We put our feet through a lot.

Now some people, women especially, pay all kinds of attention to their feet. They worship their feet. They take them to spas and pamper them with professional massages and long, hot soaks. They have pedicures, getting their toenails all purtied up with bright coats of paint. They rub them with scented lotions, then dress them in cute, expensive shoes the way some people dress up their little frou-frou dogs.

I’ll bet feet love people like that.

One of my favorite things to do to nurture my feet is to let the experience nature. Undressed. Unshackled. Just the bare skin of my soles sinking into the warm sand at the beach. Letting the cool ocean waves wash over them. Getting them tickled by blades of grass at the park. Hearing them squelch as they’re sucked into gooey, oozy mud. My feet love that. Well, as long as I stay away from sharp rocks. And bees. And hot asphalt surfaces that make them sizzle like burgers on a grill.

Feet are marvelous things.

Did you know, that if you train them right, they can climb mountains? For real. They can also climb a few flights of stairs every day, if you let them. They can walk all over town, and the best part about that is that you get to see things you may have missed otherwise. Just yesterday, my feet took me along a river trail I’d never taken somewhere near the downtown office where I work. And do you know what I saw? Goats. Like, fifty goats, kids and all, chewing up the grass along the walkway. Right there, in a major metropolitan area. What the what? It was super weird, and a pretty cool sight. And I never would have seen it if not for my trusty feet. (Good girls). Unfortunately, my feet also led me to a coffee shop, where I wound up buying a delicious, fresh-baked cookie. So I guess they still need some more training.

Now I know that some of you are rolling your eyes as you read this. The only thing you want to do with your feet is prop them up on an ottoman while you watch TV. I’m not judging, nor am I pointing any fingers at specific readers. But you know what they say — if the shoe fits…

All I want to do is remind you that, if you train your feet and treat them well, then they’ll reward you. They’ll show you new sights and take you to meet interesting people. They’ll work with your body to get it stronger, fitter, healthier. They’ll remind you that you have these two amazing things attached to your legs to be grateful for every morning. They might even get a little naughty and lead you to a coffee shop that sells yummy, fresh-baked cookies. You’ll never know unless you move them.

Where have your feet led you?

Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

Que No Pare la Fiesta! (aka: Zumba!)

If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I am a constant ball of energy. Despite my exercise-induced allergic reactions, despite my chronic anemia, and despite my, ehrmgenerous bust size, I love to be active. I work out every single day, with few exceptions. I run, do workouts at the gym, swim, play tennis, and, until recently, soccer.  I also enjoy occasional group fitness classes, like yoga or step aerobics. But by far, the workout I find the most enjoyable is Zumba.

Zumba class fitness

What the heck is Zumba, you ask? Read on:

What is Zumba?

Zumba is a dance party! More specifically, it’s an aerobic dance fitness class featuring music styles such as salsa, reggaeton, cumbia, merengue, cha-cha, soca, hip-hop, flamenco, and rumba. But it is so much fun, that the official Zumba marketing slogan is, “Ditch the Workout — Join the Party!” 

Zumba logo

How did Zumba start?

Zumba started as a mistake in the 1990’s by Columbian dancer and choreographer, Beto Perez, who forgot to bring his aerobics mixtape to a class he was leading. He ended up playing a cassette tape of Latin dance music he had in his car, and the world’s greatest fitness dance party was born. No one could resist swaying their hips and moving their feet to the infectious Latin rhythms. The movement spread, and now, Zumba is practiced by millions of people in more than 100 countries worldwide.

 Who does Zumba?

Everyone! Zumba is not a dance instruction class. Whether you’ve had years of dance and fitness training, or whether you are a newbie with two left feet, you can jump into a Zumba class and have a great time getting in shape. Even though there is usually a big mirror at the front of the studio, people aren’t watching you to make sure you can swing your hips or shake your shoulders correctly. (Thank goodness, because I can’t twerk to save my life, hahaha!)

Zumba Class for All

Is Zumba an effective workout?

Yes! In a forty-minute Zumba class, an average person can burn 350-650 calories. With Zumba’s high energy style and interval-style intensity fluctuations, it has been shown to burn more calories than a number of other group exercise classes, including step aerobics, indoor cycling, hooping, and cardio kickboxing. And just as important — Zumba is fun! The most effective workout is one that you will keep doing on a regular basis. Still not sure? The best way to find out is to throw on your sneakers and head to your nearest Zumba class. Don’t worry about not knowing the steps, because no one is watching. Come join the party!

My Zumba Playlist Favorites

Firehouse — Daddy Yankee

Mi Gente — J Balvin, Willy William

Vem Dancar Kuduro (Oy Oy Oy) — Lucenzo ft. Big Ali

Chantaje — Shakira

Shaky Shaky (Terremoto) — Daddy Yankee

Baila Esta Cumbia — Selena

Don’t Stop the Party — Pitbull, TJR

Moviendo Caderas — Yandel ft. Daddy Yankee

 

 

 

Just Do It Already! (aka: Workout Time)

exercise

 

Okay, everyone — grab your sneakers, pull on your leg warmers, get your water bottle ready. It’s time to workout!

No way, many of you will say. I’m too tired to workout. My schedule is too busy to fit in exercise. I’m not in the mood to workout.  I can’t afford to join a health club. My back/knees/hips are too bad to exercise. I’ll start my exercise program sometime down the line, but not now.

Never now.

It is astounding to me to hear the many excuses that people scrounge up when trying to avoid exercise. It is as though moving their bodies is as dreadful a chore as organizing the garage. Now in some rare circumstances, I can understand why exercise must be put on hold. If your doctor gives you a red light for health reasons, for example. As for the other excuses?

I’m too tired. You’re in luck! Science tells us that exercise gives you a natural energy boost. When you do a moderate workout, your mitochondria kick into high gear, pumping out more energy for your body to use.

My schedule is too busy. As a single mom of three busy kids who holds down a full time job, and, until a few months ago, was also a full-time student, I know all about busy schedules. But I’ve also learned how to prioritize important things, like my health. On those days when I just can’t squeeze 30 minutes at the gym into my schedule, I break up the exercise by taking 10-15 minute walks during my breaks. One of my favorite quick workouts on busy days? Climbing the many stairs in the building where I work. On purpose.

 

Every workout counts

 

I’m not in the mood. Good news — did you know that regular exercise can ease depression and anxiety and generally improve your mood? It can also help you to sleep better, take your mind off worries, and help you to cope with stress in a healthy way.

I can’t afford a health club membership. It is true that gym memberships can be costly. On the other hand, so can health care costs associated with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments than can often be avoided or alleviated by a healthy diet and regular exercise. If a gym membership really can’t be worked into the budget, however, consider some free to low-cost forms of exercise, such as daily walking, bike riding around town, gardening, or at-home aerobic exercises with a video.

 

personal trainer

 

My back/knees/hips are too bad to exercise. These can be legitimate reasons to avoid high-impact workouts, like running, for example. Even my own chronic health issue, cholinergic urticaria, used to be an exercise-stopper before it was treated. But having physical ailments doesn’t have to exclude you from all forms of daily exercise. Many people with bad backs or joint pain have discovered that there are forms of exercise that can benefit them, too. Try low-impact aerobics classes, yoga, or swimming. The strength you gain and the weight you may lose may also help to alleviate discomfort.

I’ll start my exercise program sometime down the line… If not now, then when? You don’t need a New Year’s Resolution or a medical crisis to be your starting point. Nor do you need to start big, by trying to tackle some big exercise program at once. Start your change with small baby steps. Pull in a friend, partner, or coworker for social motivation. Turn that zero minutes a day into ten minutes, then fifteen minutes, until you eventually can follow the Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week. That’s around 20 minutes per day.

 

no workout regrets

 

Not sure where to start? The web is packed with great workout ideas, both moderate and vigorous. If you belong to a health club, consider hiring a personal trainer to design a personalized workout just for you, and to coach you through your routine. If going solo is going nowhere, consider group fitness classes or adult sport leagues. If you hate running, don’t run! Not a swimmer? Try cycling. My current favorites, by the way, are Zumba, tennis, and 20-minute walk/runs. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and switch it up when the workout gets old. Now let’s get in shape!