Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Exercise Can Kill You

It's been several years since I've had the motivation, energy or mental wherewithal to attempt to get in shape.  If you've ever been through a trauma or a sustained period of grief, you get exactly where I'm coming from.  It takes all your energy just to survive.

Now, after three years of trial and grief and struggle, I feel like I may possibly be able to thrive.  Maybe even grow!

Unfortunately, the years of stress have taken their toll on my 44-year-old body.  I am in serious denial about this.  I still think my body should behave like it did twenty years ago.  I should be able to go out and walk a few miles without breaking a sweat.  If I don my running shoes, I should be able to jog by the end of the week and run a 5K by the end of April.

Ha ha ha ha ha. I'm so stupid.

My body mocks me.

Last week, we had one gorgeous afternoon when the sun was shining and the temperature was, remarkably, above freezing.  I knew I had to get out and take advantage of it.  I donned my running shoes (which have never experienced actual running, by the way), put on a long-sleeved shirt, and gloves and I was off.

It was quite the glorious walk/jog, I'll have you know.  Even with the thaw, there were still gigantic snow piles that I had to leap, slushy puddles for me to navigate, and icy patches to negotiate.  I even had to duck under some branches that had been broken by the ice storm we had in December.  It was like a delightfully sunny, snowy, slushy obstacle course.  And to top it off, I jogged up and down the skywalk at the end of the street.

Not too shabby for an old lady, hey?

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I kept hearing this little voice telling me:  Take it easy.  Don't overdo it your first day.  Don't push yourself too hard.

I brushed it off, thinking it was my cynical, tired old body trying to tell me it would be sore the next day.  So what?  I could handle soreness.  I was going to beat my body into submission.

Plus, it felt too good to stop, so I pushed myself.

In addition to the inevitable soreness and fatigue that followed, I also developed a cough.  This is normal for me for a day or so after a workout like that.  But when the cough lingered into the weekend, my chest and my back started to hurt.  And I could hear funny rattling noises bubbling up from my lungs when I breathed.

I finally went to see my doctor today.

He actually laughed as he listened to my lungs and reported, "Jen, you have pneumonia!"

Now, you have to know a bit about my relationship with my doctor to understand why he laughed.  We've been friends for years, since my husband and I met him at MSU.  Dr. P and I did random evangelism on MSU's campus.  Dr. P and I once went into the woods and built a lean-to from scratch, just for fun.  Dr. P knows that I did missionary work in the Philippines where I subsisted on fish heads.

He laughed because he knows I'm a little too hearty to subscribe to the idea that I would catch pneumonia from playing outside.

But indeed, I caught pneumonia from playing outside. 

It probably won't kill me, but I will be much more wary of exercise in the future.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Soccer Mom

Here is another post in my "rerun" series.  It was originally posted in 2009.

Today my girls had soccer practice. They're involved in a Parks and Rec team, a very low-key activity with the main goal being for the children to have fun. And really, that's about all I've seen so far.  I'm not seeing any learning of useful soccer skills, such as how to actually make your foot come into contact with the ball. But at least they're having fun, right?

Tonight, the soccer coach decided that at the end of practice, the children should play a scrimmage against their parents. In her words, she thought it would be "fun". Well I don't necessarily agree with her definition of fun, because in my estimation, it would be more in the category of torture. I hate playing sports. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I am deeply tormented by memories of any attempt at playing sports throughout my life. I had extremely bad experiences of gym class from the earliest elementary years all the way through 8th grade. You have no idea how heartily I rejoiced once I finished Junior High and I was no longer required to participate in Physical Education.

The year 1976 was an Olympic year, so our gym teacher thought it would be "educational" to set up gymnastics equipment. I really have no memory of any of the other equipment besides the rings. For some idiot reason, the rings were suspended about 20 feet off the ground. OK, so it was probably not quite that high, but I was in Kindergarten so I was only about 3 feet tall and everything looked really high to me. We had to climb up on a small platform to reach the rings. The platform was high enough to scare me, but then my teacher had to hoist me up on the rings and make me do a somersault. And I'm sure I was visibly terrified because I knew at any moment I was going to plummet back to earth with an ungraceful splat. However, the teacher made me do it anyway. You know I could probably go back and sue that gym teacher for all the emotional distress that he or she caused me, if I could remember his or her name.

In about 2nd grade, Ms. PE teacher had the brilliant idea to teach us basketball, and by teaching I mean she simply said "Play." So, I had no stinkin' clue how to actually dribble a ball or what responsibilities that players in different positions had. We just had to play, and it appeared to me that everyone else knew what they were doing except me. So, when we had basketball days in gym class, I would conveniently excuse myself to go to the bathroom until gym was over. I think my teacher eventually caught on, but it still never occurred to her to actually teach us some darn basketball skills.

In 5th grade, I tried to sprain my ankle during dogdeball season. I would run really fast down our gravel road and purposely step in the potholes. I used to deliberately irritate my older brother so he would inflict some kind of brotherly agony upon me, and then I would shout, "go for the ankle!" I once had to get a plantar wart removed, and I asked the doctor to write a note excusing me from PE for the rest of the year. He didn't. I even tried climbing up on our gigantic console TV set and jumping off. But it was all for naught, as I was still forced to participate in the misery of team sports.

Even in college, a friendly game of volleyball with my dearest friends would throw me into a panic. I could usually hit a volleyball with some degree of consistency as long as I was not involved in an actual game. But if the ball ever came to me during a game, I was either completely immobile, or I was flailing around like an injured animal. And then of course, I would say some dumb thing like "the sun was in my eyes," or sometimes I would choose the simpler option which was to feign death.

Suffice it to say, I have never had any desire to participate in team sports, even for "fun". Because although it may be "fun" to some people, I'd rather have one of my limbs severed.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Spelling Bee

I'm a gud good speller.  I always have been.  I think it's because I have a photographic memory.  For real.  If you show me how to spell something one time, I will remember it forever.  Even a moronic word like Kashyyyk.  One thousand points if you know what that is without having to look it up.  (Don't try too hard.  This is the blog where everything is made up and the points don't matter.)

My kids have inherited my good spelling gene.  I guess Al has one, too, which surprises me a bit because he is also a math genius.  I thought you had to be one or the other, but I guess he was blessed with both.  In fact, the psychiatrist who evaluated Al's post-stroke brain functioning told him, "The stroke knocked you down a few notches so now you have a normal brain like the rest of us."

Because of their exceptional ability to spell, my children have swept the school spelling bee every year.  I'm proud of them, but it's getting a little old.  And spelling bees are quite stressful.  I'm a total sideline screamer when it comes to watching the kids participate.  Except that I just have to scream in my head, otherwise, I would be ejected from the game.

If you've never been to a spelling bee, it can get quite tense.

The first task is usually the most daunting.  The judges tell every competitor to approach the microphone and spell their name.

Joey steps up to the mic.  "Joey.  J-O....Can you use that in a sentence please?"

The problem I've found with spelling bees is that no matter how intelligent a child is, if you put them in front of an intimidating crowd with a microphone and require them to spell something out, they will forget every word you ever taught them.  Why can't they just take a spelling test and have it graded in front of everyone?

You can totally see the strain on every parent's face when their student begins a turn.  They're mentally calling out, "Okay, Sally.   Take a deep breath.  Concentrate."

The word Sally is given:  love.

Sally begins.  "Love.  L............................U....................................V........................................E.  Love."

Sally's dad jumps out of his seat and "Come on, Sally!  You know that word!"  He throws his pocket dictionary across the floor and is escorted out of the gym by armed security guards.

Next comes Johnny.

Johnny's word is:  antidistestablishmentarianism.

What happens with these exceedingly long words is that the kid gets lost in the middle somewhere.

Johnny begins, struggling just to pronounce the word, let alone spell it.

"Antidistestablishmentarianism.  A-N-T-I-D-I-S-E-S-T-A-B-L-I....."  Because there are enough i's in this word to fill an entire dictionary, Johnny forgets which i he's on.  The rules say that he cannot go back and change the spelling.  So, for several extremely painful moments, he stands there, with everyone and their dog staring at him, while he tries to remember all the letters he just said.  He finally finishes up by sputtering out, "I-S-S-I-P-P-I.  Antidisestablishmentarianism."

The problem here is that the audience is not allowed to applaud or give any kind of feedback until the round is over, which is why Sally's dad will be banned from the school grounds for the next six months.  However, everyone knows immediately whether the word was spelled correctly or not, so the student only has to scan the faces of the people to know whether or not he was successful.  His parents have fake smiles plastered on their faces, nodding encouragingly.  His fellow students are snickering.  Grandma has buried her face in her hands and is writing Johnny out of her will as we speak.  

Now, you're probably thinking that I'm some cranky old curmudgeon who thinks that spelling bees are a waste of time.  Well, you'd be right, but I am proud of my kiddos for their accomplishments.

Way to go, Evan & Joy.  Way to make mama look good!  ;)

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Coldest Winter

Okay, friends.  I know you've all been dying with anticipation to read my next spectacular blog post.  But guess what?  I'm writing a book instead!  (Pray for me and wish me luck!)

So, I've decided to re-publish some of my older posts.  Hopefully you won't mind reading them again.   I should be writing on my other blog soon, too, but I'm not making any promises.

I originally posted this in August 2012.  It seems a bit more fitting to post it now, in the middle of the longest, coldest winter ever.  (By the way, if you know me, you know that I. LOVE. SNOW.  And this winter has not turned me off yet, although I occasionally receive death threats when my status update on Facebook asks, "Don't you just love this weather???")

I grew up in Northern Michigan (i.e. the Upper Peninsula, the UP, da Yoop).  It's the closest you can get to Canada without actually being in Canada.  But the people still talk like Canadians, eh?  I find it humorous when I go home now to hear such a distinct accent from dem Yoopers when I only live 400 miles south.

I don't have to exaggerate much (but I might exaggerate a little) when I say that the winters were cold in the UP.  They were bitter cold, the kind of cold that causes a truck engine to make a low-pitched squeaaaal-rrr-rrr, and then swear and go back to sleep.  It was a dangerous kind of cold that would cause people in current times to stock their pantry with canned food, cancel every activity for the next 3 months, lock their doors, stuff something like this under every door to keep out the evil cold, and hope to God they had enough furniture to put in the fireplace in case they ran out of wood.

This cat-themed draft stopper can be found at www.potpourrigift.com, or if you happen to live in a place like the UP where almost everyone is a taxidermist, you can have one made with all the stray cats that wander up to your house.

Even on those coldest of days - the days that my father had to use an engine warmer to get my old Delta 88 started - I must have sneaked past my parents when I went to school on basketball game days, because I would wear my cheerleading skirt to school.  With bare legs.  Or sometimes I would wear flat shoes.  In the snow.  Without socks.  To this day, I'm absolutely certain I have permanent damage in my legs and feet, which never warm up unless they're being roasted over an open fire. 

One day, my best friend Cari came by with her parents.  She is also my cousin - you can't be choosy when you live in a village of 300 people.  She invited me to accompany her to wherever she was headed, but first we had to stop at yet another cousin's house.  (Yes, everyone is related in the UP, get over it.) When we arrived at said cousin's house, we told her parents we would wait in the van.  They assured us that they would only be a few minutes.  They didn't even keep the van running for heat.  Why would they?  It was only -30 F.  Being high school girls who don't care how close we got to each other, we huddled up on the front seat of her parents' van so we could stay warm.  We put our feet on the dashboard so they could stay toasty in the sunlight. (Ha!)

As we goofed around and acted like silly teenage girls, we simultaneously threw our heads back in laughter and kicked our feet.


A giant fissure appeared in the van's dashboard.

So we did what any two level-headed teenagers would do once we realized how brittle the dashboard material had become in the subzero weather:  we pushed just a little more.  Just to see what would happen.

A few more times and the entire dashboard disintegrated in a flash of 1970's goldenrod glory.


At that very moment, yet another relative came out of the house, observed our predicament, and proceeded to laugh so hard that he wet his pants.

What do you tell your parents when you destroy the entire dashboard of the family vehicle? We considered going into the house and playing it cool, like, "hey, Auntie Betty and Uncle Tom, we thought we'd just come inside and warm up a bit."  And then when we all went out to the van, they could be all shocked and say, "What happened to the dashboard?" and we would be all, "Wow, I can't imagine how something like that could happen."

In the end I think they figured out it was us.  And I think the punishment must have been inordinately lenient because I don't remember what it was, except maybe a little lecture and possibly some yelling on both of our parents' parts.

The moral of this story is:  there really isn't one.  Except that you should wear socks in the winter.

If you give lots of happy feel-good comments, I promise to start posting more!  :)