The End of Foster Care

We’ve decided.  Tisen stays.

We took him hang gliding on Saturday.  Tisen ran over and start licking my face in the middle of a hang check and then follow my glider all the way down the big hill and back up again.  When I told the instructor he was a foster dog, she said, “That’s your dog.  He has claimed you.”  She’s right.  He is my dog.

It’s funny how this happens.  I wonder how a dog decides you are theirs?  And you cannot resist.  You find yourself committed until death do you part.  Except you’re committed to a well-behaved 3 year old with fur who will never be able to use the toilet.

Upon deciding that Tisen must stay, we immediately went to PetsMart to celebrate.  Since we are working on crate training, we, of course, needed a cozy matt to put in the crate, special chews to keep him busy while we’re gone, and a new squeaky toy since I’ve discovered he’ll do about anything for a squeaky toy.  He picks a bear for his squeaky toy, but then is so enamored with a ridiculous long, red dog that I cannot resist getting it for him, too.  It’s a good thing I don’t have children.

When we get home, he picks up the red dog and carries it in from the car, trotting along with his head held high like he’s won some sort of award.  The joy I experience watching him is well worth the extra $8.  When he gets to the living room, he plops his new toy in the middle of the floor and then pulls his stuffed squirrel out of the crate, laying them out on the floor side-by-side.  It’s hard to know what goes through a dog’s mind sometimes, but I have to wonder if he really just wanted squirrel to have a friend.

I pick up the dog and give it a squeeze.  Tisen starts poking at the dog with his nose trying to make it squeak.  Pat joins in and starts squeezing, too.  I grab my iPhone and try to get a shot (not having time to change lenses on my camera).  Tisen gets irritated with the flash, picks up red dog, and hides out in his crate.  I take this as a sign that crate training is going well.

Tisen’s obsession with squeaky toys reminds me of a story my mom used to tell about me.  When I was about 2, I was given a doll who would cry if you squeezed her.  Except, I wasn’t strong enough to get her to cry.  But, I figured out my own method.  I horrified a nice lady at the bank one day when she complimented me on my cute baby and I responded by throwing it on the floor and stomping on it.  My mother smiled weakly and said, “It’s the only way she can get it to cry.”  It’s really a good thing I don’t have children.


Walking and Running

I am working out with a trainer at a gym that seems to largely cater to younger people (younger than me, that is).  When I first signed up for training, the trainer asked me if I had an event I was getting ready for like vacation or a wedding.  Apparently I am unusual in that I don’t get motivated to workout by major events in my life.  I just want to be able to do fun things that require moderate fitness and I have a hard time getting to the gym if I don’t have an appointment.  I’m OK with only going to the gym 2x a week.  I’d rather get exercise outside or in yoga class (which I have yet to go to since moving to Chattanooga).  My trainer sent me “homework” that suggests what I should be doing on the days I’m not working out with him.  He congratulated me for deciding to make a “change.”  I’m not sure if he really gets the notion of just maintaining.

That said, today I am going to the gym at 5:30AM.  This is because it’s hard to get convenient times in the morning before work and, by joining up with another woman, we will work out for an hour instead of a half hour.  I’m not quite clear on why I can’t just go at 6:00Am for a half hour, but apparently this woman likes to train for an hour.  In any case, the alarm goes off at 4:45Am and it’s the first time my alarm has gone off before I was awake in about 2 months.  I’m a little annoyed that I booked an appointment at 5:30AM at a time when I couldn’t sleep past 4:00AM, but I’ve now slept until 6:00AM several days in a row and, of course, I have to get up at 4:45AM.  But, I steel myself and get out of bed, trying to remind myself how good I feel after I work out.

After having some coffee and doing some basic grooming (like brushing my teeth and running my wet hands through my crazy hair to try to calm it down), I pull on workout clothes and fix myself a bottle of water.  I walk next door and stow my jacket in the locker room.  I have 10 minutes, so I get on a treadmill.  Today, it’s clean–possibly an advantage of coming in at 5:30?

I walk for a while and then realize that it’s after 5:30AM and there is no sign of my trainer.  He had mentioned that the woman I was supposed to work out with hadn’t signed up yet two days ago, so I find myself wondering if I’m working out with him at 6:00AM instead.  Since he’s a punctual guy, I decide I might as well get some cardio and step up my treadmill pace.  I alternate 1 minute intervals of walking and running.  I really hate to run.  I don’t know why.  I have vague memories from childhood of spending most of my time running around outside chasing things like run away balls and, later, boys.  I remember racing across the field outside my elementary school and trying to outrun the wind.  I’m not sure how one knows when one is outrunning the wind, but it seemed like a fun game at the time.  Yet, by the time I was 15 and thought seriously about trying out for track for all of 24 hours, going out for a morning run felt like torture.  And that is how I have continued to feel about running ever since.

Unfortunately for me, walking on a treadmill is about as interesting as watching concrete harden.  I have to do something to break up the time.  So, I run one minute at a time.  Each run interval, I go a little faster until I get to an 8 MPH pace.  For those who prefer not to do math, that is 7.5 minutes per mile, more than 1 1/2 times the average pace of Mutai over 26.2 miles at the Boston Marathon.  Did I mention that I feel like I’m sprinting at a 7.5 minute/mile pace?  I might be able to run faster, but I have too many visions of shooting off the back of the treadmill and crashing through the window behind me to try.  So far, I’ve only come off a treadmill once, and it was worth it to see the look on my trainer’s face that day since I sustained only a minor bruise.  But, there’s no one around to catch me today, so I’m good with maxing out at this pace.

After spending 20 minutes alternating running and walking, I decide I should start slowing down.  I figure my trainer will arrive at 6AM and I don’t want to be too out of breath to start lifting.  I slow the pace to a 4.0 MPH walk and decrease the incline to slow my heart.  After a few minutes, I slow down some more and keep slowing down the pace every 30 seconds until I’m crawling along at 3.0 MPH.  My trainer arrives and walks by to let me know he’s there.

When I join him, he’s headed to the Smith press so I can do squats.  I tell him I just did running intervals on an incline as I mop my face with my shirt (I keep forgetting they don’t provide towels).  He asks me if I usually do cardio before lifting.  I laugh and explain that I thought we were starting at 5:30 and thought I’d do cardio since I was there.  As it turns out, he had texted me last night to tell me we would go at 6:00AM instead, but I didn’t get his text before turning off my phone for the night.  For a moment, I am nostalgic about the days when we had landline telephones in our homes and people actually called us on them when they wanted to tell us something.  But, times have changed and now technology makes our lives both easier and, sometimes, more annoying.

I do the squats on my tired legs and complete a tough 30 minute leg workout.  Doing legs always makes me dizzy.  The up and down of squatting makes me light headed after a while.  I’ve been told this is because I have low blood pressure.  Whatever the reason, I think it’s a good excuse for the fact that I accidentally (I swear!) walked into the men’s locker room after my workout.  Truthfully, I didn’t make it around the corner to actually see anything, realizing that the entry looked unfamiliar, but I sure scooted out of there quickly when I realized my mistake!  There are surveillance cameras all over the gym–I bet I made someone smile at least.

When I make it into the correct locker room, I take some time to really stretch.  There is space in the women’s locker room with an exercise ball and two matts on the floor.  I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do there, but stretching seemed like a good use of the space.  I went through several yoga poses, practicing yogic breathing.  As I relax into pigeon pose, I realize I haven’t stretched for weeks.  I really need to get yoga back into my schedule when we get back from our upcoming trip–every muscle feels like wood.  After spending 20 minutes trying to regain some flexibility, I’m pretty sure it’s time for a nap.  But, I head home knowing that there will be no nap today.

Back to the Gym

Collapsing on the couch after a long weekend at Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I think about tomorrow.  I’m supposed to meet my personal trainer at the gym at 6:00AM.  I wonder why I thought that would be a good idea?  My legs and shoulders are aching from hiking over the weekend and all I really want to do is sleep.  The gods must have heard my protest because I receive a text from my trainer that he’s had several cancellations and he’s able to reschedule for 7:30AM instead.  I think briefly about running out to buy a lottery ticket while my luck is hot, but decide not to push it.

I collapse into bed feeling wide awake and sleepy at the same time.  I download a new book to my iPad, having finished “The Help.”  I choose something light and fun and go with Kathy Reich’s newest novel.  I turn to the first page and get about a paragraph read before I’m nodding off.  I plug in my iPad, set it on the nightstand and roll over, falling fast asleep.

The next morning, I awake before my alarm goes off at 6:00AM, but not by much.  It’s nice to be sleeping in again–I’ve been waking up around 4:00AM for weeks and it’s gotten really old.  I go through my morning routine, making coffee, sitting on the balcony, writing my blog.  But the temperature has dropped about 30 degrees with all the rain.  I go back inside to grab a fleece and slippers before returning to the balcony.  It’s still raining and I wonder if the whether will clear in time for our upcoming trip to Germany.  My weather app tells me it’s going to rain for a week and I worry for a moment about our flight on Sunday, but then return to my blog.

Putting my computer away, I brush my teeth and head out the door, forgetting to bring a bottle of water.  Today, I am wearing long workout pants for the first time in months.  I zip up my rain jacket and pull up the hood before exiting the lobby.  It’s a short walk to the gym–it’s right across the street–but my feet get wet anyway.  I hang my jacket in the locker room and go back out to the treadmills.  The treadmill I pick has an error and won’t start–the dependency on a computer to go for a walk strikes me as strange.  I move over one machine and start walking.  I only have a few minutes before my training session starts, so my goal is just to warm up and stretch a little.  As I increase the speed, I notice that there are puddles sitting on the handrail around the control panel.  The entire handrail is splattered and I wonder what sweaty beast last used the machine.  I am already walking and not up for changing treadmills again, so I try not to touch anything.  I add a 2% incline and speed up to 4.2 miles per hour, about the fastest I can walk without breaking into a trot.  In my fivefingers shoes, my foot fall hits mid-sole and I keep my knees more bent so that I probably look like I think I’m running–I imagine what I look like to an observer, running in slow motion.  My feet make a funny “slap, slap” noise with each stride and I try to figure out how to walk more quietly.  I actually am walking more quietly than I do in regular shoes; when I wear running shoes, my feet go “thump, thump” instead.  I’ve often wondered why I am such a noisy walker, but I’ve never figured out how to walk silently.  I have no more success at quieting my stride today, but the other people in the gym are all wearing ear buds, so I hope that they can’t hear me.

After warming up for 5 minutes, I hop off the treadmill and grab a spray bottle and a cleaning towel.  I spray down the treadmill and wipe off the sweat left behind by some stranger, trying not to think about it too much.  Then, I stretch my calves against the wall.  Wow!  I didn’t know calves could be so tight, but I realize I didn’t stretch after doing many miles of steep hiking over the weekend.  I make a note mentally that getting into yoga class has to be a priority when we get back from Germany.

My trainer walks up and tells me he’s ready when I am and I follow him back into the small training room.  I don’t much like this room.  It’s tight for two people to be in and it heats up quickly, making me feel like I’m working much harder than I am.  He starts me off with 2 minutes of mountain climbers.  Mountain climbers are a deceptive exercise.  First, they are nothing like mountain climbing.  Second, they seem easy when I start, but after about a minute, I’m ready to get off the mountain!  With my arms extended and hands on the floor, I move my feet back and forth underneath me.  It’s like skipping in place while supporting your upper body with your hands.  As I slow my pace and shorten my stride, my trainer chuckles and comments that he really likes this exercise because it uses your whole body.  I would make a smart acre remark about how maybe he really likes this exercise because he’s not the one doing it, but I’m too out of breath to say anything.  Next come push-ups.

He tells me to do 30 full push-ups with a pause at the bottom.  I look at him skeptically and say, “Maybe 10.”  I’m not good at full push-ups–too many years of doing them off my knees, I guess.  I do get 10 on my toes, which is quite an accomplishment for me.  Then, I drop to my knees and do 20 more.  My trainer says encouraging things like, “Good job!  I’m proud of you!” when I’m done, but I suspect he picked up positive reinforcement from trainer school and that he’s really laughing at me.

Next I do jumping jacks with shoulder presses.  While the average person may find this to be an easy exercise, I lack the coordination to keep track of my feet and hands simultaneously.  I have a hard time keeping my shoulder press in time with my jumping jacks, and find myself nearly smashing my head between the weights when I get confused.  Fortunately, self-preservation kicks in just in time to prevent a concussion.  This time, my trainer does laugh at me.  I switch to concentrating on my arms instead of my feet and find myself jumping backwards until I almost collide with the massage table that sits against the wall.  My trainer covers his mouth with his hand, trying to hide his amusement.  I switch back to concentrating on my feet and then forget about my arms again.  All of this reminds me of when Pat got me a drum kit because I thought I wanted to learn how to play.  I had three problems in learning to play the drums:  1)  I can’t keep time, 2)  I could only get one foot or one hand going at a time, and 3) I kept missing the drum heads with my sticks.  Other than that, I was a natural.

Finishing up the shoulder press jumping jacks, my trainer has me do some exercise whose name I don’t know.  If you asked me to name it, I would call it “torture.”  This involves getting back into push-up position, but with each hand on a weight.  Then, while holding my body in a plank, I’m supposed to do a one-arm row with the weight, alternating sides without twisting.  By the time I finish, my shoulders are burning (not in a good way) and my fingers are going numb.  Sharing this with my trainer, he decides to give me a break and has me lay down on the massage table.  He takes out a foam roller and rolls it all over my sore muscles.  Now this I can do!  When he gets to my left calf, I practically jump off the table.  My right leg bends and I grunt.  He says, “Calves a little tight?” and I “ugh” back at him.  He moves to my right calf and it’s even worse.  He tells me, “If that’s too much pressure, let me know–sometimes I don’t know my own strength.”  The man resembles Michael Clarke Duncan in physique–I can only imagine what it’s like to be that strong.  Truthfully, he’s also a lot like many of Michael Clarke Duncan’s characters in that he’s sweet and soft-spoken in spite of his intimidating size.  For that reason, I trust him to roll this foam thing over my sore muscles.  When he’s done, I do feel better.  The knots in my shoulders have shrunk from walnuts to peas and my fingers have stopped tingling.  I wonder if I could just come in for a half hour of roller therapy instead of a workout?

Do Nomads Need Personal Trainers?


The Hill

I imagine trying to explain the concept of a personal trainer to a nomad. Where would I start? How would I explain that if I don’t make time for exercise, I don’t get any to someone who spends most of their day on their feet?  Then, how would I convince them that it makes perfect sense to pay someone to appoint a time and place for us to meet so s/he can tell me what to do? How crazy would it seem that I am so far removed from the physical activity of my ancestors that I have to learn how to stay fit? As crazy as it may seem to our ancestors, the reality of mainstream life is that many of us spend most of our waking hours sitting at a computer.  For me, while I manage to work walking, biking, and yoga into my routine, I have a harder time with strength training. So, I embrace my mainstream-self and sign up for a three month personal training package.

It’s a funny thing about working out. When I first worked out with a trainer, it was all about the weights. Then, circa 2002, more holistic body movements came into fashion, returning us to childhood gym classes with medicine balls, balancing balls, pulleys, and a wide assortment of other torture devices. Today, trainers seem to have shifted even more towards using your own body weight and have added bursts of cardio into each workout.

Here in Chattanooga, the trainer took me out to do hill runs between strength exercises. I’ve never actually done hill runs. Maybe because I grew up in Columbus, OH? Thankfully, it was a short hill. He prodded me to “sprint” up the hill. I was breathing too hard to explain that I was sprinting; I flashed back to playing co-rec softball and running for first base with my teammates yelling encouragements like, “Drop the piano!” And that was on a flat surface. I can run fast, actually. Even very fast for short distances. What I can’t do is accelerate from a stop. I’m a slow accelerator. This is a mystery to me. It’s like my legs are too long and my brain loses track of where they went. If I get into a rhythm for a while, something in my brain clicks and it knows where my feet are again and knows how to tell them to move faster. Of course, getting into a rhythm and running are not two things that occur in the same sentence for me very often–I would far rather get my cardio with a set of wheels taking all the abuse.

But, today, I run. The heat and gravity push against me like a wall. I keep pushing back, knowing the hill will end soon. My breath accelerates faster than my legs. I reach the top before I give out. I take a moment to breathe deeply, trying to restore my heart rate to something that simulates normal. I look at my trainer who laughs at me. I ponder briefly why I am spending money to have someone make me do things I don’t want to do. Then, I bounce awkwardly back down the hill backwards (another twist of modern training), giggling to myself as I experience a flash of the childhood silliness that goes with skipping backwards down a hill. I realize this is fun. Then I do push ups at the bottom and feel pride that I am strong enough to do them well.

Fitness is a funny thing. I’ve learned over many years of vacillating between couch-potatoeness and obsessive (if clumsy) althetic-ness that black-and-white thinking does not allow me to sustain fitness. Killing myself in the gym leads to pain and exhaustion, which leads to sitting on the couch for stretches that can reach months. Working exercise into my life sustainably has now given me a lot of years of moderate fitness. Realizing that I will never be a good athlete was a break-through moment for me. Accepting my limitations (which I am grateful are just a lack of coordination and desire) and allowing just a little regular exercise to be enough maintains my health. Ultimately, health is my goal–I accept that I will never again look like I did when I was 25 or 28 or 32 . . .

In moments (of which there were recently many) when I can do things like lift a heavy box and carry it confidently, I congratulate myself for finding this balance. There is something empowering about knowing I can do something. It opens doors to taking on tasks that would otherwise seem daunting. It allows for possibilities like hang gliding, bike tours, backpacking, and even just taking the stairs. This precarious balance between stressing myself and reducing stress creates a daily experience of can-do versus wish-I-could-do. I run that hill not because I want to but because I want to know that possibility is open to me, too.