Category Archives: Health

Swimming Journeys

I have lived in California for almost 2-and-a-half years. One might think that I now spend my days on the sunny beach, swimming in the ocean, or at least in a pool. Alas, no.

When we first got here, while waiting for our furniture to arrive and our bathroom remodel to finish, we lived in a furnished corporate apartment complex with the portentous name of Domus on the Boulevard. An outdoor pool was part of the complex, and I swam there somewhat regularly and even blogged about it: My Kind of Exercise. Not for me, the usual middle-aged “I’ve lost my youthful athleticism” lament. You can’t lose what you never had. Instead in that blog I attempt to come to terms with my swimming history.

The pool at night at "Domus on the Boulevard"
The pool at night at Domus on the Boulevard

Two years later, I am still exactly there: ambivalent about my history as a not-particularly-athletic ex-swimmer who prefers the breaststroke.

But then I got the email:  “Thank you for your interest in the Y and for downloading a 3-day free trial pass from our website. Join in January and save 50% off the Joining Fee!”

Wait, did I download a 3-day free trial pass? Yeah, I guess I did, a whole year and a half ago. So they still remember that? What are they over there at the El Camino YMCA, some sort of tech wizards? You’d think this was Silicon Valley or something . . .

It becomes a huge production for me to actually use this trial pass, which is probably why I haven’t done it until now. When I invite him along, my son says “scout it out and tell me if it’s crowded” before turning back to his computer. The pass file is still on my computer, in a folder cleverly marked YMCA, along with a pool schedule from October 2016. Fortunately I replaced all the empty printer ink cartridges for the holiday letter, so I can print out the pass. A few years ago I thought I could combat boredom by listening to music while I swim, so I got a waterproof iPhone case for Christmas. This plan struck me then–and now–as very exciting: I am going to listen to orchestra music while swimming! I am going to emulate my heroine, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, who reports in Lifehacker: “I practically live with headphones glued to my ears—when I work, when I bike (don’t tell my mom), when I work out.”

I locate that case, never actually exposed to water, in a bottom drawer under my goggles, suit, and one of my daughter’s old swim caps. I briefly consider that I should try it out with my ancient iPod touch first, in case the case leaks. But the iPod doesn’t have any interesting music on it, and its touch screen is almost non-functional, so I’m back to the phone. It fits in the case but it takes me a while to figure out how to plug it in. And then there’s getting the current orchestra music onto the phone. Download, copy into itunes, plug phone into computer. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yet when I drive to the Y, I still manage to leave my phone at home and have to drive back for it.

By the time I traverse the cold, cold concrete path in my bare feet (forgot flip-flops) from the women’s locker room (forgot a combination lock) to the pool, the sun is low in the sky. Attention Lap Swimmers! a sign along the path admonishes me. Do not enter a lane without telling the other occupants of that lane.

There are only 1-2 people per lane, and they don’t appear to be swimming super-fast. In fact, here is a lane where one middle-aged guy is doggedly swimming the breaststroke. I sit on the side and dangle my feet in the nice warm water while I wait for him to come back so I can tell him I am “entering his lane.” He doesn’t mind sharing. I find out a number of things about him, including that he used to manage a pool himself, that he has been in California about the same length of time that I have, and that this pool is better than the one at the YMCA he first joined. He is amused by the contraption around my neck, but wishes me good luck with it. I let him get a good head start and then I’m off.

Yes, you can take a picture with your iphone while it is in a waterproof case
Yes, you can take a picture with your iPhone while it is in a waterproof case

My first several laps are a tangle of leaking goggles and the phone case knocking around. First I can barely hear the music, then it’s too loud. One minute I’m listening to Journeys by Linda Robbins Coleman, and then it jumps to Scheherazade. Then my earbuds fall out again. Finally I figure out that it works best to put the phone case in the front of my suit, the equivalent of sticking it in my bra. It probably looks weird, but there isn’t much drag and it stays put, which also keeps the ear buds in place. My goggles are too tight and give me raccoon eyes so I’m going to look for new ones, but for now at least they don’t leak.

MeSwimmingAs the sun goes down and the pool lights come on, I start to find a rhythm. The laps run together, but I keep swimming: mostly breaststroke and a few lengths of front crawl, sidestroke, or backstroke in there just for fun. The music, which is all modern and unfamiliar to me this early in the rehearsal cycle, fits the watery chaos. I feel alone in the universe, suspended in time and space. A couple of the pieces have astronomical themes: one is called Transit of Venus, another Saint-Exupery: of Heart, Sand, and Stars. The last one is called Journeys, and I’m finally on one.

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Choose Love for #WATWB

I’ve been traveling for the past few weeks, and just got back yesterday. In a quirk of the International Dateline, our plane landed before it took off, making July 2, 2017 possibly the longest day I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Now that the post-trip laundry is mostly finished I’m posting, belatedly, for the We Are the World Blogfest (#WATWB).It is supposed to take place on the last Friday of every month. This event seeks to promote positive news, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. This month’s wonderful co-hosts are:  Lynn HallbrooksMichelle WallaceSylvia SteinSylvia McGrath, and Belinda Witzenhausen.

We are the World Logo

The story I chose for this month is the following: Mom of Sandy Hook victim says she forgives shooter, wants others to choose love by Allison Slater Tate in Today‘s parenting section.

Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse died in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement in 2016 in his honor. It is a program for schools that aims to change the classroom climate and make it a more caring and nurturing one, giving kids the tools and emotional resilience to “be grateful when life isn’t easy, to forgive when the person who hurt you is not sorry, and to step outside your own pain to help someone else.”

I would find forgiveness difficult if not impossible in Ms. Lewis’ situation. I wish such programs had been more available when I was in school.

Trophy

It’s that time of year again, for graduations and award ceremonies. These are generally happy occasions, but I personally find the experience a bit mixed. You see, I am not an award winner, not the one up on stage giving a speech. I am introverted, and, truth be told, not that accomplished.

More than that, though, I can’t go to an awards ceremony without hearing about the awardee’s positive attitude, the smile on the face, the spring in the step, the can-do spirit. The awardee is invariably “more” than their grades, or their work achievements, or their sports skills, and that something extra is what “really” earned them the award. It is not, we are told, the specific accomplishment that award has engraved on it or sculpted into it—not even they are handed a tiny golden man with an even tinier ball stuck to his foot.

This is all well and good–I mean, I wouldn’t want to go back to the bad old days when the only award given out went to the worst insufferable know-it-all in the class. I like that there are more awardees these days, recognizing a diversity of contributors and achievements.

But I still can’t help wondering about the other kids, the other non-award-winners. The ones who, despite a modicum of achievement, can’t summon a positive attitude; the ones whose support systems are fraying, whose grip on mental or physical health may be precarious, or who just aren’t that into it, but who still put in the effort, come to school every day, and do the work. It’s damn hard to excel at something you dislike. But these kids do it.

I think most well-meaning adults would argue that attitude is a “choice” and if you’re not feeling it, you should just fake it until you make it. After all, it’s true that you don’t have to feel like doing something in order to get it done. And from an adult’s point of view, it’s certainly a lot easier to like and bestow favors upon a smiling kid than one who is angry, frustrated or withdrawn.

But faking it emotionally comes at a cost. Student stress, anxiety, and depression have reached alarming levels, even among those who appear to be comfortable, safe, and financially solvent. Students talk about the burden of “effortless perfection” that they feel is expected of them, especially at so-called top schools.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma. Students make these expectations of each other, and of themselves too. But I think that adults contribute to the problem when we make recognition all about the smile. I’d like to see, maybe just once during a 90-minute ceremony, a kid getting an award for completing something difficult and unpleasant, for dragging themselves out of bed and facing the inner demons for the 90th time that year, and not having fun doing it.

Trophy

Negative

I’ve been getting over jet lag since getting back to California from my European trip, and finding that 9 hours is pretty difficult to overcome. It’s harder than the 6 hour time difference that used to characterize my trips to Europe when I lived in the Boston area. There is also much less difference between going East and going West when I’ve got 9 or 10 hours to change. Now it is approaching the point where everything is just flipped, turned inside-out; day is night and night is day, and the most I can do to cope is to get some sun and exercise during the day, and wait it out.

Continue reading Negative

Yoga by the Lake

When I do yoga, it usually means that something is going on. Historically I associate yoga with transitions and with moves to new places. I went to a yoga class when I visited a lab in Michigan for a brief sabbatical during my postdoc. I also did it after breaking up with a long-term boyfriend and moving into my own apartment. I had a yoga VHS tape I used to do in the basement of my old house. And, I tend to do it on vacation, if there’s a class offered at the hotel where I’m staying or on the cruise ship. I’ve even done yoga in church: Sun Salutations as part of an RE class about Buddhism that barely scratched the surface, of either yoga or Buddhism.

Continue reading Yoga by the Lake

Nerve Growth Factors: A primer

In honor of Brain Awareness Week, I am writing about a topic I studied during my PhD in Neuroscience: growth factors, specifically nerve growth factors, also called “neurotrophins.” These are small proteins that help neurons to survive and make connections with each other. They do so by being made in one cell and binding to a protein called a receptor on the surface of another cell. Once the neurotrophin binds to its receptor, biochemical signals are activated inside the receiving cell that enable it to survive and grow. Continue reading Nerve Growth Factors: A primer

UU Lent, Day 5: Love

We adopted a cat today. Or rather, we put down a deposit on adopting a cat tomorrow, from the Humane Society of Silicon Valley. Her name is Sadie, and she is 4 years old, part Siamese, very soft, and a little chubby. Her blue eyes are a little crossed. She is a sweet, mellow cat. Not one that is going to jump on you or lick your face. Continue reading UU Lent, Day 5: Love

Fitbit Fit

Several Christmases ago I bought myself a pedometer, a Geopalz “Global Footprint,” toglobalfootprint
keep up with my kids, who got other Geopalz as gifts.

Four years later and I’m the only one who still cares. That Global Footprint has been lost and found too many times to count: in my Belmont backyard after mowing the lawn, in a store dressing room, in the garage, in my classroom at work in Newton, in the weight room on a cruise ship, and on the way back from a waterfall in Hawaii. (In that case, it was my son who fished it out of the water.) It survived a spin in the washing machine after not being removed from my pants pocket. My teenage daughter’s iPhone-in-the-toilet story may top all of these, but just barely.

geopalzAfter its final farewell, somewhere unknown at the school in Massachusetts where I taught (and where I was trying to see if I could increase the amount I walked around the classroom while I was lecturing), I got fed up.

Continue reading Fitbit Fit