Running just as fast as we can, now

Spoiler - we just ran a 5k!
Spoiler – we just ran a 5k!

I am not a fitness guru. I’m not even a fitness padawan. I’m a “fitness happens to other people” kind of person. I just did a search of “running” on my blog, and in the first two pages of results, there are none that actually involve… you know… running.

But I also follow the latest research. It turns out that being a great cook and having a job where you sit for a living is not a recipe for happy longevity. I’ve noticed that over time, my mass has gradually crept up. I never lost the baby weight from Grey. Or Thane. And to be completely honest, it was cold water on my face when I stepped on a scale and saw that my weight was about as high as it had been when I was in my third trimester. Taken just on it’s own, that’s bad enough. But as a trend line it just had to be stopped. At some point – perhaps not that far from now – the extra weight would start affecting my mobility (if not my health). Like most people, I find it extremely difficult to lose weight once I’ve gained it. This makes not gaining weight of critical importance.

Tragically, the “easy” ways to lose weight don’t work. Heck, the hard ways to lose weight only work very grudgingly and with great pains. But this spring, I got back to carefully watching the calories in vs calories out.

Pretty typical lunch for me - I'm extremely lucky to have access to free, super high quality healthy food at work
Pretty typical lunch for me – I’m extremely lucky to have access to free, super high quality healthy food at work

If you’ve ever done that, you know that the calories in required to reduce your mass is a desperately small amount. A 1500 or even 1800 calorie diet means that every meal is super small and there are very few snacks. And wine or beer? Fuggedaboutit. But there’s this great tradeoff you can make. If you increase your calories OUT you can take more calories IN. Want a piece of cake? Desperate for some brie and crackers? Longing for lemonade? If you go for a run, you can have eat your cake, and make your goals too.

I picked running because my friend Julie mentioned how much she’d been enjoying it. Also, it was free and immediately available. Don’t underestimate free and immediately available as important criteria for your workout plans. I have access to a gym at work. (But no time.) I used to have a local gym membership (but hated the locale – it was the sort of place that has dire warnings in the locker room regarding the dangers of steroids). I’d run a bit before I blew out my knee, and I’d done track in high school (badly). So I had decent shoes, something to wear and enough training not to hurt myself. Although it’s worth noting that my orthopedic surgeon has said I should try for lower impact sports – I’ll never aim for a marathon because I don’t have enough cartilege in my left knee to support it.

Remarkably consistent with one run a week the last few weeks
Remarkably consistent with one run a week the last few weeks

I ran for about a mile, stopping to walk. The next time, I ran for a mile and didn’t stop to walk. Then I ran longer distances. Julie recommended I use RunKeeper to track my runs, since data is motivational. (She’s right, by the way.) Then Adam started joining me on my runs (Tragically, I slow him down. Men. It’s not fair how much more easily he gets in shape than I do!). Then, we ran in our town’s super low key 5K race. (Side note, the organizers at the Boys and Girls Club of Stoneham deserve all the credit in the world for putting together such a nice, safe, and well run race!)

Maybe next time I'll be in the top half of my age group....
Maybe next time I’ll be in the top half of my age group….

Julie asked me if I get the runner’s high that’s so talked about. For months now I’ve tragically lamented that I don’t seem to get that part. But I wonder if it’s sneaking up on me. It takes a lot of willpower to 75 miles. But somehow, it appears that I’ve done just that. How remarkable!

Let's go!
Let’s go!

4000 hertz

I'm gonna get you little fishie!
I’m gonna get you little fishie!

Two months ago, I swam in the warm waters of the Caribbean. With my beloved husband, we explored the fine snorkeling and swimming along the interior of Cozumel’s coral reefs. The water was warm. The fish were colorful and plentiful. The place was peaceful. It was bliss.

I had the cheap, disposable underwater camera with me. I dove down to capture a lionfish in the dark of the coral. Perhaps it was this picture I took:

Cozumel reefs
Cozumel reefs

When I came back up, my ear felt full of water. Since I was in the middle of the ocean, I took no notice. But when I got out, later, and toweled off… it still felt full of water. Dinner passed with an earful of water. I googled how to clear my ear before bed, and laid on that side that night expecting to wake with a wet pillow and clear ear. I did not.

I googled more. Barotrauma seemed the most likely option. It clears up on it’s own after a few weeks. I slept again on my left side and resolved to see my PCP when I got back if it was no better. By the time I hit cold New England, the sense of water in my ear was gone, but the ringing and deafness remained. I saw my PCP. She shrugged. “Here’s a referral for a specialist if it doesn’t clear up in the next six to eight weeks.” Given permission to ignore it, I ignored the tinnitus and ringing as much as possible – a discordant chord always in my ear. It sounded as though I was always under water. I couldn’t hear very well through my left ear. But the internet and my own doctor agreed it would likely clear up with time.

Spoiler alert - my PCP was WRONG.
Spoiler alert – my PCP was WRONG.

As spring relented into summer, and I hear the loon calls on the shores of White Lake only over that constant hiss, I decided it was time to call the specialist. After confirming no visual structural damage, no pressure issues, no swelling… I was sent into a tiny padded bunker for a hearing test. “Raise your hand when you hear a sound, even if it’s faint.” My right hand ended up raised more than my left. My left ear test ended earlier. I was running late to a meeting when the doctor sat me down. “You have lost all your hearing in your left ear above 4000 hz. (She showed me a graph.) Blah blah blah very unlikely from snorkeling blah blah blah permanent. Blah blah blah probably not but might be a tumor so we’re sending you for an MRI.”

Well. Who knew that snorkeling was so dangerous? Or so safe that you think this hearing loss that I can trace to the moment I emerged from those sparkling waters might be correlation, not causation? The loss I had was permanent, she said. Maybe, if I’d come to her right away, they could’ve treated with steroids. With a few months distance, all she could do was make sure there was no underlying cause that might lead to more hearing loss.

I have lost all my hearing above 4000 hz in my left ear. I have trouble, now, hearing a conversation in a crowd – like an old woman. At least the discordant ringing will likely slowly slowly over great time fade and disappear, she says. Likely. Who needs 4000 hz anyway? That’s higher than a piccolo. Few sounds I want to hear are in that range. And my right ear can still hear it if I’m determined to listen to dog whistles. It chirps sometimes, like a little bird in my ear.

I decided to comply and go in for the MRI. I confess to being slightly non-plussed that they saw me within a week. I prefer to think of this as a little thing. A mild inconvenience. I went into the same MRI tube – not two blocks from my house – that diagnosed my left knee as appallingly damaged instead of sprained. Knowing they were taking pictures of my brain in that dark tube, I walked last summer’s Wonderland Trail trip in my mind’s eye as the beeps and tones of the MRI watched my brain light up.

This is your brain on the Wonderland Trail
This is your brain on the Wonderland Trail

I haven’t heard from my ear doctor yet. I suppose that complaining about how soon they got me in for the MRI I should be relieved at how long it’s taken them to call me back. But, surprisingly, it’s a wee bit stressful when someone MIGHT at any moment call and tell you that you have brain cancer. Usually that call is impossible, but right now… it could happen. (Even though it really won’t happen.) So I wait for them to tell me what I already know – I sacrificed 4000+ hz in my left ear to Neptune, leaving it as an offering among the swirling schools in the bright corals of the bright island of Cozumel.

Here are the pictures from the underwater cameras that urged me to go deeper into the water to capture the glory.

Get the Greenway Going!

Friends, I had the opportunity to attend a Town Meeting last night. This is my letter to the editor about the topic. If you don’t live in Stoneham, feel free to ignore. If you do live here, please – in addition to reading my note – contact your Selectmen to let them know you expect their enthusiastic support of the bikeway!

Fellow Residents of Stoneham,

I’m a mother to two young boys: six and nine. In just a few years, my oldest son will get to go to the great new Middle School we’ve built. In order to get there, though, he’s going to have to cross Montvale and Main Streets. Right now those crossings make me nervous. When the Bikeway becomes a reality, my kids – along with many of others in town – will have a much safer way to walk or bike to school. The bikeway will give us a safe place to teach our kids to ride, connect our community and bring biking enthusiasts to spend time and money in Stoneham!

Recently I attended a session on the future of Main Street. One of the points that was made was that Stoneham needs to attract young families to stay vibrant. Our population is aging. To support them at the level they deserve, we need to promote growth and vibrancy in this town. Our Main Street lacks the foot traffic it needs to attract new companies like Starbucks, and to support local businesses like Angelo’s or Cleveland Fence. In an amazing coincidence, Stoneham has a nearly finished plan for a Greenway (multi-use trail and park) with $5.5 million dollars of outside funding to make more foot traffic happen. Construction could begin as early as next year. By the time my 3rd grader is headed to Middle School, he could take the Greenway!

At the Town Meeting last night, there was a lot of impassioned discussion, and the Board of Selectmen was not authorized to begin negotiations on the temporary construction space needed build the Greenway. (Funny note: John DePinto and Robert Sweeney both voted against giving themselves the authority to help move the Greenway forward!) I worry that MassDOT, who’s giving us the $5.5 million, may think Stoneham doesn’t want or support the investment in public space and resources. They might pass us over in favor of another town that speaks with a more unanimous voice about wanting that investment. The no voters on article 10 last night said they needed more time and more clarity, but we don’t have an infinite amount of time to make this happen before we might need to look at funding this ourselves. Delaying the support of this project could risk our funding.

Not a single person at the meeting last night said they DON’T want the Greenway for Stoneham, but I’m afraid that might be the unintended outcome of delay. So I’m asking all of you: local businesses, Selectmen, football parents, voters, leaders and visionaries in Stoneham. Ask your questions. Get your answers. Find your clarity. Do it fast, and once you understand, throw your whole-hearted, active and vocal support behind this phenomenal opportunity to make Stoneham an amazing place to live.

Brenda Flynn

Peace or…UTTER DESTRUCTION…it’s up to you.

Peace or…UTTER DESTRUCTION…it’s up to you.
— Kirk in ‘A Taste Of Armageddon’

Beware pickpockets, loose women and TIBERIUS

Yesterday morning, I took Tiberius to the vet because he wasn’t eating well and seemed a little lethargic. I was expecting maybe a fluid injection, an appetite improver, or a statement that I was crazy and he was fine. In my mental worst case scenario, his preference for eating weird stuff had gotten something stuck in his digestive tract and he’d need surgery.

Instead I discovered that he lost THREE POUNDS (on a cat!) since I brought him in a month ago. He was down 6 pounds since his original owner surrendered him. (no cat And he was jaundiced. He has heptatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease). This is often fatal. The good news is that he was still strong and responsive. He actually looked pretty fine, so I was rather gobsmacked. After some extensive testing, we signed him up to have a feeding tube installed, and several weeks of helping him eat. The surgery to install it was last night, and seems to have gone ok. They’re doing blood work and getting his electrolytes in balance. I’m hoping we can bring him home tonight, or maybe tomorrow.

Then it’s tube feeding, four times a day, for weeks.

It’s hard to figure out the right way to care for an animal. This will end up costing around $4000 – if this is it. I don’t believe – for people or animals – that the right answer is to throw everything at the problem at all cost. I care a lot about quality of life, prognosis and all those other things. But Tiberius is youngish, still strong, and may make a complete recovery. I feel very lucky that I can pay for his care without worrying about groceries or mortgage payments this month. But it certainly still stings. It’s not just the cost, either. About an hour and 20 minutes every day for the next month will be spent helping my cat eat. That is a significant sacrifice.

With the hard decisions made and my sweet Milkstache in recovery, now we just cross our fingers (or paws) and hope. Please keep your fingers (or paws) crossed too!


The boys lined up to learn

Adam has volunteered to get tossed around the mat for as long as I’ve known him. Back in college, he used to be part of an aikido group. I remember watching them on the basement floor of Smith/Burdick – the upwelling lights revealing crazy people in white tunics throwing each other dangerously on the floor.

He took a brief hiatus after graduation, but about five years ago he found a new dojo not unreasonably far from us. Since that day, he has gone to aikido between one and four times a week (it depends on the week).

The art is fantastic for Adam. He’s in really, really great shape. (If I could do the things he can do, I’d be showing off. Constantly. He can do pushups from a handstand.) It’s also excellent mental rest for him – it allows him to meditate and be physical and not intellectual for a while. I think it calms and relaxes him, and helps him reduce stress.

Monday, sensei gave him the big news that he had passed his first kyu test. He’d worked his way from nothing, to fifth kyu and on up – each taking a year or more. For the last three or so belt tests, he’s been warned that maybe he wouldn’t get to test for the next one (since he only averages two sessions a week), but each time he’s studied books and videos, mumbled to himself while making striking motions in the hall, and proven himself on the mat.

Tiny Grey starts aikido

Over the last few years, he’s gradually become the senior student in the dojo, and assumed greater and greater responsibilities for teaching. There is a children’s session at the dojo too, and as our sons turned four they also donned white little gis and learned how to roll, and do the forms and techniques. Grey is now a green stripe. Thane still has to earn his first belt. But it has become a family thing, and an assumption about our time and energies. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, there is aikido unless there is a pressing reason that there cannot be aikido.

Until now. Sensei has a little one on the way, and a job. The martial arts are a rather consuming passion that don’t mix well with, oh, a full time job and children. And so, with sadness, the dojo (a labor of great love) is closing.
It’s funny, but even though I never took a single ukemi, even I feel at loss. What now? How will Adam be happy if he never gets to test for his black belt, or months go by with not a single person throwing him over their head? Is there an activity I should do with the kids instead, to make sure they’re developing the appreciation of exercise, grace, coordination and workout? What does life look like when Monday, Wednesday and Saturday are back on the table? Can we find another dojo for Adam, and if not… what takes its place in our lives?

For many years, this has been a wonderful thing in our lives. I’m grateful to sensei for the hard work, love and dedication he’s poured into it. A tiny part of me is excited about a summer “off”. But I also hope that what comes next is as wonderful and fulfilling as this has been for my family.

I was trying to look up when Adam started doing aikido, and I found this post from June 2008 that seems to be the starting point! I had completely and utterly forgotten!

So, to put it clearly, my husband was laid off today.*

This wasn’t entirely unexpected and it won’t be devastating. I’m pretty confident with his skill set, he’ll find a new job quickly. But it also makes for a less-than-fun Thursday. Anyway, he has a $300 wellness benefit from his current employer which, if he does not spend it in the next 2 weeks, he will lose. He had been talking about doing aikido for a while now. He did it in college and loved it, but in our grownup life we didn’t have time for both gaming and aikido, and gaming has won. With the dissolution of his standing Wednesday night game, he’s thinking about doing aikido instead on Wednesdays and (while working) maybe sneaking it in another night of the week. While unemployed, he could participate daily if he chose. And the $300 wellness benefit will pay for nearly 6 months of it.

I think that’s such a smart and productive way to deal with the layoff. I know that working out will make him feel much better and much sharper. I know that aikido in particular really helps keep him inside his skin. And since he’s got that benefit, it’s even fiscally responsible.

*He had a new job before he even had his last day at the old job, if memory serves.

Seven weeks of constraint

Just over seven weeks ago, I wrote about how I was going to try this crazy diet, and work out for Lent. You know, to see how it went.

I tried the Four Hour Body diet, in combination with actually going to the gym multiple times. I was actually very compliant with the terms of the diet. I didn’t cheat. Visions of losing like 2, maybe 3 pounds a week floated through my head! For weeks not so much as a stick of artificially flavored gum passed my lips. (It probably would have helped if I’d actually read the book FIRST, instead of relying on blog posts and my husband’s interpretation, as I was actually more rigorous than required.) Annnnnnd. Nada. My weight stayed stubbornly right where it was, which is really frustrating after three weeks of egg & bean breakfasts.

So I took another look. And I decided that the key was that a high protein diet helped you restrict calories. In thinking I could eat as many calories as I desired as long as they were proteinaceous, I was mistaken. Instead, in order to assist in living with a 1500 or 1600 calorie diet without perishing of hunger, I needed to eat a lot of protein. I’d gotten my cause and effect mixed up. I found that at the end of the day, a 50/50 split between carbs grams and protein grams was effective, if the total calories were roughly 1500. That doesn’t allow you to eat much bread, or dairy, and stay full. But you can eat that few calories and not feel hungry if those calories are eggs, beans, lean meats and vegetables.

When I made that change, the diet DID start working. Last time I weighed in, I had lost 8 pounds – or about a third of my desired weight loss. YAY! I’m not sure it really shows (my wardrobe is not designed to reveal small fluctuations in weight) but it was progress!

Mmmm poutine

I had also burned through my available stock of willpower. I am not (NOT!) dieting on my vacation in Montreal, although I hope I’m not being so horrendous that I’ll have gained much back. Then again, I did have poutine for lunch, so… yeah. And I’m planning on caribou steaks for dinner! When in Canada, eh?

Yes, kind sir, she sits and spins

I find myself at an odd confluence of events today. I hope that you know me well enough by now to know that although I pay attention to my body and appearance, I’m far from obsessesed with the Western standard of beauty for women. It helps to have realized it is unobtainable for me.

However, I am starting to think that the pregnancy weight I put on with Thane will not actually come off by itself. Call it a hunch. I would like my maintenance weight to be the weight I was before I started procreating lo eight years ago. This is a matter of 25 pounds. I believe this is achievable, having worked my way back to it before between the boys. So when my husband asked if I would join him in this diet he’s done a ton of research on, and which he has found efficacious before, I figured this was a good time to attempt the challenge again.

The diet is a called the Slow Carb Diet and is more or less a geek’s attempt to optimize weight loss. In some studies, it’s been shown to be more effective than other forms of diet. My husband did a ton of research on it. The basic concepts are this:

1) Eat all low glycemic index foods: lean meats, vegetables and legumes
2) Eat no high glycmeic foods: any form of carb, fruit, diary, sugar, sweetener. Any food that “comes in white” is right out. (With exceptions).
3) Take one cheat day in seven and eat all the carbs you want (to prevent other cheating, and to prevent your body from going into starvation mode)

In practice this means that breakfast is eggs and beans (breakfast is the hard part). Thank HEAVENS I drink my coffee black! Lunch is dinner leftovers. Dinner is a compliant meal like split pea soup, cassoulet, black bean casserole, morrocan chicken, lentil soup…

Snacks have been the hard part. I’ve probably had more nuts than I should. Hard boiled eggs are great for this. Veggies with hummus become the culinary highlight of your day. My husband says the hardest part is that you get absolutely not taste of anything sweet with this diet. It’s true. Even artificial sweeteners are out. He says the flip side is that you “reset” your perception of sweet, so that a glass of milk or an apple seems deliciously sweet.

I’m on day three, and so far I’ve been compliant. We’ll see how it goes. I figure that an attempt is better than no attempt, and that the possibility of success is motivating. My weight is pretty stable, so once I’ve lost the weight, i believe I will be able to keep it off using more normal dietary constraints.

If you’re curious, here is some other information on the diet:

A few weeks ago, I had finally decided that my knee was far enough from right — nearly 18 months after massive knee surgery — I was not content with the condition of my knee. I can’t cross it. I can’t kneel. It hurts with the weather. And most importantly, the differences in strength between repaired left knee and normal right knee are more than obvious enough to be seen in my legs. They’re still working differently, and my body is pulled off center. Like weight loss, I’ve concluded this won’t fix itself. So I went to my orthopedic surgeon – expecting a PT prescription.

Instead, he gave me a prescription for spinning class. Greaaaat. Now, I believe that when you ask for medical help and advice you should consider it, and assuming it passes the sniff test, you should implement it. I suppose I shouldn’t have needed an orthopedic surgeon to tell me that I needed exercise for my knee, but apparently I did. Having gotten that advice, I treat it as sacred as a PT prescription, and decided that logistic impossibilities aside, I needed to comply.

In truth, I am really feeling the need for exercise. I don’t feel strong, or flexible, or powerful. I feel weak and fragile. My two mile a day walking simply isn’t enough, or the right kind of exercise. Of course, the flip side is that I truly do not know where I can find two hours a week to go to the gym. I will simply have to be opportunistic about it. But that is no excuse for not trying.

So I have signed up for a froo froo gym with a gazillion classes* and exercise equipments and the kind of strutting gym rats that have provided disincentives for unathletic, pudgy geeks like me since the gym was invented. Fortunately, I’m no longer 22 and do not care for their disregard.

So here I am, in February, with mounds of snow on the ground, on a wacko diet that means I can’t have Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast and the kind of gym membership that everyone has and no one uses.

I’ll let you know how it works out!

*Critically, it has about 16 spinning classes a week and child care and is less than 5 miles from my house.