An Advisory Thought Experiment

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I occasionally come up with thought experiments to keep myself entertained during my long, boring commute to and from work. It’s either that or fall asleep at the wheel (very, very bad) or resort to road rage while witnessing the stupidity all around me (even worse). So here is a thought experiment that I came up with recently:

If all humanity, with its current knowledge, were about to disappear, and you could only leave one sentence behind to help the next humans get started, what would it be?

Would you say “Wear a mask and wash your hands if you want to stay alive”? Because, let’s face it, if anything is going to wipe us out, it’s going to be that.

Would it be developmental advice, such as how to start a fire or build a wheel?

Perhaps it should be something related to the environment, such as the fact that fossil fuels and plastics do much more harm than good.

Or maybe it should be something along the lines of Make Love Not War.

But frankly, if we’ve finally managed to wipe ourselves out completely, then we have a lot of nerve trying to give any advice at all. That and, humans being what they are, they’re probably not going to listen to it anyway.

So my advice would be, “You’ll figure it out.” Because they would. And maybe they’d do a better job of it than we have. Here’s hoping.

But of course, the one basic flaw in this exercise is that the people would have to somehow know how to speak and read English from the very start. So yeah, maybe I should just focus on my driving.

Advice

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The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had Exercising

True confession: I hate to exercise. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. I’d sooner remove my kidney with a rusty grapefruit spoon, without benefit of anesthesia, than exercise.

I have never jogged a day in my life. Oh, I used to zoom around as a child, but I considered it to be play, not some form of physical torture in an attempt to avoid the inevitable waltz with the grim reaper. I liked to ride a bike as a child as well. It is the closest thing a minor has to a feeling of freedom. Now it’s a sweaty, uphill slog, all while desperately trying to avoid being hit by a car. Bleh.

But I would like to stick around a while longer. And I’d like to do so with a reasonable amount of quality of life. So, with dread in my heart, I recently joined the local YMCA.

And an amazing thing happened. I learned that exercise doesn’t have to be tedious or torturous. It doesn’t even have to be sweaty!

I discovered the pure joy of aqua aerobics. I do like swimming. And they play great music. And I’m in the pool with a lot of people who are, so to speak, in the same boat as I am. It’s actually fun.

It’s also a workout. You don’t really think about how much resistance water provides. And you can do a lot of exercise without putting any strain on your joints. This appeals to me greatly, as does not coming away all stinky and sticky and overheated.

In fact, I usually leave the Y feeling fantastic. Maybe there’s more to this exercise stuff than I realized. For the first time in my life, I’m willing to find out. (Once the Y opens again.)

aqua aerobics

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Self-Care in the Coming Year

I absolutely hate New Year’s Resolutions. Most of them fall by the wayside within weeks, and cause us to start off the new year with a sense of failure. Who needs that?

So this year I’m going to try something new. Instead of setting myself on the path of success or failure, I’m merely going to give the year a theme.

This year’s theme, for me, is self-care.

I hereby set the intention to continue to exercise regularly at my YWCA, because I feel better when I do. I also plan to take my need for a decent amount of sleep much more seriously. I want to drink more water, read more books, and take more naps. I also want to be kinder to myself, and listen more closely to what my inner voice is trying to tell me.

I want to continue to practice being the responsible adult in my own life, while allowing my inner child to come out to play more often. I want to stick up for myself more, and also speak up when I need help or support. I want to place myself first for a change, so that I can be the best me that I can be when I show up in the lives of others.

I want to make responsible food choices, try new things, and remember to breathe. I want to take the opportunity to tell people that I love them even more than I currently do. I want to ask more questions.

If I focus on this year’s theme without holding myself to a rigid set of rules, I think that it will yield amazing results, if only because of the positive energy it will produce within me. Wish me luck! (See what I did there? Asking for help already! Woo hoo!)

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Why Does Food Taste Better Al Fresco?

I just got back from a fantastic trip to Southeastern Utah, in which I shared my sister and brother-in-law’s motor home, and we did quite a bit of outdoor dining. It reminded me of something that has been reinforced again and again and again during my travels: food always tastes better when it’s eaten outside. Why is that?

(This is by no means a scientific essay. If you’re looking for something that’s peer reviewed, you may want to look elsewhere. But as usual, I do have my opinions.)

I suspect that one’s attitude greatly enhances one’s taste buds. Generally, when I’m eating outdoors, I’m surrounded by people that I love, and the scenery is usually spectacular. (You don’t often hear of people picnicking in the town dump, do you?)

Also, when vacationing or just having a picnic lunch in the park across the street, there’s an opportunity to set stress aside. That has to enhance one’s appetite. I know that when I’ve been forced to eat in highly-charged situations, I’ve often felt sick to my stomach. So it stands to reason that the opposite would be true in times of relaxation.

And then there’s the effort factor. If you’re eating outside, chances are that you’ve gotten a little more exercise in than usual. In other words, you’ve “worked up an appetite.” (Well done, you!)

And cooking over a campfire or a grill tends to take a little more planning. It’s not like you’re popping a TV dinner into a microwave. So by dint of the extra preparation, you have really earned this meal. Even with the simplest of foods, that feeling of satisfaction is a good psychological sauce, indeed.

I’ve also noticed that food seems to taste better even in outdoor cafés. While traveling in Croatia, for example, more often than not we supped at tables located in quaint little alleyways filled with potted plants. I think I gained 10 pounds on that trip. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

steak on the barby

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Baby Steps

“If you don’t start exercising and lower your cholesterol, you’re going to have a heart attack or a stroke.” This, from my doctor. My heart sank.

We’re talking major lifestyle change, here. You see, I used to have this amazing body. I mean, a killer, slammin’, take-no-prisoners type of body. Until I was 28 years old, if I had an issue with my weight, I’d simply make a mental note to lay off the cookies, and the pounds would melt away. Exercise? I didn’t need no stinkin’ exercise!

And then I stopped producing the human growth hormone, as one does, and began living with a tall guy and had the mistaken idea that I should keep up with him when we sat down to eat. I expanded overnight. That, of course, plunged me into a deep, dark depression. And I comforted myself with food.

I try not to look into mirrors. I don’t recognize myself when I do. Yes, something definitely has to change.

So about 9 months ago, I started making small alterations to my diet. And, lo and behold, I found I felt better. And as these small changes became habits, I’d add more dietary changes. Now I’m proud to say I’m vegetarian 4 days a week, and a lot healthier than I used to be on the other three. I’ve lost some weight. I still have a long way to go.

So when I went in for my follow up cholesterol test, I was really looking forward to the results. I was really proud that I’ve been eating so much healthier.

Imagine my horror when I discovered my cholesterol levels where even higher. This resulted in a stern lecture from my doctor.

Okay, okay, okay. I need to start exercising. It can’t be avoided. But how does one become an exercise person, for the first time ever, at age 52? At this point it feels like the couch cushions have been fused to my behind.

I’m certainly not going to become a jogger. The only time in my life I’ve ever run was when I was late for an airplane. That’s the level of motivation I require.

If the terrain around here weren’t so hilly, and there weren’t so many ghost bikes around to remind me of the many fatalities in this town, I might get a bike. But no. And long walks, all alone, are just too depressing to contemplate.

There is a public pool near me. I’ve never been there. I like swimming. But when I get home from work, I’m not very motivated to leave again. And when the weather is cold, the prospect of getting wet leaves me… well… cold. And let’s face it: there’s no job on earth that’s more sedentary than being a bridgetender.

Excuses, excuses.

So what to do? I’m a firm believer in baby steps. That’s how I changed my diet. Maybe I can apply that to exercise. I know myself well enough to realize that some radical, all-encompassing lifestyle change is not going to stick. But I can sneak changes up on myself, bit by bit.

So you’ve heard it here first. Today I brought some hand weights to work, and I plan to use them 15 minutes a day for starters. I’m trying to frame it as a gift that I’m giving to myself rather than a chore that must be done. Wish me luck.

weights

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My Body Lets Me Have It

Consider this to be a thought experiment. If your body were a separate, sentient being, and you were simply a parasite who rode around inside of it and dictated what it did, what would your body want to say to you? I’m fairly certain mine would be rather furious.

So, what follows is my attempt to voice my body’s opinions.

“Oh, HELL no! This has got to stop. My whole life, I’ve done every single thing you’ve asked of me.

“I have run, walked, jumped, and even danced to your tune. I’ve toted that barge and lifted that freakin’ bale. I’ve even climbed up the side of a volcano for you, for cryin’ out loud! I have fought off infections, suffered broken bones, survived illness and surgeries, and subjected myself to untold numbers of indignities, all for you. For you!

“And what have I gotten in return? Abuse. Pure and simple.

“You’ve pierced me, poked me, and put me in precarious shoes. You’ve sunburned me, dehydrated me, and exposed me to toxic substances. You’ve closed my fingers in doors. You’ve crashed me into things. You’ve dressed me funny. You do stuff you know is going to make me feel worse.

 “You fill me with junk food. I don’t need it or want it, and still, in it goes! It’s like there’s this crappy food conveyor belt and you keep it piled high. Are you trying to turn my liver into foie gras?

“And do you exercise? Do you even take me for a freakin’ walk? Nooooooo… Not you. You’d rather sleep or binge-watch Star Trek. (Although I must admit, you give me plenty of rest, and then some.)

 “And where’s the appreciation after all I’ve done for you? You don’t love me. You don’t even like me. You do nothing but criticize me. You have spent half your life being ashamed of me, and picking me apart for not meeting your standards. That’s the thanks I get.

“You are a kind person. I’ve seen you be kind to others every single day. It’s time you appreciated me for all I’ve done for you, Buddy-roo. It’s time for this relationship to become a two-way street. You’d be lost without me. Where’s the freakin’ love?

body

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The Anatomy of a Great Day

Have you ever had one of those days when everything seems to be wonderful? I had one about a week ago. (Thank you. More please.) So I decided to sort of dissect the day to see what I could do to increase its frequency.

I got up at 5 am, and was well rested for a change. I went to work and it was a pleasant day with no surprises or unexpected catastrophes. I even crossed paths with a coworker that I haven’t seen in about a year (different schedules, different bridges), and had a really pleasant conversation with him.

I got off work at 3 pm, and, having finally discovered a farmer’s market that’s actually open during my off hours, I went there. I reveled in the fresh fruit and vegetables, walking through the market several times before deciding which of the embarrassment of nutritional riches I would settle upon. I got a few huge heirloom tomatoes, still warm from the vine, and some red leaf lettuce. I looked at the artisan pizza with longing, but decided to save that for another day. Instead I treated myself to a locally made chunky peach popsicle.

I drove through a beautiful neighborhood I’d never explored, and fantasized about living there. Then I came home, fed the dogs, and made a salad with my newfound treasures, adding some carrots, mozzarella cheese, walnuts, nutritional yeast and ranch dressing that I already had on hand. It was the best salad I’d ever eaten, probably because of its freshness, local origins, and the fact that I was sitting in the sun in my back yard, watching my dogs play and hearing the birds sing. I also knew I was being kind to my body by eating something healthy that was also delicious.

After that I read a book while taking a long bath in lavender Epsom salts. My dogs kept stopping in and saying hello. I asked if they’d care to join me, but they politely declined.

Then I settled in to bed at a frightfully early hour: 5:30pm. Normally I wouldn’t think of turning in that early, but I had plans. As I drifted off, I was enjoying the concept that I can go to bed pretty much whenever I want to. I answer to no one. What unbelievable freedom!

I set the alarm for 11:45 pm, and got up and made myself a bowl of popcorn. I then repaired to the back yard once again, to enjoy nature’s light show in the form of the Perseids meteor shower. I ate my popcorn and thought about our vast universe, and how it makes me realize that any problems I may have seem to pale to insignificance in that context.

The night was pleasant and I love the fact that there seems to be not a single bug in Seattle that disturbs me in the slightest. I went back to bed around 1:30 am, and spooned with my dogs until it was time to get up for work.

So what made this day so great? So many things. I indulged myself. I pampered myself. There was no stress. I got exercise for my body as well as my mind. I felt the sunshine on my face, and I ate and rested well. I had pleasant encounters. I hugged my dogs. I appreciated nature. I relaxed. I broke my routine. And most of all, I maintained an attitude of gratitude every step of the way.

I think staying in the moment and acknowledging life’s gifts as they present themselves to you, as well as treating yourself with kindness, is the recipe for a happy life.

meteor

The Drawbridge Diet

If you work on a bridge, by all rights you should be as skinny as a rail. Once you’re on the job, it’s not like you can run down the street on a whim for doughnuts. As a matter of fact, if you abandon a drawbridge, I’ve been told, the Coast Guard can fine you $10,000 dollars and/or give you 10 years in jail. Impeding the transit of vessels, especially commercial ones, is a HUGE no no. I’ve never heard of them actually ever imposing those penalties, but that possibility was frequently drummed into our heads in Florida. No one ever says anything about this in Seattle, even though we are bound by the same Coastguard Federal Regulations, but the bottom line is, it’s very, very bad to leave a bridge untended.

So if you forget your lunch, you’re pretty well screwed. I’ve done that before. It has taught me to leave a power bar or two in my locker for emergencies, because 8 hours without sustenance is a long, miserable time. It’s even worse when you forget to bring something to drink, because while every bridge I’ve been on has running water that is supposedly potable, I wouldn’t stake my life on it. No, I bring my own.

One time during a typically hot Florida summer, on a bridge where the water was slightly brown and stank of rotten eggs, I forgot my thermos, and I called my boyfriend and asked him to please, please, please swing by and drop off a jug of orange juice or something, anything, because I had about a half inch of Dasani water left and that was it. He said he would. Nothing makes you feel more thirsty than not having access to water. So I waited, and waited, and waited. No boyfriend. I called him again.

“Oh, you meant bring it to you at work! Oh… well, now I’m on the other side of town and I’m about to go to bed, so… sorry. It’s in the fridge.”

Un-freaking-believable. I mean, who does that? I could never do that. I rationed that half inch of water and cursed my existence (and his) all shift long.

But knowing how impossible it is to indulge cravings on a bridge, it often surprises me that most of us are overweight. Yes, it’s a pretty sedentary job, but is it really that hard to leave the snickerdoodles at home?  If you’re trapped for 8 hours someplace and all you bring is healthy food, you should be able to control your diet better than the average drudge who actually gets a lunch hour and has access to snack machines and Starbucks.

I really can’t blame the job. I actually do eat very healthy food when I’m there. But then I come home to an empty house and don’t exercise and I eat my frustration and lonliness. So no, I’m not a size three. I’m a bridgetender.

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Mind, Body, Spirit

Human beings are complex organisms. That’s a given. And in our fast-paced modern world, it’s easy to neglect oneself. If “you” are just one more thing to add to a mile-long to-do list, it’s understandable if you don’t quite get to that particular item every day.

But putting yourself on the back burner is something you do at your own peril. If you don’t take care of yourself, all the other things you want to do will quickly become impossible. There’s nothing more frustrating than discovering that you’ve brought calamity upon yourself through your own habit of basic neglect.

At the beginning of your day, ask yourself what you plan to do for your mind, body, and spirit. And at the end of the day, evaluate how well you did in reaching these goals. At first it may feel strange, but it will quickly become a habit.

Your mind needs feeding just like your body does. Never stop learning. Find the answers to your questions. Read. Try to discover something new every single day.

Your body needs to be nurtured for it to properly function. Exercise. Eat right. Do not neglect your health.

Of all the members of this grand triumvirate, spirit is probably the most often neglected. If religion or spirituality makes you uncomfortable, think of it as your inner being. What did you do today to bring yourself joy? What makes you feel at peace, or connected to the wider world? Have you allowed yourself to be creative lately? Here lies your reason for being. Take care of it.

Take care of you.

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Give Yourself a Raise

Recently I got a raise at work, and I was thrilled. You have to understand. For 14 years I worked in a non-union job, and we got a one dollar raise every 6 years, which, needless to say, did not keep pace with the cost of living. And we’d have to fight to get that. We also got 3000 dollars’ worth of health coverage a year, which barely covered prescriptions for most of us. Now I’m working the same job on the other side of the country and we have a union and I’m earning three times as much, with a benefit package that moves me to tears whenever I contemplate it.

Let’s face it, if employers actually cared about their workers, there’d be no need for unions. Assuming The Man is going to behave honorably without union oversight is pure fantasy. Without unions there would still be sweat shops, child labor, and 80 hour work weeks.

I realize I’m one of the lucky ones. I just kind of fell into this good fortune. I did nothing special to deserve it. I was just in the right place at the right time. I am no more worthy than you are. I wish I could sign up every single person on the planet, but that’s not within my power.

If you can unionize, do so. But as much as it breaks my heart to say this, most people reading this are probably going to be screwed at work. The only thing I can tell you is that there is more than one way to get a raise. If you wait for your employer to do it you may wait forever. Here are a few other ways to raise yourselves up:

  • Find something that you love doing outside of work and do it just for the pure joy of it. You might also consider thinking of ways to make money by doing it, but that’s definitely not required.

  • Volunteer. This will give you a great deal of satisfaction. Call it a karma raise. And though your efforts you may meet people and make contacts that will translate into a future job, or make like-minded friends. You can never have too many of those.

  • Be ever mindful that the best things in life don’t cost a penny. Love. Friendship. Learning. Beauty. Reach out for those things. Embrace them.

  • Vote! Make your opinion count! Be heard!

  • Whenever possible, do as much as you can to lift up the people around you. Acknowledge their efforts. Give compliments. Be generous. That abundance will come back to you. On the other hand, turf-guarding, selfishness and subjugation will drag you down as well.

  • No one can treat you as well as you can treat yourself. But are you doing that? Being kind to yourself, pampering yourself? Our culture may frown upon it, but it’s the greatest gift you can give yourself. Make it a habit.

  • Speak your truth. Embrace your uniqueness. Maintain your integrity. Do what feels right to you. All these things will make you a more authentic, happy individual, and when you live that happiness, good things will come your way. No one can take that away from you.

  • Explore your spirituality to it’s natural (for you) conclusion. Therein lies peace.

  • Exercise. Do yoga. Walk in the world. Actively play.

Do something to give yourself a raise every day. It’s every bit as important to you as food. Think of it as feeding your spirit. The Man isn’t in charge of your well-being. You are.

Alicia
This is my friend Alicia. Beautiful in mind, body and spirit. And also the best yoga instructor on the face of the earth! (Photo used with permission.)