Saturday, December 31, 2011

What Would You Do?

Ever since Oprah got her OWN network I have been over indulging in life changing TV.  I am admittedly not Oprah's biggest fan and was very happy when her show finally ended (at least 5 years too late if you ask me).
But I have to admit that a lot of the content that is on OWN is as life changing and as thought provoking as the old Oprah show and, thankfully, very light on the presence of Oprah (big plus).

There is this show called What Would You Do? which is apparently a re-airing of a show from ABC that I never saw.  Hidden camera shows make me cringe.  I hate to see the awkward situations and feel for the people who are put in them.  Candid Camera, Punked and other shows like that have never been my thing.  But this show is different.  It uses actors to create morally questionable situations and then films how real people react to these situations.  This show is not only a great social experiment but it makes you question how you would react in the same situations.  

As good as this show is, several episodes get backed up on my DVR before I have the courage to sit down and watch one.  This is because the show make me cry every time.  I cry with happiness for the innocent people who do the right thing and for all the people who don't.  I cry because I know these scenarios are based on things that have happened in real life.  This show makes me ashamed of the apathy of society and the prevalence of prejudice.  

One episode that sticks out in my mind was of kids vandalizing cars at a public park.  The park was in a middle class neighborhood in New Jersey and the experiment was done on a very busy Saturday morning.  When the vandals were white kids some people called the cops or confronted the kids but a lot of people just walked past.  But when the vandals were black kids the response was almost immediate and much more aggressive.  When questioned, the people said that they would have reacted the same way if the kids were white but that clearly wasn't what the experiment showed.  

It seemed like in this very white middle class neighborhood, the people assumed that the white kids were some kids from the neighborhood who were just fooling around.  But those black kids, no they clearly couldn't live there, they weren't from the neighborhood.  They were a threat.  Because if media has taught us anything its that young black men are thugs and young white men are just goofing off.  Maybe that's a stretch but I can tell you that people often make assumptions about me solely based on my race.  The people who make these assumptions don't seem to have ever had any meaningful conversations with a black person.  Media must play a role in how they form their opinions because it's not coming from life experience. 

The worst part of this episode was how many people called the police to report a group of black people sleeping in their car in the park.  This was not an experiment set up by the show but a real situation that occurred during the planned scenario.  People were calling to say that they thought they were casing the park and potentially going to rob it.  This was a story that the white people created in their heads because they had been taught to fear black people. Because these people who didn't look like them didn't belong in their neighborhood.  These were a few people taking a nap in their car.  I can't express how harmless this situation was.  I wish they would have re-created the situation with a white family.  I bet no one would have called.  
The crazy thing was that these calls came in while the white kids were vandalizing cars.  So these people took the time to call the police to report black people minding their own business and ignored the white people breaking the law.  It makes me sad.  

I wish this were required viewing for everyone.  It should be a required class from elementary school through college, like English, because it is just as important.  Knowing how to properly punctuate a sentence is a pretty worthless skill unless you're going to become an English teacher.  Learning how to accept people from different backgrounds and live in harmony with people that are different than you is essential.  I don't think society will ever be perfect but it would be a hell of a lot better if people talked about these things and didn't pretend like the don't exist.  In every episode I learn something else about myself.  I hope that I am one of the good people that would do the right thing.  But I don't know how I would react if confronted with a situation like this.  That is the beauty of the show.  It's easy to say what you would do when you are sitting on your couch.  But in real life, how many of us would be cowards?  How many of our hidden prejudices would reveal themselves?  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Water for Elephants or Why Zoos Suck

A couple of months ago I read Water for Elephants because I was so tired of hearing about it.  People in my book club raved about it (I joined after they read it). Then Hollywood made it into a movie starring that annoying Twilight kid and the hype increased significantly.  If the movie was half as good as people claimed the book was then I was probably going to see it.  I picked the book up from the library, hoping to be blown away and excited about seeing a great movie adaptation of the book.  I was not. 

The book is about animal abuse in the circus.  It is not a book that I enjoyed reading.  The author tries to make up for the abuse with a feeble love story but it is not enough to distract the reader.  The images of animal abuse in the book far outweigh the lovey-dovey ones.  This book makes you realize that this behavior, and much worse, is commonplace at zoos all over the world.  Even though the book is fiction the abuse that takes place at these places is very real.   The author indicated that the book was a compilation of several stories that she collected while interviewing actual circus people.  At the end of the book, Rosie the abused elephant, kills her abuser. The murder of the abuser is supposed to make the reader forget about all the abuse and focus on the triumph of the elephant.  Then the two lovers ride off into the sunset with their elephant (seriously, they do because that's realistic) to live happily ever after.   

This afternoon I watched a documentary called One Lucky Elephant.  This documentary tells the story of a man who bought an elephant named Zora for his circus.  This man and Zora went on to perform together for 16 years until the elephant stopped "enjoying it".  The focus of the documentary is finding a place for Zora to live out the rest of her days.  It is difficult for the zookeeper to place Zora because she hasn't socialized with other elephants since she was baby and has formed an unnatural attachment to the zookeeper.  The zookeeper admits that he should have had more than one elephant because they are social animals and they do not do well alone.  Oh yeah and he did use negative and abusive training methods on her but that was how everyone did it and how else were you going to get her to do what you wanted?  Maybe he had spoiled her too much and she had never learned any sense of boundaries.  Maybe there were incidents where she showed herself to be aggressive and potentially dangerous for humans to be around but he had excuses for all of this.  

We're were supposed to feel sorry for this poor guy because he needed to find a new home for his elephant and not focus on the fact that he had created this awful situation in the first place.  At first you think his urgency is due to how much he loves the elephant and how he can't stand to see her unhappy but then it's clear that's not the case.  He plans to bring in new, younger elephants at the beginning of the next season and needs to unload Zora so he can focus on them.  

In the end, after many failed attempts at other locations, the elephant found a good home at an elephant sanctuary.  The sanctuary noticed that Zora slipped into bad behavior every time the zookeeper visited.  An animal expert diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress syndrome.  The expert guessed that it started when Zora was a baby and witnessed her mother being killed when she was captured and continued throughout her life as she was shipped from one facility to another; bonding with a new owner only to be abused by them and then shipped to another location.  Whenever the zookeeper visited he brought up all these old feelings in Zora and she slipped back into old habits.  Once they recognized this pattern, the sanctuary did not allow the zookeeper to visit any more.  

The zookeeper never stopped thinking about himself.  Even as he watched videos of Zora coming out of her shell and learning to be an elephant and heard everything the experts were saying, he missed Zora and he wanted to see her again.  He had developed a number of medical problems and hoped that this would make the sanctuary feel sorry for him and let him see Zora one more time before he died.  At the end of the documentary it had been 9 years since the zookeeper had seen Zora.  Unlike the zookeeper, the sanctuary did what was best for Zora and never let him see her again.  The zookeeper continues to do shows with elephants despite his experience with Zora and his declining health.  

The postscript at the end of the movie listed a handful of countries that no longer allow elephants at their zoos and in some cases, no wild animals at all.  The United States is not one of those countries and probably never will be.  We seem to thrive on turning nature into our entertainment.  So many reality shows and circuses where people try to manipulate nature (Grizzly Man, Sea World, etc.) are popular here and they almost always have a horrific end.  But no matter how many people get injured or killed by the animals that they have raised we continue to make excuses.  We often blame the animal for being too wild and then have it euthanized.  At no point do we consider that these sort of shows shouldn't exist at all.   In a perfect world the only places where people could visit wild animals would be at sanctuaries and safaris.   

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Insomnnia As Always

I have been an insomniac for as long as I remember.  When I was a little kid, I had lots of distractions in my room because my parents went to sleep long before I did and they didn't want me to leave my room.  Video games, TV, books, puzzles, toys, etc kept me busy into the wee hours of the morning.  When I was younger I used to wear it as a badge of honor: "Yeah, I only slept for 2 hours last night and I'm fine."  But as I've grown older it had become less of a cause for bragging rights and more of a medical concern. 

I have tried several over the counter sleep aids, natural supplements, teas and techniques with varying success.  Physical exams and home sleep studies have shown that there is nothing medically wrong with me and that my problem is likely psychological.  I am a stressed out person.  I do not think my life is any more stressful than the average person but  that doesn't prevent me from obsessing over things.  When I was younger my life was very stressful and unfortunately that is when I developed this problem.  

I think people are looking at me when they probably aren't.  I replay conversations in my head.  I have imaginary arguments with people.  Sometimes it feels like at the end of the day, when I have nothing left to do, all the stresses come rushing back and fill my brain with ridiculous thoughts.  Melatonin has been a lifesaver in helping me fall asleep but I generally wake up 2-3 hours later with heart palpitations.  Stress tests and a cardiologist have confirmed that I don't have a heart problem and, of course, this is likely a stress reaction as well.  

My husband thinks I need to see a psychotherapist to get to the root of my sleep problems once and for all.  I have avoided seeing a therapist for all my life.  My brother and mother saw shrinks regularly and both of them seemed more screwed up because of it.  I know that there is nothing wrong with getting therapy and I don't judge people negatively for doing it but somewhere in my mind it would make me weak.  That's ridiculous but that's how I feel.  

I know that stress and sleep can affect your metabolism and your ability to lose weight.  I know that I have damaged my body with all of these years of stress and that if I don't figure things out soon I will have no choice but to take Ambien or some other prescription drug that will not solve the problem but will treat the symptoms to the point that I can function.  With all the exercise that I do, I know that my body does not have ample time to recover.  I'm sure my lack of sleep is related to my slow recovery from relatively mild injuries.    

So I've decided on a compromise.  I'm going to try a self-hypnosis sleep CD along with the melatonin.  Hopefully it will work but if it doesn't, I will make an appointment with a psychotherapist.  It would be great to be able to relax and let go of things.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Getting My Martial Arts Mojo Back

In 1995, at the end of my freshman year in college, I started studying karate.  From the moment I started taking karate I was borderline obsessed.  I was doing karate most days of the week for several hours at a time.  All of my friends and social life revolved around karate.  After a karate workout I felt like I was on top of the world.  No matter what stresses were going on in my life I always felt better after karate.  I've was lucky to find a karate school in my style in every place I lived for 10 years.  During this time there were brief periods when I didn't study karate but once I got settled in that was usually the first thing that I looked for. 

That all changed when I moved to Syracuse in 2005.  Not only are there no karate schools in my style here but most of the schools in this area are contract schools.  Contract schools guarantee you a black belt in a certain amount of time as long as you pay a certain amount of money.  These schools generally have multiple locations with a large focus on children and lots of TV commercials.  I have no desire to attend a contract school.  I have been lucky that all the schools that I have attended were traditional schools.  Not everyone progressed at the same rate.  No one was given a rank just for showing up.  You worked hard and earned your rank.

I tried three different martial arts schools during my first 4 years here.  The first was a contract school that didn't train very hard.  The second was a group of martial artists from different backgrounds who weren't following any set regiment and whose lack of organization and discipline drove me crazy. The last school was the most promising because it was in my style.  Unfortunately it was a 90 minute drive from my house and they focused on sparring much more than on karate.  It had been 4 years since I practiced with a formal group in my style by the time I tried the last school.  I was so out of practice that I felt like I had to relearn everything that I once taught other people.  If I was going to have to relearn things I might as well start fresh with a new style.

Then zumba came into my life and I wasn't so focused on karate.  I love teaching zumba and think I will branch out into teaching other fitness classes now that I have my group exercise certification.  But as much as I love zumba it has not filled the void left by martial arts.  I still miss martial arts and the high it gives me.  Sometimes I feel like a fraud when people that have known me for a long time want to talk about karate.  Because I'm the black belt, the karate chick, the asskicker.  At least that's who they know me as.  But I haven't been that girl in a long time.

So I walked into this place in the mall a couple weeks ago that I had passed a million times and written off as a contract school.  But after checking out their website and talking to the instructors it was clear that it wasn't a contract school at all.  I was hooked after the first workout.  I feel like I'm walking taller and feeling more like my authentic self after just a couple of weeks.  The way that I interact with people.  The way I look at things is different as a martial artist.  I don't know if I will be able to achieve the same level of success that I did with my other style but that's not the standard that I'm holding myself to.  Just having martial arts in my life makes me feel like my authentic self.  Like a better me and I like that. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Seperate Schools for Special Kids

A couple years ago I watched a documentary about a gay-friendly public high school in New York City.  I thought the documentary was fantastic.  You felt for these poor kids who had been bullied at their previous school because they didn't fit the cultural norms for their gender.  Only about 60% of the kids featured in the documentary were gay/bisexual/transgender.  The other kids were straight but were bullied so severely in public schools that they didn't feel safe there.  Last week there was an article in Time Magazine about a similar school in Milwaukee and schools like it popping up all over the country.  Some people argue that special schools weren't needed twenty years ago and they weren't needed now.  They argue that by separating kids from bullies you are sheltering them from what they will have to deal with once they enter the real world.  Others argue that tax dollars shouldn't be used for a public school that caters to a section of the community that not everyone supports due to moral/religious conflicts.  I can understand arguments for and against these schools but I think they are an unfortunate necessity right now.

I am 35 years old.  I attended private school through 6th grade and public school for the rest of my education.  Like most kids I was bullied but not to an excessive amount.  There were times when I was a bully to other people but not to excess.  I never felt like I wasn't safe going to school.  I did witness kids being severely bullied.  There was Derrick, the black boy who was very clearly gay and deaf.  He wore a huge hearing aid and talked funny and that was just too much for some kids to take.  In high school the bullying was pretty bad.  Kids would mock his speech and his mannerisms.  They threw his stuff on the floor and kicked it around the halls.  At first Derrick would cry and yell when they did these things but after a few weeks he just tried to ignore them.  Derrick was a really funny kid and had a really unique sense of fashion that drew people to him.  Pretty soon Derrick was a popular kid with a large circle of friends.  The bullying never stopped but it became less severe when he stopped reacting.  It seems that the fun of bullying comes from making the other person cry/yell/fight back.  When people stop giving the bully the attention they need, they find someone else to bully who will. 

I wonder what would have happened to Derrick if the bullying didn't ease up over time.  If multiple times a day, every day through 4 years of high school he was severely bullied how long would he have lasted?  If Facebook and Twitter were around and people could continue to harass him online outside of school.  If text messages were sent to his phone non-stop telling him what an awful person he was and how people wished he were dead.  Would Derrick have been one of the kids who took his own life or dropped out of school rather than continue to deal with the bullying?  The only special schools that I knew about in our area were for kids with special needs (autism, down syndrome, etc.) and a lot of those kids eventually integrated into the mainstream public schools.   His single mom wasn't going to home school him.  She couldn't afford to send him to a private school (where he would have likely been bullied).  I don't know if I would have been able to make it through 4 years of this sort of bullying.

When you're a teenager everything is very dramatic and seems much worse than it is.  Once you become an adult, you look back at how things that seemed like such a big deal when you were a kid weren't at all.  Your boyfriend breaking up with you wasn't the end of the world.  You weren't going to die because that $5 box of hair dye turned your hair orange.  There were bigger things in life to deal with and you were amused at how dramatic you once were.  But when you're 15 you don't know that things will be better when you're 30.  All you know is that every day life if horrible and there doesn't appear to be any relief in site.  So maybe you give up because you just don't have the strength to fight any more.  Because no matter what you do, they won't leave you alone. 

What's wrong with sheltering these kids until they reach college or the work force? With providing them with an environment where they can learn and express themselves with no fear of bullying?  Once they reach college or the work force, sure there will be people that don't like them but there will also be people who are just like them and can help them cope or who don't care because they are busy living their lives.  I don't have any children but I pay a school tax.  I would rather not pay a tax bill that doesn't benefit me in any way but I recognize that kids going to school and getting an education benefits society as a whole.  My taxes pay for food stamps for kids who don't have the money to eat, for people who can't find jobs, for public housing, and hundreds of other programs that don't have anything to do with me.  Why shouldn't they pay to keep another kid from taking his own life at 13?  I don't care what any one's religious/moral beliefs are, no one should miss out on an education or die because they don't live their life exactly like someone else wants them to.  I hope one day society progresses to the point that these schools aren't necessary but until then I expect more of these schools to pop up. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Am I Still in High School?

Recently I added Zumba Toning and Aqua Zumba to my Zumba certifications.  I was excited when the local YMCA accepted my application to be an instructor there for these two specialties.  Today I attended my first meeting as a Y employee.  All fitness instructors are required to attend monthly meetings to discuss concerns, safety and any other hot topics.  I was very excited about meeting my new peers. 

When I walked into the room everyone turned around a looked at me but no one said hi.  I smiled and said hi and introduced myself.  One person responded to me and then went back to looking out the window.  No one else said anything.  Granted, I was a couple minutes early so there were only 4 people in the room when I walked in but isn't that even more reason to be friendly?  When the other 12 instructors showed up no one said anything to me.  It was clear that they already had their cliques established and were not open to expanding their social circles.

I think what disappointed me the most was that the fitness director didn't take it upon herself to introduce me to the group.  She didn't respond when I walked in the room.  She saw me sitting by myself while people chatted and didn't do anything to include me.  I sat through the presentation and participated when it was necessary but when it was over I just got up and walked out the door.  At the end of the meeting everyone went back to their cliques and started chatting again so there was no reason for me to sit there are get excluded any longer.  It was so frustrating. 

I have been the new kid/the odd man out before and it really sucks.  When I am in those situations, I go out of my way to speak to new people.  As a fitness instructor I love bringing people out of their shells and challenging them to do things they never thought they could do.  I'll admit there is a little bit of acting involved in being a good fitness instructor (no one is happy or on all the time but you can't dish your problems and life frustrations out to your class) but I genuinely want to make sure the people in my class have a great experience.  No matter how bad I was feeling when I walked in the door, I always feel good at the end of great class.  I couldn't imagine any of my new peers fitting this description.  These people seemed to lack the basic social skills to make it through a job interview, let alone act as a leader and inspire people as a fitness instructor.

I had heard bad things from other friends who worked at the Y and then quit.  But all the complaints that I heard were about the people who worked there, not the people who worked out there.  I knew I wasn't going to come in there and make 15 new best friends but this was much worse than I was expecting.  I am going to focus on giving great classes and making my students feel comfortable.  I left all this cliquey drama behind in high school.  I don't have the energy to go through it again. 

Inevitably, after a month or so some of the people who never spoke to me will be my friends because that always happens over time.  I am open to making friends but I won't be able to forget the awful first impression that they made.  I will make sure that I go out of my way to be nice to new instructors if I am ever put in that position.  Who knows, maybe some of my personality will rub off on some of these kids!  Either way, I'm still excited about my new classes and having new students.  Those are the ones that matter. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Birthday Restraint

I just celebrated my 35th birthday.  As always, my husband and I went out to dinner at a popular chain restaurant that serves obscene portions of yummy, bad-for-you food.  In preparation for this night, I was very careful with what I ate all day.  I ate lighter than normal.  I made sure I didn't load up on carbs.  I ate lots of fruits and veggies and mini-meals throughout the day.  I wanted to make sure I had plenty of room for all that food I knew I was going to eat.

I was able to eat a lot of food that night without completely gorging myself.  In the past I have made myself physically ill by eating too much.  I am happy to say that I didn't get to that point.  I didn't eat light by any means and definitely made myself a little uncomfortable with fullness but it passed quickly.  I also brought home enough leftovers for a couple of reasonably sized lunches. 

The big question is why can't I exercise this level of restraint every day? Why can't I spend all day being careful so I don't have to beat myself up if I have two tacos for dinner or a bowl of ice cream for dessert.  The anticipation of a splurge meal gave me more incentive to eat right than anything has in a long time.  I didn't feel hungry or like I was punishing myself. 

When I was on NutriSystem, I was careful to follow the plan throughout the day and at night I ate dinner with my husband.  He was not on NutriSystem so it was a regular dinner.  I tried to eat smaller servings at dinner but it was not an on program meal. I lost 15 pounds doing this. 

I am down 20 lbs from my highest weight but I probably have another 20 to go before I'm healthy.  I am at the weight where I always seem to plateau and then spike back up.  I have been this weight multiple times over the past few years but never for very long.  I am going to do my best to push myself through this wall that I keep hitting and find a new low in my weight loss journey.

I'm hoping my next birthday finds me in an even healthier place. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Zumba Convention 2011

I have written about how Zumba has changed my life and helped me find myself.

In 90 minutes I will head to the airport and fly to my first zumba convention.  Then I will spend the next 5 days with 6000 people who love zumba as much as I do.  I am excited about making new friends and learning new things that I can bring back to my classes.  But I am also very nervous.  There are a few things that I need to keep in mind to make sure that I have a good time:

1. Do not play a role.  It is never a conscious thing but I have a tendency to "act out" when I meet new people.  I am an obnoxious, outgoing person but sometimes it can be over the top.  I don't want to establish myself as the crazy one right off the bat and then spend the rest of the weekend living up to that.  Plus, I'm going to turn a lot of people off if I get out of hand.

2.  Do not compare yourself to other people.  This is the hardest one for me.  There will always be someone who is prettier, funnier, thinner, a better dancer, etc. than I am.  That doesn't mean that I am none of those things.  That doesn't mean that people are looking at me and saying "Oh, she's not as pretty/funny/etc. as this person".  I need to get out of my own head and just relax.  I have lost 20 lbs since I started teaching zumba 7 months ago.  I wear more fitted clothes and sometimes I genuinely love the way I look in the mirror.  I can't let the anxiety of a large group of people take that away from me.

3. Don't let rude/obnoxious people ruin my time.  This is not high school.  I don't have to hang out with people that get on my nerves.  I do not have to gossip about someone who is obviously not making a great impression. 

4.  Also part of the not high school thing- don't give in to peer pressure.  There is always a tendency for hard drinking and partying and overall ridiculous behavior at these sorts of things.  It happens at my corporate functions for my day job so I know it will happen here!  I'm not going to be partying until 2 am just so the youngest/party animal people think I'm cool.  I want to meet people that I have things in common with.  I want to make friends and not just crazy YouTube videos.

5. Make sure I have some me time.  I worry that my friends that I am traveling with might be a little clingy out of nervousness and suffocate me if they don't loosen up once we get there.  I am staying by myself in a different hotel than people I know.  I need to make sure I take the time to write, meditate, walk, and do other non-zumba things that keep me sane.  There will be mostly women at this convention and I have a tendency to tire of women very quickly if I'm not careful.  I need to set myself up to be as successful at being me as possible!

I will try to blog once a day and write in my journal.  I am very excited about this weekend.  I hope this is the first of many zumba conventions and other events that will take me out of my comfort zone (in a good way). 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fireworks and Zoos

Every year at this time I find myself being the grinch of summer.  There are endless invites to fireworks displays and events at the zoo and I always decline.  I do not see holding wild animals in captivity or generating air pollution as acceptable ways to honor nature or celebrate our nation's independence.

Every year my mother always bought the giant fireworks variety pack from our local store.  In Virginia they have what many refer to as the "good fireworks". These are the fireworks that people cross state lines to buy.  These fireworks can also cause significant injury if they malfunction or someone gets too close.  My brother and our friends would sit in the driveway while my mom would set off our own private fireworks display.  All of our neighbors did the same thing.  The next morning our cul-de-sac looked like a war zone with burn marks and used fireworks everywhere.

When I was 15, I went to Washington D.C. to see the fireworks display on the national mall with my friend Laura and her family.   We watched the parade (I'm pretty sure this is when I started hating parades too but that's a different blog), had a picnic and then waited for the fireworks.  This was the biggest fireworks display I had every seen.  Patriotic music blared in time to the fireworks making it quite an impressive production.  There were American flags, "God Bless the USA" spelled out and even a giant bald eagle all with the reflective backdrop of the Potomac River.  It really was quite beautiful.  Throughout the entire display I noticed the giant pink cloud of smoke that was forming.  Before the smoke from one firework dissipated, another firework would go off and add to the cloud.  By the end of the display the sky was an unnatural shade of pink.  The cloud seemed to cover the entire city.  It was disgusting. 

On the drive home I thought about all the fireworks displays taking place in driveways and  in major cities.  I thought of the millions of pink clouds that were forming all over the country on Independence Day.  I wondered how the pollution generated by fireworks affected the environment.  How many days would it take for that pink cloud to go away?  Once the pink cloud disappeared were there secondary effects that we couldn't see?  There were no more fireworks for me after that.

My anti-zoo position took longer to form.  I am an animal lover.  I have always been fascinated by all animals (even the ones that scare me).  I had a membership to the World Wildlife Fund since I was a little kid.  We went to visit their headquarters in northern Virginia every year on a school field trip.  They told us all about the animals that they had saved and the sanctuaries that had been set up for endangered and injured animals.  For a long time I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian because I wanted to save animals for a living. 

We also had an annual field trip to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.  I grew up in the time of Ling Ling and Sing Sing, the famous pandas from China.  People from all over the world came to the zoo to see the pandas.  When they had a baby there was a live camera feed so the world could experience the miracle together.  I was very fond of all bears.  My bedroom was full of stuffed polar and panda bears and koalas purchased from the national zoo.  I also loved penguins, giraffes and animals whose names I couldn't pronounce.  Animals from countries and climates that were beyond my imagination. 

As I got older, National Geographic, PBS and Animal Planet added to my love of animals with tons of great articles, documentaries and shows about animals.  A lot of negative stories started to come through about animals abused while in captivity.  About the tactics that some trappers used to catch animals.  About the life of an animal in the circus or at the zoo.  I don't think there was one defining event that ended my love affair with zoos.  It just slowly built up over time and now I can't stand them.

It seemed like when I was younger there were a lot of zoos that acted as animal sanctuaries.  If there was an animal that was injured in the wild it would live in captivity until it was nursed back to health.  The public got a chance to see this animal up close while it healed.  If the animal could be integrated back into the wild, it would be released as soon as it was healthy.  But if that animal could never live a successful life in the wild because of its interaction with humans, then they would create an environmental that was as close to its natural habitat as possible. 

Panda bears are not native to Washington D.C.  Neither are penguins, polar bears, ocelots or most of the animals you will find at the zoo.  The 400-1000 square foot enclosures that they have created for these animals to replicate the hundreds of acres of forest/ocean they are accustomed to is a joke.  It would be like a human being's entire existence being scaled down to a 1 bedroom apartment. 

There are real animal sanctuaries that exist and do fabulous work.  But there don't seem to be school buses of children going to visit those.  There continue to be stories of animals being put down for being to "wild" with their captors.  Of animals abused into performing tricks.  Of shortened life spans caused but the unnatural captive life.  There always stories about the negative effects of holding wild animals in captivity but they rarely get a lot of traction. 

Every year the Syracuse zoo has an event called Brew At the Zoo.  This is a time for adults to come out and get drunk and walk through the zoo and look at the animals.  The Syracuse zoo has received a lot of bad press during the 6 years that I have lived here because of the untimely death of a lot of young animals.  Poor management seems to be the cause of these tragedies but the publication of that information does not seem to affect the popularity of this and other events.  I have been invited by friends and declined with as little political rhetoric as I could muster. 

Yesterday fireworks started in my neighborhood at 2 pm and continued well after midnight.  Tonight there will be giant fireworks displays at all of the local high school and parks.  I will have my radio cranked to drown out the sound of all the explosions and turn my chair away from the window so I don't have to watch the pink cloud form. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Country Dogs and Outdoor Cats

I'm so sick of people being ignorant, lazy pet owners and then writing it off to having an outdoor pet or living in the country. Most of the people who I have encountered who use these excuses should not own pets. They should have fish or wall art. All they want is something that looks pretty and that they can show off to their friends but they don't want to provide any of the love, training or stability that a pet needs and a real pet owner provides.
One of my coworkers lives in a ritzy neighborhood where everyone has a couple acres of land. He drives a BMW and has a lawn service take care of his yard. His wife works part time. He has two college age children who do not live at home. He has a young lab mix who lives outside. He keeps him chained up under the porch when they aren't home and let's him run lose at night. His dog is often found at his neighbors house or somewhere else in the neighborhood. I asked him if he walked the dog and he said the dog is terrible on the leash and drags him everywhere. Imagine that, a dog that doesn't get any exercise or socialization and gets to run free without supervision doesn't walk well on a leash. Then I asked him what he does in the winter (here in upstate NY we get 140-200" of snow and the temperatures go well below zero). He said the dog has a doghouse on the porch to keep him warm. He can't being the dog in the house because the dog is too hyper and gets into everything and besides he likes being outside and doesn't want to come into the house; he's a country dog. Unfortunately, I'm sure this dog will eventually hurt some one's child or pet, or worse yet, get hit by a car. The dog will be written off as untrainable and my co-worker will get another dog (this isn't his first dog), never thinking that the dogs behavioral problems or short life had anything to do with the poor job him and his family did of raising the dog.
My husband's aunt recently told us that her neighbor's dog killed a small child in the neighborhood. She said "that's the price of living in the country" and went on to the next topic as if she were talking about they weather. She lives in a rural area outside of a college town. While I would consider this area to be the country, most of the people who live there are college professors and other high-level professionals who do not live a "country life". People's dogs and cats run around the roads all the time and definitely do not get any training or socialization. It is difficult to differentiate between strays and pets since they are all treated with the same level of indifference. Food and water are left outside. Pets are rarely brought into the house and usually have short, difficult lives. I do not enjoy going to her house. I feel like I am watching some bad after school special put together by the ASPCA. I feel completely helpless and sad every time we visit her. I am surrounded by animals that are in need that I cannot help and ignorant people that I cannot change.
In my suburban neighborhood I see more loose dogs and cats than leashed/contained ones. I do not live in the country. I have friends that live in downtown Syracuse who complain about the $2000+ they have spent on injuries to their "outdoor cat". When I asked why they had an outdoor cat in the city I was told that the wife grew up in suburban California (once again not the country) and that every one's cats were outdoor cats. I give up.
If people blatantly neglected their children as much as they do their pets it would be a national crisis. There would be public service announcements and campaigns to end the neglect. But because it seems to have become fashionable to have pets as an accessory. To have your dog sit in your purse during the 4 hours that you're at the bowling alley. To have him sitting in the car in the parking lot while you spend hours shopping. Because that's what the dog wants; because he wants to be with you all the time. I have heard of animal rescue groups that do not allow these sort of people to adopt dogs. Unfortunately there will never be a shortage of pet store puppy mills for these people to get an expendable pet. This is not a problem that will end in my life time, if ever, and that is depressing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Staying on the Wagon

I envy people who have the will power to change a bad habit and stick to their program. When I did Nutrisystem a couple years ago I was very dedicated for 2 months. I had a couple days a week where I ate whatever I wanted but outside of that I stuck to the program. I managed to lose 15 lbs and felt great. But once I went off Nutrisystem, I went back to my old eating habits and put the weight back on plus a few extra pounds.

I love food. I'm sure there is an emotional component to my eating but I genuinely enjoy the way food tastes. I watch all these weight loss shows and there always seems to be a traumatic event that triggered the person being overweight. I had a stressful child hood but I have always eaten an obscene amount of food; I don't think there was one event that put me over the edge. Even when I was kid I was known to my friends and family as the person who could put food away. Maybe that's it, just the attention that I get from eating.

People that I have known for a long time seem to be obsessed with what I'm eating. If I'm eating healthy they tease and ask me if I'm on a diet. If I'm gorging myself there is an equal amount of negative attention. Eating a grilled chicken salad just isn't as enjoyable as getting a big juicy burger but people rarely comment when I order the really unhealthy stuff. I know I could never be on Nutrisystem or a program like that for the rest of my life but I wonder if I would have stayed on it longer if my body would have gotten used to eating less food.

I know that portion control is a big part of it. I know that a small fry from McDonald's is just as delicious as a large fry but somewhere in my brain there is a switch that tells me I'm not going to be satisfied if I don't get the largest size. There are days when I make good choices all day and then gorge myself for dinner. I am out of town for work this week and find myself feeling sick because I ate too much or falling asleep during meetings because of the food coma.

I try to remind myself of the Kate Moss quote "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" but my brain doesn't really believe it. I want to be one of those people that makes a life style change. I want to have a handle on my eating habits before I turn 35 this summer. I have a number of minor health problems that are either 100% caused by or totally aggravated by me being overweight.

I'd like to think that the self esteem boost that I would get from developing self control and being fit would be enough motivation for me but it hasn't been in the past. I will move forward and try to be better in the future and not harp on the past but it is much easier said than done.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Fit Fat Girl

I have prided myself on defying people's assumptions about what a fit person looked like. But, as my waist line has expanded, I recognize that at this point I'm not being honest with myself. It's one thing to be a thick size 12 (like I once was) but I'm not that girl any more. A lot of people treat me like I'm still that girl but all that does is feed my ego and allow me to keep lying to myself.

I get offended when people assume that I'm a walker instead of a runner because of my size but realistically I'm not the picture of fitness and health right now. As I get more involved in Zumba, I love seeing instructors of all shapes and sizes. I recognize that these people are athletes and that they are fit because they're spending several hours a week teaching. But I also recognize that these people aren't as healthy as they could be.

I'm not ever going to be a skinny girl and I wouldn't want to be. But I would love to be that thick size 12 again. I want to get rid of my belly and tone up my body. I haven't been able to run as much during the past few months because I've been having so many joint problems. I know these joint problems are a direct result of my weight gain.

I am currently sitting in a hotel room 5 hours away from home. I have another day of meetings and catered meals ahead of me. I chose to hang out with my co-workers last night and enjoy dinner and drinks on the boss instead of working out. Today is looking like more of the same. I'm feeling pretty gluttonous right now.

My goal is to learn to not over-do the unlimited food and drink that comes with this job and to make time to get my fitness in even when I'm traveling. Tomorrow is a new day. I'm going to push myself harder because I know what I'm capable of when I commit to something.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Daydreaming My Problems Away

When I was younger I always daydreamed my life away. I would imagine myself married to famous people or in a compromising position with that guy I had a crush on. I would play the martyr to the people who I wanted to like me but who in real life paid no attention to me or made fun of me. My parents, strangers, celebrities, everyone admired and adored me in my daydreams.

My daydreaming contributed to my sleep problems because when I got in bed I would pick up where I had left off the previous night and spend hours spinning these fantastic tales in my head rather than sleeping. Sometimes I would write down these stories but they never seemed as fantastic on paper as they were in my mind. Recently these daydreams have returned to me.

I think that I daydreamed so much when I was younger because I was escaping from the reality of the drama in my life or creating a life in times when I was bored or in a rut. I'm not sure which of these applies now. I have found local success as a Zumba instructor which has added a whole new group of friends and social activities to my life. I continue to be active in meetup groups and have formed friendships with people there. I have been promoted at work to the job that I always wanted but wasn't sure I could get. So whats the problem?

I have two dogs that I love dearly but who have a lot of behavioral problems which drive me crazy. I can only walk my dogs in my neighborhood at certain times of day because so many people in my neighborhood let their dogs run offleash which makes the walks very dangerous and stressful for me and the dogs. There is also a lot of vehicle traffic in my neighborhood where people driving twice the speed limit on the main roads and run stop signs and take blind turns at high speeds regularly. The police are aware of the problem and have officers posted but after 15 minutes all the cops have met their ticket quota and leave the neighborhood until the next time a neighbor complains. I know this is not a problem that will go away. I feel like I'm dodging one problem or another everytime I walk out of my house.

We have a large fenced in yard but on two sides we have neighbors who also have dogs that enjoy fence fighting with our dogs. We take our dogs out on leashes when these dogs are out because the dog's excitement level gets too high if they are allowed to meet the other dogs at the fence. Another neighbor is a grandmother who watches her grandchildren. The grandmother stays in the house while the grandchildren play in the yard. The children stand by the fence and poke their fingers through the holes to taunt my dogs and actually bark and make noise to try to attract the dogs. I try to avoid them as well.

I know that everytime I walk out the door I am carrying the stress of dealing with any one of these problems. I know that affects my dogs; that they sense my apprehension. But I would tell anyone who asked me that the key to any dogs behavioral problems starts with making sure the dog gets enough exercise. I feel like a hypocrite because I know my dogs aren't getting enough.

My flexible work schedule and my husband's regimented work schedule makes this problem even more difficult. When he is available to help me with the dogs we are usually not comfortable taking the dogs out for long periods of time due to the external stresses. The dog's behavioral problems makes it difficult for me to walk the dogs alone unless I wake up early in the morning and drive to a nearby neighborhood with sidewalks and less distractions. In order to do this, I must fall asleep at a reasonable time so that I can wake up early.

Last night I couldn't stop my brain from daydreaming so I spent 2 hours in bed not sleeping. Then I got 4 hours of choppy sleep over the next 5 hours. I got out of bed at 7:30 am. Way too late to take the dogs out for a long walk. I feel exhausted because I didn't get any sleep and disappointed in myself because I didn't exercise the dogs. I am irritable towards my husband on mornings like this. I take the simplest acts, him watching TV the moment he gets out of bed, the wrong way because I am dealing with two dogs that are wound up and misbehaving before he wakes up and there is no break from this stress after he wakes up.

The dog behavioral problem has also taken a toll on our intimacy. With pets it is difficult to find alone time no matter how well behaved they are but it is even more difficult with misbehaving pets. So not only am I wound up because of the dog and sleep problems but I don't have the great stress relief that our intimacy used to provide.

I'm not sure if there is one solution to all of these problems but I know that I need to find a better escape from my problems than daydreaming. I need to make a commitment to taking better care of my dogs, myself and my relationship. But I know that is much easier to write than to implement.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Me and My Health

Last January at my annual physical the nurse mentioned that my blood pressure was elevated. She said it could be the stress of coming to the doctor but that I should look at it.
In September I had a really bad sinus infection. When the doctor took my vital signs she told me that my blood pressure was a little high and that I should keep an eye on it. She said it could be the medicine the allergy medicine that I was taking but, with my family history of diabetes and hypertension, I should be careful about what I take. This freaked me out. I figured that two warnings was all I needed. I bought a blood pressure cuff so I could measure my readings at home and track my progress as I lost weight.
The findings weren't great. My blood pressure was as high as 145/103 which definitely put me in the hypertensive category. My husband has a similar family history as mine and started tracking his readings as well. His blood pressure wasn't as high as mine but it was definitely wasn't ideal.
My husband and I do not work out consistently. There have been times, when training for a big race, when we run 25-20 miles in a week. We have also gone several weeks without running or going to the gym. Consistency is our biggest problem. I often worry that we won't get serious about our health until one of develops diabetes or heart disease.
In the past 11 weeks I have lost 8 pounds. I didn't get really serious about working out until 3-4 weeks ago when I was preparing to teach zumba. I haven't run at all during this time because of some nagging knee and ankle problems but today I got my new running shoes in the mail and I plan to hit the treadmill either tonight or tomorrow. I also will start lifting weights again so I'm not so prone to injury. Getting back into doing yoga regularly will also help with my injuries.
My husband has lost 6 pounds during this same time period. He hasn't worked out much during this time but he has gotten better about not letting himself indulge in all the junk food that is available to him at work. He plans to cut back on his work hours (from 40 hours to 32 hours) for the next month so he can figure out ways to fit working out and studying into his schedule. I am confident that once he establishes a routine he will be able to maintain it. Before we got together, my husband worked 50-60 hours a week and still found time to run after work three times a week. No, he didn't have a wife, two dogs and a cat at that time but he was married to drinking at the bars with his friends...
Since I've been tracking my blood pressure I was prepared to leave the doctor's office today with a prescription to help reduce my blood pressure. Imagine my surprise when the nurse told me my blood pressure was 110/68 (perfect) and that the wrist blood pressure cuff that we were using was completely inaccurate. Part of me is aggravated that we spent money on such a piece of crap. At the same time I don't know if I would have jumped back into fitness with such enthusiasm if I didn't think I was on the fast track to hypertension like the rest of my family.
The doctor gave me a referral to see a dietitian to help me plan my meals better and with a sleep specialist to try to get me into a better sleep pattern which could be contributing to my inactive metabolism. I am looking to teach Zumba 5 days a week and get back to being the serious athlete that I once was. I want my husband and I to be that fit couple that we always envy.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Finding Myself

Just a few months ago I was in a rut. I was lonely and depressed. I felt like my life had no direction. I wrote my own little manifesto titled The Dream.

In this blog I laid out what I wanted my life to include and brainstormed about how I was going to achieve those goals. In September I took a big step towards achieving one of those dreams when I became a certified Zumba instructor.

Since becoming certified I have attended several Zumba events that I never would have attended on my own before. I have put myself out there in a way that I haven't done in a while. I sent out a number of resumes to different gyms in the area. In late December I was offered a job teaching 2 days a week at a local gym. I started teaching the first week of January. I can't tell you how nervous I was teaching that first day but I was also excited beyond belief.

All my fears went away after class when people came up to me telling me what a great class it was. One woman even hugged me and thanked me for such a good workout. I think the best moment of the class me came when a woman walked up to me and told me that her goal was to get down to my size. Even though I am not at my ideal weight, when people look at me they aren't seeing someone who is 50 lbs overweight. They are seeing an energetic fitness instructor.

My overall attitude has changed so much since I started teaching. I am more positive in other aspects of my life. I don't dwell on the negative as much. My social life through Zumba and my participation in meetup groups has also changed for the better. Maybe it's because I'm more approachable now or maybe it was inevitable after almost a year of attending meetup events and meeting other Zumba instructors.

I am still very much a work in progress but I am loving the progress that I am making!