Tuesday, November 27, 2018

November 2018, a Stroke Story

It was election day, November 6, 2018 when my mother suffered a stroke at home.

She was sitting on the sofa, watching the election returns start to come in on TV. I had just come home from my last class of the day, Yoga, and I was cooking my dinner while sitting and talking to her. She said that she was not feeling well, and she wanted to go lie down. When she stood up, she fell nearly face-first into the entertainment center. I tried to catch her, but I was a few feet away, and at a weird angle. I only deflected her a little.

From there, she tried to come back to standing, but couldn’t quite make it. She tried to pull herself up on furniture, including a swivel chair that kept turning. I encouraged her to just sit still for a few minutes, but she was determined. She asked me to go get her walker, which she hadn’t used for years and that typically sat in a back closet.

I brought it out and put my weight on it for counter-balance, but it still wasn’t working as an assist for her to pull up. Next, she asked me to drag her back to her room. I know a little about body mechanics, and I didn’t see dragging 150lbs of mom as being a great experience for either one of us, mechanically speaking.

So she started scooting herself down the hall toward her room. Once she got there, I was able to help her stand, and she successfully made it into the bed, with some challenges.

I thought I had her safely in the bed, so after talking to her for a few minutes, I went back to the kitchen to try to eat my dinner. I took a few bites, came back and talked to her, went back to the kitchen and took a few more bites.

At some point when I was in the kitchen, she decided she had to go to the bathroom, and decided to get there by herself. Attempting to use the walker for help, she tried to get out of bed on her own and fell into her bedside table, landing on the floor. It was a pretty hard fall that brought me running back from the kitchen. I found her sprawled on the floor, her left leg was somehow wound up in the middle of the walker supports and it had to be unwound. It was very difficult getting her to bend and move her left leg to get it untangled from the walker. I couldn’t see it yet, but she would have an enormous bruise on her left hip from falling into the bedside table. The bruises would be so pronounced that in a few hours, people would ask if anyone ever hit her.

My mom had colon cancer a few years ago, and will use a colostomy bag for the rest of her life. The fall caused a bag fault, which meant the bag would need to be replaced. This is something she had been independently doing for the past several years.  Once I got her back in the bed, we started trying to work on fixing the bag. A rather nonsensical conversation ensued.

“I can’t see the stoma,” she said. “Where did it go?” she said.
If you don’t know about colostomies, this question is a lot like asking, “Where did my belly button go?”

It was right there, on the left side, like it had been for years.

This was the point at which I called 9-1-1.

My mom worried about things like the EMTs having to walk all the way down the hallway to her room, and not being able to bring a gurney back, and not having her shoes on. In the process of falling and dealing with the bag, and not feeling well, she had also removed some of her clothes, so we found a nightgown and some shoes to slip on, and I helped her get to a chair in her bedroom.

Meanwhile, she massaged her neck with her left hand and said, “It’s so weird, I feel these ghostly fingers on me. Like someone is touching me. It’s like someone’s rubbing my neck. Is that you?” she asked.

“No, mom, I’m standing over here,” I said. I was about four feet away, out of reaching distance. It was clearly her own left hand rubbing her neck.

Once the ambulance arrived, the paramedics conducted a short interview. They talked to me and to her. They asked her a series of questions, about what had happened, about current events, the election, what year and day it was. They asked what medications she took. She showed them her high blood pressure medication and said she didn’t think that had caused the problem, because she hadn’t taken it for four days.

Based on this interview, the paramedics felt that she was lucid and in no immediate danger, and they did not want to take her to the hospital.

“But, she can’t see her stoma,” I told them. “She has been maintaining her own colostomy for four years, and she can’t even see it now. Isn’t that a problem?”

Based on this, they rather reluctantly agreed to take her to the emergency room.

In the ER, the doctor ordered a series of tests: urinalysis, X-rays, blood panel, etc. The first test that came back indicated she had a urinary tract infection, and the ER doc was satisfied with that as the source of all of her problems. He started intravenous antibiotics, and was ready to let her go as soon as the meds finished.

Meanwhile, she was still flailing her left arm and leg about uncontrollably. Every time hospital staff tried to take her blood pressure, they would ask her to hold her arm still, and she kept flailing it.

“Can you hold your arm still?” they would ask.

“I am,” she would say, and look at her right arm, which was quite still. She seemed unaware that she had a left arm, and certainly unaware that it was fidgeting wildly.

As she waited, her left leg would also flail about, finding its way in between the metal supports in the bed rail. Then she would complain about sudden, sharp pain in her leg.

“Well, your leg is kind of wedged into the bed rail,” I would say.

And she would look to her right leg, which was fine. And I would work to move her left leg out of the bed rail, but it was a real struggle to get her to bend her knee or move her leg, and once she moved it, it would flail right back into some other awkward position.

This was all still very concerning, but the ER doc was still willing to let us go as soon as her IV antibiotics finished, and they would have sent her home, if the blood panel hadn’t come back in time. The next round of tests that came in showed an elevated troponin level, which is a heart enzyme that indicates you might have had, or be about to have, a heart attack. That elevated troponin level in an 87 year-old, warranted being admitted for a few days’ observation. Thank God.

So the next step was coordinating with her insurance to find a hospital they would let her be admitted to, and finding an available bed. The place insurance accepted was in Arlington, an hour’s drive away. And although the decision to keep her was made around 11pm, the actual transfer didn’t happen until about 9:30am the next morning, which meant that she napped on the ER bed and I parked uncomfortably on a plastic ER chair, waiting. Looking at it from hindsight, it’s easy to think hey, you had like 10 hours, you could have gone home and gotten a good night’s sleep and then met her at the new hospital in the morning. But, if you’ve ever been in a hospital, you know how this thing goes…ten more minutes...just a while longer…we’ll be right back…and they stretch it out and the next thing you know, you are bleary eyed and running on fumes and speaking incoherent nonsensical almost-sentences.

Once morning arrived, I found subs for all my Wednesday classes and watched the professionals load mom on the gurney to send her to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. I went home and took a nap, knowing that my sister was on her way from her home in Maryland, and would meet my mom at the new hospital.

After napping for a few hours, showering and eating some food, I eventually met everyone up at the hospital in Arlington that evening (Wednesday). At this point, mom’s hand and leg were still moving rather spastically. She still required a two-person assist to go to the bedside commode, which was only two steps away. The doctors were talking about letting her go home the next day or so.

And late that evening, more than 24 hours after her initial episode, the nurses started catching on to some of the neurological symptoms. Like the spastic movement of her left arm and leg, and the fact that she didn’t seem to be connecting the things her left arm was doing with her own actions. And at some point, someone asked her who the president was, and she said, “Donald Duck.”

Okay, in all honesty, my mom has always called Donald Trump Donald Duck, but the nurses didn’t know that, and it was enough for them to start to take things seriously. At this point, they were really thinking more about a concussion because she fell twice, but finally, someone asked to do an MRI. And at last, about 30 hours after her initial episode, the medical team discovered that she had had a stroke.

The disability that she is left with now is called left paresis/left neglect. It’s like her brain forgets the left side of her body exists. She has a hard time seeing out of her left eye or feeling anything going on on the left side, or controlling left arm and leg. They still move, but spastically and seemingly of their own volition. It’s a little bit like the Terminator’s robot arm, or Cousin It from the Addams Family.

She also suffers from a marked attention deficit disorder that she did not have before, and a short-term memory loss. Which means that if I explain some new information, it may not all get inside her head. And if it does, three out of five parts of it may fall right back out. In real world terms, this can mean that I might relay a simple story like, “I will be back on Tuesday at 7pm,” but she might forget which day I said I’d be back, which day it is today, and at what time I said I would be back. She also has a hard time with telling time. So the 7pm is rather irrelevant.

Many members of my family, myself included, suffer from anxiety and depression from time to time. Dealing with short-term memory loss and a sudden new disability really don’t improve your stress and mood levels, and neither does the lack of sleep that she is currently experiencing.

Three weeks have passed since her stroke. She has made great physical improvements. She can walk very short distances with assistance. She needs help to do many activities of daily living (ever tried opening a wrapper or putting on a sock with one hand?), but she delights in guests and telling stories, and loves to talk and visit with people.

She will be released from the actue rehab where she has been staying on Nov. 28 (tomorrow, as I write this). She will require 24-hour care and supervision. She can’t move from one location to another without help at this point. Initially, I felt that the hospital and the insurance gave us zero assistance in either planning for her return home or helping us find another alternative that would work with her insurance.  

My one previous conversation with the case manager went something like this
Case manager: We understand that you live with Mrs. Cox, is that correct?
Me: Yes, that’s correct.
Case manager: Ok, so there is someone in the house. She will need 24-hour care when she is released, so we need to know that there’s someone there.
Me: Well, I live there, but…
Case manager: Ok, great. Thanks.

I live there, but I work, and I own a small business, and I am supposed to be trying to promote that business, and I travel from time to time, and I also have to sleep now and again, and maybe I might want to take a shower every so often myself…how do I get help? These were all questions that went unanswered.

That is, until Monday (yesterday), when I had a mini-meltdown during my family training session. Family training is when I was supposed to learn how to take her to the bathroom, give her a shower, and help her up and down stairs. Never underestimate the power of a good nervous breakdown. I shed tears in Occupational Therapy. By the end of the day, the case manager had come in to visit with us. By morning, we had a list of sub-acute rehabs, and within 12 hours of my meltdown, we had selected a sub-acute facility.

I hope things go well at the new place. In the meantime, the point of my writing this is just to share a little more information with my friends about what’s been going on in my life for the past three weeks. If you haven’t seen me, I’ve pretty much been at the hospital, working, or sleeping. I try to get out and dance when I can, because I feel so much better when I do, but the hospital drains the energy out of me. Once I convince myself to actually get out and into a dance space, I draw energy off of the music and the other people, so I know I really should get out more often.

My other purpose in writing is like a public service announcement. If you’ve ever done CPR/First Aid training, and learned about strokes or heart attacks, and you have learned all those signs and symptoms, then you have learned that the essence of first aid these days is to call 9-1-1 as soon as possible when something is wrong. Yes, do that. But in addition to that, when you know something is wrong with someone you love, don’t just let it go. I could have let the EMTs go, and just leave mom at home after she fell twice and couldn’t see her left side. The ER doc would have been happy to just let her go with a diagnosis of a urinary tract infection. If we hadn’t kept pointing out weird neuro symptoms, no one would have tried to do an MRI. It is infuriating that no medical professional thought to do it when we first came into the ER—I mean, 87 year old with high blood pressure who said she hadn’t taken blood pressure medication for four days…big tip-off…but the point is, when you know something is wrong, keep telling others and make them listen. If it’s a stroke, every moment can make a difference.


Monday, August 27, 2018

The Workshop Weekend: Learning to be a New Dancer Again

I recently attended the DC Bachata Congress (DCBX), in Washington, DC. This is a link to their promo video. Although I am an experienced swing dancer, and a pretty comfortable Salsa dancer, I'm still really new to Bachata. It is difficult for me to take consistent lessons because I live about an hour away from all the places where that might happen, and as a dance and fitness teacher myself, I am usually teaching at the same time group lessons are happening.

When I heard about this Bachata Congress, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to take a whole lot of classes all at once, and to get some intensive exposure to the dance. I didn't seriously consider going until the last minute: I registered on Sunday, and the event started Thursday. As a result, I didn't have time to find subs to teach my classes, which meant I would be seriously burning the candle at both ends during the weekend (as in, go to bed at 2am, teach 8:15am Spin Class). But I knew that going in.
Alien Ramirez and Martin Gonzalez,
World Bachata Champions,
taught the two best classes (for me) at DCBX

Attending DCBX also meant not attending the International Lindy Hop Championships (ILHC), an event I have faithfully supported for several years, because they were both happening during the same weekend, just a few miles apart. And I just couldn't manage both. I know a lot of people at ILHC, the style of dance and the faces are very familiar. It is actually a lot like going to a big family reunion where everyone wears vintage clothes and has great hair.

DCBX offered many of the same things you expect from any dance workshop weekend. There were so many classes and so many amazing teachers. All the other dancers were friendly. The music was great. Performances were inspiring. I discovered new levels of foot soreness and muscle fatigue.

For me, there were many things about this event that were different and that helped me grow in ways I did not expect. For one, my family is of latin descent, but I grew up so far away from that influence that it's like a distant shadow of a memory. To be immersed in the music and culture, and hear people speaking Spanish around me all the time was like waking up some kind of dormant collective memory.

Aside from all the great dance information, tips, and advice I got from the instructors, and all the practice time, perhaps one of the most useful benefits of the workshop weekend was remembering what it's like to be a newer dancer. I am so comfortable with swing and Lindy Hop that I forget how overwhelming it is for new learners to try to work on feet, and arms, and rhythm, and body positioning, and posture, and following/leading, all at the same time.

Sunday mornings are typically the most sparsely attended of any workshop weekend, since Saturday is usually the big party night, and everyone wants to sleep in on Sunday. So I had a small class at 11am with a great teacher, who gave me continuous, rapid-fire feedback: Make your steps closer, lift from the chest, keep your chin parallel to the floor, keep your elbows more away from the ribs, soften the elbows, make the hip movement softer, move the foot through toe-ball-heel, keep your chest squared off to your partner at all times. All this advice came in about a one-minute rotation cycle. I'm not sure how much I can internalize, but I did remember it all well enough to write it down.

There were also the social dance parties. With swing and Lindy Hop, or even with Salsa, it has been a long time since someone tried to lead something that left me completely confused. Bachata left me puzzled often because the body movements are so different. The poor guys would try to lead a move, and I would drop the ball. They'd try again, and I'd drop it again. They would finally move on and do something else. They were all very nice about it, but I quickly came to a point where I found it easier just to tell people at the start of a dance that I was a new learner. It kept them from throwing their A-game at me, and sort of managed their expectations from the beginning. 

However, I did have one funny experience with that. I mentioned to one guy that I was new, and he said, "I know. I've been watching you." Thanks, dude. Didn't realize it was screamingly obvious. However, he did still ask me to dance, so hopefully it wasn't that horribly bad. 

My take-aways from the whole weekend were that it is always good to learn new things. It is always beneficial to build new neural pathways. Expanding your dance horizons can only help you grow as a dancer. And also, as a person. I have reconnected with my empathy for people who are learning new dance concepts for the first time. So, if you've ever thought about taking a dance class, but are worried that you'll be the one slow person in class, or that you just won't get it, you should definitely take a class with me. Because I have been that person very recently and I know exactly how it feels. And I've got you! 

To sign up for swing dance lessons (and we are also teaching beginner Salsa) in Fredericksburg, go to http://gottaswing.com/fredericksburg-va/. For more general information about what's going on at our dance studio, check out our FaceBook page at https://www.facebook.com/LindyintheBurg/. You can also take a look at our studio website, https://www.dancefxbg.com.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Few Dance Tips for Follows

A while back, I blogged about dance tips for leads, and promised that I would follow up with dance tips for follows.

  1. Let the leads lead. This isn't a gender thing. It's totally based on the role you choose in a particular dance. Only one person can lead per dance, and when you decide to be a follow in that one dance, your job is, well, to follow. If you really want to lead, then I encourage you to switch roles and learn the lead's part. It's fun, it's more work than you might think, and it might even help you become a better follow in the end. 
  2. Ask people to dance, but don't be offended by no's. A guy once told me that it's easier to ask a woman to marry you than to ask her to dance. A bit of hyperbole, perhaps, but it is intimidating for a new dancer to approach unfamiliar and gorgeous women such as yourself. When you ask the guy, you spare then the effort on that round, which generally makes it less intimidating to ask you next time. However, sometimes people turn you down. Sometimes, they give you gracious reasons like, "I need a break," or "This song is too fast/slow/old/new for me." Other times, they just turn you down flat. My official advice in the context of this blog is to not take it personally, and don't hold it against them. They probably just sprained their toe or broke up with a girl who looks exactly like you. In real life though, what I have typically done in a case like that is assume that the person thinks I can't dance, and go find a really good dancer, then come back and show off right in front of them. Because I'm small-minded like that. And I've also been known to remember that person who wouldn't dance with me on August 10, 1955, and would subsequently not want to dance with them ever again. Don't be like me. Just assume the person who turned you down can't handle your radiant beauty at the moment and needs a few seconds to adjust. They are, after all, only human.
  3. Don't apologize. This is something I do all. the. time. and I wish I would stop. When things go wrong in a dance, I still apologize, even though I say in every class, and I said in item #1 above, the lead is the lead. Your job is to follow the directions given. If the directions are vague, confusing, conflicting, or come too late, you just can't do it. It's not your fault. It's not even really the lead's fault--they are figuring it all out, too. So just roll with it. Don't apologize. Own it and on rolling. 
  4. Develop your frame, but stay relaxed. Oh, the big conundrum! This is like the holy grail of all forms of social dance. In order to dance with a partner (either as a lead or a follow), we have to have dance frame, or energy, across our core and upper bodies. Without the frame, leads can't effectively send information and follows can't act on it. It's like dancing with a drunk toddler. But if we get too much frame, then we're like C-3PO from Star Wars. In case you aren't as much of a nerd as I am, I included a photo. 
    Droids would have a little too
    much dance frame.
    The trick is finding the happy medium. Energy when we need it, relaxation when we don't. The only way you can find that medium is by actually dancing and having helpful leads who will give you feedback. Sometimes it's hard to hear, but it helps. Early on, a lead I really liked (and still do!) told me, "You know, it's really hard to lead a Whip, or pretty much anything, if you don't have frame." Point taken. I worked on framing up. Then I went too far. I got to a point where I was more like Goldenrod in the photo on the right. I went to workshops, and apparently guys felt their poor little arms being ripped out of the sockets. So sad. They would ask me to relax, loosen up, etc. And apparently I finally found the sweet spot, because just this week at the same dance, I had two (TWO) people tell me I was the only woman at that venue they could dance with and not have to worry about getting their arms ripped off. That's really more like Chewbacca's thing, but I was pretty happy to hear the feedback. I mentally patted myself on the back, and I felt like I could happily retire my dance shoes at that moment. But I won't, because I still have so much more to figure out. Like freestyling. And what to do when leads go on a footwork tangent. But these are topics for another day!
Chewbacca might have good rhythm,
but he really could rip your arms off.
Last tip: take lessons. We have new classes starting frequently. Check out http://www.gottaswing.com/fredericksburg-va/, and if you aren't in Fredericksburg, Gottaswing has classes all over the DMV area. And if you aren't there, use Google and find some classes near you! And then get out and find some social dances, and just dance as much as you can.

If you have more helpful tips for follows, you can post them as comments.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Top Five Reasons Why People Don't Take Dance Lessons. And Why You Should

It's almost time for our dance lessons to start again, which means I have been trying to convince people to sign up for them. Which, in turn, means that I have been hearing all the top reasons why people turn me down. No judgement, now. Maybe dancing just isn't your thing, and that's totally fine. But if dancing is your thing, but you think there's a roadblock, I want to remove that block for you.

So here are some of the most common reasons people tell me they can't dance, followed by my responses to them. If any of these are your reasons, I hope my responses convince you that you should be dancing!

If you really have two left feet,
you have more serious problems
than lack of dancing skills
  1. I have two left feet. Really? Where do you buy your shoes? I think you actually have a right and a left. You just don't actually know which one is which yet. And that's ok, because as I know from teaching exercise classes, I frequently do not know which is my left or right, either. So I often say, use the foot on the water-fountain side of the room. Muscle memory is a huge part of the process. It's just like tying your shoes. The first time you do it, you have to think about the little rabbit going over the log and into the hole, but after you do it 35 times, you never have to think about it again. 
  2. I have no rhythm. Rhythm is a learned skill. It certainly comes easier for some people than others. Those that played an instrument have an advantage. But even if you can't find a beat with both hands, we have drills to help with that. Another strategy that helps anyone is just listening to music and trying isolate the sound of the drum within the song. Even if you aren't 100% successful at the beginning, your ears are learning.
    Musicians on a beach in Havana
  3. I don't have a partner. Don't tell the married people I said this, but you are almost better off NOT having a partner when you start dancing. You will meet a lot of new friends. You will have no guilt about dancing with everyone. No one will be jealous if you start chatting with your new friends after class. You will be able to rotate freely among the other dancers and ask as many questions of them as you want. We change partners often in class for many reasons. It helps everyone learn, and it also helps defuse tension when maybe married couples aren't entirely agreeing on how a move should be done. So don't worry about showing up solo. You'll fit right in. (That is how I started, too).
    • The corollary of this issue is 3A: I do have a partner, and I love him/her so much, I don't want to share/rotate. That's OK too. You can come to a Saturday dance and take a beginner lesson. We'll let you step out of the rotation. However, we have found through our extensive experience that our ongoing weekly lessons work best when all the couples rotate. SO, if you can't bear to be away from your sweetie, we offer two options. Option 1) Arrange a private lesson for just the two of you. I charge $60/hour, and I pro-rate for any segment of the hour. Option 2) You can put together a whole group of your attached friends, and we'll set up a special, non-rotating, semi-private lesson at your location or ours. Oooh, l'amour 💕💕
  4. I am too old. No one is ever too old to dance. Check out our heartthrob, the lovely Jean Veloz, at 93. Sure, learning a new skill at an older age may take you a little longer than it did in your youth, but it also helps protect your brain's health.
  5. I have no coordination. Um, No coordination? Really? Can you walk? Run? Bike? Swim? All these things require a lot of coordinated movement. It's just that you mastered those skills long ago. The only thing that stands between you and dancing is learning to dance is time and repetition, so I hope to see you out there soon on the dance floor and in our classes!
To register for our dance classes, you can sign up online at http://www.gottaswing.com/fredericksburg-va/. If you have any questions or if you'd .like to set up a private or personal group lesson, please email me at valerie.cox.webber@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

How to Get Rid of Muffin Top

You know muffin top, that fluffy bit of tummy that hangs over the top of your waistband. The first time someone asked me how to get rid of it, I was a little to quick on the draw with my response. This was before I worked in the fitness industry. I was going for humor, so I said, "Buy bigger pants." She gave me an evil glare.

These days, I realize that such a question is a great teaching opportunity, and there really is a multi-part response. But first, if you need to get rid of your muffin-top tomorrow, the easiest answer really is in the clothing. It doesn't matter how little body fat one has, if the elastic around the middle is too tight, it's going to create a bulge somewhere. So it really wouldn't hurt to buy some leggings with a more forgiving waist.

That response won't do anything for your
Vintage Slimming Belt
hip-waist ratio, or body-fat percentage, so let's tackle that. First off, hopefully we've all gotten the word that spot reduction doesn't really work. So core exercises like crunches and planks are great for building core strength and stability, but they cannot, all by themselves, get rid of your muffin top.

I am afraid, my friends, that what is required is a solid plan of cardiovascular exercise and solid meal planning. The great part about this is that there is no one right answer as to what specific kind of cardio you have to do. I myself experienced great weight loss results after my first daughter was born from just walking and pushing her in the stroller. As my fitness level improved, and as she was able to take longer naps, I started doing exercise videos at home. Later, when she was able to go to kids' care at the gym, I started running on the treadmill, and that was the beginning of my foray into the fitness world.

If walking, workout videos or running aren't for you, maybe you might like dancing, basketball, soccer, swimming, or any other of a million types of human movement. There's no wrong answer. Just find something that causes you to break a sweat, and that you can tolerate well enough to do fairly consistently for 30-60 minutes most days of the week.

Next up is the food aspect. People have written whole books about food and diet plans. Who am I, but a simple personal trainer and a mother of three who has successfully lost and kept from regaining a decent chunk of weight. I find that the simpler I keep my guidelines, the more likely I am to follow them. Here are a few simple food ideas. (Serious idea props go out to my fitspiration, Jonathan Ross, who wrote the book, "Abs Revealed." you should check it out.)

  • Whenever you eat, eat a vegetable. Or at least a fruit. For example, sauté some spinach and onions along with your egg in the morning. Slice a banana into your oatmeal. As pictured below, chop up some spinach, tomatoes and strawberries along with a boiled egg for a simple lunch salad.
  • Avoid added refined sweeteners. Let's not make this complicated. I mean things that involved, at some point in the assembly process, adding scoops or cups of sweetness. We could spend a lot of time debating the relative virtues of white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, Truvia, Splenda, and a thousand other kinds of sweeteners. Let's not. As a general rule, try to get your sweet fix from things that are naturally sweet without human help, like berries, bananas, and oranges. You get the picture. If you, like many of the people in my extended family, like to put spoonfuls of sugar on your breakfast cereal, it's going to take some time to retrain your taste buds. Be patient.
Every time you eat, eat the vegetables.
  • Don't eat anything that came out of a deep fat fryer.
  • Don't drink calories. Stick with water, unsweet tea, black coffee (with maybe a little milk). Avoid sodas. Even the diet sodas. I hate to bring this up, but beer, wine and liquor also include the emptiest of all calories, alcohol. The relaxation value of a nightly glass of Malbec may be worth it to you you, but 3-4 glasses is probably not helping anything, health-wise.
  • Make your own food when possible. It's not always feasible, but it saves both calories and money.
Realize the bullets above are goals, and you won't always meet them. Understand that there will be days when you'll drink all the beer and eat all the cheesecake. Don't let that one day ruin your overall plan. The next morning, put on your stretchy pants, forgive yourself, and get right back on track.

And also, if you'd like more a more detailed and specific workout plan made just for you, contact a personal trainer. Like me. I work with people both in-person and online.

Now go have an awesome day and crush those goals!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Meal-Prep Tips for Travel

I am currently chilling in my hotel room, watching "Thor, The Dark World," and mentally preparing for a four-day athletic conference that starts at 8am. I am also thanking myself for taking the time before I left to prepare meals for myself for the next four days.

This is not my first rodeo. I have been to several fitness trainings, certifications and conferences before. I know that at the end of each day, I will be so tired that the idea of even walking a few hundred yards to a restaurant and waiting for food will be exhausting. Let alone trying to find a healthy food selection amid the french fries, burgers and pizzas. It's really tough at a fitness conference, where we spend all our time talking about helping our clients make healthy lifestyle choices, and then we go out and eat a whole cow and drink 48 beers.

So, I jest. I don't drink beer.

Just in case some other people out there struggle with both the calories and the money involved in eating while on business travel, I thought I'd share some thoughts.

First, a lot depends on how you travel. I happened to be traveling by car, so I had the opportunity to pack a cooler. I left for this conference on Wednesday. On Monday, I went grocery shopping and bought eight of the small square ziploc containers you see in the photo. I bought a family pack of chicken breasts, a large sweet potato, a vidalia onion, a white potato, a red pepper, quinoa, eggs, cherry tomatoes, hummus and some cheeses.

On Monday, I cooked the quinoa and put it in the bottom of the Ziploc containers, and froze it. I boiled six of the eggs and put them back in their original container.
Tuesday, I cooked the whole family pack of chicken. We ate some for dinner, and I cut up the rest, cooled it in the fridge, and then distributed the cold chicken on top of the previously frozen quinoa.

On Tuesday, I also cut up and roasted my vegetables (with olive oil, pepper, and garlic salt). I portioned those out into two Ziploc containers. I meant to freeze them on top of the chicken, but I ended up falling asleep before I completed that step!

I also put some bagged frozen strawberries in one of the Ziplocs.

Wednesday morning, I packed all the pre-made meals up, along with the hummus, cheeses, cherry tomatoes, spinach and fresh fruits, in my cooler with some ice, and it lasted all day. I even had to move my daughter into her new apartment on my way to the conference, and everything stayed fresh, plus I had snacks for when we got hungry on the road.

Air travel
It's a little more complicated when traveling by air, but I still take my foods. In an ideal world, I like to carry enough calories on the plane with me to get through 24 hours, so that no matter what happens, I won't starve or subject anyone else to "hangry" me.

I stock some things in my carry on and some in my checked bag.

In the carry-on, I usually take my insulated bag with some cut-up vegetables, some kind of a dip (I always have to check the TSA rules for size) but I like small containers of peanut butter or hummus. I usually take some kind of dried fruits and nuts, cheese, and some variety of crackers. If I am super-organized, I'll make myself a real lunch, like a nice salad, wrap or sandwich. I am gluten-free, so I can't eat a standard airport sandwich.

In the packed bag, I usually stow some oatmeal packets, power bars, rice cakes, probably more peanut butter, nuts and dried fruits, and possibly a can or two of tuna. I don't eat the tuna on the plane because it stinks.

At the hotel
When I have the option to choose my hotel, I really like to find a place that has both a refrigerator and a microwave, but I'm pretty creative even without one. I have a little one-serving metal travel tea kettle that I use to heat up water, which I can use to make my oatmeal in the morning, and that hot water can heat up a surprising amount of other things, too. Like my cold quinoa and chicken, in this hotel that has a fridge, but only a shared microwave on the third floor.

As to why I go to all this trouble--I spent about $80 on my food for the whole trip. That includes a $20 box of wine and all my snacks. Since I am working at the conference, I will also get fed a couple of times. If I were eating out every meal here, I would easily spend $80 in a day. It's an expensive area. Not only am I saving a lot of money, I have total control over my food. I know exactly what went into it, how it was made, and the freshness of all the ingredients.

Also, since I have a pretty serious gluten sensitivity, I don't have to worry about getting some stray wheat in my food and ending up with intense abdominal pain for the whole weekend. All in all, it's quite worth it. But beyond all that, I love the creative challenge of trying to figure out how to beat "the system."

Whatever you choose to do for food, I wish you happy travels!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A Little Advice for Dance Leads

I've been teaching social dance for about six years now. Over the years, I've given a lot of dance advice to both leads and follows. This post is specifically for leads, but I'll do another one for follows later.

I often say that the ladies don't care how many moves you have. We really don't. I watch guys dancing sometimes, and I can tell they are trying to "impress" a follow who is either very attractive or a very good dancer (or both!) by throwing their whole repertoire of moves at her. But here's the thing: Follows aren't just dancers. We're people. So we don't just love the moves, we like the conversation. And there are two parts to this. One, the dance itself is a conversation. Two, sometimes, we like actual conversation. As in, talking to other people.

I'll start with the second part of that statement. For leads who are really brand new beginners, it can be challenging to talk and dance at the same time. We get that. It's easy to lose the beat once you let your focus go, and that's ok. But once you get sort of comfortable and are able to do a basic step and talk at the same time, it is really nice if you can talk to your follow while dancing. "Where are you from? Do you come here often?" Are some nice, simple and general conversation starters. If you like the person, you can say nice things like, "Wow, you are a really good dancer," or "You have such a great smile!" But you know, keep an eye out for cues that you might be making her uncomfortable and be ready to shift to benign topics of conversation like traffic and weather.

Ok, on to the second part of the conversation. The dance itself is a conversation between two people, and between the music and the dancers. The dancers don't even have to speak a word of the same verbal language to be able to communicate ideas and emotions through dance. Meanwhile, the song is communicating things through rhythms, words, pauses, breaks and syncopations that you can choose to listen to or ignore. So as a follow, I like it when my lead is actually working with me like an instrument in expressing a conversational idea suggested by the music through the dance. It's like we're collaborating together to create a poem. We're conversing together to make something happen, with purpose, and that's awesome.

Where this conversation all goes wrong is when leads begin to throw all their moves at the follow without a discernible rhyme or reason. Think about it this way: a poet uses words within a structure to convey meaning to an audience. Without that structure or meaning, you might as well be reading words off a GRE prep-course vocabulary list. It's meaningless and possibly overwhelming. The dance equivalent is a lead who just throws out one move after another after another, of increasing complexity, without any particular intention or connection to the music, the mood, or the follow. As the follow, what is usually happening on my end is that my hair is getting totally messed up and after 30 seconds or so, it has all come out of its pins and hairspray and I can't even see anymore. I'm getting really dizzy because this generally involves me spinning about 1,000 times. Often, there are blinding spotlights or strobe lights going on, so it's quite disorienting, and I have a hard time finding my partner as I come out of turns. Sometimes a wardrobe malfunction occurs (like a broken zipper or strap), which can be catastrophic. As a general rule, any dance that requires an immediate visit to the ladies room to adjust my clothing/hair/makeup is not a dance I will want to repeat. And by the way, guys, the girls talk in the powder room. If I'm in there re-pinning my hair, and asking for a safety pin to fix my dress, the other 10 girls in the restroom are going to know why and who.

Everyone is different, and I can't speak for all the follows out there. Also, it's important to remember that performances are one thing. Social dancing is quite another. But one of the instructors I like the best frequently offers this simple advice: "Guys, the less you do, the better it is for her." It's great advice. Not to be boring, not at all. But to make sure that whatever you do has a reason within the conversation. Just like a poet would never randomly throw out some big words because he thought they made him sound smart--whatever moves you do should make sense, with the follow, with the music, with the mood. Or in other words, keep it simple.

A Haiku For Confusing Dancers
Juxtapose
Frotnight Oblong Hence
Otherworldly

Big words. But they make no sense. Likewise, you may have lots of $500 moves*, but you don't need to throw them all into one 3-minute dance. Maybe use one per song. Focus on a great basic. Make your partner feel secure. Talk to the lady, if possible. If not, smile and nod encouragingly. Listen to the music, feel the music, and communicate what you hear in the music to her.

* A $500 move is what I call a the one move you retain from a weekend dance conference. You pay $500 for the conference. You go to workshops and dances all weekend. You get informational overload. You forget 98% of what you learned, but you do remember that one really cool move taught by international dancing superstar so-and-so. That one move you retained, therefore, cost you $500. These moves are generally fairly flashy and nice in a performance or choreography, or with your regular partner who knows what to expect, but quite difficult to lead successfully in a social dancing situation with a stranger.