Friday, October 27, 2017

Halloween: I'm Just Not That Into It

Whenever I hear friends and acquaintances blather on about how much they love fall, one of the most common reasons they state is a love of Halloween.  If fall is their favorite time of year, then Halloween is their favorite holiday.

What is it about Halloween?  Is it the joy we take in artifice?  Do we believe costumes can transform us into something or someone else?  Do we think decorating with undead characters and murderers and mystical figures puts us in an acceptable place to explore our own dark sides?  Do we like to scare ourselves?  In the end, is it just an excuse to eat too much and (for adults) drink excessively just like almost any other holiday we celebrate in the US?

I don't think any of these things are a bad reason to like Halloween.  I just question if celebrating Halloween excessively really accomplishes any of this.

Halloween has become a massive commercial enterprise.  It is second only to Christmas.  Costume shops pop up in every neighborhood.  Every department store, drugstore, convenience store, supermarket, and card store is filled with Halloween decorations, costumes, accessories, and Halloween-related foods.  Then there are the haunted houses and carnivals and pumpkin picking.

The National Retail Federation forecasts a total spend of $9.1 billion, and that includes:
  • $3.4 billion on costumes
  • Of that, $440 million on pet costumes
  • $2.7 billion on candy
  • $2.7 billion on decorations
  • $410 million on greeting cards
  • $300 million on haunted attractions 
All of this is for one night?   

I think what gives me the most pause about Halloween in the thought people put into their costumes.  People care more about what costume to wear than they care about their Christmas shopping list.  The options are dizzying.  Do you go to a costume shop and buy something off the rack?  Is that too unoriginal?  Do you try to create a costume out of items already in your wardrobe? Do you assemble something original but buy a few separate pieces  (like wear your own dress, but accessorize with a costume shop hat and sword)?  Do you make something entirely from scratch by sewing  new clothes or constructing something from papier mache?  Do you buy a store-bought costume and accessorize it with sexy lingerie and too much makeup and thus become a "Sexy (Insert costume here)"?

In the end, does the artifice transform you?  Do you truly feel like a new persona, or is it just something you did for the photos?  You go into the party, you see if your friends recognize what you are supposed to me, and take some photos.   Then an hour later wish you could take the uncomfortable thing off already.  Is that more accurate?

But it's not just our own costumes.  Are you too old to go trick-or-treating?  Well, you're not if you have a baby.  It doesn't even matter if your baby doesn't even have teeth to eat candy with yet.  Just buy a costume for the kid and take him through the neighborhood.  Your baby doesn't know or care that it's Halloween, but it makes a great accessory for your own amusement.  Your baby will outgrow the costume next year, so you have to buy another one and spend even more money.  You can still go trick-or-treating while you wait for the kid to grow up and you can still eat all of "his" candy without guilt.

Don't even get me started on people who dress up their dogs.  I couldn't believe it the first time I was in a pet store with a dog-owning friend and saw that the store sold actual dog costumes.  Yes, people pay real money to dress up their dogs.  I saw my friend struggle to pick one out that would fit her dog.  This isn't even about the waste of money.  This is about the fact that your poor dog has to suffer.  Your dog doesn't care about Halloween.  In fact, Halloween can be quite stressful for dogs when they see an enormous load of people walking through the neighborhoods at night and then ringing the doorbell.  Do you want to add to that stress by making them wear an uncomfortable costume?  Dogs hate having stuff on them.  Why would you do this to them for hours on end just because you think it's cute and will make some fun Instagram photos?

I do understand that adults want in on the fun. The children are having a blast scoring pounds of chocolate and playing pranks on each other. What do we get? Adults deserve to be in on it too since we're the ones spending the money.  Unfortunately, as it is with most holidays in the 21st century, we are taking it too far.  It's not about candy or costumes.  It's another night of drunken revelry, of hard partying, of alcohol poisoning and drunk driving accidents waiting to happen.  Our culture never seems to stop becoming dependent on alcohol for a good time and Halloween is just another excuse for excessive drinking and carelessness.  

Halloween is not a religious holiday (unless you're a Satanist or practitioner of Wiccan/Pagan tradition that celebrates Samhain).  It is not a time for warm family gathering.  It's not even romantic. So many other holidays, including the most commercialized ones, have a reason to exist.  At best Halloween just a time for people who consider themselves to be rebels and "alternative" to prove how cool they are by celebrating the macabre and darkness.  That is just becoming a cliche`.  

The worst part of Halloween is the reverse side of it.  This is supposed to be a time when our children can go a little wild and eat sweets and roam around at night.  Paranoid parents spoil it for them by being suspicious of everyone and everything.  I remember hordes of kids passing by my decorated, well-lit house during the last years I lived at home.  There were no children in the house, my mother and my brother and I were not known parents, so families deliberately skipped our house because they don't "know" us.  Even though there is no evidence that child murderers are out to poison children on Halloween, too many crazy parents still believe it.  Don't ring the bell at the home of a relative stranger even if the house is lit and decorated.  Don't eat any homemade cookies or cupcakes.  Don't eat apples because there are razor blades in them (that myth won't die even though there has NEVER been a razor blade in an apple).  

Parents, every day of the year people who don't really know touch your children's food.  You decide you can trust them, but that doesn't mean you can.  Your food is touched by wholesalers, grocery store workers, truckers, cafeteria workers, cooks, and servers.  Why do you trust that cupcake from a bake sale just because it came from a church or charitable organization, but not one from your neighbor?  Why do you automatically trust one group of people over another?  NO ONE IS TRYING TO POISON YOUR KIDS.  Just let them eat what they want (as long as it doesn't make them sick due to overeating or allergies).  It someone really wanted to kill your child, he wouldn't have waited until Halloween to do it.  You child is more likely to die in your car. 

I'm not a Grinch (or even a Sexy Grinch).  I am not anti-Halloween.  There will be a bowl of candy in my home on Halloween night and I hope the children will come and claim some.  There is a costume contest in my office and I will be participating.  I thought of an idea for a costume, so I decided I would try to win the cash prize.  But if I hadn't thought of a costume, I wouldn't have stressed out about it.  I'll eat some sweets too. 

 I just don't spend much of my time planning and obsessing with Halloween.  I don't spend large amounts of money on it.  It's just not on my priority list.  I don't sit around in July wish for fall because I want Halloween to come.  I'm going to enjoy the sun and the water and the most important holiday of the year - my birthday.  Halloween can wait, and it can do just fine without me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Autumnal Alternatives to Apple Acquistion

I know I talk way too much about how much I hate this time of year, and much of that talk is less about real issues with the time of year and more about the end of summer and the constant hyping of Halloween and pumpkin spice, and what I call the "Basic Blather" about crunchy air and sweaters.  I do think some of my concerns are legitimate though.  I don't like the dark and the weather is rarely as perfect as everyone wants it to be.  Most of all, I take issue with the traffic.

This past weekend I was driving home after a long day at the barn.  I had plans for the evening and I just wanted to go home and relax for a bit before going back out again.  I was cruising down Route 94 when traffic started to slow to a crawl.

Where was the backup coming from?  It was coming from the traffic pouring out of the road leading from Ochs Orchard to the traffic light.  Once I was past that traffic jam, I drove by Pennings Orchard.  While there were no traffic jams there, I could see just how full the immense parking lot was.  Any other time of year you might see a good number of cars in front of the market, but this day the lot was full from end to end.

The culprit for this massive conglomeration of cars?  Apple picking.

I remain a vocal critic of the apple picking phenomenon.  To me it's a contrived activity.  The bourgeois take a day "in the country" to pick fruit readily available in farmers' markets because it feels like some kind of authentic experience.  It feels close to nature.  To me it's just being duped into doing farm labor and paying for the privilege.  I suppose with immigration being so tightly controlled, farmers no longer having a steady supply of labor.   Having the masses come and pick fruit themselves as some kind of family activity must feel like a dream solution. 

So here is the authentic country experience.  You get in your car and drive to the orchard with hundreds of other apple pickers.  The traffic finally creeps into the orchard parking lot.  Then you have to search for a space on the (likely unpaved) expanse of parking area.  The attendants direct you to a space two states away from the orchard.

You get your bushel bag and picking device and trudge to the trees.  At first it's fun to use your device. You begin your adventure as a discerning customer, looking for the best apples.  Soon you have a dozen apples and this is getting tiresome.  Your kids are bored.  Still, you have to keep going to fill that bag because you can't just pick a few apples.  You have to buy them by the bushel and you need to pick your thirty dollar's worth.  Keep going until you fill that thirty dollar bag, kids.

Finally your bag is filled and you need to soothe your cranky kids.  They beg for candy apples (ka-ching), a pony ride (ka-ching), and a cider doughnut (ka-ching).  You see the apple jelly and apple pies.  They look good.  Should you buy some? (ka-ching?)  Maybe you will make a pie in the next couple of weeks.*  You pass on the pie and save ten bucks there. Good for you.  Too bad you had to have the dozen cider doughnuts and the jelly (ka-ching).

After you have paid for your apples, your treats, and your souvenirs, you make that long trek back to your car.  As you drive out, you have to wait in line while attendants search your car for contraband apples (because a bushel for a small family is never enough).  Finally you're back on the road with another two hundred apple pickers.  Your kids get over the sugar high and nap while you deal with the traffic snarl on the way home.

Was it really worth it?  Did you have your Authentic Fall Experience?  Are you closer to nature?  If you haven't done it yet, is it still something you want to do in the future?

If you answered no, then I would like to offer some non-apple-related activities that will fill a day nicely, get you outside, and help you enjoy those last few nice days on the calendar before winter sets in.  This list is completely non-snarky and I believe can provide you with some ideas that will take you away from the contrived experiences and crowds of the orchards.

Visit a farmers' market

"Hey Rachel," you protest.  "You said this list wasn't snarky."  I know it sounds rather obvious, and it's not exactly an adventure, but if locally grown produce and supporting local farmers are important to you, please don't neglect the farmers' markets.  You will find many of the same apple varieties (and the cider, and often the doughnuts) that you will find at the orchards, but without the traffic and parking headaches.  Maybe the farmers' markets in your town isn't that great.  Start researching the best ones and make a road trip out of it.

Visit a state park

I am willing to bet that somewhere within driving distance of your home is a beautiful state park you never bothered to visit. State parks offer plenty of chances to get close to nature with hiking trails and recreational facilities.  What better way is there to view fall leaves than to hike through a woodland path?  If you have kids who don't like walking around looking at leaves, then try to incorporate some other activities.  Bring a bird book and some binoculars and see what they can spot. Have a natural scavenger hunt.  If there is a shoreline or other open space, toss a Frisbee or fly a kite.  Older kids who are in decent shape might enjoy a trail with a tricky, steep, rock scramble

Go to the Zoo

People tend to consider zoos a summer activity and that's when zoos are most crowded.  In the cooler weather, animals are more active and more likely to out and visible. Seeing exotic animals live is an excellent way to be closer to nature.  If you live in the NYC area, The Bronx Zoo will not just give you a chance to view wildlife, but also boasts beautiful, tree-lined paths that wind through the exhibits.  It is a tranquil natural oasis in the summer.  It is even more beautiful when the leaves have changed.  If you're not in NY, I'm sure there is a zoo near you that will give you a similar experience.  If it's not as hot out, the kids will be less likely to beg for ice cream and Slurpees.

Visit a Botanical Garden

It does seem like a contradiction to go into, or stay in, the big city when you want to be out close to nature, but a botanical garden can provide you with all the nature and stunning displays of flora you crave.  Not only will you see the best of the season's plants blooming, but you can be educated about them.  Again, New Yorkers have an advantage with the New York Botanical Garden, which features conservatory displays of multiple ecosystems, quiet woodland paths, and many themed outdoor gardens as well as beautiful works of art throughout the conservatory.  Go before the end of October and catch the Chihuly exhibit if you can.  It's way more impressive than apples. Other gardens offer other beautiful features and amenities.  The Chicago Botanic Garden is another beautiful place to spend a fall day.

Visit a historic house

Sometime in the history of your region, a man became wealthy and he built a mansion or castle for himself.  His descendants couldn't pay for the upkeep, so it was donated to a historic trust or purchased by a non-profit preservation organization. Now, you, the unwashed masses, can wander through its halls in a way you never could a hundred years ago.   Take a tour and get a history lesson. Find out how the beautiful people lived (and get the dirt).  Most importantly, mansions like this have beautiful grounds and gardens.  Your family can enjoy plenty of seasonal foliage and flora.  If you want a more intense history lesson, there are historic houses that serve as "living history" museums where you can also enjoy craft demos and reenactments. These are always better at harvest time.

Visit a local winery or brewery

If you don't have kids, this is a perfect way to get outside and enjoy nature without having to make massive purchases.  Stroll through vineyards, have a picnic, and enjoy a tasting and a demo.  Have a designated driver if you don't plan to spit.

Then again, these can be as crowded as orchards in the fall.  They just have fewer kids.  Drunk adults may possibly be worse than bored kids on a candy apple high.  

Have lunch at a farm-to-table restaurant

Would you like to enjoy harvest season by actually eating the harvest?  F2T restaurants are almost always charming and you will have the same feeling of pride and responsibility of supporting local farmers that you will get from picking apples and visiting farmers' markets.  You can combine your lunch with any number of activities listed here.

Don't limit yourself to just one fall activity.  There is so much more out there than apple picking.  Go enjoy the season for yourself.

*You won't.  Trust me.  I don't even bake a lot of apple pie and I love to bake.  Give up the fantasy.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Why I Won't Pray For You (and what I will do instead)

Let me start by saying right away that you may be offended by the beginning of this post.  You won't like it. I'm sure it will make you angry.  That's fine, but before you decide to vent your anger back at me, please read the entire post.  You may not think I'm such a bad person after this is finished.  My purpose is to bring hope and cooperation.

With so many tragedies happening across the country right now, many friends have requested I pray for them, or else pray for others who may be suffering.  That's all you want me to do - pray.  You want me to ask a deity - and I'm sure you mean the deity you personally worship - to do something for you.  I suppose it's an easy way for me to respond to your problems.  I pray for God (or gods) to help you. Better God than me, right?

Let's say I decide to help you by praying.  How do I go about doing that?  I go to a quiet place where I won't be interrupted.  It might be my home and it might be a church.  Maybe it's my car or just a quiet time at my desk at work.  Here I silently ask God to help you.  It takes me just a few seconds.  It doesn't inconvenience me at all.  It hardly requires any thought or effort.  It's done and I have done my duty.  I have prayed for you and now it's up to God to help you.

At this point you're sneering at me a bit.  You are probably downright angry.  "We get it, Rachel.  You don't believe in God.  You are just being contemptuous of my religion and I don't like it."

What I do or don't believe in, and why I don't believe  (and those subjects deserve posts of their own) are irrelevant.  Even if I did believe, I would hope I could do better than prayer.  Prayer is something that's between me and the gods of my choice.  I feel I need to involve the person I'm praying for a bit more directly.

I also find this idea of group prayer to be somewhat disturbing.  If you take up an issue with God and pray about it, a loving God should want to help you because He wants to help you.  This shouldn't be some kind of numbers game.  Does God say, "I don't want to help you when you pray to Me for that.  Wait!  There are other people praying for you too.  I think I will change my mind."

What happens if my prayers are ineffective.  What if God or gods has a different plan that doesn't include helping you the way you requested.  What then?

If you are hurt, if you are in trouble, if you are sick, if you are grieving, if you are distressed, then there is so much more I want to do for you.  Prayer is just a few seconds of my private time.  If you are someone I care about, then you deserve much more than me giving you a few thoughts separately from you.

What will I do for you instead of pray?

I will give you my company.  I will provide hugs and a shoulder to cry on.  I don't want you going through troubled times in isolation.  I will spend real time with you, talking to you either by visiting in person if I can, phone calls, or emails.

I will help you with chores or errands.

I will cook meals for you or bake you a batch (or batches) of your favorite cookies or cakes or pies.

I will do volunteer work if I can.

I will donate money. I will donate to a relevant charity for disaster relief.  I will donate to your GoFundMe.  If we are close I may provide you with direct financial support if I am able to.

All you have to do is ask.

But that's the crux of it, isn't it?  If you need help, will you ask?  If I offer help, will you accept?
If I'm not offering, why aren't you asking?

To me this shows just how isolated we have become from each other.  We say we don't have time.  We say we are busy.   We sit in front of our computer screens, complaining endlessly on social media about how stressed out our lives are.  Then one day we run across a friend in need and she says, "Pray for me," and we respond, "Sure, I'll pray for you," and the transaction ends.  Prayer is said and we go on with our lives, hoping God heard and will fix whatever the problem is.  We feel smug about our good intentions, but what are we really doing for each other?  Platitudes and prayers on social media have replaced meaningful human contact.

We are afraid to reach out and ask for help because our loved ones are all too "busy" complaining about their lives on social media.  We don't say what we really need.  We don't offer more help because our friends and family aren't reaching out.  Ask for a prayer.  Say a prayer.  Let something else sort it out.

Can't we do better than this?  If you're going to go to church, don't just pray.  Volunteer in that church's disaster relief efforts.  Visit your friends and family.  Call up a loved on to check on him.  Send whatever donations you can.

I'm not just going to sit on my butt and pray.  God may have another agenda other than answering my prayers.  If I want to make a difference in the world, it's up to me.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Modest Proposal: How To Remove Confederate Memorials

The Civil War was a black stain on our country's history.  Half of the states in the United States committed an attack of treason against our country and attacked us for the right to no longer be a part of us.  Their motivation for doing so was so they could continue their horrific abuse of human rights in the form of slavery.

We should never forget the Civil War, but we shouldn't glorify it.  Heroes of the Confederacy should not have a place of prominence in the public square.  We should not be honoring their efforts.  They betrayed our country and they lost badly.  Many of these statues and memorials were erected in the 20th Century rather than during or after the Civil War.  This reverence for the era of slavery and the violent protection of it, happened during the height of Jim Crow laws.  These memorials were meant to be a reinforcement of institutionalized racism

It makes sense for decent people to want them down and placed in a museum rather than in the public square.  Sadly, there are hordes of Americans who don't see it that way.  I am hearing the never-ending  Republican cry of "Political Correctness" and "Stop being offended."  The more one tries to bring racism into the equation, the harder the right will dig in its heels.

How do we get this statues removed?  It's simple.  Liberals have to advocate for them being kept in place.

First get the ACLU involved.  Make it about southerners' rights.  Regressives hate the ACLU, so if they start advocating for statues staying in place, you can get a crowd of neo-nazis will want them down.

Next, just make all liberals advocate for the statues.  Liberals want to be empathetic to the poor southern losers who want to remember their fruitless wars.  I'm so sorry you lost.  You can have your statues if it makes you feel better about yourselves.  Here's a hug.

Liberals can also take the history route.  The Confederacy is a major part of Democratic Party history.  Democrats want their history preserved too.  Liberals are owning up to their repugnant, racist history?  We won't give them the satisfaction.  Let's take those statues down.

Whatever liberals want, regressives want the opposite, so let's leave those statues up.  If we advocate for them staying up, they will come down tomorrow.

What I don't get is the sudden panic about removing the Statue of Liberty.  Let's consider a couple of points about the statue.
  1. She's French
  2. She welcomes immigrants to the country.
 I'm surprised the Republicans didn't advocate for her removal years ago.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Finally Reviewing The Ms. Collection

Anyone who has read style posts on this blog knows I love to shop in theory, but find it frustrating in practice.  That's why I am often pursuing online services that have stylists pick out clothes for me.  I have done multiple posts on StitchFix (I have ordered a few boxes since my last review post with varying levels of success) and the now-defunct Keaton Row (I think they ruined their own business model).

My most difficult problem with buying clothes in the past three years has been weight fluctuations.  I joined StitchFix after a major weight loss, but a year later I was gaining again.  Fit issues continued to be an issue with Keaton Row.  I went from a size 8-10 to a size 6-8 to a size 10-12 in a short period of time.  I'm back down to a fairly steady size 10 now, but I'm working on going back to the 6-8 days.  I have had to buy multiple sizes of clothes to accommodate all of these weight fluctuations.  It means I have assorted items of clothing that are too large or too small.  I don't know what I should keep and what I should toss anymore.

I decided my best way to keep my wardrobe fresh would be to rent clothes.  A rental service would provide me with a constant influx of new items and I wouldn't have to commit to any of them.  There is no uncertainty in a rental service.  I don't have to worry if the dress they send will fit me in six months because it will go back in six days and I receive another dress next week.

I had four options for clothing rental services.

Rent the Runway is the most expensive of the bunch.  For a monthly fee I can choose designer items of my choice from their inventory and keep them as long as I need to. 

The main drawback of this service is the price.  The monthly fee is steep.  There is also no guarantee the clothes and accessories I want will be available when I want them.  I would consider this service for a one-time occasion rental, but the subscription doesn't seem worth it even though I know the clothes are fabulous.

Le Tote is the most well known downmarket rental option.  Unlike StitchFix, you have some control over what they send you, although not as much control as Rent the Runway.  With LeTote you can view their inventory and choose items you like, but you may not receive them (but receive similar items). 

I chose not to use this service because I read too many online reviews complaining about the quality of the clothes.  Also, the items users chose often didn't make it into the boxes anyway.

There is also Gwynnie Bee.  This is aimed at plus sized women and seems well-liked around the blogosphere.  It starts at size 10, so I could hypothetically use the service with no fit issues.  I am trying to get below that size range though, so I optimistically decided not to go with this service.

I decided to to with the Ms. Collection.  They have the same fun surprise element as Stitch Fix, carry decent, mid-level brands (the stuff you might find at the malls and department stores like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Vince Camuto, J. Crew, and Kut from the Kloth), and offer both casual and business options.

When I first decided to subscribe, I looked online everywhere for reviews.  Unlike StitchFix, there aren't many women reviewing the service in the blogosphere.  Many of those reviews are negative with complaints about bad choices and poor quality.  I did manage to find one positive review in the group.  One would think the lack of good reviews would keep me from subscribing, but I was too curious.  I came to the conclusion that there weren't enough reviews out there to know what the service was like without trying it.  On the other hand, the bad reviews of Le Tote were too numerous to ignore.

The Ms. Collection offers three levels of subscription.  They have a "Ms. Play" ($39 per month) collection that provides 3-4 pieces of casual clothing, a "Ms. Business" ($49 per month) collection that provides 4-5 pieces of work clothes, and as "Ms. Combo" ($113 per month) that includes 6-7 pieces from both collections.  It also includes accessories like scarves, bags, and jewelry if you indicate in your profile you are interested in receiving these.

I started with the Ms. Business pack, but this spring I decided to upgrade to Ms. Combo.

After these many months of subscribing, I have mixed feelings.

I do believe the stylists pay attention to feedback.  One time they sent a blouse that I thought was cute, but was too see-through and too large.  Two packs later I received it again in a smaller size and with a camisole to wear under it.  They have never neglected to send a camisole with sheer blouses since then.  Another time they sent a top I loved in February that I thought was not seasonally appropriate and wouldn't look good layered under a sweater or jacket.  I asked if I could revisit it in the spring.  I received it again in April.  If I say I like a piece, but it was the wrong size, they will sometimes send something similar in a different size.

In general there is always at least one piece in every pack I can wear.  This is an improvement over StitchFix where I have sent back boxes that have had nothing useful in them.

Here is a recent box they sent.

The stylists have a good general feel for my style. They know I like strong colors and floral prints.

In this pack I was only able to wear the burgundy top, the floral top, and the yellow top.  The yellow top was the only thing that fit me really well.  That's too bad because I don't like yellow. I have indicated this in my profile, but sometimes they slip a yellow piece in a pack.

I loved the tropical dress, but it was huge and hung like a sack on me.  The pants were way oversized.  The chambray dress made me look like a toddler wearing one of Daddy's shirts.

Thanks to my love of personal style blogs (I should address those in another post), I considered ways I could get creative with the chambray dress.  I thought I could wear it open as a duster.  It would have been a nice idea, but I wouldn't want to wear a chambray duster in July.  The stylists don't always pay attention to weather in their choices.

After receiving this particular pack, I realized I had lost some significant weight.  I congratulated myself and adjusted the sizes on my profile.  The clothes are fitting me better now.

There are times I will receive a box that is boring and too much like previous boxes.  I will vow to end the service after one more box.  Then the next box will be filled with perfect clothes and I will decide to keep subscribing.

The turnaround time on the packs can be slow.  If you wear everything once, you might have the pack a week.  If you want to wear some items two or three times, you are stuck with the pack for longer.  You need to give it a week to mail the pack back and then wait another week for them to style another pack and send it out to you.  I average two packs a month.  That means I have to make sure there are enough clothes in my closet to wear between packs.

The other drawback of the service is you can't rent one item and send everything back.  I loved a skirt in my last pack and wanted to wear it multiple times, but the other stuff I was happy to wear just once or not at all.  I couldn't hold on to the skirt and send everything else back.  You have to rent the entire pack and send back the entire pack at once.  If I sent back everything in the pack but the skirt, they would have charged me to buy the skirt.

There is an option to buy any piece you love at a discount (it's used clothing after all).  I rarely buy anything from my packs because the whole point of using this service is I don't want to commit too much to my closet while I'm still losing weight.

I have been happy enough with the service to say I will hold on to the subscription until I lose 20 pounds.  I am about 5 pounds above that right now, so at the pace I lose weight, I expect to be subscribing another three or four months.  It has been useful.  I am constantly injecting a bit of freshness into my closet and I love the anticipation of a new box.  It's more environmentally sound to rent clothes instead of buy them as well.

I don't know if I would say outright I recommend the service.  It has its drawbacks and its advantages.    I can only say if you are considering it, to take a chance and find out for yourself.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Life's Little Annoyances (That sometimes don't seem so little)

Getting into an elevator with someone who just smoked a cigarette (or pipe, or cigar, or any other smokeable substance).

Having a piece of food - particularly a hard piece of food - stuck on your tonsils and the back of your tongue keeps bumping up against it.

Your passenger's left leg when you put your manual car in fifth.

Being stuck behind a slow walker on the streets of New York (and the people coming from the other direction are moving too fast to allow you to go around the slowpoke).

The slow walker above is smoking a cigarette.

Donald Trump's ugly face everywhere I look.

The crying baby in the apartment upstairs.

People who hold the elevator forever at their floor.

People who won't re-rack weights at the gym.

Bent bra hooks.

The View from the Plateau

I know health and fitness posts aren't the most interesting items I write.  I doubt there are many readers who want to know the narcissistic details of my health and fitness improvement efforts.  Nonetheless, every once in a while I do feel it's not a bad idea to discuss my progress and whether or not I'm making the right moves to achieve my goals.  I do hope it inspires some of my readers.  I'm sure there are many people out there with similar struggles who want to know what worked for me and what doesn't.   I felt my regular updates on my progress on the Lean Eating program provided some insight to readers who might be considering the program themselves.  I'm also sure there are people who are struggling with losing weight after recovering from an injury or illness as I was.

So now that I have made excuses for why I still continue with this boring and self-centered pursuit of writing about my body issues, I want to talk about the problem so many women face when trying to reshape their bodies:  The Dreaded Plateau.

At the beginning of 2017 I blogged about my determination to finally do something about the post-surgical weight gain.  The surgery was nearly 3 years ago.  I may still have some stiffness in my hip, but I am functioning normally.   There is still some pain in my elbow, but it is only aggravated by heavy pulling motions (I doubt I will ever attempt to do pullups again) or putting direct pressure on it.  I no longer have any excuse to put a full effort into my lifestyle improvement.

I enacted a few rules.  I reserved sweets only for special occasions.  I made sure all my meals were planned ahead.  I limited alcohol consumption by never drinking it in the house unless I was entertaining.

It worked for a while.  I lost about 11 pounds, but soon I fell back into my old ways.  I'd quaff a glass of wine or a cocktail at home.  I would give in to a sweet craving during slow afternoons at work. The weight kept creeping back on.  I wasn't looking any fitter.  My body still looked soft and flabby.

But the worst of the plateau came in the gym.   At first it seemed I was starting to make real progress. One morning I was at the gym and I was doing a heavy weight/low rep day.  I meant to do my front squats at 60-65 pounds.  I miscalculated the weight of the plates when I loaded up the bar and I realized after my first set or two that I was actually squatting with 70 pounds.  I wasn't squatting that much before surgery (I squat all the way to the floor in case you think that sounds light).  I couldn't believe how strong I had become.

Two weeks later I was back at square one.  I was working in the mid weight/rep range and decided I could do 10 reps at 60pounds  with no problem.  I couldn't.  I struggled.  I lowered the weight.  The next time I had a light weight/high rep day, I took the weight all the way down to 45.  I was not only not making progress, I was regressing.

Now is the time to start making the same self-pitying comments I always make about my poor genetics.  Here is where I complain about how naturally unathletic I am.  It's where I say for the hundredth time about how it takes me twice as much time to make half as much progress as a normal person does.  This is the point where I moan about how my body just loves its fat and doesn't want to give it up.  Woe is me.

Oddly enough, even though I throw a really good pity party, I know when it's time to pack it up.  I realized I had learned a lesson in the past few months. What I had been doing wasn't working anymore.  I had gone as far as I could go with the old rules.  If I wanted the old rules to continue working, I would have to adjust them and I would have to find other ways to stick to them.

Back in May I discovered the Whole Life Challenge.  This is an online weight loss "game" where you pay a small fee and track your nutrition, exercise, sleep, and other various lifestyle habits for 8 weeks.  The rules were strict.  I had to give up all grains, including corn, all sugar, and most dairy products.  I also couldn't drink more than one glass of wine per week.  The program worked on a point system where I started each day with 5 points and lost a point for every non-compliant food I ate.  I had tinkered with the Paleo* diet in the past and WLC depended heavily on the Paleo Diet.  I could do this.  I was capable of cutting out a few foods and occasionally taking a hit of a point or three when the occasion called for it.  Besides, the exercise requirements were light.  I only had to do 10 minutes per day.  That's not even a third of what I do on a regular basis.

I knew the WLC eating habits weren't ones I could make permanently, but I felt they would help me practice restraint and think more about my food choices.  It paid off and by the end of of the eight-week program I lost 9 pounds and had lost a total of seventeen pounds since the beginning of the year.  My ultimate goal is to lose a total of 34 pounds, so I came halfway to that goal.

Do I see a difference?  Sometimes I look in the mirror and I still see a fat girl.  Sometimes I see a fit girl.  I don't know what to believe.

This is Kevin and me in 2015 on the beach in the Greek island of Zakynthos .  It's less than a year after surgery.  I was still hurting too much to work out at pre-surgery levels.  My elbow was still pretty bad even after the expensive PRP treatment.

Here we are in Chincoteague in the summer of 2017 after spending a year and half working out the way I did pre-surgery.  I am about 15 pounds lighter.  I happen to be wearing the same bathing suit (as a coincidence, Kevin is also wearing the same bathing suit and the same hat).

Sometimes I look at this and see an improvement.  Sometimes I think it's just that I'm in a more flattering pose.  Do my arms and legs look smaller?  At least the surgery scars on my right hip have faded.

Isn't it strange  how I judge myself not just how I look but also how I judge only one type of athletic performance.   Maybe there is more to consider.

On my birthday I took a day hiking trip with my friends Rich and Mickey.  We went to a trail called Breakneck Ridge.  It was aptly named.   We chose it for its proximity to the charming town of Cold Spring rather than for its ease (or lack of ease) in ascent.  We read the trail was difficult, but we felt we could handle it. We had no idea of what we were in for.

The beginning of the trail is one continuous rock scramble.  It was tricky at times trying to figure out the best way up.  Sometimes the only way up that presented itself still seemed impossible.  I plowed ahead with every climb.  I wanted to get up those precarious parts as quickly as possible.  I wanted to be ahead of the slow climbers so they wouldn't slow me down.  I started out a bit cocky as I swiftly made my way up.

Then I came to a part of the trail that had only one possible way up and it was terrifying.  There was a large, flat slab of rock that was almost vertical with no obvious footholds and handholds.  I saw several climbers ahead of me having trouble with it.  Rich went up first.  Between Rich and Mickey and me there was a young woman trying to go up and having trouble.  I had to wait for her before I could keep going.  I found a ledge to the side to sit and wait.  From that ledge I could see the long descent down to the Hudson River.  I began to panic.  I felt that sense of vertigo one feels when confronted with dizzying heights.  I had confidently come this far, but I suddenly feared I would not be able to get over that slab of rock.  This woman ahead of me couldn't figure it out.  Why would I be any different?

Oddly enough, as she called up to her boyfriend who was on the trail above her and asked for help, he said to her, "Just follow her."  She looked over at me and said to him, "She's off to the side waiting for me."  I realized I was "her" and apparently other hikers noticed how adept I was at climbing.  It gave me a little bit of confidence that others saw me as someone who knew what she was doing (although if I looked down, that confidence would diminish).  Finally Rich helped pull her up and she made it to the next ledge on the trail.

It was my turn.  Going back down was not an option.  I had to get up over this bit of rock.  I couldn't even tell you where I dug in my foot or what I reached for.  I just did it.  I figured it out without even giving it much though.  I think I definite hoisted my leg up pretty high to the edge of the top of the rock and pushed myself up.  I had to be both strong and flexible to do that.  After waiting for several minutes watching someone else struggle, I made it over that section of the trail in a few sections with no assistance.

The view from that (literal) plateau?  It was breathtaking.  Breakneck Ridge is worth the crazy climb.

What else have I accomplished lately? I completed the Warrior Dash and thought most of the obstacles were easy.  This summer I took my first modern dance classes.  I took a tap class with a new instructor who is nothing like my regular teacher and who made it feel like I never tapped before.  I rented a bike in Chincoteague and realized how much better balanced I am on a bicycle than I used to be. (I can take my left hand off the handlebars without feeling like I'll lose control). I was having trouble with Riddle over the winter and stopped riding her for a few months, and started riding other horses to work on my skills until I felt I could communicate with her again.  I started riding her again in the spring and my ability to work with her successfully earned me a Rider of the Month award.  I can do so much.  I have overcome what I lost post-surgery.  I'm as fit as I ever was.  Why can't I be happy with that?

You have to climb to reach a plateau.  I had a long ascent.  It's time I just enjoy the view for a while. I know I can keep climbing again.

*I am not one of those weird, quasi-religious Paleo freaks.  I think the Paleo diet provides some useful guidelines for eating since it focuses solely on fresh food.  However, I also think legumes, grains, and dairy can have their place in a healthful diet.