Friday, December 30, 2016

Moving My Body Forward 2017: Resolutions and Reclaiming the Ninja Goddess

Aren't you glad this isn't a political post?

2016 was the year to try to rebuild my strength to pre-surgery levels and try to find a way back to a healthy weight and bodyfat level.

I succeeded at the former, but failed at the latter.  Nonetheless, I celebrate my success.  Over the course of the year I sometimes looked at the routines in my various workout programs and thought, "That's too hard.  I can't do that."  Then I went ahead and did it.  I continue to amaze myself every day.

I swore that I needed to accept my body and just deal with the fact that I'm not willing to make the changes needed  to radically make over my body.  I got my level of fitness back and that's all that matters.

Or is it?

Unfortunately in recent months my pony has become impossible for me to ride.  She is unresponsive and even combative when I ask her for simple tasks.  My trainer has asked me to consider if I might be too heavy for her.  I think she may be right.  I owe it to Riddle to make her more comfortable.  We are a team.  We have worked together for the past 10 years working to riding goals.  I can't move forward figuratively if I'm making moving forward literally uncomfortable for her.

So I need to find a new way to work on these eating habits.  My attempts to share regular habits wasn't working out too well.  I wasn't sticking to it.  I need new goals and new strategies.

I came up with these strategies for both exercise and nutrition.

Nutrition Goals

Stay with a fixed meal plan:  I have been writing and refining a list of meals to carry me over for the next six weeks.   Each week I eat the same breakfast and lunch and three different dinners (each dinner is eaten over two nights).  This allows me one night out per week.  The meals are vegetable heavy and often vegetarian (even vegan) although I make sure each day has adequate protein.

The No-Dessert Challenge:  I am challenging myself to not eat sweets for as long as possible.  I will save desserts for special occasions like holidays and other family gatherings.  Each interval I go without sweets will come with a reward such as new perfume from Sephora, an off-season pedicure, a massage, and a styling session with one of the high-end box services. 

No alcohol at home:  If I want to drink, I do it when I'm out.  I have only one dinner scheduled out per week so that doesn't leave much room for drinking.

Exercise Goals

I  have only one goal and, believe it or not, it is to scale back.  I have spent years following the rule of three strength sessions a week.  I have had multiple injuries and I'm getting stiff.  New body parts are hurting all the time.

Instead of 3 strength, 2 cardio, 1 dance, and 2 horseback riding, I am swapping out a strength session for yoga.  I need to start doing more flexibility work, not just to keep the stiffness at bay, but to be more relaxed and centered.

Many fitness experts say two times a week is minimum and three times a week is optimal.  I'm guessing most of these experts don't work their muscles trying to control an animals that weighs several times more than they do.  I think I get enough muscle work from riding.

My winter schedule will look something like this:

Sunday: AM strength training, PM riding
Monday: Dance class
Tuesday: AM strength training
Wednesday: Cardio (30 minutes steady state on bike or elliptical, 10 minutes of intervals) or Zumba
Thursday: Yoga class
Friday:  Cardio (see Wednesday)
Saturday: Riding

Thursday is yoga day because it's the day my gym has a class at a time I can be there.  I want to go to a class because I know I am less likely to do anything if I decide to simply stretch or do a DVD at home.

I think I can liberate myself from the expensive weight programs and the books.  I believe I  have the knowledge to design my own workouts now.

This will change when dance class is out for the summer.  I think by that time, I will have another check in.  Can I hold out with only monthly (if that much) dessert and weekly wine?  How will that affect my body if I can?

I want to feel like a Ninja Goddess again.  Ninja Goddess may not be quite what she was in 2013, but I can redefine who she is and what she does and what she can accomplish.  She needs to banish the Dumpy Stumpy Troll (granted, she should have been doing that all along and I haven't been letting her).

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Wee Bit of Schadenfreude

The word from the armchair political analysts and the corporate media pundits is  that Donald Trump won the election because he suckered the white working class into believing he will bring manufacturing jobs into the United States.  Under Trump everyone will be working well-paid jobs again.

This will never happen of course.  Manufacturing companies have nothing to gain by having their factories in the US where minimum wage laws and OSHA rules apply.  American corporations want to treat their workers in a standard most Americans would never accept.  Due to union busting over the past three decades, even if companies did bring their factories back to the US, manufacturing wages and benefits would not be any better than working at WalMart or McDonalds.

Trump has stocked his cabinet with billionaires like him (or actually I should say true billionaires who are far more successful than he is and even more ruthless).  They aren't going to care about the working class.  It will be business as usual with crony capitalism and concentration of wealth at the top.  Anyone who believes otherwise is kidding himself.

What about those of us who aren't working class?  What about us "Coastal Elites" who just happen to be liberal?  Will we suffer?

The fossil fuel industry is salivating over the Trump presidency.  He picked the CEO of ExxonMobil as Secretary of State.   He will open up the country to all the drilling and fracking the companies' hearts desire.  The oil industry is set to thrive.

You know what?  I happen to work in the energy industry.

Oil companies will be making money by the tankload.  They will have more money to invest in my company's services.  My company will do well.  My job is quite secure (unless I screw up personally). Yes, this liberal "nasty woman" will be able to maintain her middle class lifestyle quite nicely.

Lucky me.  I'm going to thrive under Donald Trump and I didn't even vote for him.

It will be business as usual for red state "Real America".  They thought they were getting their well-paying jobs back.  They are going to suffer just as much, while this liberal does just fine. 

Yes, I do feel a bit of schadenfreude about that. 

Schadenfreude is defined as a temporary feeling of pleasure at someone's misfortune.  I can take temporary pleasure in misfortune, but as a liberal I have too much empathy for others' misfortune to be happy for long.

I am filled with sadness for the Walmart greeters and burger flippers who are struggling to pay the bills on minimum wage and no benefits. I feel especially sorry for them when they find themselves relying on SNAP or Medicaid to care for their families, then hearing their fellow Republicans calling them "takers" and too lazy to work.  I wish they would understand that they are merely being Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin when they vote Republican and then wait for the money to trickle down to them.

The white upper classes - liberal and regressive - will continue to do well.  That is a given.  If we have any drop of humanity left in us, we will consider those who haven't done well without Trump and will continue to do worse in the next four years.  What about those Americans who don't fall into the privileged boxes?

The working class and poor will continue to suffer poor wages and no benefits.  They only benefits they can have - those provided by the government - will be cut or even eliminated.  How many people will go hungry?  What about the people who will no longer have healthcare?  How many Americans will die or go into deep debt?  Will more black Americans die under our ever-increasingly brutal police state?  Will gay Americans lose their basic rights over something as trivial as what they do in their own bedrooms?  (This article here says it better than I can.)

I had my moment of schadenfreude.  Now it's time for me to stop celebrating the benefits of my white, upper-class, privilege.  I leave that to the Republicans.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Liberals Don't Need to Understand Real America. Real America Needs to Get Real.

After this election, I have been reading nonstop about all the poor assumptions liberals made about this country and its voting habits, and how their biggest mistake was not understanding "Real America".

What is "Real America"?  Real America is geographically the central states of the US, often referred to as "flyover territory" in a derogatory fashion.  The people who live there are characterized as white, working class (or poor), Christian, and conservative.  Their education levels rarely go beyond high school.  They are seen as clinging desperately to a world that never really existed.  They fear change.  They fear being left behind by an ever-increasing multicultural population and the globalization of the economy.

It doesn't matter if these stereotypes are true or not.  Every election we have ever had panders to them.  The assumption is every politician is eager to grab votes from minorities, educated and professional women, and big cities with large populations, so this group is left behind.  That means more time and attention is put on campaigning for the needs of this group and framing the message that Real America still exists and still has a voice.

Working class and poor people have real fears and real problems that affect the entire country.  Unskilled workers can no longer be guaranteed employment in a well-paying manufacturing job.  There are jobs out there, but they are low-paying service industry jobs and do not cover the cost of food and housing.  They also don't provide healthcare benefits or the healthcare benefits they do receive cover as little as possible.  The need to find a way to pay for the basic cost of living has caused an endless cycle of debt.  Education used to be the one way out, but schools are failing and the cost of college makes higher education impossible for many Americans.

Liberals understand this.  We know many Americans struggle with basic needs.  We know children go to bed hungry.  We know adults are deep in debt.  We want to solve these problems first.  Liberals see the only way to solve problems is to move forward and not try to go back to some other time.  We need to work with the system as it is and not try to make it into what we wish it would be.

How do liberals want to do this? you ask.  We have several key initiatives to grow the economy into the future.

We accept manufacturing jobs that have already moved overseas are not likely to come back
There is little incentive for companies to do that.  Besides, automation has made many manufacturing jobs obsolete.  Producers simply don't need the workforce they needed 50 years ago.

Rather than make jobs that don't exist, we need to make existing jobs more profitable for the worker 

We need higher wages, better working conditions, and strong benefits.  The government needs to stand with the unions instead of with the union busters.  If you truly want to return to the "Golden Age" of the 1950s, you need to do exactly what they did in the 1950s.  That means high minimum wage and strong unions (and yes, a high top tax rate, which was not proven to diminish the wealth or lifestyle of the super-rich).

We encourage rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure
This is one of the best ways to create jobs.  This will not just benefit the working class.  Everyone will benefit from safe roads and bridges and safe and reliable public transportation.

We want to invest money into education at all levels

Education is the one way all Americans have to improve their quality of life.  Equal access to the best education is another benefit to society as a whole.   This is particularly true in the age of automation.  If we gave Americans the technical training to program and service the automated systems in place, more of them would have jobs in the manufacturing industries and would wouldn't have to keep hiring educated technicians from other countries.

We see the need to start investing in renewable energy instead of trying to rebuild the dying fossil fuel industries

Coal is dirty and inefficient and automation has replaced a vast number of coal mining jobs. Investment in alternatives will encourage innovation and entrepreneurship s.  This investment will create more jobs.  The added benefit to Americans as a whole is our air and water will be cleaner.  Win/win!

Unfortunately this message has been either buried or distorted by the right wing media (the "liberal media" is one of the biggest lies currently perpetuated by our culture as a whole) and the massive corporations who own them.   Every attempt at improving the lives of all Americans is framed as impractical, elitist, and even communistic.  While the internet has provided a voice for liberals to state their case without corporate dollars interfering, we have a long way to go to make our message heard.

The problem isn't just the media though.  It's the people themselves.  For too long poor and working class white people have swallowed the Republican message even when it has ceased to make any sense whatsoever.  How can anyone stand up and say we need to get rid of establishment elitists and then elect a billionaire who is infamous for underpaying - or not paying at all -  his employees, and even commits outright fraud?  Why would anyone believe our President cares anything about the people he has stomped on his entire career?  There are powerful interests at work saying if we just let billionaires make as much money as they want, they will begin spreading that money around.  There will be more jobs and higher wages.  This has never proven to be true.  No matter how many Republicans are in Congress or the White House, the Trickle-Down Fairy has yet to sprinkle her magic dust over the US population.  (I wrote more about that here.)

The real issue here is not whether or not Americans are willing to accept practical fixes for the economy.  It's that they are looking for something else.  As I said above, white working class people aren't looking for practical solutions.  They are looking for some version of America that doesn't exist.  They don't want the world to change.  They don't want equal rights for all races and religions.  That would mean a risk that their own power will further diminish.  They don't want better education.  They want jobs for the uneducated.  They don't want multiculturalism.  They want their world to exist exactly as it is forever and ever.

This mentality needs to stop.  It needs to change.  I'm tired of living in a country that is trying to preserve a way of life for a certain group of people.  I'm tired of hearing how elections are lost because white, Christian, working class people "Want their country back."  I'm tired of being told I don't understand working class people and that I'm an elitist.

It's time for Real America to get real.

I am not the only one who believes this.  I am writing this post after seeing these pockets of dissension regarding the reason Trump won the election.  There are many new voices coming out and saying the same thing I'm saying and saying it better.

Real America needs to face a few truths if we are ever going to move this country in the right direction.

Let's start with the fact that Christianity is not the only religion in this country

Accept the fact that Christianity can not, and does not, dominate the public square.  This does not mean you can't be a Christian.  You are welcome to attend church, proselytize on the street corner (as local ordinances permit), pray, and practice ritual as long as you don't cause harm to others.  This is your right as an American.  However, it is time to understand you can't force everyone to live under your religion.  Others do not have to pray with you if they don't want to.  No one is required to celebrate your holidays or celebrate them exactly as you celebrate it.  The Constitution is not derived from your ancient holy texts and the country is not required to live by those rules.  It's time to coexist with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Wiccans, Scientologists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and yes, Atheists.  We need to start talking about creating an ethical society that does the least harm and provides the most benefit instead of trying to turn everyone Christian.

Next it's time to stop fearing multiculturalism

 There is fear among white people that European culture will be lost.  What is European culture?  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, native-born Americans (but not Native Americans) feared the masses of immigration from European countries such as Italy and Ireland.  I'm sure they felt these immigrants would destroy their way of life.  Now the entire country celebrates St. Patrick's Day and eats more pizza than they do in Italy.  That's what the "Melting Pot" is all about.  Our country always has been, and always will be, absorbing aspects of other cultures int our own.  Do you really think only white or European culture is the only one we should allow in this country?  Do you love jazz, blues, rock, or hip hop?  Do you enjoy salsa dancing or eating street tacos?  Do you practice yoga?  Elements of immigrant and non-white American culture are probably already part of your daily life.  It hasn't harmed you.  In fact, it has probably made your life more enjoyable.

If you think it's possible to keep every single undocumented immigrant from crossing the border, you had better think twice about the advantages.  There are industries who - rightly or wrongly - rely on undocumented immigrant labor.  This includes industries that affect your daily life like agriculture, meatpacking, and winemaking.   If an impenetrable wall is built from edge to edge of the Mexican border, food prices could potentially soar. Will you just say that's Obama's fault?

We need to learn to accept that you can't force gay people back in the closet

You are allowed believe it's a choice.  You are allowed to believe it's wrong.  You are not allowed to legislate those beliefs.  Gays do not have to be married in your church, however two loving, committed, consenting adults are allowed to obtain a legal marriage certificate with no interference from you or your pastors.  You don't have to like it, but it has nothing to do with you.  It's none of your business.

It's time to start recognizing blacks, Latinos,  Semitic people, and Asians as human beings with equal value to you

They are not out to get you.  They are not stealing your jobs.  They are not taking your tax money in welfare dollars.  They are US citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as you have.  They have families and loved ones to care for.  They worry about jobs and money as much as you do.  Maybe it's time to get to know someone who doesn't look like you.  Also, remember that your ancestors were immigrants too.  The "real" Americans were killed off in order for you to be here and call yourself a native.

Intellectualism is not the enemy

Education is important.  In order to get anywhere in life, you need a good education.  This doesn't just mean learning the 3Rs.  A good education includes critical thinking and at least a basic understanding of how the world works.  Turn off the TV and read a book.  Go out and explore.  Try to create something just for the joy of creation.  You may find you go farther in life if you are curious and open-minded.

You must understand Roe V. Wade is the law of the land

You don't have to like it and you also don't have to get an abortion if you don't want one.  You do need to accept the vast majority of the US population supports it.  Don't expect your elected officials to overturn it.  They use it as a wedge issue to get you to the polls, but they have no intention of following through.  If they came close to overturning Roe V. Wade, more proponents of the law would start flooding the polls and your representatives would lose their seats and they know it.  If you love children, it's time to support measures that help children currently walking this earth. 

Realize we need to take care of the planet

Concern for the planet isn't a communist plot.  We all breathe same same air and drink the same water. We can't keep poisoning the planet that sustains our life.  Businesses won't all fail and capitalism won't collapse if we start cleaning things up.  In fact, it can even encourage innovation as I said above.  You also need to accept that climate change is real.  Stop making this about politics.  The science is out there.  Climatologists are begging for us to pay attention.  Please start doing so before it's too late.

Remember that "coastal elites" are just as "real" as rural whites

I know I am privileged to have grown up in a place that had good schools and that I had a family that could send me to college.  It was purely an accident of birth.  I understand that.  I also have many of the same struggles you do.  I still worry about money and sometimes struggle to have all the bills paid.  I have family members who need extra care.  I had to finance my education and was in debt for many years over it.  I go to work, watch TV, eat dinner, and do many of the same things you do.  I am a human being, and I am real.

I am real.  You are real.  Let's work together to solve real problems with real solutions.   I can reach out to you, but will you reach out to me?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Congratulations America!

You have elected the President you deserve.

Last night, after spending hours watching the polls, I stumbled fearfully into bed with the thought that I could wake up in the morning and Donald Trump would be president.  It wasn't looking good for Clinton, but I couldn't give up hope for an eleventh hour miracle.

Kevin and I were both sleepless.  I tried to stay away from my phone and computer, but during his periods of wakefulness, he would check the news on his phone.  I finally had to ask him for the bad news.  All he needed to say was, "He won," and now I don't know if I will ever sleep again.

I remember in 2000 feeling such horrible dread when George W. Bush was elected.  My dread was justified.  He was terrible for this country, starting with his monumental failure to prevent 9/11 at the beginning of his presidency, to the Great Recession at the end of it.  What I feel now does not even begin to compare.

What have we done?  Why?  What has made anyone believe this man has any qualifications to run the country?

Back in March, when it seemed impossible for Donald Trump to come this far, I wrote a blog post about my greatest fear concerning Trump's political career.  It didn't matter if he won or not.  He opened Pandora's Box and made racism acceptable.  He has wrapped up his hateful words in cynical blanket of anti-political correctness, but the dog whistles are growing louder.  Here is a snippet from that post. 

Those who praise Trump say that he says what's on his mind without fear of offending anyone or a need to be politically correct.  How has this become a good trait?  How did treating others with kindness and respect suddenly a character flaw?  Do you think a fear of offending people has gone "too far"?  What makes it too far?  Isn't it better to try to be kind and respectful to everyone than it is to cease to care about how others feel?

It's not about anti-political correctness and not offending people.  Republicans are just as likely to be offended by others' language.  It's just not the same language that offends them.  (Try wishing a Republican "Happy Holidays" this December and you'll see what I mean.)  Donald Trump is saying out loud what others are afraid to say because we all know on some level that what Donald Trump is saying is wrong.  Those who support him desperately want to believe that he is right.  They want a world where good and evil are clearly defined and everything is black and white.  He is making it easy to choose sides and not think. 

When Trump says he wants to "Make America great again," he is really saying he wants it to go back to a time when it was dominated by white males and alternate voices were suppressed.  He wants to go back to a time when only one religion was allowed to dominate the public square.

He has grandiose claims that sound great on paper.  It would indeed be great if manufacturing jobs were brought back to the United States.  He has promised this over and over, but no one seems to notice that he never really outlined a plan for how he will do this.  He promises there will be a border wall blocking Mexico, but he can't come up with a believable plan for how to pay for it.  He spent his campaign selling a fantasy and his voters never demanded to  know how he plans to make those fantasies a reality.

At this point I almost began to rant about the stupidity of the American electorate.  How ignorant and complacent have we become?  Why aren't we making politicians more accountable for the promises they make?  Why has no one noticed Trump gives broad and evasive answers to every question anyone ever asked him?

I know it's not stupidity.  It's desperation.  Just a few decades ago any unskilled American could be assured of a manufacturing job and create upward mobility for their families due to union wages and benefits.  There was job security, assurance of education and a better life for younger generations, and a smaller gap between the haves and the have-nots.  Now even well-educated workers are now barely making ends meet in low-paying service jobs with no guarantee of a living wage and no healthcare.  It seems reasonable to hope a president can somehow bring back the old days instead of finding the best ways to move forward in the system we currently have.

The problem with desperation is it creates a breeding ground for dictators.  The French were desperate when Napoleon came into power.  The Germans were desperate when they elected Hitler.  They Russians were desperate at the time of the Bolshevik revolution.  I like to think Americans are not that desperate, but as a white, employed, upper-middle-class woman living comfortably in a wealthy suburb, it's hard for me to know or understand the true struggles and feelings of the poor and working class in less prosperous areas of the country.

I do have to consider that maybe Americans are truly stupid.  I read recently that only 12% of Trump voters actually like Trump and agree with his views.  The racist "alt-right" may be vocal, but they are not the majority of the Republican party.  That means most voters were not voting for Donald Trump yesterday, but were voting against Hillary Clinton.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The American electorate would rather vote for someone with no political experience, who sells a fantasy rather than a plan, running on a platform of racism and anti-intellectualism, than a woman who has dedicated her life to public service.  Donald Trump isn't even a particularly good businessman.  He's not an entrepreneur.  He is not a good money manager.  He had made his money from brand licensing, lawsuits, and celebrity appearances. Hillary Clinton,  worked for years in non-profit advocacy groups and has a background in both legislation and foreign policy.  I don't think any party has put up a more qualified candidate than Hillary Clinton in decades.  All Americans care about are scandals that never happened and a lack of a cuddly personality.

Maybe we are truly all that stupid.

I have a fantasy of my own.  I like to think Trump is going to realize quickly he isn't cut out for the job.  He will pull a Sarah Palin in a year or two and step down.  I don't like the idea of President Pence, but he may be able to hold things together until 2020 when we can oust the whole crew from Washington.  For all we know the Republicans could win again, but maybe they will have seen the error of their ways and elect a better candidate.

At the very least, if we get out the vote in 2018 we can keep working to flip Congress.  If Trump stays in office, we need a Congress that can keep him in check.  If he hangs on until 2020 and messes up as much as I expect him to, the Democrats will be back in the White House in short order.

I hope this country learns its lesson.  I hope this lesson will not take too big of a toll on our economy or on our relationships with foreign countries. I am embarrassed for my country right now.  We can do better than this.  I really hope we can.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why I'll Never Be On the Athleisure Bandwagon

Athleisure is the new business casual.  Your gym clothes aren't just what you wear to the gym.  You now wear them out shopping (and I don't just mean a quick trip to the grocery store).  You wear them out to dinner.  You may even wear them to work.  A typical athleisure outfit isn't the pair of leggings and the oversized souvenir t-shirt I wore to the gym this morning.  In fact, an athleisure outfit may never see the inside of a gym.  On a typical morning I  roll out of bed and stumble into some sweatpants and steel-cage sports bra.  That's not athleisure. 

Let's imagine for a moment that I took the athleisure route when I got dressed this morning.  There would be no random pulling of tops and pants from a drawer in the dark.  I would carefully put together today's exercise-inspired outfit ahead of time.  I pull a pair of leggings over my legs from a massive collection of colors and prints   I put on a matching sports bra with questionable ability to actually support my boobs.  The bra  may not support me much, but it is smartly accented with interesting straps and cutouts.  Over the top I add a coordinating long tank top that would likely get in my way if I needed to perform a deadlift or a downward dog, but it's cute the way it dips down in the back enough to show that cute bra.  I look like I'm about to work out, except that my outfit is hardly built for athletic performance and I wouldn't want to get it all sweaty anyway.

I have found it distressing when I go into high-end exercise clothing stores - whether Lululemon or independent boutiques - and see clothes that are meant for looks and not for function.   This is particularly true of yoga clothes.  Everything is flimsy and provides minimal coverage.  Do you want a cute yoga outfit?  I hope you don't mind wearing skintight leggings or showing nearly all of your torso.  If you have big boobs you're out of luck.  It sends a subtle message that people whose bodies fall outside of a certain ideal don't work out and shouldn't even attempt it.

Workout clothes have become so expensive and so fashion-forward that we now have no choice  but to take them to the street.

Most critics of athleisure mourn the inappropriateness of wearing workout gear in situations where traditionally one did not wear workout gear.  The argument is that it's sloppy and makes you look like you don't care.  This is not the issue I have with athleisure. I don't care if other people look sloppy.  I don't care if you're going to work looking like you are going to the gym.  That's your choice and if your boss doesn't like it, or the hostess won't give you a table at the restaurant, it's your problem and not mine.  Wear what you like.  If that's what makes you happy and comfortable go for it.

My problem is not caring out how others look.  My problem is that yet another simple and inexpensive area of our society has become commodified and gentrified.

I remember my first yoga class over twenty years ago.  The teacher was a gray-haired black woman with a soft full body.  She wore a dated looking 80s style unitard.  When she stopped teaching at my gym she was replaced with a sinewy, plain-looking, middle aged woman who biked to the gym because she didn't own a car.  She was as unglamorous as a fitness instructor could be and taught class in ordinary shorts and a t-shirt.

Twenty years later the yoga teachers in my gym look nothing like they did in the early years.  They are all young, white, taut, hipsters - fashionably pierced and tatted and dressed in the latest yoga gear.  Once upon a time there was no such thing as yoga gear. Yoga isn't just a class my gym offers.  There are high end yoga studios that employ those young hipster teachers and seem to cater exclusively to white women dressed in Lululemon.

Even though it truly only take a few simple exercises, done consistently, to stay in shape, the fitness industry never stops trying to reinvent the wheel.   Instead of balance and flexibility work we have yoga done in high-end (sometimes branded) studio, and yoga's more expensive cousin, Pilates.  Strength training is packaged in a hundred different DVDs and gimmicky classes, some of which are more effective than others.  Instead of taking your bike for a ride, you go Soul Cycle.  Rather than take a dance class at your local Y, you go to Barre class. I could go on about the fitness industry complicates the simple in order to lure women with promises of a miracle or a quick fix, but that really needs another post.

Most branded exercise classes also sell branded gear to go with the classes.  I have a bag full of dance shoes that have all seen barre work (as in actual dance classes where I warm up at the barre), but if I wanted to take Barre class, I'd have to buy their special socks.  Soul Cycle has special socks too.  Also shoes.  They also have a website full of cute clothing.  Zumba instructors have to wear Zumba branded clothing to teach.  It's part of their certification.  If you buy a DVD from Beachbody, they will have all kinds of recommended pieces of clothing and equipment on full display during the course of the class (and let's not forget about those stupid shakes).

This isn't the first time a humble article of clothing was gentrified.  Let's look at the most ubiquitous item of clothing in our culture - jeans.  If you go back in time to the 19th century, you will see jeans as something only the working class wore. Cowboys and farm hands wore them. They were gear meant for manual labor.  In the 20th century they became standard casual wear.  As it became acceptable for women to wear pants, we would see women wearing jeans when they worked in factories.  Young people began wearing them as casual wear.  It was still unacceptable to wear them in most public situations.  I remember an episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy was in a hurry to go somewhere and was telling Ethel she had no time to change her clothes, but Ethel was adamant that she would never be seen on the subway in her blue jeans.  According to one of my high school history teachers, my high school forbade girls wearing jeans to school as late as 1969.

What changed about jeans?  Well, I am old enough to remember the moment when jeans changed into something fashionable and even dressy.  A new trend appeared called Designer Jeans.  High end designers began selling jeans in their lines with the brand label and logo clearly visible.  The only difference between these jeans and the jeans you wore to go outside and play was the price.  That price meant you could take those jeans into places where they previously weren't allowed.  The price of jeans continues to climb.  When I was in high school, the most prestigious labels were $50 a pair, and that seemed fairly outrageous.  Now people think nothing of spending $200 or more for a pair of jeans (even adjusted for inflation, that's a lot of money for cotton made in a Southeast Asian factory.)

Now that we have taken casual jeans into the dressy mainstream, it's time to elevate something even more casual onto the streets.  The key was to start creating high-end brands.  We now have Athleta and Lululemon.  Chain-smoking fitness guru Kate Hudson has created "affordable" workout gear through Fabletics, but your inexpensive outfit comes with a monthly subscription fee.  The manufacturers of these lines claim their quality is superior, but testimonials from women who have bought this stuff and found it lacking (remember the Lululemon leggings incident?) will tell you differently.  Highly technical and justifiably expensive workout gear does exist, but that kind of clothing is worn by serious athletes who need this type of fear to perform better in their sports and not by women on the street.

If I am going to pay a lot of money for fitness gear, I am going to be paying for functionality.  I have spent as much as $80 on a sports bra because I'm busty and need something that will clamp me down in place when horseback riding.  My riding boots cost more than any other pair of shoes I own because I need boots that can survive days at the barn.  I want tap shoes that sound clean and are easy to move in.  Other than that, I don't need expensive gear.  A pair of leggings from Modell's or Kohl's or the back racks of DeJaneiro work just fine for me.  I throw on whatever t-shirt or tank is clean and I'm good to go for some time at the gym or dance class.  None of it looks fancy.  I just need it to do its job.

You will not see me pay extra money for workout gear that looks stylish just so I can wear it on the street.  I'll keep my athletic gear in the gym, the dance studio, and the barn.  I'll pay for the functionality I need, but I won't pay to make my most casual clothing socially acceptable. 
I'd rather just go out wearing my cheap jeans.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Does Marriage Cause Divorce?

"That is the stupidest question you have ever asked on your blog, Rachel," you tell me.  One can’t divorce without marrying.

The world is filled with moralistic doomsayers who swear the divorce rate is skyrocketing and no one stays married anymore.  This isn’t the reality.  The US divorce rate has remained relatively stable for decades.  Still, it is quite depressing to think nearly fifty percent of marriages in the US will end in divorce.  Americans are often surprised to find the US divorce rate is declining, but it it is only declining because many couples are abandoning marriage as divorce seems somewhat inevitable and not worth the risk.   

While many of us fear marriage, there are still many of us who want to be married and want it badly.  As I grow older and see more of my married friends divorcing, I start to question why marriage is so important.  Divorce, it seems to me, can be a result of wanting marriage too much.  Marriage for the sake of marriage is the ultimate goal.  It seems the desire to simply be married above all else takes a backseat to the simple desire of wanting to share your life with a particular person.

What is marriage?  Legally it is two people who are not blood relatives entering into a contract where the government recognizes them as a family with all legal kinship rights.  The contract gives the couple certain responsibilities to each other and legitimizes their children.  For religious people marriage is a sacred covenant blessed by their chosen gods.  Such a union would not be legitimate in their own eyes if not sanctioned by a representative of those gods.

I also think in American culture, marriage takes on a more esoteric definition.   Our culture sees marriage as a state of being for couples.  It is the ultimate form of commitment.  Putting your signature on a piece of paper is the final level you can take your relationship.  It shouldn't have more meaning for how to people feel about each other, but somehow it does.

I admit I feel this way about marriage.  I have always been ambivalent about children and have not practiced any religion in my adult life, but I have always known I wanted to be married when I met the right man.  I was never interested in just meeting Mr. Right and living with him without the ceremony preceding it. I don't know why I feel this way other than years of cultural conditioning about the meaning of marriage. 
There are those who do reject this idea.  In the 21st Century many couples are questioning if the legal affirmation makes any difference in their relationship.  There is nothing wrong in living together, or even having children together, without being married.  When you never marry, you never divorce and divorce is seen as the ultimate tragedy.

Is breaking up a cohabiting situation, particularly when there are issues of children, real estate, or other major purchases involved, any easier than divorce?  More to the point, is a relationship less likely to end if the couple never marries in the first place?

My question is, for those who yearn to marry, are they sabotaging the potential for a happy marriage, by making marriage the goal?  Why is it in a world where we are all cognizant of divorce rates, do we not consider why we are marrying? Why do we feel marriage is so important that we don’t give enough consideration to whom we marry and why?

When I was single and looking, I had numerous discussions with my peers, both male female, about why it’s so difficult to find the right person.  Women complained about how shallow and non-committal men were and how they only cared about easy sex.  Men complained that women were too picky and would turn down decent men for more exciting and better-looking men with more money. Both men and women expressed a desire to find the right one, settle down, and have children.  I would ask myself and my friends why these two groups never seemed to find each other.  Why couldn’t these men and women who were so focused on marrying ever seem to meet, date, and marry each other?  

As time passed, some of them did meet and marry.  That is how I realized the mere desire for marriage is not a wise reason to marry.  

Twenty years ago I dated a man who was desperate to marry.  He was insecure in the way many singles in their 20s and 30s tend to be.  He longed to recreate the perfect marriage he saw with his parents (even though he and I were separate individuals with differing personalities and needs from his parents).  He had an intense physical attraction to me (go figure) and he translated that into being in love with me.  He wasn’t truly in love with me.  He was in love with his idea of me.  He was in love with his fantasy of me.  He had a picture in his head of an ideal relationship and put me in that picture.  He was sure I was the one and within a month of dating had expressed his intention to marry me.  He believed we should move in together and make sure we would create his perfect domestic picture, and once this bliss was confirmed, we would marry.  

I admit I was just as insecure (if not more so) and just as eager to be married as he was. I bought into the pretty picture he painted for us.  I was also more cautious. My parents are divorced.  I don't  have happily married parents whose marriage I want to replicate. When I began that relationship I knew firsthand that marriages could fail. I also knew I wasn’t in a good place for marriage.  I was still living at home.  My career was barely off the ground.  I was saddled with a few more years of student loan debt.  I felt as if my life should be more settled before I married. 

I also didn’t feel the need to rush the relationship along.  I felt we should date long enough to leave our honeymoon period – at least a year and preferably two – and then decide if we wanted to marry.  If we decided marriage was the direction we were headed, we could move in together once the engagement was official.  I didn’t trust (and still don’t) the stability of cohabiting situations.* I needed to be sure he was truly in love with me and not his fantasy of me.  I wanted to know if he wanted to marry me, or if he just wanted to be married.

Thank goodness we did things my way.  It took less than a year to discover our massive incompatibility.  I remain grateful I told him he had to stick it out for a year before making a major life decision.  It would have been a disaster if I had allowed myself let my desire to be married override my common sense.

In this day and age, when even those of us who are eager to legally marry are aware of the statistics, I am sometimes surprised by the lack of caution I see around me.  Most of my married peers remain married.  Unfortunately, when I talk to some of my divorced friends about their marriages, I often hear the same stories.  Some of them married impulsively after only a few months of dating.  Some of them married after dating and cohabiting many years and felt they should marry because it’s easier to marry the person you’re with than it is to break up start over with someone new.

There was always a common denominator in their relationships .  Marriage was the goal.  Marriage took priority over truly loving their spouses and knowing them well.  I have heard them express regrets that their families and friends didn’t do more to stop them. (Would they have listened?)  They express disbelief about how they ignored so much of their partners’ faults in order to make it to the altar.  Although women are often portrayed as desperate to marry because of fertility issues, I have known just as many as men as women (if not more) who knowingly went into a bad marriage, hoping for the best even when they knew it wasn’t right.

There are no guarantees in marriage.  Sure marriage counselors have their list of predictive behaviors for divorce, but in the end, not much can assure us any marriage will last.  Some of these couples who seem to rush into marriage for the wrong reasons make it work and stay married for life.  There are couples who do everything “right” and still end up not staying together.  Every marriage is unique, just as every member of a couple is a unique individual.  We can never know the reasons why a couple stays together or doesn’t.  That’s why we should never judge another couple.  Couples who seem to argue all the time and act distant may be happy underneath it all.  The couple who was truly in love twenty years ago and seemed to have the perfect marriage may end up divorced. 

Life happens.  Two people who once shared many common interests may find new paths for themselves and grow apart.  Maybe one member of that formerly happy couple meets someone else and falls in love.  Life becomes so stressful that one spouse hits the bottle or the pills.  Conflicts arise that cause irreconcilable differences.  If we could predict exactly what would destroy our marriages, we wouldn't have a fifty percent divorce rate.

I don't take my marriage for granted.  I know things could change.  I know I can't predict what stressors could affect my marriage in the coming years.  I didn't rush into marrying Kevin.  We dated two years before becoming engaged.  We had a sixteen-month engagement.  When we moved in together a few months before our wedding, the transition was seamless.  Every morning I wake up grateful to be married to Kevin.  If I go to sleep feeling the same way, then I assume I'm doing something right.

What does this all mean for marriage in the 21st century.  My generation married young and married in large numbers.  Psychologists believed as the first generation to see large numbers of our parents divorcing, we were trying to fix what had gone wrong in our childhoods.  Millennials are taking a different view.  They haven seen more generations of divorce and see no real way of fixing it.  They are choosing to not marry.  This may save marriage from divorce, but how much does it guarantee a happily ever after?  Do they have a point, or are they just kidding themselves?

Couples in general, no matter what their age or life experience, need to take a step back from the idea of marriage.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be married.  Sure it can feel silly and old-fashioned in a world where men's and women's roles and religious mores are changing, but it's perfectly acceptable to want to be married. The trick is to not be so focused on marriage, but to put the focus on your partner.

When we meet a potential mate, we need to change the way we see that person.  We have to stop seeing that person as just a potential mate.  Don't start dating someone thinking, "Will I marry this person?  How long should we date before we marry? Does this person have the qualities I want in a spouse? We have been dating X number of months, so when will we marry?" I think we become so focused on the goal we forget about the person.  What's worse is that we justify unsatisfactory relationships because they look good on paper.  We think a spouse should have qualities X, Y, and Z and become so focused on those qualities, we ignore how our partners' qualities A-V.

When we enter a new relationship, we need to stop  thinking about marriage for a while, even if we do eventually hope to marry.  Don't worry so much about the future.  Think about the present.  Don't ask yourself, "Does this person have qualities I can live with in the coming years?"  Ask yourself, "Does he make me happy now?"  "Does she make me feel good about myself?"  "Do I miss him when we're not together, or am I relieved to have time alone when he goes home for the evening?" Keep your relationship in the here and how.  How happy are you at this moment?  If you aren't enjoying this moment, how much will you enjoy your life filled with these moments?  Are the the big moments are overshadowing the small ones?  You may find when your boyfriend is making grand romantic gestures that you are caught up in your emotions and feel your relationship is perfect.  Do you feel the same way about him when you're washing the dishes together or taking out the trash?

Also for women (and I suppose this will apply to some men too), don't get so caught up in your dream wedding that you forget about your marriage.  I get it.  I'm into weddings myself.  I am the kind of girl who dreamed about her wedding when her age was barely in double digits.  For most modern women, a wedding is the only time she will be able to don a gorgeous formal gown and dine on a sumptuous meal, followed by dancing surrounded by hundreds of admirers.  It's perfectly acceptable for any woman, even a reasonable feminist, to want to experience such a thing.  Just please don't put so much priority on having a beautiful wedding that you will marry any man to make it happen.  Your wedding is one day.  Your marriage is the rest of your life.  If you are having doubts, ask yourself if the wedding matters.  Would you be willing to marry the guy in City Hall if it was the only way you could marry him?  Would you forgo the dress, the party, and all the trimmings just to be with him?  If you can't say yes, then maybe it's time to understand your priorities and reconsider your life together.

If you do hope to marry someday, take a cue from cohabiting couples, especially those who reject the institution of marriage.   Why are they together?  They are together because they are happy with each other and love each other.  They are choosing to be together.  They aren't together because they don't want to deal with divorce.  They aren't trying to make it work in hopes of marrying some day.  They are together because they want to be together.  It's not a guarantee they won't ever break up and that the breakup might be just as devastating as as a divorce, but there is a different dynamic at play.  Their relationship is a choice and not a legal obligation.  If you knew you would be prevented from legally marrying your boyfriend or girlfriend, would you still want to be with him or her?  Could you choose to be with your partner every day out of love and not because you felt you had to make it legal at some point? If you can't say yes, then maybe you should move on to someone who makes you so happy right now you can't imagine a future without her.

*Disclaimer.  I make no judgements against those who choose to cohabit.  I am personally not comfortable with it.  I don't feel it had any sort of impact on my marriage.  If you feel you it is part of your relationship progression, then you need to do what's right for you and your partner.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Moving My Body Forward - Phase 11: The Good and the Disappointing

I took my vacation this summer at the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim.  I have written about the swim many times, so I probably don't need to say how much time is spent waiting on a boat for several hours for the ponies to cross.  It's usually the same group of people who go on our boat, but we had some newcomers this year. It was an active and cheerful older couple who were kind, funny, and polite, but whom I heard whisper to each other about how sad there were so many out of shape people on the scene.  I made an offhand remark about fitness at one point and the husband said to me, "You look very strong and athletic."  That remark made my day.  These past few months are starting to show.  I don't look out of shape.

Or do I?

I am still my own worst critic.  I still hate the way I look.  When I see myself in the mirror I can't take my eyes off the spare tire that sits above my hips and is starting to succumb to gravity.  I compare it to wearing a child's inner tube around my waist and that tube is starting to lose air and droop.

I still feel so thick.  I feel wide.  I caught my reflection in a large glass window while eating lunch a couple of weeks ago.  It was hot and I wore a light sleeveless dress.  I looked so wide I even surprised myself.  No matter how fit I like to think I am, I still look overweight.

What's worse is that my body is dwarfing my head.  I don't have a small head.  My hat size is 7 1/8.  That's not a small size.  My hair makes my head even bigger.  When I look at photos of myself or see my full-length reflection, my enormous breasts and thick arms make my head look tiny.  I have a weird pinhead in proportion to the rest of my body.

I have come far, but I still have work to do.  That's the upshot of it.  Every day I have to make decisions that will affect my body's size and shape.  The key is too consistently make better decisions.  It's simple, but so difficult to follow through with.

Phase 2 of Girls Gone Strong was difficult.  There were exercises I hated, exercises I wondered if I would ever get better at.  I am beginning to wonder if I should drop back a level.  Maybe I should work on Level 2 of the program and then go back and finish Level 3.  I had to do chin-up isolations, which killed my elbow and has now made it worse when it was 90% healed.  I may not be as ready for Level 3 as I thought I was.

Then again, I'm doing all the exercises in Level 3 (although I do have to be super careful with those chin-up exercises).  I may feel like it's torture, but I complete almost every rep and doing each set.  There are some exercises where I can't quite do the full number, but that's not even every day.

I have a week to think about it.  I am leaving tonight for a 4 day vacation in Prague.  I'll be skipping the program while I'm there.  I hope to be doing plenty of walking for exercise.  I suppose if I feel like I need some muscle conditioning, I can do some bodyweight moves in my room.

Czech food will be a challenge.  It is stereotypical Eastern European cuisine filled with meat and carbs.  Czech food is famous for its dumplings and heavy sauces.  What's worse is that the cheapest beverage in the country is beer.  I don't like beer.  Unfortunately it costs less than wine (and I like Czech wine), soda, or even water (always bottled and never tap).  I will be shoving uncountable numbers of calories into my gullet at every meal.

Walk often.  Eat slowly and mindfully.  Don't feel you have to clean your plate.  Those are the rules to remember.

Speaking of rules, I switched the habit a bit this past month.  Instead of writing down every meal after it is eaten, I write meals down before.  I have been meticulously planning every meal and every snack each day and each week.  I know in advance what I will be eating all week.  I make a list and shop once a week for it.  With farm market season in full swing and summer's bounty at its best, I buy most of my groceries at the farm market and only buy the foods and household supplies I can't buy from the farmers.

That doesn't mean I haven't had my share of unplanned meals this past month.  ("Unplanned" sounds so much better than "cheat", no?)  That's why my progress has been less than stellar in the weights and measure department.

Weight: 147.2
Waist: 31.5"
Hips: 41"
Arm: 13.5"
Bust: 37.5"
Thigh: 24.5"

I lost a pound and lost a bit on my arm, bust, and thigh.  Any progress is better than none at all.

Assuming I stick with Level 3, here is what my Exercise Schedule will look like.  September is coming and dance class is returning in mid-September.  I won't be in class for all of the Phase 11, but I will be in there for three weeks of it.  The workout schedule will change slightly.

Phase 11 Exercise Schedule

Week 1
Sunday: Horseback Riding
Monday: GGS weight training
Tuesday: 40 minutes medium intensity cardio (bike, elliptical, or Zumba)
Wednesday: GGS weight training
Thursday: 40 minutes medium intensity cardio
Friday: GGS weight training
Saturday: Horseback riding

Weeks 2-4
Sunday: AM GGS weight training, PM Horseback riding
Monday: Dance class
Tuesday: GGS Strength Training
Wednesday: 40 minutes medium intensity cardio
Thursday: GGS Strength Training
Friday: 40 minutes medium intensity cardio
Saturday: Horseback riding

I will try to do some interval work after two strength sessions if I have time.

I will continue with the planned meal habit and also work on eating slowly and mindfully as habits.

Until next month!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Dear Europeans: Yes I'm an American Tourist. Get Over It

I am fortunate enough to be taking a brief European vacation this summer.  (I don't want you to think I'm a dumb American who thinks Europe is a country, so I had better specify now I'm going to the Czech Republic.)  As I make sure my seat assignments are correct for the flight, check out guidebooks for sights I want to see and restaurants where I want to eat, and make packlists of the best clothes to wear, I also find myself falling into the abyss of travel etiquette websites.

I like to explore the websites that help me navigate the quirky customs of the country I'm visiting so I make no major faux pas.  Unfortunately it's also easy to find myself checking out the dozens of sites out there enumerating everything wrong with American tourists.  There are sites explaining how not to look like an American tourist (although it doesn't matter because other sites tell you Europeans can practically smell an American tourist no matter how hard she tries to blend in).  There are sites with long lists of everything residents of various European countries hate about American tourists.

After reading yet another online article titled, Why American Tourists Are All Crass Ignorant Pond Scum Who Really Should Just Stay Home and Eat McDonald's and Drink Starbucks, I realized it was time to wrap myself in a flag. I might just put those logo t-shirts, fanny packs, white sneakers, and jorts back in my suitcase only to spite these people.

Okay.  Maybe I'm kidding about the fanny pack (I haven't owned one since the brief time in the early 90s when they were fashionable), but I think someone needs to say something in Americans' defense.  It might as well be me.

So, my dear friends across The Pond, before you judge me and my fellow countrypeople, would you at least try to consider the points below?

For Most Americans, Travel Abroad is a Big Deal

The continent of North America is huge.  That space is occupied by three vast countries.  Count them.  It's just three.  This is quite different from Europe, which is a smaller land mass and contains many smaller countries.   For most of you living in Europe, a visit to a foreign country is a simple process of sitting on a train, or even driving your own car, for a few hours.  Foreign travel is a way of life for many of you.

The United States has only two foreign countries on its borders.  Where I live it would be about an 8 hour drive to reach one of them and a three-day drive to reach other other.  Foreign travel, even within my own continent, can become quite expensive if flying needs to be involved.  Many Americans can drive for hours on end and never leave their home state.  Consequently, there are US residents among us who have never left their home state, let alone leave the country.  In the US vacation time is not mandatory and can vary wildly from company to company, so many Americans don't have the time travel long distances.  Travel is a luxury too many Americans can't afford - even when kept within US borders.

For your average American, a visit to any European country means a long flight across the ocean, State Department paperwork, and the use of limited and precious vacation days.  It is expensive and time consuming.  Foreign travel is not easy or cheap.  An American who makes it to Europe likely did so with much careful planning, a large output of money, and a budgeting of  those rare vacation days.  Those rich kids you met who can afford not to have a job so they can backpack through European hostels for a year on their parents' dime, are a minority. 

When you meet an American tourist on the streets of Paris, London, or Munich, you may not realize you are speaking to someone who is fulfilling a lifelong dream, considers this vacation to be the one chance in a lifetime to travel abroad, and spent years saving his pennies to be able to afford this trip.  Please at least try to remember this before you treat that tourist like someone who just decided to hop over to your city on a whim to annoy you with his crass American attitude.

I'm sorry if the tourists didn't make it to your charming quirky town, or to the up-and-coming part of your city that contained your business.  It's true American tourists will most likely only visit the big cities and will flock to the largest tourist sites.  It's what we know.  It's what we have been told about our entire lives.  We want to see these tourists sites because we assume there is a reason tourists flock to them.  We see them as part of your country's history, culture, and beauty.  American tourists who have never visited your country (or any foreign country) will likely have a need to stay in their comfort zones and stay in the areas of town where the locals are accustomed to dealing with tourists and where they don't have to stray too far to see something beautiful or interesting.  If this is the only time in our lives that we plan to visit your country, we have to prioritize what we see, and the top tourist sites will often be the priority.

I'm Sorry We Don't Speak Your Language.  Please Don't Judge Us Too Harshly.

I know Europeans think Americans are poorly educated and never learn a foreign language. That's not true.  Most of us do study a foreign language at some point in our educations.  School systems tend to make it a graduation requirement.  Americans know a second language is a sign of being well-educated.  Between middle school, high school, and college I studied two foreign languages.  The importance of learning a second language was drilled into my head at an early age.

Here is the problem with foreign languages.  It's a "use it or lose it" skill.  Languages can be difficult to forget if one doesn't practice speaking them.  Now please refer to my point above about how foreign travel is a rare treat for most Americans.  How exactly are we supposed to practice our language skills?  If you live in Europe you can travel in multiple countries on your borders and encounter multiple languages.  Along the U.S. borders you have either Spanish or more English with a bit of French mixed in.

The Americans most likely to speak a second language either have immigrant parents or grandparents and speak a second language at home, or else they live in neighborhoods with a high immigrant population and can practice speaking other languages with their neighbors.  Under these conditions, most Americans who speak a second language are most likely to speak Spanish.  That's perfect in Spain, but doesn't do much good in Croatia.

"But Americans don't even try!" you exclaim.  You seem to think we expect the world to speak English.  The problem is we do try.  We pull our phrase books and try to ask a simple question and end up mocked for our accents and then answered in English anyway.  Why should we try?  If you're going to give us grief for how we speak your language, we should we bother?  Do we seem angry that you occasionally don't speak our language?  Maybe it's not so much anger as being scared and frustrated when we are in a strange land and need help and we can't communicate.

I Know I'm Loud.  Is That Really So Terrible?

If you look at any list of American attributes that seem to annoy Europeans almost unjustly, there is always some comments about how "loud" Americans are.  I can't speak for other Americans.  I can only say I know I'm loud.  That's just how I was made.  I have strong lungs and vocal chords.  I always have.  Ever since I was a child I have been told to keep my voice down.  Even as an adult I am often shushed by friends and family members in public.  I can't help it.  My voice is clear and robust by nature.  It's why I'm such a talented singer (or so I'm told).  I don't have an "indoor voice".

I don't get why this is such a problem.  If I'm not insulting you in my loud voice, why do you care?  I don't speak out loud in church or movies or theaters or concerts.  Believe it or not, we are taught this sort of etiquette in the U.S.  There are rude people who don't follow it even in their home country and there are many polite people who do follow it everywhere.

If I were the type of person to speak out loud in movies or church services or concerts, you would have every right to think me rude.  I would hope you would not immediately attribute that to my being American.  I just don't get why you have to judge me so harshly if I happen to be chatting with friends and family on the street or in a restaurant or any other public place if I am talking in my naturally strong clear voice.  How does my voice harm you?  Am I truly hurting you?  Even if I'm annoying you, the world is full of larger annoyances.  Would you rather have me at the table next to you in a restaurant, or have a few mosquitoes trapped in your bedroom?

I Don't Like Jingoism Either, But That Doesn't Give You The Right To Insult My Country

The first time I went to London in 2005, I remember being taken aback by the brusque attitudes that greeted me everywhere I went.  I'm from New York.  Rudeness shouldn't bother me.  I should be used to it.  London didn't just feel rude.  It felt downright hostile at times.  I remember thinking, "If I wore a t-shirt that proclaimed, 'I didn't vote for Bush," would I be treated better?

I am in total agreement with many of the criticisms foreigners have of Americans.  Our news media care more about money and entertainment than they do about keeping us informed about what's happening in the world.  Our educational system is lacking to the point where  too many students don't have a grasp of history, civics, economics, or geography.  Even though we have a secular government, people vote according to their religion.  We care too much about religious issues than economic ones.  It's all true.

It's also my problem, not yours.

Despite its flaws, I happen to like living here.  The United States is a beautiful place filled with many extraordinary people.  It has many flaws, and its share of obnoxious people, but these are problems I would like to help solve.  I love my country by helping it and not by simply screaming, "USA!" repeatedly at public functions.  You don't have to assume I buy into the jingoistic attitude of "my country right or wrong" just because I speak with an American accent.

I am not screaming "God bless America" in my best fundamentalist tone while waving a flag in one hand and a gun in the other.  Not only did I not vote for George W. Bush, I didn't vote for his father either.  (I was too young to vote prior to Bush Sr. but you can bet I would have loved to have voted against Satan Reagan.) I won't be voting for Trump even if someone held a big, fat, legally open carried, semi-automatic gun to my head. 

I don't feel it's my patriotic duty to own a gun and I believe as rights go, there are more important rights to fight for. In my opinion the American obsession with guns is dangerous and woefully misguided. 

I accept the overwhelming science proving climate change and I don't accept the unscientific views of Young Earth Creationism. 

I don't watch Fox News and I often look at foreign news services to get a bigger picture of what's going on in the world since I am aware American corporate news is woefully lacking. 

I believe we are all entitled to practice whatever religion we choose (or no religion at all) and no one should be made to live by another religion's rules as a form of law.

I know you, my dear European reader, may not be the kind of stereotyping, cold-hearted, America-hating foreigner I'm making you out to be.  I'm not so arrogant as to think you or most other Europeans think about Americans at all.  I just want to make sure if by any chance you do have any preconceived notions about Americans, or if a particular encounter with an American is less-than-positive, to please remember we are as human as you are. I am not every other American you ever met or will meet.  We are not monolithic.  There are cultural and attitude differences in different areas of the United States that seem odd even to other Americans.  How can you hang a label on such a large and diverse population?  Please don't make me a scapegoat for everything you think is wrong with Americans.

I'm a tourist.  That means I'm in your country because I want to be there.  Please remember that.