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.