Monday, March 30, 2015

What I learned from the Spanish women's locker room

When I lived in España several years ago, I belonged to a gym. A gym that was so nice, I will probably never surpass it in all my future gym memberships (if I ever have a gym membership again). I have been thinking about it a lot lately because I've been swimming at a community center.

This gym gave everyone fancy bracelets with a computer chip in them. You scanned them when you entered, the metal bar opened, and your photo popped up on this TV behind the check-in desk. I never liked my photo, but that's beside the point. All the classes were free with your membership, unlike with the community center where I've been going. The building was really modern, with a big open black staircase and classy potted plants; and there was always this calm techno going in the background. This caused me to imagine that this was the kind of exclusive joint where movie stars worked out in LA.

Source - I apparently took no photos while working out, so here is one from the website. It is notable that I never went on this roof.
I took a lot of classes that I had little to no experience with, from belly dancing (which became my jam, btw), to spinning (NOT my jam, btw), to Pilates, yoga, core workouts, water aerobics, hip hop dancing, and even a bulerias  flamenco class. (I was very under-qualified, as I dropped in after they had already learned 2/3 of the dance.)

I mostly felt a little self-conscious all the time that I worked out there, except in three places: belly dancing, swimming, and the locker room.

Here is the major difference about that women's locker room and every other locker room I have ever been in*:

Every woman changed as if there was no one around.

There was no holding the towel over yourself while trying to sneakily put on pants. Nope.

And here is what I learned, even in this fancy gym with an attached spa that did Botox and slimming treatments and sold pants that get rid of cellulite (really?): Women's bodies do not look like they do in the media.

Women have stretch marks and saggy skin and wrinkles and cellulite and are a million different shades of color. Not to sound like a creeper, but I learned in the locker room that even people who appear to look like magazine models when clothed look different when changing. Barely anyone has a flat stomach. I knew one person who did, but what I didn't know is that she was going through a lot of stress. As the year progressed, she put weight back on and told me she was relieved to be healthy again.

I've been thinking about this a lot, mostly because I have started going someplace with a locker room again. And I hope that someday if/when I have a daughter or son, I can help her to understand that her body is awesome because it lets her do all the things she wants. Having a body is the best because you can taste ice cream and feel endorphins after you lift weights, and you can find your breath to quiet down when your mind is racing. And the scars and the stretch marks and the laugh lines and the freckles are all just signs of a life lived fully.

Now, who wants some ice cream?

*The exception being when I was little and would go to water aerobics with my grandma. Afterwards was just like Spain. Except it was Nebraska. Nevermind... you get it, right?

Monday, March 16, 2015

I have something important to say.

I love you all so much that I need to tell you something. And I really want you to hear it, so even though it's important enough to type in all caps, I am not going to do it. Please read this and then tell all your friends that you love. 

There is nothing on your phone that is more important, interesting, or urgent than driving your car. 

Texting while driving gets a lot of air time in the media. But I want to talk about something else - scrolling while driving. All those things on your Facebook/ Twitter feeds... they're still going to be there when you arrive. The web and its sites are not going anywhere. But you are. We are. In cars. At high speeds. 

I could go on about this, but I just don't think there is a need to continue. There is no argument that can win. I have had too many friends (friends who actually never look at their phones) do it just one time, look down for a split second, and that's the moment when it happens. A car accident that causes expensive repair bills, higher insurance, and months of physical therapy if you are lucky enough to only have suffered whiplash. 

Now. The question is, what to do about it? I usually keep my phone on my lap when I'm driving. You know - what if someone calls? But maybe I need to keep it on silent and closed away in the center console. I think we need some positive peer pressure here... what are you going to do? 

Friday, March 13, 2015

the weirdest week

I visit a physical therapist because my low back and left leg had been hurting for awhile. She happens to be totally brilliant.  Upon asking me the following questions: "So, how long has this been bothering you?" and "Is this the first time?", she derails and starts asking me if I'd be willing to have back surgery. I really wanted her to go back to the easy questions.

She went and got her reflex hammer and started checking my reflexes. I had none in my left ankle. [Apparently this is a BIG DEAL. Also, if you lose reflexes, you sometimes don't get them back, but more on this later.] She got on her cell phone and called a neurologist that she knew. I was still thinking that we had gotten very off-track and wanted to go back to the intake questions.

Before I knew it, I had an appointment with a neurologist for the next day. Note: I learned (or maybe relearned?) that the prefix neuro- means that something has to do with nerves, not brains. Why I thought this, I don't know.

I see the neurologist. He is a laid-back man, and very calmly tells me we need to get this figured out because the nerve is clearly pinched and could suffer permanent damage.  He wants to me to get an MRI as soon as possible. He starts talking about if it's bad, I will need surgery. I have never had surgery and have a hard time believing this. It's about 4:15pm. By 5pm, his office has contacted my insurance, and I have an appointment for 7:20am the next day.

Wednesday, 5:30 am
I get up for my MRI. My dad drives me there, cause he's awesome. The actual MRI takes about 20 minutes and is very loud. I am happy to have hearing protection provided. I take deep breaths and enjoy laying there. Just before I enter some other state of consciousness, somewhere near sleep, it's over. The tech says the doctor will get back to me, probably Friday.

Wednesday, 5:30 pm
My cell phone rings. The doctor is calling. He starts talking and I start writing. "L5, S1" "herniated", "dramatic", "large extrusion", "protruding out and to the left", "severe", "cutting off the nerve", "I'm going to text my friend whose a surgeon to see if he can get you in". It's a strange night.

I wait for a call from the neurosurgeon's office and receive a call from the surgeon himself. He starts mentioning conservative treatments, such as physical therapy... until he pulls up my MRI. "Wow, that's pretty big," he says calmly. "Let's get you in tomorrow."

Caleb and I arrive for my appointment and find out that the surgeon wasn't planning on taking appointments that day, just me. We spend a long time waiting, turns out the guy is doing surgery. I am happy he does not rush out of surgery. I think this is a desirable quality in a surgeon. Caleb and I take lots of funny photos in the exam room to entertain ourselves.

This doctor is awesome. He is calm, says that because I don't have constant numbness or tingling in my leg, despite my nerve being squashed, we can at least try something more conservative first. So, next week, I am off to have my first (and hopefully only) epidural steroid. This should help ease the inflammation and let my body do its healing thing.

For those interested, below is an MRI image of [my] herniated, or ruptured disc. If you aren't interested, consider this post ended. Between your vertebrae, you have these cushions that are like jelly donuts. The healthy ones look white.

I circled the ruptured one in red. you can see that it's not white, cause the filling came out and is pushing on the white part, which is part of the nerve. (YOU GUYS, THAT'S MY SPINE, ISN'T IT AWESOME!!?)

Below, you can see a healthy disc on top. So healthy and all contained.

Here is my ruptured disc. As you can see, it's not contained, and, it's hard to see, but it's pushing on the nerve.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

españa: tesoro escondido

Another Throwback Thursday post... 

[From 10/18/10]

I have two friends - incidentally both named Rachel, but spelled differently - who are living in Spain. They are teaching English this year. It has been beautiful for me to talk to them about what they are experiencing. It sheds light on my own experiences and helps me to understand retrospectively that what I experienced there was normal.

Yes, I learned Spanish. Yes I think, dream, cook, talk to myself, sing, pray (sometimes), and order my dogs about in Spanish now. I have a decent understanding of sherry (but like my art history knowledge, it's all in Spanish, so I'm not sure it translates).

Are those the treasures that I have from my nine months there? Sherry knowledge and faster production and comprehension of Spanish syllables? (Well, okay wait. Being able to understand andalú was totes worth it.)

As I've advised, laughed, and listened to the dos Raquels, I realize more and more that for however useful Spanish is, the real value of the year was perhaps deeper. Uprooting yourself, your life, your friends, all the ways you normally express yourself is so hard. This is still new to me, so I'm stumbling around language trying to express a concept. I remember thinking, "But I'm not ME". But I was. It's just different because you don't have the same life/word experiences you had in your mother tongue.

And I learned so much about myself. I learned that some things don't change across culture. I learned that I am strong. I learned that when you feel like you aren't yourself, you still are, at the heart of it, you.

Sometimes leaving the familiar really does help you to find yourself. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Recipe for recovery

My name is Ellen, and I am a Facebook addict.

I told this to my mom recently. She (very kindly) told me that she didn't think I was an addict. I explained to her that I typically scroll the FB when I get up, at some point during work, when I get home, and before I go to bed. I am currently taking a break from it and it has given me more anxiety than I care to admit. (Also, not as many people are reading this blog. Which is ok, but it is interesting.)

I also noticed that I had not had very much unscheduled fun time. You know what I mean? Time when your soul starts to breathe. Time when you aren't focused on how many things you can check off. I started thinking about this, scratched my head, looked at the sky, and wondered what it was people did for fun.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the cycle of budgeting, cooking, cleaning, laundering, and exercising that I forget about the fun. And the laundry? It's always going to be there.

So today, I am having a day off.

And my recipe for today starts with an actual food recipe. This is one of my favorite foods - it's easy to digest, nutritious, and I can eat it for every meal. It's a little bit freeing.

What's next? Here are some things I have in mind. I may do all/some/none of them:

  • Spontaneously get my hair cut. (This would be big, since I have been cutting my own hair the past four years.)
  • Buy seeds and plant them. 
  • Recycle glass. Seriously, this is so fun. You throw the bottles in a giant dumpster and yell "Opa!" And I never have time to do this. 
  • Go to a park and do nothing.
  • Go swimming. (Indoors)
  • Do a handstand. This is definitely happening.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Read a Nancy Drew book. 
  • Get tea at a coffee shop. 
  • Paint my fingernails. 
  • Look at clouds. If only I could find a dandelion puff ball... 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Get over it!

Seven weird things that annoy me that I need to let go of:

  1. When extra virgin olive oil gets abbreviated EVOO. Ugh. I always say, "E what? Oh... they mean olive oil."
  2. When people harmonize at the beginning or end of a yoga class when we are chanting "Om". It just makes me want to punch someone while we chant "Shanti" which means "peace". Ironic, I know. I keep trying to be grateful for these opportunities to "let go" of this bothering me, but I just keep getting annoyed and trying to "out-chant" them.
  3. When I put on something long-sleeved over something with three quarter sleeves and the first shirt sleeves get all bunched up. The worst. 
  4. When there are no punctuation marks in a sentence it usually confuses me and sometimes annoys me too because I don't know where the sentence begins or if it ends somewhere in the middle you know what I mean is that a question
  5. When all the websites tell me that my browser is out of date, but I can't get a new version because my computer is too old. 
  6. That the cell phone industry has TOTALLY IGNORED us folks who like simple cell phones with buttons. There hasn't been a leading-edge flip phone (with buttons) since the Razr. Not everybody wants to keep the world wide webs in their pocket.
  7. Dog hair. Love the dogs, hate the hair. 
Do any of these things annoy you? Or do you have your own list?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday: June yoga teacher training

Surya A
Begin in tadasana with hands folded in prayer at your heart. Leave work early, drive home and finish packing.
Ekam, urdhva hastasana - Drive to Omaha. Have dinner with Steph and unpack car. Drive to our Friday training session. Inhale.
Dve, uttanasana - We dove in to a beautiful session about hands on assisting and the power of touch. Our hands have some incredible powers. Exhale
Trini, ardha uttanasana - Saturday morning, I took a break from yoga and visited Amelia and got to meet sweet little Graham. He is one month old! I can't wait to see him change and grow over the next few months. Inhale.
Chatvari, chaturunga dandasana - Saturday afternoon, we kicked it into high gear with 108 pushups! We did nine rounds of twelve. My low back let me know it was a little fatigued, so I did smaller rounds of less than twelve. Always better to do three with great integrity rather than twelve where you are hurting yourself. Exhale.

Panca, urdhva mukha svanansana - I am soaking up my time alone after class, it is the longest day of the year. It's also the best day for doing handstands. I practice doing them, and am filled with joy as the sun turns the world golden. Press through the all the fingers, open the heart, inhale.
Sat, addho mukha svanasana - Downward facing dog. Five breaths. 
Sapta, ardha uttanasana - We learn, once again, about sequencing a yoga class. So many things to consider. My mind isn't quite able to understand everything now, but the wisdom pools on top and soaks in slowly. Inhale.
Astau, uttanasana - We take class, more handstands. I do not know it at the time, but I hurt my left shoulder today. The injury will become one of several minor injuries that teach me many things. Exhale.
Nava, urdhva hastasana - Urdhva means extended. hasta means hand. As I enter into my fourth yoga class of the day, this one outside with live music, I am simultaneously exhausted and blissful. My shoulder hurts, but I practice in a circle with my fellow teacher trainees. Somehow, in our mutual exhaustion, we carry each other. Inhale.
Samasthiti - Driving home, I drink a chocolate milkshake and watch the most incredible sunset against the clouds. The plains are green with summer life. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Under the same sky

A few days ago, I went for a walk. It was lovely. I listened to music and felt that sparkle of alive-ness that sometimes catches us by surprise. It was a beautiful day. I found myself greeting everyone I passed with a wave.

Sometimes one of us would call out to the other, "Isn't it just BEAUTIFUL??" To which the other would respond "YES. It's lovely!" Or something to that effect.

Do you notice how universally we talk about the weather?

Some of the first phrases we learn in another language are about weather: "Il fait frois." "Hace calor." What do we talk about with our coworkers on rainy, snowy, cold, or hot days? When you call your relative across the country, what do we share with them?

We can talk about the weather with anyone, anywhere around the world. Many emails from my co-workers in other countries start with a description of how their weather is there. When I took phone calls all day, I shared what was happening outside of my window with callers in Michigan, California, Illinois.

One of my favorite songs has a line that says, "How can we wage war when we're under the same sky?"

It's a good question. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The time we had to call the police

Note: I started this post many, many months ago.

We recently had a (not dangerous) situation where we had to call the police. And we didn't think twice about it. Until afterwards. The police came and took care of bidness and then came and spoke to us. The officer with the superman hair said, "Well, we actually need to run now, there's some shootings going on, but before we leave, do you need anything else from us?"

And we were like, "Uhhh nope. Thanks! Please go take care of that now."

In so many countries, they don't have this luxury. A police force that makes them feel safe. I know there was a lot of bad police press this fall, but if someone robs your house, wouldn't you still call the police? In a lot of countries, they don't - because the police will just come back and finish robbing anything the robbers took (source for this story - a friend of mine who was visiting relatives in Guatemala). Working where I work, we hear a lot of terrible stories about corruption or just the crime in general that affects those living in poverty. Grisly stories with perpetrators who may never even be investigated, much less brought to justice. I heard one today that made me feel like I might throw up for most of the day. It's hard, really hard, to know what to do with these sorts of things.

My department director recently wrote about injustice connected with Lent for an e newsletter that Unbound sends out. I can't figure out how to share it here, but let me know if you want it, and I will email it to you.

To be honest with you, I don't know what to do with this. I don't know what to do when I hear that the police in a different country didn't even show up to take a police report from the man who got shot, even though that's the law. It's also hard to recognize that even in my own country, there are people who don't feel comfortable calling the police.

I think that what we can do is hope and pray for a better future, and partner with people doing good work. And never lose sight that being able to call the police, to trust them - it's a privilege.