Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Discovery of Calories



I am on a diet. My half-hearted efforts at losing weight produced nothing but aggravation and slow weight gain, so I’ve stepped up my game plan. My spouse and I are counting calories and measuring food.  I have always resisted this tactic. I hate math, measuring and precision. 

I prefer a more Laissez-faire approach to food and life, but now I have to change my tune. Or at least my eating habits.

Fortunately my spouse, CB, likes to calculate, measure and even figure out how to index calories, fat, protein and how they all interact with one another. So I buy the food, cook most of it and CB is the calculator. 
“Guess how many calories are in a banana?” CB asks as I pick up the yellow fruit. “It's only half that much,"” I respond as  I pop it into my mouth. “I don’t eat the peel.” 

Actually I didn’t really do that. I just thought it. However, prior to the calorie counting I can’t tell you how nuts, slices of bread or chips have found their way into my body, mostly due to boredom than real hunger. 
But that is stopping now.

Now that I have to account for every morsel I ingest I find myself thinking it is simply not worth the effort. I hate math so much that I’d rather pass up noshing on cheese and grapes than add up the caloric intake of said food. But I make sure I have three meals a day so my body doesn’t resist weight change by going into “starvation mode.”

Over the years I have made conscious efforts to eat better and exercise more. I gave up drinking cocoa, Pepsi and most refined sugars and cook with lemon water rather than oil or butter. This did not result in weight loss. I think it just prevented MORE weight gain. Personally I think I deserve a medal for my efforts, but no one is give me one - unless you count the Gold Medal Flour Betty Crocker offered.

Even more distressing is I made it through 50 years of life without ever having to worry about gaining weight. Chocolate was my best friend and sugar was my lover. However, when I hit the big 5-0 things changed. I steadily gained a pound every month or so until I realized I gained the equivalent of an extra grandchild in my body. Some of this is overeating, some is insufficient exercise and some of it is the slower metabolism that comes after menopause.

I’m not a total slug, I take a yogalates class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and afterward I walk a couple miles with my classmates. When the weather is nice I play softball, tennis and golf, but unfortunately I can only do this when it is less than 80 degrees outside, which only happens about 4 months each year in Arizona.
Not one to give up, I decided to give pickle ball a try. They have an indoor court at the Red Mountain Multi-Generational Center in Mesa.  My friend, Joan and I risked humiliation to attempt the sport. I thought we did a pretty good job, but I was so sore that night that I didn’t even want to think about another attempt at the game for a week.

I felt muscles I never knew existed – even after an intense yogalates session. It’s been a week of exploration. I’m aware of dormant muscles, unconscious eating habits, as well as a new, burning desire to play shot put with my scale – which I think would make a great, new Olympic sport. 

But, as all the self-help gurus say (and I’m one of them) I am “in choice.” It may not be an easy decision but I CHOOSE to live a healthier, more conscious life, even if I initially resent having to do so. Whether it’s food, inactive muscles or negative thoughts, speech and actions (the topic of next week’s blog) the more conscious we become of what we are doing, the better we are able to improve our lives.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a snack. What? ONE slice of wheat bread is 100 calories (and empty calories at that!) Forget it. Pass me a half-cup of organic strawberries and brew me a little green tea.


Friday, August 22, 2014

How to Train Your Amygdala



I recently trotted my two granddaughters off to the discount theater to see How to Train Your Dragon 2. It was a hot, Saturday afternoon and the place was packed. In order to sit together we were forced to take a front row seat.  One thing about this vantage point is you feel like you’re rubbing noses with the screen (which, if I had sneezed, I would’ve been.) But it was great fun. 


Having grandchildren (or children) gives you the opportunity to repeat the fun stuff you enjoyed as a kid without having other people judge you for spending the afternoon playing with Play Doh or watching an animated picture. 


I admit it, dragons intrigue me. I’m not sure why. I’m a big fan of Harry Potter movies and mystical stories. Dragons are generally portrayed as villains, but in How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2 we see humans and dragons working together.  Of course there is a lot of prejudice to overcome, but it finally happens. I apologize if this was a spoiler for any of you, but most Hollywood plots are pretty predictable and secondary to the spectacle and munching of popcorn.

I didn’t think too much about the movie and any underlying messages at first, but then I received an assignment to write an article on meditation for Beauty Link magazine (I’ll post a link when the article comes out.) I’m Buddhist and I chant the words Nam Myoho Renge Kyo every morning and evening. Occasionally I meditate as well, but I have to admit my knowledge on the effects of meditation (or chanting) and the brain is minimal.

Imagine my surprise to learn that meditation and other calming techniques can increase your happy serotonin supply, decrease the nasty cortisol levels, lower your blood pressure and even assist your healing power on a cellular level. Another thing I learned is when we get a jolt of anger, frustration, annoyance etc. a message is sent to the amygdala, a walnut-sized part of our brain that is responsible for our flight or fright response. If left unchecked, our fear-response is activated. 

Our reactions may vary a little depending on our personality, but it is rarely a good scenario. We might feel the urge to fight, take flight, yell, hold our breath, climb a tree, or any number of fear-based reactions. When the danger is real this could be a good thing for self preservation. But most of the time the anger or stress is more an annoyance (rush hour traffic, an approaching deadline, a demanding boss) than a real, life-threatening event.

The good news is there is a 30-second delay from the time the response is noticed before the amygdala yells, “suppress the serotonin and release the cortisol!” It’s like turning off all the water faucets and then igniting an internal fire. Fortunately during this 30 seconds you can take deep breaths and practice a mini-meditation, chant, or practice another relaxation technique to  help restore order to your system. 

Of course this little scenario made me think each dramatic event in our lives gives us the opportunity to be a hero. In most cases we can be kind to our system and psyche and cool our internal flames before it becomes a massive wild fire that torments our bodies and any innocent bystanders.  In the rare cases where we need our fear to protect ourselves and the world, we can let it kick in, jump on our dragon (and I think Amygdala is a good name for a dragon) and we can take up the good fight.

Both scenarios have a place in our lives. But I think it’s safe to say that our “call to arms” is not as necessary as our amygdala would have us believe.

During my post-movie discussion with my granddaughters I asked six-year-old Rosannah what her favorite part of the movie was. She liked the part when the kids and dragons fought the bad guys and won. Briannah, age 5, preferred the beginning of the movie when everything was calm and pleasant. My favorite part was when the heroes had to ride the only dragons that were available – the baby dragons. Unlike the adult flying lizards who followed the directive of the alpha beast – the baby dragons didn’t listen to anyone. And somehow I found that very refreshing.

We can do the same.  We are the alphas of our own minds. We can fly off the handle when we are in grave danger, or we can save our energy, relax by the pool, and live to save the world another day.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Adding Charm to the Arm


I received two nice surprises when I opened my new bracelet from jewelry.com. The first was the ease and comfort of slipping the piece on my wrist.   When I saw the picture of it online I thought it was constructed of inflexible plastic that would look fine, but would be a nuisance to take on and off ( ah, the sacrifices we women make to adorn ourselves.) To my happy amazement the bracelet is held together with a stretchy material that makes it a breeze to put on and remove.  The second surprise was the middle rose-gold-colored links are metal, not plastic.  Although I would've been happy will an all-plastic piece, having the contrast of colors and materials gives the item more pizzazz.


This bracelet is one of six, new pieces in a summer collection created by Aya Azielant and is available only through www.jewelry.com. I chose the white and rose-gold-colored piece, but the bracelets are available in other colors, textures and finishes.   For a click on the link below for a closer look.

 


At $39 each the bracelets are an affordable and fashionable complement for anything from swimwear to cocktails after work.  Speaking of work, whoever designed these items had a working woman in mind because my bracelet is very comfortable to wear.  This has not been the case of many other bracelets I have purchased over the years. They look fine, but clunk against the keyboard when I'm working, get snagged on things, rotate around my wrist or fall off my arm when I move, or the materials irritate my skin.  I was happy this bracelet did none of the above.
 

While wearable comfort is a bonus when at work or doing projects around the house, the very nature of jewelry is to look good. I'm happy to report I received several compliments on my latest jewelry acquisition. And of course I think it looks great as well.

I also liked the little pouch the bracelet came in.

 
Usually when I order jewelry online it comes wrapped in bubble wrap. The pouch is not only cute, it is more environmentally friendly than bubble wrap and Styrofoam packing peanuts. This may be a small detail to some, but to me it shows an environmental awareness that is commendable.  In short, the new summer collection of silix bracelets by Aya Azielant receives a thumbs up from me.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reactivating My Life's Purpose Each 4th of July



I have a 4th of July tradition. I enjoy going to barbecues, watching fireworks and other typical holiday celebrations, but my ritual is more contemplative. I spend a few minutes concentrating on how I can use my skills as a writer to help others. 


I don’t remember exactly when I started using Independence Day in this regard, but I DO know it predated my professional writing career which has been going strong for at least 30 years. Well, some years stronger than others. I earned my first paycheck for something I wrote back in 1983 when the Arizona Republic published a story I wrote about an unwanted Christmas tree. I earned a whopping $30, but the pride carried me through many years of pennilessness for my freelance work. No wonder they call it “free.”

I was not becoming rich for my efforts, but I was prolific typing weekly articles for Campus News, the weekly newspaper for Scottsdale Community College and occasional submissions to the Buddhist periodicals the World Tribune and Living Buddhism. I also penned plays, skits, video scripts, screenplays and teleplays.

Eventually I earned a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and was hired by Mesa Parks, Recreation and Cultural Division as a public relations practitioner. It was a part-time position but I cranked out press releases, feature stories, speeches, letters and brochure copy like a machine. I worked with wonderful people and enjoyed putting my skills to good use for eight years. 

One of the benefits of working for the city is that I could see the direct results my words had in making the community a better place. I wrote about the wonderful events, classes, volunteer opportunities and programs MPRCD offered, people read or heard the news via newspaper, radio or TV and came out in droves to enjoy them. Unfortunately my position was eliminated in spite of glowing performance evaluations. 

Things went downhill after that. My marriage ended and I had a string of writing jobs that didn’t work out. Eventually I took a more stable position working for a local non-profit organization. Unfortunately my writing skills were rarely needed. I felt a part of me died. My attitude must have tanked too, as I eventually was fired from that job as well.

In spite of this setback and hiatus from being a professional scribe, every year on the 4th of July I reignited my desire to be a writer that would serve humankind. Unbeknownst to those around me, I would launch my wishes into the universe and wait for the brilliant burst of color in the night sky to remind me that my desires could burst forth into reality if I could remain steadfast in my commitment.

My Independence Day ritual predated The Secret, the Abraham series and What the Bleep Do You Know. However, my issue was I didn’t hold onto the dream long enough. Once a year does not an expert make. Eventually I read (and even co-wrote) books and articles on creating a positive attitude and fulfilling your life’s ambitions. To date my most successful work was penning the popular self-help book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within (with fellow author Jacqueline Howard.)  Nothing is more gratifying than knowing something I created has improved the life of another person.

But I’m human and sometimes take a stroll on the grouchy side of life. At times I wonder if the words I write have any impact, I worry my expertise as a public relations expert and professional writer will no longer be enough to pay the bills, as well as any number of negative thoughts that can swirl in and out of my consciousness. Fortunately I’ve trained myself not to wander down that rabbit hole of negativity for any length of time. It’s like exposing ourselves to radiation – a little might be necessary at times, but too much is toxic.

Fortunately today is the 4th of July – my day to rewrite my personal history. Holidays are great reminders of important dates and people in our lives. It doesn’t matter if the holiday is secular or non secular, all have value.

You may or may not want to read my articles, book or adopt my practice of using the 4th of July to remind yourself to launch or reactivate your life’s purpose. But in the words of my father (imagine a Yiddish accent when reading the next four words) “What could it hurt?”


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Filming of Fish out of Water

I was surfing the internet looking for writing contests when I saw a listing for NBC Playground’s search for new sitcoms. The odds were against me, but I knew I had to enter. The contest had a short window – two months – and the applicants were asked to submit a 5 to 10 minute video and a 3 to 5 minute pitch of their original show idea.

I’ve entered numerous writing contests in my career. I’ve even won a few. But this competition was asking for something I had never done, create a video. I would normally be too intimidated to pursue the project. I am a bit of a technophobe. My friend, Andrea, calls me a Luddite because my old flip phone sits neglected in my purse. I can’t tell you how many bewildered looks I have received from folks when I tell them I don’t text. But I finally decided to embrace technology and bought a droid. I now text, take pictures and even take a few videos of my grandkids. I often forget to turn the camera off and accidently shoot footage of ceilings, floors and my chubby thighs, but it’s a learning process. 

Ironically, some of the outtakes came in handy later to simulate a fall. But more on that another time.
My mind started racing about how I could create a video and enter the contest. Things started to fall into place. My friend, Michele, told me about a great comedic actress named Viva. She told me Viva’s mother, Carole, was a great organizer and could probably help me find other actors. Before I could say “huzzah” I had two talented actors for two of my lead roles.


Both Viva and Sean are not only gifted thespians, they were willing to work for free. The only glitch was timing. Viva was still in school and only had a few days before she would go on vacation and I had to complete everything before I left with my spouse for a work assignment.

Fortunately I am not intimidated by deadlines. I have my journalism professors to thank for that. Everyone else might have two months to create their videos. I would do mine in two weeks. My biggest fear was the actual filming. However, my good friend Joan came to my rescue and agreed to pull out her camcorder and do the job. I would do a little backup filming with my new Droid.

I looked at my script and tried to envision how I could simplify it enough to capture the story without a lot of expensive props. It’s one thing to write a story but quite another to put it together without a talented crew to handle props, sound equipment, music and lighting. Fortunately, several friends, family members and classmates agreed to volunteer for the project. Two of my favorite clients, International Academy of Hair Design


and The Village at Arrowhead Shopping Center allowed me access to their facilities. The shopping center became a meeting place in my faux version of Beverly Hills. The beauty school became the site of an exclusive fashion show.

I purchased two rolls of rope lighting to create a runway, brought a blue sheet to hide a large display of makeup and aesthetic supplies, and again with the help of Joan, as well as Traci from my yogalates class, we moved furniture, stuck a work light on the end of a gardening tool and began filming.



Prior to filming I went on the internet to research strange things like – how do you replicate vomit. The answer, by the way, is corn chowder. I bought five cans of the stuff and Viva drank the stuff and spewed it on the runway like a champ. After filming and editing this scene I lost two pounds due to the gross out factor. Needless to say, I don’t think anyone who helped on this sitcom project will ever eat corn chowder again. 

When the filming was done the video was still a little short of the five minute minimum so I threw together another scene, at yet another location – Viva’s house. Due to the ensuing deadline I didn’t have time to find another actress to play opposite Viva, so I asked my daughter, Brittany, to take to the stage.

My other daughter, Alicia, helped film and did the editing. Even my granddaughters who are 4 and 6 years old had parts to play. 

 Finally, the filming and editing were completed and Alicia uploaded the video and pitch to the NBC Playground site (not an easy feat.) After hours of watching clips and making decisions about editing (Alicia did the editing but I was still the one making the decisions on what to use and not use) I have new admiration for all the unnoticed details that go into making a short video. I could probably write a book about the subject but this blog post is as close to a book as I’m going to write about the subject.

The morale of the story is I undertook a big challenge, and with the help of friends, family and other kind volunteers, I was able to see it through to completion. What seemed like an impossible task for a professional writer like me with minimal skills in direction, photography and production, was able to complete a project before deadline and with no budget. 

And as a card-carrying member of the AARP I was not too intimidated to compete against young, energetic students from UCLA. Will my project be picked as one of three finalists? Who knows? The winners will be notified by September 30. I hope all of you who read this will send my project, Fish Out Of Water, positive vibes. 

But in a way I have won already. Just by competing I overcame a huge obstacle. It all boils down to if I didn’t try I would  have lost before I ever had a chance to begin. And that would have been the worst defeat of all.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cuts Like A Knife But It Feels So Right



Call me sexist, but I have always found shopping for a Father’s Day present much harder than its maternal counterpart. My dad passed away, but that did not solve my problem as I like to honor my spouse with a present. It’s my second marriage, so the children we share are of the furry variety, but CB is the co-parent none-the-less and deserves a gift.

Fortunately I hit a homerun this year with a Parker River knife. I gave it to CB a bit early so I could review the product. I can whole-heartedly recommend this item as the PERFECT gift for any dad, husband or mate.  CB sails, scuba dives and enjoys many other outdoor activities where specialty blades are a necessity. However the Parker River knife is an ideal choice for everyday use.


The rosewood handle and solid construction make this a handsome instrument to use and behold.  It comes with a handy (and masculine) burlap bag.  It fits comfortably in the hand and opens with the right amount of pressure to make it both safe, yet easy to use. One of the coolest things about the Parker River knife is you can get it engraved. There are all the standard sayings one can choose Best Dad, Grandpa, longitude and latitude co ordinance, or even the person’s name. However, something I would suggest that would make this gift extra special is picking a moniker that denotes a complimentary adjective. I chose SELF RELIANT for CB. It’s a fitting inscription that fits my spouse to a tee.


Another unique component of the gift is the box has a penny on it.  This begs the inevitable question so I’m going to quote the Parker River website www.parkerriverknife.com for the answer to this one.

"Why is there a penny taped to the knife?"

In many cultures around the world the act of giving a knife as a gift is sometimes utilized to symbol the ending of a friendship or relationship. But knives are useful and beautiful tools that make great gifts. A tradition that goes along with knife giving in these areas is to include a small coin, usually a penny with any gift knife. When the receiver of the gift opens the present, they immediately give the penny back to the giver of the gift. This way they have symbolically purchased the knife, which prevents both the blade from going dull and the friendship from being severed. 

CB has a distinctive and portable cutting implement, I have the penny (I kept the box too) and all is well in our household.  

Since I have given CB the early Father’s Day gift I have caught my “self-reliant one” turning it over, admiring the distinctive craftsmanship, and of course looking at the engraved moniker that is a true compliment to my spouse’s character.  I have to admit, I like to pick up the knife and admire it to too. I guess it gives new meaning to the lyrics sung by Bryan Adams when he croons, “It cuts like a knife, but it feels so right.”

So if you want to cut to the chase and find the perfect Father’s Day, be sure to visit www.parkerriverknife.com . But time is running out so chop, chop, check it out today.