The Worst Health and Fitness Plan Ever

April 13, 2014

It’s probably a bad idea, but I’m going to share my health and fitness strategy. There are some crackpot ideas in here (especially the first one), and you should abandon them right quick if they don’t work for you. For whatever reason, they work for me, and I’m sharing them because maybe they will be helpful to others who, like me, hate routine and have an unusual metabolism.


The author taking a moment to do some quick yoga while in her pajamas and waiting to get started on some home renovation.


First off, what do I mean when I say that the following tips work for me? I mean that I like how my body feels. I am not skinny and don’t really want to be. I am muscular and I am curvy. Both of those traits come pretty naturally, so my idea is that I should work with my body so that it is muscular and curvy in ways that feel good to me. Work with your body. Love your body. And also ignore your body altogether once in a while. Here’s the attention I give mine.

  1. Skip breakfast. Well, not most of you. Because breakfast is the most important meal of the day for most people. But my metabolism must be a little different than most. If I eat breakfast, then I am hungry all day long and I eat like a horse. If I skip breakfast, then I can usually go until noon or later without a meal, and even then I don’t tend to eat large portions. My mind and body feel better when I start the day lean.
  2. Exercise in the kitchen. I have lots of small chunks of down time when I am cooking. Three minutes while I wait for water to boil. Thirty seconds between the time I flip the pancake and the time it’s ready to go to a plate. And so forth. I take that time to do pushups against the counter or to bust out about 20 jumping jacks.
  3. Figure out how to use what you already have for exercise. As I mentioned, pushups against the counter are great. You can also step up onto a sturdy chair and then back down a few times. You can jog in place or do a few balancing exercises. Forget about equating exercise with going to the gym.
  4. If you do have equipment, keep it small and handy. In my case, I have a few small weights that I keep near the kitchen so that I can do some arm curls while I am sautéing onions. If they were in any way inconvenient to get to, I simply wouldn’t do it. So I keep them near the place where I am most likely to exercise.
  5. When you start to glaze over at work, exercise. Take thirty seconds to do some pushups or sit-ups or whatever. It will make you more productive. Don’t care if other people laugh at you. You are being a good influence.
  6. Accept hunger. It’s the natural human condition to be a little bit hungry quite a bit of the time. When you think you would like a snack, wait about 15 minutes before you go get it. And then try a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts first. You don’t want hunger pangs certainly, but in general we would do well to accept that being a little bit hungry is not so alarming.

Okay, so I’m not a fitness guru. None of this is the result of careful study, and it’s not like following these tips will make you any sort of hottie. But I do feel great about the strength and flexibility of my body. If some portion of this helpful, that’s great. The advice is free, so take it for what it is worth.

Who Are the Real Criminals?

November 30, 2011

One of the satiric photos making the rounds.

I heard on the radio this morning that 1,400 police officers took part in an operation to shut down Occupy Los Angeles.  When I got online I saw the now-familiar images of riot police dragging away unarmed campers. Heavy equipment was hauled out to remove protesters who fled into trees. Meanwhile, on the other coast, a massive show of police force resulted in another crackdown on illegal camping in Philadelphia. That raid on Occupy protesters resulted in injuries, including one induced by a police horse.

I’m becoming accustomed to these excesses of police force and to the outrage I feel as a result. But this morning, when I heard the sheer number of police involved in the effort, it suddenly struck me what a complete recklessness of public resources goes into these operations.

Imagine, instead, if 1,400 police officers were deployed to clear a neighborhood of violent crime. I used to live in a neighborhood in Detroit that had far worse problems to overcome than tents going up without permits. Friends and neighbors were beaten, burgled, kidnapped, raped, and gunned down. I remember the first time I was there when drive-by shooting occurred on my block. The shooter missed the mark. My roommates—two people who are paragons of virtue and have a deeper sense of civic responsibility than almost anyone else I know—just went about their business. “Should we call the police?” I exclaimed.

They shrugged.  “If you want. I mean, it’s not like it will hurt anything to call them,” said one. Read the rest of this entry »

Transparent Motives

November 1, 2011

I’ve been hearing pundits from all corners defend the secrecy of the congressional “super committee” that is meeting to make fast-track recommendations on how to find $1.5 trillion. The reason that these elected representatives have to meet in the dark, they explain, is that otherwise they won’t be willing to buck the party line on raising taxes (from the Republican side) or on cutting entitlements (from the Democratic side). According to this logic, they can’t possibly reach an agreement if the people are watching because they will be too worried about their re-elections to act in good faith.

To which I reply: really?

So we are going to let them meet in secret because they don’t have enough backbone to meet in light of day? Don’t you think that if we can’t trust them to say what they really think in the open, that they are exactly the sort of people we shouldn’t trust behind closed doors?

I don’t claim to be the country’s biggest patriot, but even I am willing to accept the criticism of my peers if I think that speaking my mind will help put my country on a better footing. And if I really believed that I had the chance to do something important for my country at the risk of losing my job, I would certainly do so–and my prospects for entering some other lucrative line of work are not nearly so good as those who sit on this super committee. If they really believe that holding the line or compromising is the best thing for the country, let them say so openly and face the music.

Worms and Potatoes

October 9, 2011

When I pulled back the worm bedding, this is what I found.

Two winters ago, J & I made a foray into vermiculture. We keep the worm bin in the basement, where we alternate layers of shredded newspaper with food waste. The worms plunder their way through this bin, leaving behind one of the richest manures on earth.

Throughout the winter, whenever I notice that something I’m storing in the basement has gone bad, I chuck it in the bin. (I store turnips, cabbages, squash, onions, potatoes, and other items in the basement over the winter.) In late winter this year, all the potatoes sprouted like crazy. Many of them were small and not worth saving, so into the worm bin they went.

Harvesting worm castings is a tedious job. The method is to make a bunch of little piles in the bright sunlight. The worms bury deep into the piles to avoid the light. You take the castings from the top and sides, then wait for them to bury still deeper and again scrape around the edges. But truthfully, you never avoid getting a bunch of the worms along with the castings—at least I don’t.  I tend to put the task off, but today I figured I better take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to get the job done.  When I dumped the box onto a tarp, I found the most amazing thing.

The potatoes I had tossed in months earlier, had thrived in the worm bin. With no leaves for photosynthesis, these potatoes had somehow multiplied like crazy. The worms didn’t seem to be eating them at all, but they did seem to eat all around them. Many of these potatoes came out of the bin shiny and clean (though not the ones in the photo here), except that they were covered in worms that were not eating them. None of the potatoes had gotten very big—most were smaller than my pinky, but some of them grew in sizable clusters.

How did the potatoes grow without photosynthesis? None of the potatoes still had the sprouts that had caused me to pitch them in the first place; they were not even trying to get to sunlight or set roots. And why did the worms leave them alone? Was the potato growth simply able to outpace the pace of the worms, or did the worms avoid eating them for a reason? And why didn’t these potatoes begin to decompose anyway, even without the worms? They were in a moist, sometimes wet, place for more than six months, I’ve seen potatoes rot under much better conditions, even in the ground.  I have to wonder if there is some sort of symbiotic relationship going on. If anyone has any knowledge about this, I would love to know more!

What Is Meant by ‘Don’t Mourn, Organize’

September 22, 2011

Huge crowds gathered to send off the body of the man who gave voice to their struggles, the young immigrant Joe Hill.

At vigils and rallies to save the life of Troy Davis, participants marched with images of the innocent man covering their own faces. When asked to identify themselves, they would state "I am Troy Davis." (photo credit: Isaac Silver)

Just before the falsely convicted labor troubadour Joe Hill was shot by a firing squad in Utah in 1915, he wrote to a friend that people should not mourn his death, but instead organize. The slogan “Don’t Mourn, Organize!” has been a labor rallying cry for almost a century now. Tonight is the first time I’ve understood that when Joe Hill wrote those lines, they meant something much deeper than a rallying cry.

Asking his friends and family not to waste one moment for their private griefs, asking them to instead pour all their energy into the struggle for justice, this was not a small request. It was a very big thing to ask of the tens of thousands who came to meet his body when it was brought to Chicago and the millions who had fought for his release from every corner of the globe. Working people lost someone they held dear, and they lost faith in a system they held dear. Surely, they deserved to mourn for these losses. Surely, it was too much to ask them not to mourn.

Troy Davis has just been executed by the state of Georgia. There was no physical evidence in the trial, he was convicted solely on the testimony of eye witnesses. Seven out of the nine witnesses have since recanted their testimony. One of the remaining witnesses later told friends that he was the actual killer, and new witnesses have come forward to verify that claim. A number of the jurors have testified that they would not have convicted him if they knew then what they know now. Even the former warden who oversaw previous executions pleaded for a stay of execution.

This case has earned the sympathy and outrage of millions across the globe. Last night there were vigils all over the country and all over the world to support Troy Davis. Hundreds of thousands of us have signed petitions, made calls, urged others to speak out. We have written letters and sent faxes. We have joined organizations and donated our money to try to save this man. And still Troy Davis is lying dead right now.

Like Joe Hill, Troy Davis has urged us to stay focused on the struggle, and on the fact that we are all Troy Davis. This fight to save one life is actually a fight for all of our lives. Until we end the death penalty, we are letting down each and every Troy Davis. We are letting down each other. And if we start to mourn, how will we ever stop? It feels crass to suggest that we immediately seize on the momentum we have built in our efforts to prevent this death. It feels too hard to say we shouldn’t take time to heal ourselves before gearing up to prevent the next death.

But “I am Troy Davis” is not just a rallying cry. “Don’t mourn, organize!” is not just a rallying cry. They give us difficult tasks, and rewarding ones. They are to be lived out in what we decide to do from this very moment forward.

Killer Author

May 23, 2011

Donna White Glaser’sThe Enemy We Know is a suspenseful tale of a woman with multiple stalkers. This murder mystery has the reader trying to guess the identity of a villain who first leaves creepy sonnets, and later leaves bodies for recovering alcoholic Letty Whittaker. Glaser serves the story up with such witty prose that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud several times.

Glaser is the founder of a writers’ group I used to attend. When she released The Enemy We Know (the first book in a mystery series themed  on the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous), I seized the opportunity to ask her a few things about her writing, her personal life, and her decision to self-publish.

You share a number of characteristics with your protagonist, Letty Whittaker. You are both recovering alcoholics and psychotherapists living in Northwest Wisconsin. What are some of the challenges  of writing about a world so close to your own?

Read the rest of this entry »

Go in Peace

May 3, 2011

An image of Jesus as Prince of Peace, which was a title I heard frequently as a child.

When I was a little girl, certain words were forbidden in the home. They included all the ones you might expect, along with another four letter word: hate. We were not allowed to say that we hated anyone. We were also never permitted to say that we wished someone were dead—no matter who or why. My parents’ Christian faith told them plainly that hatred of other humans was just wrong. (But don’t take their word for it, just read pretty much anything in the New Testament. Probably lots of other religions have figured this out too, but Christianity is the religion I grew up with and that shaped my personality the most.)

The lesson stuck. But recently, I had started to wonder if my childhood was radically different from other Christian homes. I’ve felt inundated lately by hateful speech and actions. Transgendered people assaulted in public restaurants, a massacre at an open-air meeting in Arizona, ministers burning Korans or cheering for the death of gays and soldiers. Closer to home an acquaintance of mine believes Democrats should leave the United States so he won’t be forced to endure their presence and a relative hopes every last [epitaph for Muslim] is killed by our army. “Nuke them all,” he says.
Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-Government Activist Targets Labor Studies

April 28, 2011

The same guy who pawned a deceptively edited video of Shirley Sherrod off as news has now made a new video of deceptively edited talks by educators at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Andrew Breitbart combed through 30 hours of video tape to find roughly seven minutes of what he claims is advocacy of industrial sabotage. Frankly, the video is so jumbled up and poorly edited, that it’s actually rather boring. But given that these sorts of shenanigans have had bizarrely serious consequences in the past, I want to help spread the real story behind this tactic. Below is a statement by one of the professors, Judy Ancel, regarding this attack. At the end I leave a comment challenge: leave a comment with something you heard someone else say today–but edit selectively (keep it rated PG, though).

Andrew Breitbart’s Affront to Democracy and Attack on Students’ Right to an Education

Statement by Judy Ancel

I am Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. While my university prepares its response, I feel compelled to answer the attacks by Andrew Breitbart on my character. I am speaking as an individual and certainly not for UMKC. I am speaking out of my strong lifelong commitment to educating working people to better understand the world they live in. Labor education is a vital part of anyone’s education. All Americans, especially our youth, need to understand the contributions working people have made and make in building our communities and nation. Labor education gives them the skills and vision to make a better world.

My students and I are outraged at Mr. Breitbart’s invasion of our classroom and his attempts to intimidate us and my colleagues at the university. Mr. Breitbart’s chop shop manufactured videos from 30 hours of classroom recordings that were posted for the course, “Labor, Politics, and Society,” on the university’s Blackboard system. Presumably these were delivered to him by a student, in possible violation of the University Standards of Conduct and the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. These videos were recorded for the use of students enrolled in this course, and for them only. Breitbart disassembled the material, and reassembled it; arranging them to give the appearance that instructors of the class advocate violence. This is in fact the opposite of the position both instructors took in class. Any examination of labor’s past would be incomplete without discussion of violence, (which for the most part was directed at workers) and analysis of its roots. At no time did my co-instructor, Don Giljum, nor I advocate violence.

There’s no doubt that Breitbart’s attacks are politically motivated, part of a broad agenda to weaken unions and the public sector as well as public education. His fabrications have been exposed numerous times in the mainstream media. Yet he and his echo chamber at Fox News continue to cause great harm to educators and other public servants.

On April 18th Breitbart announced his intentions on Fox News Sean Hannity show: “We’re going to take on education next, go after the teachers and the union organizers.” It is possible that his attack on the University of Missouri and labor education is his first assault.

Breitbart is a master of taking quotes out of context, deletion of what doesn’t serve his purpose, and remixing to achieve totally different meaning. For example he has me saying:

o Breitbart’s version: “Violence is a tactic and it’s to be used when it’s the appropriate tactic.”
o The real version: After students had watched a film on the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King, they were discussing nonviolence. I said, “One guy in the film. . . said ‘violence is a tactic, and it’s to be used when it’s the appropriate tactic.’ . . . “ The class proceeded to discuss and debate this.

Thus Mr. Breitbart’s editing has literally put words in my mouth that were not mine, and they never were mine.

Breitbart leaves out a crucial statement by Don Giljum in order to make it appear that he advocates violence. Giljum said, “I’m not sure as a tactic today the type of violence or reaction to the violence we had back then would be called for here, and I think it would do more harm than good.” A student then says “and it just legitimizes their dirty tricks.” Giljum agreed with him.

There are a number of other instances of very creative editing including:

o A change of clothes by Don Giljum from one sentence to another Read the rest of this entry »

Worksite Massacre

April 27, 2011

4,340. That’s how many lives were ended by workplace injuries in this country in 2009 (the most recent year for which we have statistics). That’s probably more people than went to your high school. It’s many times the number of people in my town. It’s much larger than the largest family reunion you’ve ever been to. It’s an almost unimaginable scale of death.

50,000. That’s how many died from occupational-related illnesses such as black lung. Somehow, it’s so difficult to imagine the death of 50,000 people that it’s almost an easier number to read than 4,340. Yet if you consider that’s 136 human lives ended every day, you can start to wrap your arms around the idea. That’s my entire high school graduating class. It’s the size of a small church community. It’s the number of people who show up for a controversial issue at the town council. And it’s every day.

4,000,000-12,000,000. That’s the number of non-fatal workplace injuries, such as paralysis, brain trauma, and amputation. It also includes smaller but life-altering injuries such as torn rotator cuffs, 3rd-degree burns, and crushed hands.

A new report from the AFL-CIO Department of Safety and Health outlines these statistics and breaks the information down by state, industry, and sector. Page 85 of the report shows how long it would take for OSHA to actually inspect all the work sites in a given state with current level of staffing. If you are lucky, you live in the best case state of Oregon, where you could expect an inspection sometime in the next 23 years. But if you live in Florida, well maybe some of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will get to work in a place that’s had an inspection, because it will take OSHA about 240 years to get around to it.

Has anyone else noticed that workers are starting to stand up and say “Enough!” The unions fought hard for OSHA, and now we all need to fight to make it an agency with more teeth. Nothing would be a more fitting tribute to the men, women, and children who are dying on the job every day.

Talk about Crazy

April 13, 2011

I just listened to this story on NPR about the lack of care given to psychiatric patients in emergency rooms. I hope you will too.