Fitness

Fit Bodied Girls

I rarely get manicures. The polish always chips within a day, and I hate looking at chipped polish. If I get a mani, it’s always clear – I refuse to stress over nail polish. Pedicures, on the other hand, are pure bliss. They last longer, they remind me of summer, you can read something while they dry, and you can wear flip flops.  So when my friend from work asked if I wanted to get an impromptu pedicure and cocktail one Friday afternoon, I was thrilled. In my excitement, however, I had forgotten about one thing.

As we were walking out the door, I suddenly stopped and touched her arm. “I don’t think I can go,” I blurted.  “I’m wearing jeans!”

I was wearing jeans. Since the trend of skinny jeans has not yet left the building, my calf muscles are constantly confined, barely able to breathe through tightly stretched denim. Wearing said jeans while trying to relax during a pedicure is impossible; there is risk of circulation cut off, not to mention the humiliation I would have to endure.

“OOOh, too tight, too big.” The lady at the salon will tap me, as she tries in vain to lift the fabric over the lower part of my leg and breathes heavily, like she’s competing in an Olympic sport.  No woman, I don’t care how comfortable she is with her physique, is excited when she hears the phrases “too big” and “too tight” in reference to one of her body parts. And while calves may not seem like a huge deal, they used to be a source of embarrassment to me. I let comments about them contribute to the negative image I had of my body.

“Girls who play sports get fat.”

“Jennifer,” (Let’s give her a quintessential 80’s name.), reported this to me in sixth grade. I was eleven, Bruce Springsteen was my jam, and soccer was my game. Weaving my way through the weirdness of middle school, I was beginning to know myself and the rush I got from being active, whether I was playing soccer, swimming, or simply running like a child. I was also starting to compare myself to other girls. If you are familiar with, or remember, middle schoolers, you know they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Girls can develop early and wear women’s clothing, or they can remain tiny and look like they wear a 6X. I was somewhere in between. Until that year, I hadn’t given my calves – or the rest of my body – much thought.

“Look,” Jennifer pointed below my knee. “Fat.” Then she hoisted one leg onto a desk and pointed to her calf. “Skinny.” Red hot shame burned through my insides. Someone had just called me fat. Being eleven, I wasn’t able to separate facts from fiction. My calves were bigger than hers because they were strong, I was not fat, and so what the f*!*! if I was??  But the way I saw it, if one person thought I was fat, then other people must think it as well, and in middle school, that thought was devastating. From that moment on, I thought about ways to hide my calves. I even changed the way I dressed to cover them. Unfortunately, this complex plagued me, and I let it seep its way into my whole body. It got worse in seventh grade, when I woke up with boobs. Boys started paying attention to me, and I felt nervous and ashamed; I even tried to conceal my chest by taping it down. I know. I’m lucky I didn’t end up in the ER.

In retrospect, I know shouldn’t have let “Jennifer” dictate how I viewed my body, but at the time, I didn’t have the tools to shrug her off, laugh at the absurdity of her comment, or even retaliate. I wasn’t taught how to accept my physical being, let alone love it. Body parts didn’t exist in my house; I was always afraid to talk about how I felt, and my mom was always trying to be thinner.  To have been called fat was embarrassing to admit. I thought being thin was the ideal girls were supposed to strive for.

It’s ironic that the one thing I didn’t do was quit sports. I don’t even think I made the connection that being athletic was developing the muscles I once wanted to hide. It just felt so good to play. Soccer became my solace. Running gave me a sense of freedom and cleared my head. Swimming let me spend summers lifeguarding and not fearing the ocean. Later on, I learned how to incorporate weight training into my routine, and I uncovered muscles other than my calves. I’m so grateful for them now – they provide me strength, power, and longevity.  They helped me heal quickly from two c-section surgeries. They will help me recover if I injure myself in the future, they will protect my bones as I get older, and they will even let me rock a bathing suit this summer.

Sorry, Jennifer, but girls who play sports don’t get fat, they get fit.

FitBodiedGirlSo although I freaked for a moment that Friday afternoon, I went for the pedicure with my coworker. The woman in the salon broke a sweat as she pushed my jeans as far up my leg as they would go. And when she glanced up at me, exasperation in her eyes, I just shrugged and smiled. “Just let the jeans get wet,” I told her. “My calves are used to it.”

 

Forties fun

One Word – Live

When you’re young, you don’t think that one day your best friend might die. If she called you three times in a row, it was probably to tell you the same story she had already spilled on the bus, during lunch in the cafeteria, and then again while lingering in the hall and avoiding algebra.

Somewhere in time, however, this shifts. When you get older, have parents who are aging, and have become fledgling parents yourselves, repeated phone calls from people close to you take on a different meaning.

So the day Liz called me, not once, not twice, but three times in a row, I had a sick and surreal feeling that something close to death was happening.

“What’s wrong?” I picked up on the third call. I have no memory of what she said next, just like I don’t have a childhood memory of us becoming friends. She was just always there – from playground wars, to sleepovers, to teenage drama – through every stage of life she was my loyal defender and confidante. Her not being there was never an option.

Even when she uttered the phrase, breast cancer, denial ensued. This wasn’t our life – her life – we were just brunching on the episode of Sex in the City, when Samantha reveals her diagnosis to the group. It wasn’t real.

“You bet your ass it was f-in real. And it sucked.”

That’s Liz, in my ear, today, thankfully still able to use the same flat tone and vernacular she’s used since 1985.  She fought, kicked cancer in the teeth, and if you knew her, you wouldn’t be surprised. What did surprise me, however, is how the fallout of this experience affected Liz – and me. Sure, we own the privilege of using macabre humor about her playing the cancer card, but we also, within the confines of conversations only people with 30+ years of friendship can have, discuss how we’ve come to look at life, in our mid forties and, for Liz, thank God, cancer free. She and I can also make jokes regarding annoying cliches about life, but behind the laughter, there is an unspoken agreement: they are all true.

It’s sad, but also true that it takes a near catastrophic event for a real shift to occur.  In a bizarre and beautiful way, I’m a little thankful my best friend had cancer. Without it, I’m not sure she and I would have adjusted our outlook on life, which is to just f’in LIVE, as Liz would say. It’s safe to say we did not make any new year’s resolutions. I even abandoned the recently touted practice of choosing one word to commit to for the year. My word was going to be “better.” It was  short lived, pun intended. I had no desire to commit, and as soon as I revealed my word, thus began the litany of imperfections I needed to improve. Not really into that right now. I’m into the cliches and quotes. I won’t make you throw up and list them, but I will say, I’m not wasting my time here. Simply put, I’m working on doing what makes me happy, telling people how I feel, acting normal when I’m nervous, showing love to people I love, and accepting that life can shift in a moment. What I’m trying not to do? Be insecure. Wait for something to happen. Punish myself. Jump to made up conclusions.

I guess in some ways, this is trying to be better. I can commit to that.

Family

To Be Seen

How would you like to be described? We’re not supposed to care about what people  think of us, but how I am seen through the eyes of others, especially my husband and children, means a lot to me. In my mind, I radiate energy, send positive vibes, live an active lifestyle, and show a kind heart. Well, that vision shattered to bits yesterday after a conversation with, believe it or not, my eight year old son.

img_4070 This dude.

Single digit temps this weekend kept us mostly inside and brainstorming things to do. After attempting to sled on frozen tundra and realizing they couldn’t eat the icy snow that blanketed our lawn, both my kids were clamoring for hot cocoa, popcorn, and a movie. We rented Incredibles 2, snuggled up on the couch and hunkered down in front of the fire. About halfway through the film, I felt my eyelids droop. It wasn’t until I felt Joey’s gentle shake of my arm that I came to.

“Mommy,” he whispered, “this movie made me realize we have superpowers.”

“Oh yeah?” I sat up. “What superpowers do we have?”

“Well, mine are cool – I have great hair that doesn’t move when I sleep or look weird when I wake up, and I can eat whatever I want and not gain a pound.” (I know, I know. There are so many things to write here, but they would all be way off point.)

I smiled at Joey. I couldn’t wait to hear what mine were. Super Mommy who could take down bad guys with her super muscles and agility? Beautiful Mommy with flowing tresses that stopped bad guys in their tracks? Fun Mommy who disarmed bad guys with her charm?

“Your power, Mommy,” Joey continued, “is SLEEPING. If a bad guy comes, you can just BAM!, put him to sleep because you’re so good at it.”

WTF.

I was crushed. In a semi state of shock. My mind raced down a rabbit hole of toxic thoughts. I wanted to shout: Do sleeping mommies make dinner 6-7 times a week? Do they work out at OrangeTheory Fitness? Run half marathons? Get up at 5am every day? Do they do EVERYTHING??

This was not healthy. I remained reticent, took a breath and pulled myself off the couch. After all, Joey did have to wake me up to share this revelation. I thought about my weekend days. Despite my enthusiasm for activity and the gym, there were plenty of Sunday afternoons Joey could find me prone on the couch. I wasn’t showing my better self. Telling myself I was so busy during the week that I deserved a rest, didn’t erase what Joey saw on the weekends.

Later, when I told Joe, he informed me I should have told Joey my feelings were hurt.

“But, I couldn’t,” I said. “I was too embarrassed – caught off guard. He sees me as The Sleeper, and that’s not how I see myself. It’s like in second grade when my teacher sent that stupid list of awards toward the end of school. I was convinced I would get Best Dancer, and I got Shortest.”

Joe laughed out loud. “Trust me,” he said. “Talk to Joey and tell him how you feel. He’s eight, but he’ll understand. He’ll make you feel better.”

Joe was right. I was never angry at my son; he did not intend to hurt my feelings. He just called it as he saw it. Joey reminded me that kids are always watching, and what we think people notice about us may not align with what we actually show the world. I called Joey up to my room.

“I just want to talk to you about my super power,” I began. “I guess I was surprised that you would pick sleeping. It’s not really how I’d like you to see me.”

“Mommy, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. It’s just -,” he paused. “Well, on the weekends, you do like to snuggle up a lot, and sometimes you fall asleep on the couch. It’s ok.” He rubbed my arm. “Don’t be afraid of a nap once in a while. You deserve it. I love you.”

Joey, I’ll put a bad guy in a sleeper hold for you any day.

Then, of course, I’ll use my Kick Ass Super Mommy powers.

img_4121

 

Forties fun

This One’s for the Girls

I’m embarking on a crusade, and I want you to join me. The mission? To instill courage in young women and girls. If you didn’t have it when you were younger, you know how important this is. The reason Rachel Hollis, (who, aside from my husband, inspired me to shed my fear and get my ass in gear more than anyone else), and others like her, are so successful is because there is such a need. And there is such a need because we don’t get it done early enough. The empowerment movement is on, but it needs to extend beyond women and reach out to our girls.

I don’t think boys are immune to insecurities. I constantly talk to Joe about our sensitive son and how to help him navigate the different situations he encounters. However, we can’t pretend that society does not still place archaic stereotypes on boys and girls. Many girls are still taught that in order to be successful or liked, they must please other people, take care of everyone else, or the worst – self deprecate. Being female, having my own baby girl, and a near 20-year career teaching middle schoolers, have made the need to reach young women glaringly clear.  

Take what happened the other day in my seventh grade classroom. The class was writing about truth, and as usual, I asked for volunteers to share. (If you’re cringing, you must know that in order for this to happen, a teacher has set up a safe environment from the first day of school; you’d be amazed at what some students have to say.)

“Who wants to share first?” I asked. Six hands shot in the air – all boys. Surprised? I wasn’t. Despite the stereotype about our boys not wanting to show emotions to others, many love to assert their opinions and talk about their experiences. After three boys shared, I tried again and asked if any girls wanted to read what they wrote.

Finally, a lone girl’s hand shakily rose. “I’m weird, I’ll share my writing.” Olivia spoke up, God love her. She met my eyes with a shy half smile. Then she said, “It’s not that good, but I’ll just read it.”

People, if I had a dollar for every time a female student uttered that phrase over the last 17 and a half years, I’d own a penthouse or an island – maybe a penthouse on an island.

It could be that I’m heightened to these scenarios, but I noticed the next one a few days later. Every new year, my husband holds a beautiful celebration for his former students, called Alumni Classroom. If you’re familiar with Joe’s work, you know this annual tradition is a chance for kids he taught to come together and attend one more English class with Mr. Ferraro. Volunteers share where their lives are headed and how they continue to benefit from Joe’s teachings. This year, I was fortunate to be an audience member and a speaker. Not only did I have the privilege of watching my husband in action, I was able to hold court and share stories of my own. Love, community, and respect were oozing from the walls of this venue. But there was one thing missing: female speakers. Even though Joe has cultivated many lasting relationships over the years, with boys and girls, not one young woman spoke at Alumni Classroom. That’s when I knew something had to give.

Why is it that once people, girls in particular, reach a certain age, the obsession with what others think of them shatters the freedom to show the world who they are?

I’m convinced there is a window of time when girls freely behave like Charlee, my five year old daughter. She puts on concerts every night. She throws back her head and guffaws. She raises her hand. She questions. She wears tutus. She dances whether or not anyone is watching. She, my students, and the younger, insecure version of myself are the reasons I want to teach them – and my son – that there is no shame or comparison when it comes to being yourself.

When I tell people I’m a teacher, they do one of three things: widen their eyes and suck in their breath, call me crazy, or bless me and ask why. The reasons why have slightly changed over the years, but one thing remains the same: I understand young people, and I emphasize with them. One thing about teaching is that you age, but your students don’t. This makes you see things differently as times moves on. So Girls, here’s what I’d like to teach you. And Sisters, I need you to help me:

Have the courage to take risks.

Exude confidence in what you know.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

This really is an awkward stage – embrace it.

Most of what you see on Instagram is just that – an instant – not a whole life.

Someone will judge you, make an assumption about you, or take advantage of you. Protect. Defend. Tell. Stand up. Walk tall.

Take care of your fellow females. Celebrate their successes.

Move away from those who don’t do the above.

You are not weird, Olivia. You are beautiful. Share your stories.

Forties fun

Leave Balance to the Gymnasts

My fifth grade phys-ed teacher wore the same t-shirt every day for a week. “Gymnastics is flippin fun” spread across her non-existent chest as she demonstrated various drills on all kinds of equipment. As she vaulted, flipped, and tumbled, I watched in awe and became determined to defy gravity, just like her.

I was ten. I could do anything.

Then I approached the balance beam. It was taller than I expected, and not nearly as wide. My small hands could wrap around its diameter, and the thought of standing on it made me uneasy. Nevertheless, I stood tall in line, waiting my turn. Some of the girls before me were “gymnasts” and could jump and land solidly on the four inches of leather. As I watched them, and my teacher cheered them on, I figured since I was good at most sports, I could handle the balance beam.

Hoisting myself up wasn’t too hard; I was able to swing a leg over the beam and straddle it seamlessly. However, unsure of  my next move, I let my legs swing and contemplated my fate.

”Let’s go, Potenza!” (my maiden name) Mrs. Sawler clapped her hands and shouted, but her tone was just short of encouraging. “Get on up there!”

My legs still, I leaned forward and managed to place one foot on the beam. Foot number two remained, dangling in the air. I was not flexible enough to hold this position. There was nowhere to go but up.

I butt planted on the mat one millisecond after I stood. My arms flailed, and my legs shot high over my head. My butt didn’t hurt as much as my ego, and I lay there, wishing the mat would swallow me whole. Eventually, my teacher’s face loomed into view.

“Stick to soccer, Potenza. And work on your balance.”

Well, I’m here to report, after 35 years, I’m officially done working on my balance. People, especially women, are supposed to strive for balance. We can have it all; we can learn how to balance family, career, self care, side gigs, and we can look fabulous while we do it.

I call bullshit.

There is no such thing as balance. A balancing act is just that – an act. I realize this is contradictory to everything we have heard since the age of 25, but guess what? I have a family, a career, I work out, and I blog, but I do NOT have balance. That would mean all things listed above get the same amount of attention, all the time. Impossible. I typed this post during my lunch break. My husband and I have to set a time to have an actual weeknight conversation. Working out after work means dinner is an hour later, or I have to work out at 5am, and lose sleep and time with my kids in the morning. And there are nights when I have to look at those children and decide whether to give them a bath or a home cooked meal. Don’t judge me.

The point is, every time something is gained, something is lost somewhere else. That’s not balance. And I’m finally okay with that. I spent many days telling myself I suck at life because I didn’t get my hair done, I didn’t fold the laundry, or god forbid, I missed the gym. Even on the days I manage to do everything, nothing is done perfectly. It’s been really hard to accept this, but I’ve learned it’s more important to feel balanced and calm in my mind than in my life. That could also mean skipping out on everything for an hour and roaming aimlessly around Target. Again, don’t judge me.

So, sorry to disappoint you, Mrs. Sawler, but I am no longer working on my balance. It’s not that flippin’ fun. In fact, we should all get credit for the Olympic style juggling acts we perform, not the balancing ones. 

 

Food

Bake by the Ocean….(with Champagne)

I used to say I’d never do an audio book, but a 40 minute commute and some rockstar performances have changed my attitude and transformed my daily drive to work. I now listen to 90% of the books I read. Either I’m listening to an inspirational podcast, (i.e my better half’s One Percent Better https://www.onepercentbetterproject.com/), or I’m transporting to another place and time, thanks to my favorite genre, fiction.

Recently, I allowed myself to drift to the island of Nantucket, where I met Elin Hilderbrand’s character, Chef Deacon Thorpe. Hilderbrand is a self-proclaimed lover of all things Nantucket and food, and she marries the two in her 2017 novel, Here’s to Us. To my delight, she partnered with real life cookbook author and recipe developer, Jessica Merchant, and the two weave recipes into the novel. I practically salivated on my steering wheel while listening to Merchant’s clams casino dip with baguettes and fluffy white champagne cake with champagne candied strawberries. A beach setting, love stories, champagne, cake, strawberries, and fresh seafood.  Can you get anymore on my level??

Now, if you know me, you know I can safely say I’m a damn good cook. Baking, on the other hand, not so much. Too precise for me. You can’t liberally throw extra baking powder in a bowl like you can chopped garlic. But the way Hilderbrand wrote about this cake – I was swooning right along with the lucky characters who got to eat it. And when I researched Jessica Merchant, I kind of wanted her to be my friend.  Given that it was Christmas Eve, and I was hosting, I decided to take a risk, even if it was out of my comfort zone.  Let’s bake, people!

Now, let me warn you: this cake is old school, so unless you’re not willing to give into the experience, the ingredients are nothing to fear – butter, eggs, vanilla, flour, white sugar – all pantry staples. (I’m not substituting nut flour or coconut sugar; this baby deserves the real thing.)

Pre heat the oven to 350. Grease an 8×8 cake pan with softened butter, then sprinkle flour in the pan and shake it around the bottom. Pour the excess flour out and set aside.

I made a rookie baker mistake and only made this once; it was only enough for one round cake pan. I wanted a high and fluffy cake, and it only took another ten minutes or so to mix up another one. It was more work to get my Kitchenaid out than to mix this cake up:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 whole large egg plus 2 large egg whites

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole milk

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In the electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add in the sugar and mix until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Then add the whole egg and egg white, one at a time, beating for about a minute each. Add the vanilla, and scrape the sides of the bowl if needed. Pour in half of the dry ingredients, mixing on low, then add the milk. Top with the rest of the dry ingredients, beating until it’s smooth. (I had to mix this longer than I thought; it took a while to get smooth.) 

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for no more than 30 minutes. My oven only took 25, but apparently every oven varies. Just check with a toothpick at 25.

The icing was daunting because I learned that 4 1/2 cups of confectionary sugar is two whole boxes. That is super sweet, but I made a commitment to purity, and it was worth it in the end.

Champagne Frosting

1/2 unsalted butter

4 ounces cream cheese, softened (that’s half a package)

4 1/2 cups powdered sugar

3 – 5 tablespoons champagne – and some for the baker!

1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the butter and cream cheese in the electric mixer on medium speed. Then change to low speed and add the powdered sugar gradually. It will look strange and crumbly at first, but just keep going. Pour in the champagne one tablespoon at a time – after all the powdered sugar. The vanilla goes last; keep beating on medium to high. It took me a full 5-6 minutes to get it right; I was afraid of putting the mixer too high. If it gets too thin, add more powdered sugar. Too thick – add more champagne. I didn’t need to do this. (Good thing, since I drank the champagne!) Frost the cake when cooled.

Finally, the strawberry topping; this was also easier than I thought it would be. My syrup was a little thin, but still tasty.

Champagne Candied Strawberries

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup water

2/3 cup champagne 

1 pint strawberries, hulled. Leave some whole and slice some for variety.

In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the sugar, water, and champagne. Keep whisking until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to simmer. Add in the strawberries, and let simmer for a few more minutes. Remove the strawberries with a slotted spoon, and put in a bowl. I kept this mixture in the fridge until the cake was ready to be served.

3VOILA!IMG_7414My cousin, Joseph, is a truth teller. He loved it.

I’m not going to lie – the cake was a hit.  It was very cool to read a book and bring a part of it to life to share with my family. Even my MIL, who is hands down the best baker I’ve ever known, raved about it.

For the purest experience, purchase a paperback copy of Hilderbrand’s book.  It allows you to visit inside the novel every time you bake it, and it’s kind of old school to flip through a book and mark the right page. Then grab a copy of Merchant’s book – just because it’s prettier than the title implies, and her bringing the recipes to life makes you feel as fabulous as they taste.
  Match made in heaven – and proof you can have cake by the ocean – literally. (Initially, I had no idea that was a sexual reference, and it was almost the title of this piece. What the F.)

Hilderbrand’s story explores a family, its memories and evolving untraditional traditions. I’m already thinking about finding flour dust on page 192 next Christmas, when I bake it again.

Forties fun

Wait Till You’re…..

If everything everyone ever said after that phrase came true, we’d all be overweight, sick, miserable, or dead. I think about this all the time, and it came to light the other day at another work gathering, when a coworker announced she was expecting her first baby. She embodied the familiar emotions of joy and fear; however, by the time she left our so-called party, the latter mentioned f-word had her headed for the hills. Some sound bytes:

“Wow, great news! You look great – just wait till you’re near the end.”

“Congratulations! A girl?! Oooh, wait till she’s able to talk.” This one was followed by an exchange of knowing looks and eye rolls. (Don’t even get me started on people’s reactions when you tell them you’re having a girl. It’s an outrage.)

“How are you feeling? Just wait till she makes you sick to your stomach.”

“Are you tired now? Just WAIT till she’s born.”

“Oh, yes, just you wait. Life will never be the same.”

No shit, I thought, staring down the sustainable straw of my cocktail. Isn’t that a good thing??

The poor pregnant woman finally threw up her hands. “You guys are scaring me!”

No shit, I thought again. That’s almost all I could manage that afternoon.

I thought about all the times in my life people had uttered some form of the phrase, “wait till you’re blank.”  Any of these sound familiar?

Wait till you go out into the real world.

Wait till you get a real job.

Wait till you get married.

Wait till you turn 30.

Wait till you have kids.

Wait till you turn 40.

Well, guess what, people? I’ve hit all of the above, and I’m still standing. I’d love to banish this sentence starter, or at least change the tone of how we say it. Imagine if someone jumped for joy and told my coworker, “WAIT till you have your baby – it’s LIFE CHANGING!”  Or when you announce your engagement, people said, “OH, just you WAIT. Life is going to be even more wonderful now that you found someone to share it with!”

Call me Pollyanna – whatever – I’m okay with it.

There’s no doubt we’ve all been through hard days, weeks – years even – but why does that have to be the focus, especially when we talk to someone who hasn’t even lived through one of these events? A job is a job, and it’s real to anyone who has to wake up and do it. My students are only 12 and 13 years old, but their world is real to them. Vera Wang designed her first dress when she was 40, and Julia Child was 51 when she got her own cooking show. So there.

As for me – my thirties were better than my twenties, my husband makes my life sweeter, and there are no words for the love and gratitude I have for my children. Getting older and the 40s f-word still scare me, but every day I discover another really cool thing about this decade.

Just you wait.