Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Love, love, love

aka Road trip, part IV

Pennsylvania is big, you guys. Big, big, big. New Jersey isn't nearly so big, but in a hot, humid car with no A/C it still felt long. It took us about five hours to get across Pennsylvania and 45 minutes or so to get across New Jersey, and then it took us an hour to go the last mile up to the toll plaza on the George Washington bridge. In 100 degrees and high humidity, and no A/C. It was pretty brutal.

We finally made it across and into Manhattan, but despite our parking fears we managed to find a spot on the street in the West Village that cost $2.50 an hour until 7 PM. Not at all bad. We collapsed in limp puddles in Washington Square Park for a little while, piggybacking on someone's unsecured wireless connection, and tried to do some sightseeing but were stymied by the oppressive heat and humidity. Eventually we escaped into a $tarbuck$ (I KNOW. NYC, and we went to STARBUCKS) to get some air conditioning and some cold drinks. My unsweetened passionfruit tea was delicious, and I only had to wait for 20 minutes in line to use the bathroom.

We fed the meter one last time and hightailed it across the Village over to the East side, where we met a high school friend of Dan's for drinks with her boyfriend. A good time was had by all, up until someone at the next booth over spilled an entire beer down Dan's back. I only had two hard ciders but I was ridiculously tipsy (I guess maybe because of the day of heat/humidity in the car and out in Manhattan?) and we traipsed down to the southern part of the village, or maybe it was far northern Lower East Side, where we met my friend Purple Laura for dinner. I had a dish of cold noodles, salmon, and veggies because I couldn't stand the idea of eating anything hot. We spent the after-dinner portion of the evening in the bar next door, where Laura knew the bartender so our drinks were free. Woohoo!

It took us quite a while to walk back to the car, and it was still probably in the 90s with super high humidity, and then we had to navigate back over to 9A and north to get ourselves to New Haven, but it was a Friday night in the summer and everybody was still trying to get the heck out of dodge so the drive took a really, really long time. I think it was after 1 AM when we finally got to our hotel in New Haven (which was, incidentally, a La Quinta, but next to IKEA not Denny's) and I had to shower in cold water before I could cool down enough to fall asleep, even with the air conditioning on full blast.

The next day, Kent and Christine got married.

We were up early because I'd volunteered to help with some reception set-up, so I had to meet Kent at the church and then we hauled stuff over to the park and Dan and I spent the morning putting out luminarias with LED candles to line the pathways in the park, and setting up the bug lanterns, and other assorted chores. Once we'd finished, we got mashed potato pizza at Bar and headed back to the hotel to shower and get ready for the wedding.

The park had these gorgeous bright blue hydrangeas right by the tent

I learned merely days beforehand that I was also going to be an usher for the wedding, which was perfectly fine but somewhat unexpected. After Dan dropped me off, I set up the ice and the water bottles, and met my co-usher, and watched everyone run around the old church getting ready. I made sure the groom was elsewhere while the bride and her entourage scurried into the lounge and shut the door. I stood in front of one of the few fans that were going, as, you guessed it, the church didn't have air conditioning, either. And I handed out programs and showed people the guestbook and did the general sorts of things that ushers do at a church wedding.

Finally, everyone had arrived and it was time to begin. I closed the doors, and then opened them for the bridesmaids, and then closed them again. I gave the bride a big grin and arranged her train and opened the doors again for her to walk down the aisle with her mom. It was all quite lovely, and I realized that I haven't been to a wedding in a church since 1997. Even that wasn't a church so much as a giant open conference-type room that had the word JESUS in huge script gold letters above the front bit. But this church, oh, this was the lovely New England church you think of when you think of New England churches. At least, it was for me. Kent's family's been getting married in this particular church for multiple generations, so that added something to the whole experience as well.

Pen pals since 1994

After the ceremony, I ran back to open the door and I was the first person (after the groom) to kiss the bride, so that was pretty good. Dan and I waited a while and then went through the receiving line, and Kent's parents nodded and smiled until they realized I was *that* Emily, the one who exchanged letters with their son for years. Then I got much bigger smiles and big hugs. We got in the car and drove to the reception area, and I bustled around making sure that all my last minute set-up duties were attended to. We met some of K&C's friends and attempted to keep cool by drinking large quantities of ice water, beer (in Dan's case) and white wine (mine), and we munched on cheese and crackers and fruit. Eventually the wedding party, including the bride and groom, showed up and they did everything in a completely different order than I was used to (first dance before anything else?). Additional differences noticed in My First East Coast Wedding: Everyone (including the bride and groom) changes into shorts and tank tops or t-shirts or otherwise casual clothing about an hour into the reception. I wish we'd known. Because that was the one true drawback of Kent and Christine's wedding: it was hot, it was humid, and I'd chosen a dress without really considering the consequences. It was a cute dress, but polyester is not a fabric you want to wear when you are sitting in 90+F heat and high humidity. Sweat dripped down my front and my back all afternoon and all evening. It was pretty gross.

Mister and Mrs!

But there was food, and there was drink, and there was dancing and karaoke and a DJ that embodied every stereotype you can possibly imagine a wedding DJ to have. Dan and I both sang karaoke, if you can believe it. Here's a photo of him to prove it.

When the evening wound down, we went out to clean up all the paper bags and sand and LED candles, and help break everything down. It had been a great wedding, and a long day, and I was woe out.

Longarm of me and the bride, snagged right before she changed.

We had talked about what to do on Sunday, and at first we'd planned to head back to Manhattan to spend more time there, but after spending days in the oppressive heat/humidity (I know I keep writing about this bit, but we are just NOT used to humidity AT ALL), but we decided that we'd rather spend time in NYC when we want to actually be outside walking around and not ducking into Starbucks to take advantage of the air conditioning. So instead, on Sunday morning we drove from New Haven to Philadelphia, having booked a hotel room in Philly the night before and having realized Sunday morning that the laptop cord wasn't functioning. I'd recently got back in touch with my friend Sazzy and let her know our estimated timetable for the trip, and when we were in New Jersey at a Dunkin' Donuts we called her to say we were on the way. "Come by the store!" she said, and she gave us directions to the brick-and-mortar version of her amazing store, Sazz Vintage.

Sazzy and I go back to the early days of 2000, when I was first on the message board where I met Dan. At one point, she went to South Africa and when she got back, she mailed me several beaded bracelets from a place called Ndebele. She was unable to attend the Chicago get-together that fall, so I was entrusted with the task of distributing the bracelets to female attendees who were interested in them. I still wear my Sazzy bracelet, all these years later, and I never thought I'd get a chance to actually meet her in person. But thanks to The Wonders Of The Internet, we were back in touch and she's in Philly with her awesome store and we wanted to go there anyhow and now we had someone to visit. Hooray!

So we pulled into Old City and parked, and stopped in at the store first thing. After hugs and some chatting, Dan and I went out to explore Old City and some of Society Hill, and we started our alphabet project for Philadelphia. I managed to find the used bookstore I'd liked when I was in Philly before, but not the bar (sniff), and we decided to head back to Sazzy's store to arrange dinner plans. We drove down to the baseball stadium area, which is where our cheap hotel room was (in a Holiday Inn this time, not a La Quinta), showered, and changed clothes, then headed for the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood to our tasty mediterranean tapas dinner with Sazzy and her husband. Afterward, on their suggestion we had some gelato (that was nearly as good as the place in Berkeley, which is the best gelato I've had outside of Italy) and wandered around a bit, then headed back to the hotel.

Sazz Vintage flag

Monday morning we drove into town, intending to grab timed free tickets to the Independence Hall tour as early as possible. Dan parked while I got the tickets, and we grabbed some food while we waited for our tour to begin. We sat in the park right next to Independence Hall and it began to rain, so we ran under the eaves of the building across the street just in time for a 20 minute torrential downpour. We waited it out, and then went in to get screened and wait in the (slightly less wet) rain for our tour of Independence Hall, something I hadn't done when I was in Philadelphia before. After the tour, we went across the street and saw the Liberty Bell.

We walked through Chinatown and through the Logan Square area and all the way up to the Philadelphia Art Museum because you know we just HAD to run up the steps like Rocky. It was about 95 degrees, and the humidity goes without saying, but we did it in our street clothes, me in sandals, and it was just fine. And Dan got the Rocky statue as the perfect letter Y.

After retrieving the car, we drove to get Dan a gen-yew-ine Philly cheesesteak at the place that doesn't have a racist sign in the window, and then we left Philadelphia. It was a good less-than-24-hour-stop.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Turkeys (and the 'burgh)

If I'm gay and Irish in Pittsburgh, I know where to go!

Or, part 3 of our Summer Roadtrip Adventure.

(Sorry for the radio silence - our laptop cord died about halfway into our trip and so I was unable to keep up with blogging. But I will finish all of my recaps, promise!)

So when we started planning the trip, the first thing I thought was that doing a road trip to the east coast would give us a chance to meet up with the Turkey family for the very first time. Jive Turkey has been my internet pal for a while and I made Sadie a blanket and a dragon and I was so, so excited that we would get to meet them. And then they said we could stay with them, which was just ridiculously awesome!

After we left Ann Arbor and had our little misadventure in Youngstown (serious. shithole.), we made it to Pittsburgh mid-afternoon and immediately took advantage of the fantastic email Jive Turkey had sent me full of suggestions of things to see/do in Pittsburgh, complete with links and helpful commentary. We'd already decided what we would do that afternoon, so we drove to the strip district, near the downtown area, and our first stop was at a Primanti Brothers sandwich joint, where every sandwich comes with fries and cole slaw. On the sandwich. Luckily, they had turkey as an option, but it was possibly the most messy sandwich I ever ate. (Equally luckily, it was pretty tasty.)

The lady will have the knockwurst, and I will have the same.

Full of sandwich, we set out to explore the strip district and then walked downtown, across the Fort Pitt bridge, and over to the Duquesne Incline, a cool inclined railcar, which we rode to the top and then took photos of the view. During our time in the downtown area, we began our found alphabet project, the result of which you can see here.

View of the 'burgh

Going up

Fort Pitt bridge detail

By the time we got back to the car, we were both ridiculously thirsty and, between the two of us, downed about three liters of water that we had left in the cooler. We drove through the city, me squealing at the cute neighborhoods, to the Turkey Haus. Which, of course, is totally awesome.

JT had said they probably wouldn't be home until 6 PM, so we sat on the front porch and relaxed for a few minutes until they, who were actually home, realized we were out there. We went inside and we all met and I rinsed the hot car slime off my face and arms, and we had a delicious homemade dinner and some great Sadie time and told them the story of the bourbon. I really enjoyed sitting on the back porch, looking at the stars, shooting the shit, and watching the fireflies do their glowbutt dance. We were treated to a guest room and all the amenities we could ask for and slept in for the first time on the entire trip the next morning.

We planned out our day, deciding to walk to our first stop, walk back to the house, and then drive to the rest of what we had planned for the day. Of the places we went that day, I can say that they were all exceedingly lovely, despite the heat and humidity and my stupidity at wearing a skirt instead of shorts. My favorite place we went was to the Phipps Conservatory, which not only has a phenomenal permanent plant collection, but had a super-cool gargoyle exhibit when we were there, among other art, and we really really enjoyed exploring every bit of it. I have so many good photos from Phipps that it's difficult to choose just a few, so I may put up a set on flickr later. We had tasty pizza in a joint on Squirrel Hill and we went to the zoo and those were pretty good, too.

After a Trader Joe's run (hooray!) we headed back chez Turkey and went out for dinner. Ms. Sadie handled it like a champ, even after she bumped her face on a chair (ow!), and after her bath and other associated bedtime routines, she even gave me a goodnight hug. AWWW.

I love the look on JT's face here.

We got up early to begin our trek across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, so we only got to spend a bit of Friday with the Turkeys. I realized that if and when we ever spawn ourselves, I'll have to use the DSLR, because even in the shots where I thought she was still, pretty much every photo I have of Sadie Rose is a blur. Still, I'm so glad we were able to make the stop in Pittsburgh and spend time with the Turkey family, because they totally totally rule. And Pittsburgh is a beautiful city, with so much to see and do and explore. I hope someday we will get to go back.

Blueberries for Sadie

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The futile quest for Stranahan's

Or, Dan and Emily's Excellent Summer Adventure, part the second.

As it turns out, Iowa looks an awful lot like Nebraska: corn, cows, trees. I was still feeling pretty miserable, but decided to try to make the best of it, and the drive across Iowa wasn't too hot because it was overcast for most of the day. We stopped in Iowa City and met up with Cate, who had never met anybody from the internets before (Hope we didn't scare ya too badly!), at a Panera Bread in a mall mid-morning, which was behind this old restored carousel. I kinda wished I'd brought my camera in to snap a photo of it. After she had to return to her evil taskmasters, Dan and I checked on the possibility of some of the museums in Chicago being free, so we could take advantage of that when we arrived there. We finished the journey across Iowa and Illinois and drove all the way into downtown Chicago, where we parked at Soldier Field for $16, even though we knew we'd only be there for approximately 1.5 hours, because we were getting into the museum for free.

And the reason I wanted to see the Field museum?

My name is Sue. How do you do?

When I was in Chicago nearly 10 years ago now, I met up with a large group of people from the message board where I met Dan for a big fest. It was my first time in the Windy City, and I really enjoyed it, but we never got around to seeing the Field Museum, which had just acquired Sue that year. This is the 10-year anniversary of Sue, so I was super excited to see her.

The only real drawback was that the rest of the museum wasn't nearly as interesting or impressive as I wanted it to be, and I was glad that we hadn't paid admission. We did manage to spend the whole hour and a half before closing wandering around the museum, and then we spent over an hour driving out to our $30 hotel in the 'burbs through rush hour traffic, which was LOADS of fun. After we checked into the second room (nonsmoking, didn't smell like smoke like the first one did), we showered and then drove over to a Thai restaurant (also in the 'burbs) to meet up with one of the Chicago residents whom I'd met at that get-together in Chi-town ten years ago. It was great to see him and another friend, and we had tasty food and good conversation. I was hoping the spicy noodles would help to clear my sinuses, but mostly they just got more congested.

Tuesday morning, we followed Steve's advice to wait out the morning traffic and slept in for the first time in several days, which I have to admit felt pretty awesome. Breakfast was Denny's (it was, of course, next to a La Quinta, which is Spanish for "Next to Denny's") and as the first restaurant-consumed breakfast of the trip I was a-OK with it. We'd spent quite some time discussing our options for our remaining hours in Chicago, because we had a 4+-hour drive and a date with friends in Ann Arbor, MI, so we only had a couple of hours with which to play. Our original plan was to go to the Art Institute, which is something I'd like to see again even though I saw it 10 years ago (and Dan saw it 11 years ago when he went through Chicago), but ultimately we decided to save our art museum dollars for the Met in NYC. We drove into the city and found relatively inexpensive street parking near Lincoln Park (I found myself wondering whether Linkin Park ever played there) and strolled, just tolerating the heat and humidity, through the park and back. We saw Baberham Lincoln and Baberham Christian Andersen and Baberham Franklin. It was about all we had time for in the city of big shoulders, and we got back on the road, navigating the morass of highways to get ourselves over to Michigan.

This is a hibiscus in Lincoln Park. It is large.

Even larger than my swollen hand.

The thing that I had neglected to consider in all of this was that when you go from Illinois through Indiana and into Michigan, you change from Central time to Eastern time. We got to Ann Arbor in plenty of time, we thought, only to get a call from my friend asking where we were. "What do you mean? It's 5:30!" I said, only to look at my phone that said 6:30. ARGH.

Luckily, the friends waited for us and we met them in a brewpub in downtown Ann Arbor, Dan dropping me off to look for parking and getting soaked to the skin walking to the restaurant. We had a nice dinner and some beers, and Dan and I exchanged looks about the rain and how much it was going to suck setting up our tent in a downpour at the campground where we planned to stay. After dinner, we meandered a bit in damp Ann Arbor (which is very cute, by the way, and apparently all about Stuff, and Having Stuff, since I saw at least three establishments advertise Stuff. Sadly, I'd left my camera in the car, so I have no proof.), and one of the friends insisted that instead of dealing with the rain and the mud we sleep in her guest room instead. Not ones to turn down such generous offers, we gladly accepted, and we spent the rest of the evening enjoying each others' company.

So why is the title of this post about a futile quest?

We knew that we'd be staying with Jive Turkey, HoST, and Sadie when we got to Pittsburgh, and we wanted to bring them a host gift. Our original plan was to buy some Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey (which is like bourbon, but they can't call it bourbon because it isn't made in Kentucky) before we left and bring it along, but in the hubbub of preparations and both of us being sick, we just completely forgot about it. I didn't even remember until we were nearly to Sterling CO, and it was waaaaay too early in the morning (and a Sunday, to boot) to be able to stop and buy it in a liquor store before we left the state. So we gave it up as a lost cause, me kicking myself.

Then, when we got to Chicago and had wireless internet in our hotel room, we did a search and found that Stranahan's does indeed sell their non-bourbon outside of Colorado, and we got all excited about it. Our plan was to ask Steve for suggestions of a liquor store that sold a lot of stuff, and he suggested a chain place that had a location nearby. Sadly, when we left the restaurant that night, liquor stores were closed because it was the suburbs and a Monday night after 9 PM. Back at the hotel, we searched the chain's site to discover that they did, indeed, carry it, so we resolved to buy some in the morning before leaving Chicago.

At dinner, I was reminded of the exorbitant 12% sales tax!!! in Cook County, and I thought, well, if Illinois has it than maybe Michigan does, too. Dan checked, and the Stranahan's site said they distributed in Michigan, so he googled a bunch of Ann Arbor liquor stores, one of which had a website that said they carried it. So we decided that rather than pay 12% tax we'd wait and pay 6% in Michigan. After our dinner in A2, as the locals call it, they drove us to the part of town that had the aforementioned store. We went inside, and were deeply disappointed to find that they hadn't had any in stock in approximately three months. "Well, we'll just go to one of the good stores near me," said our friend, and drove in front of us to her house.

When we got there, we got on the computer and did some more searching, and got on the phone and called the places nearby, rather than physically going to each store. No dice. At that point, I decided that it just wasn't worth going to any more effort. So the next morning, we just began our drive through Ohio. Stranahan's was just not going to happen, but I had a vague memory about there being weird liquor laws in Pennsylvania, so it seemed like we should stop to get a bottle of SOMETHING before we reached the state line, and so began our misadventure in Youngstown, Ohio. I knew absolutely nothing about it before we pulled off the highway, but somehow we located a public library somewhere in the eerily quiet downtown area near the campus, and stole some free wireless to find a liquor store in order to buy our friends SOMETHING. We ended up with a bottle of Woodford Reserve, which is a perfectly respectable bourbon, and Jive Turkey and HoST even let us have some. But that is another tale for another day.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Or, Dan and Emily's Excellent Adventure, part the first

Last week, Dan got a cold. It was right after we'd done a big hike on Mount Bierstadt and I'd chalked up his difficulty with the altitude to just that, but on Monday he informed me he was getting sick.

"Great," I thought, but luckily it wasn't too bad a cold so we figured he'd feel better by the time we left on our trip. Many times, when Dan gets sick I don't (luck? I've already had it? Who knows?) but unfortunately, this time, I had no such luck. Late on Thursday I started to feel the telltale throat tickle, and I cursed my immune system. Or at the very least, I shook my tiny fist at it in impotent rage.

Friday, it was still mostly just a throat tickle and I felt kind of run down, but had no problems working an entire day or having lunch with my friend and her now 9-month-old (I was careful about breathing on him or swapping secretions). But Saturday morning, the day before we were supposed to leave, I felt like cold fried shit. We spent the day sorting and folding laundry, packing, prepping the house to leave for three weeks, packing the car, and, finally, shoving the kitties in their carriers for a trip up to the Dan'rents abode. Loki's an old hat at this visiting thing, but it was Robin's first trip, and boy did she voice her displeasure.


We were serenaded for a goodly chunk of the voyage by Robin letting us know in no uncertain terms that she Did Not Approve of riding in a car in a kitty carrier. Loki, on the other hand, made absolutely no noise. I was keeping one eye on him, though, since he has a tendency to be car sick, and he was looking as though he didn't feel well. It was hot, in the high 80s, and our car has no air conditioning, so in between Robins Yowls of Displeasure she panted, so finally I tossed the one thing I had in the main part of the car that could keep the sun off her over her carrier. And then, I smelled it.

"Did you fart?" I asked Dan.

"No..." he responded, with a look of growing horror on his face.

I turned around once more to see Loki moving away from a giant log of poop he'd deposited all over the front part of the carrier. I guess I was somewhat lucky to be congested from the cold, because the smell was not nearly as pungent as it would otherwise have been. Dan rolled down his window and I manipulated things to be open the carrier, shoved Loki out of the way, and used a good supply of car tissues to wrap up and mop up his fecal mess. It was totally disgusting.

Not two minutes later, Loki peeped his "I'm gonna yak" peep and horked up his last meal. The car smelled of cat shit and cat barf, and once again Dan moved his seat forward while I used the towel in the bottom of the carrier and some tissues to clean up the cat barf as best I could while we hurtled up I25 at 75 miles per hour. I'd nearly finished my work when suddenly Loki decided that two emissions weren't enough, and he peed all over the back of the carrier, looking miserable.

That's right. Cat shit, cat puke, and cat piss, all in less than five minutes. And I got to clean it all up, or at least do the best I could, while Robin yowled away in the carrier above Loki's. He's never peed in his carrier before, so I don't know if it was just a coincidence, or if his system decided it needed to purge itself in every possible way.

The pee was really the last straw, as I didn't want to use any more of the tissues and the towel was already covered in poop and puke and I just couldn't get it all, so I asked Dan to pull off the road to a gas station at the next available opportunity. I got out of the car, depositing all of the soiled tissues in a garbage can and going inside to wash my hands while Dan used some of the paper towels they supply for windshield cleaning to finish mopping up the pee out of the back of the carrier. I cleaned as much puke as I could off the towel and wadded it up, soiled bits on the inside. The funny thing was that after we got going again, Robin didn't make a single noise for the entire rest of the trip north. And thankfully, Loki had nothing left in his system after his three-orifice extravaganza, and the rest of the way was peaceful.

* * * * * *

Dan and I left bright and early on Sunday morning, after I'd hardly slept at all Saturday night what with the being sick and the Robin climbing all over me and the anticipation of getting up so much earlier than usual. I felt absolutely miserable for the first several hours of the drive through Colorado and Nebraska. About eight hours into the trip, just inside Iowa, we pulled off into a campground Dan had found online and we staked out a spot for our tent. Tent camping wasn't super-formal, so we paid our fee and set up the tent in a nice area under a tree and near the water. There were fire pits and picnic tables aplenty, plus a volleyball court and a basketball court and a kickass awesome jungle gym/big toy-type thing that got quite a bit of use over the course of the afternoon and evening, but there was absolutely no running water, potable or otherwise, unless one had a hose or some other sort of hookup in the RV area. I'd really hoped to at least rinse off my head after such a long, hot day in the car and all the humidity we'd encountered, but no dice. So I pouted and read a book in the shade and felt like ass, and later Dan and I played on the playground and reminisced about the playgrounds our elementary schools had had (and how much less pinchy swing chains coated in plastic paint are, and how much safer playground equipment is now). Eventually we made some dinner sandwiches, played our customary hands of gin, and watched the fireflies get eaten by bats and evening birds. As we went to bed, grass around us damp, we listened to the horny cows and the bull frogs and the cicadas and all of the other creatures that lived next to the stagnant lake.

I woke up when the sky started dripping on me. We'd opted not to put the rain fly on the tent because of how warm it was, but some time in the middle of the night it started to rain so I threw on the fly in my sleep stupor and hoped it would keep us from getting soaked. The tent was pelted with rain for the rest of the night, and in the morning what had been damp grass was sodden with rain. It was warm and humid, and my feet didn't feel dry for nearly an hour after we got going.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


While I don't write much about it anymore, my quest for physical fitness, good health, and looking at least OK in my clothes carries on in full force these days. I'm taking Zumba classes at my gym in addition to my weight circuits (40,000+ lbs a pop these days), elliptical hamstering, rowing, recumbent bicycling, and free-weight lifting, and for the last week I've even been swimming (at another gym that we have to drive to, but at least it's a Y and therefore free). I've been eating a salad and vegetables and fruit for lunch every day for several months now, and while my clothes aren't exactly falling off me, I'm feeling more comfortable with the way I look in real life if still not in photographs. (Because I still feel like I look TERRIBLE in photos.)

Last Thursday, I bit the bullet and signed up to have someone pinch my fat in various parts with scientific calipers in order to determine my body fat percentage. It's something I've been curious about for a while, since I haven't had it tested at all in a few years, and haven't had it tested with calipers since I was 22 years old and had just started going to the gym I frequented in San Francisco the year I worked there. The other body fat tests I've had done in the interim were with some sort of hand-held electric gadget that had questionable validity (especially since I always guesstimate my weight, as I don't weigh myself at all ever.) I was really, really not looking forward to the pinching and the judging and the inevitable disappointment at the result that I was sure would happen, but I figured that since it was free and since it had been several years I should probably just get it done. I've got a body that builds muscle like crazy so BMI and weight aren't necessarily good indicators of my health but I knew a body fat test would tell me something that just going by clothing fit wouldn't.

I did my workout and then went into the little room with the scary lady trainer whose classes I will never take because the ropes on her neck freak me out and she pinched me a bunch of times in seven different places - back of my arm, two places on my back, above my knee, next to my belly button, below my ribcage, and someplace else I am forgetting. She had a hard time getting a reading in some of the places, maybe because I had just exercised, I dunno, and it hurt more than I was expecting it to. She plugged each number into a calculator on her computer and then pushed the button.

"18.6", she said.

Internet, that cannot be right. There is no way on this green earth that my body fat is that low. I think that either she didn't measure in the right places, the measurements in those places are not indicative of my overall body fat profile, or the fact that I worked out beforehand skewed the results. There is no way in hell that 9 years and 15ish pounds after my first caliper test that my body fat is the same. While it was a bit thrilling at first, because I was expecting to hear a number in the mid-twenties at the lowest, I've spent the last several days thinking about how there's just no way it can be right. I have come to the conclusion that I just carry my fat in different areas than the 7-point test measures, because the only place she measured where I have obvious chub is next to my belly button. But if she'd done something on my upper thigh, my ass, or my hip/side area, there would have been plenty to pinch.

At this point I'm considering asking someone else to redo the test, or asking if I can be tested with the handheld gadget, to get some additional data. I did the math, and if my body fat really is as low as this test indicates, it means that my overall lean mass (i.e., the part that isn't fat) is more pounds than I weighed for most of college. And if that's the case, I don't think there's anything I'll ever be able to do, short of a wasting disease that makes me lose lean mass, to get any smaller than I am right now.

* * * * * * *

I mentioned the results of my test to a few people over the weekend, with mixed reactions. Most people agreed with me that it's likely the test was inaccurate, but one person suggested that I cut all sugar and carbs for two weeks and I'd be pleased with the results.

You know what?


No, I will not give up an entire food group. I have been reading various bloggers write about their experiences with various eating plans and lifestyle changes and I'm happy that raw food or vegan or raw vegan or gluten-free or casein-free or GFCF or low carb or no carb or sugar free or paleo or caveman or fasting or WHATEVER works for you. But please do not suggest that I partake in it.

It is possible that if I stop eating X thing for Y amount of time that I will lose some weight, or my shape will change, or magical unicorns will fly out of my butt. But it is also possible that it will go from a change in my eating habits to an obsession and spiral into another eating disorder, which is something I'm just not interested in. And you know what? I *like* food. I like to eat. I like vegetables, and fruits, and chocolate, and nuts, and hot food, and cold food, and protein in various forms, and legumes, and grains. I like bread. I like dessert. I like cheese. I like alcohol, including hard cider. I like all sorts of ethnic foods, and I like all-American foods, and I'm not going to spend my life depriving myself of eating things I like in moderation. I've had times when I cut my food intake pretty severely while continuing to exercise excessively and it turned me into a raging harpy. I'd prefer not to be a raging harpy, and it's taken me years to get to the place where I am in regards to food. It's fuel, it's entertainment, it's good. I do restrict things like simple carbs (stuff made with white flour and white sugar) but mostly I do it because I feel the most healthy when I'm not eating that stuff. My heart doesn't race, I don't end up with blood sugar crashes, and I feel healthier. That said, there are times when I do eat junk (though it's rare, and I usually pair it with some sort of protein in order to stave off the blood sugar crash).

So. I may have 18.6% body fat, or I may not. (I'm guessing not.) I may eat junk sometimes. And I refuse to let other people attempt to coerce me into doing something I don't want to do: namely, give up eating things I enjoy for an elusive, likely unattainable, and unrealistic goal of looking like women's magazines say I should. My body is strong and healthy and I can use it to swim or bike or climb a mountain. I've made my peace with it, for the most part, and I don't want to let the experiences of anyone else drag me back toward body dysmorphia.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Conquering my fears

When I was little, one of my favorite pastimes was to climb the tree in our backyard that grew up through the deck. From there, I could play on the roof or just climb as high as I could in the tree. Being up high felt like freedom; nobody can see you and you can look down on everything. It's definitely a different perspective from where a child typically sees the world on a day-to-day basis.

I continued to scale trees (and houses, and fences, and ladders, and just about anything) throughout my childhood and into my teens. I thought nothing of climbing a ladder to help a friend with his college house painting business, and always enjoyed being up above the world, until one fateful day when I took a road trip with some friends to Yosemite National Park.

Mostly, we went because we thought it would be a fun weekend day excursion. We drove the four or so hours to Yosemite and made our way slowly through the park, stopping every so often to take photos or just play around. At one point, my friends decided that it would be fun to scramble up one of the domes, and I was completely game. Being young, in shape, and relatively stupid, we decided not to use a trail but just to sort of go straight up to the top. I didn't think I would have any sort of a problem with it, as I'd always been fond of both outdoor activities and heights, but as we started to climb the rock I found myself out of breath. At the time, I was running regularly so I knew I was in decent cardiovascular condition, so I chalked it up to being at a higher altitude. Then, my heart started to race. The palms of my hands got sweaty and my breath was more and more shallow, and I started to freak out a little bit because what the hell, man?

I figured if I just kept going, it would all pass, but the more I climbed the worse it got. Tears ran down my face, and my friends (one of whom was my ex boyfriend, and all of whom were male) thought it was hilarious. But it was really, really not funny. In fact, it was pretty damn scary. I was 21 years old, in great shape, and having a panic attack while scrambling up a not-terribly-difficult dome in Yosemite while my friends pointed and laughed.

We made it to the top, and I was so concerned that I might freak out even worse on the descent that I swallowed my pride and asked College Ex to stick by me in case I needed actual physical help. He realized at that point that whatever was going on with me was actually serious and he stopped laughing. Luckily, I made it down far more easily than up had been, though I did kind of ruin the butt of the pants I was wearing. I didn't care; I was down. We continued the drive through the park and end up on the Nevada side at Mono lake, and then drove a different way home. I brushed the entire incident off, thinking it was probably just a freak occurrence.

Me, with college ex, on the way back down the dome

A couple of years later, I happened to be in Santa Cruz with some friends, on the UCSC campus. We were there to celebrate a birthday, and the birthday person proposed that we go climb a redwood tree that had ropes and steps bolted on to simplify the process. (Redwood trees are not made for climbing, especially once they get past a certain height, unless you have spikes on your shoes or someone's kindly provided a ladder for you.) Everybody else merrily made their way up the tree, and I made it about four steps up before I realized that I Just Could Not go any further. Couldn't force myself to do it. I felt like I was going to pass out and throw up at the same time, when my blood pressure spiked and I broke into a cold sweat and I felt like I couldn't breathe. What was wrong with me? I loved climbing trees, had done it since I was little! I was no pansy! I wasn't afraid of heights...right?

It was only after the tree climbing debacle that I wracked my brain to try to figure out why all of a sudden I just couldn't get more than a few feet off the ground without freaking out. And then I remembered that my mom's severe vertigo that has kept her grounded for longer than I've been alive...was adult onset as well. She'd merrily climbed trees in her childhood, she'd told me, but when she grew up she just couldn't do it. I'd spent my whole life thinking she was silly when she wouldn't climb a ladder to go on the roof, or when she got upset driving next to a dropoff...and here I'd gone and inherited the adult-onset vertigo from her. Great.

It's been nearly 10 years since that Lembert Dome scramble, and my first height-induced panic attack. I did manage to climb Half Dome in 2002, though to be fair the only reason I was able to do it was because it was dark so I couldn't see the drop as I climbed the stairs and then the cables. (Yes, it was probably less than legal for us to do the cable climb at night, and it was certainly illegal for us to sleep on the top, but to be fair we only slept until about 4 AM (arrived at the top around 11) when the first of the Half Dome trail runners got there. And we didn't leave any waste.)

At the falls partway up Half Dome trail. Damn, I was skinny.

My friends on top of Half Dome, at sunrise

Since then, I've found myself bothered by sheer drops on one side of the road when we're driving (like the Durango to Silverthorn highway), and I can't seem to get more than four steps up a ladder without starting to panic a little. I even have a hard time watching scenes in movies that show the POV of a steep drop, since that seems to trigger my vertigo more than being next to a drop myself for some reason. It's totally irrational, and totally ridiculous, and totally miserable. I miss being able to climb things.

Living branches on a dead tree - how?

It grew new roots post-chop!

On Sunday of this past weekend, Dan and I went on yet another hike, something we try to do at least once a week. He found one in an area we'd never hiked before, west of Sedalia (which itself is southwest of Denver). The point of the hike is to make it to the fire tower, from which one can see nearly 100 miles in any given direction on a clear day. It took us longer to get to the trailhead than we expected, and we had one false start, but once we got going it was a lovely trail, ascending about 1000 feet over 1.7 miles. The weather looked like it was perhaps not going to cooperate, but by the time we got to the tower it was a little bit overcast, and we heard some thunder, but it didn't seem too bad.

The part that seemed bad to me was the 143 steps on the side of the rock face I was going to have to climb in order to get to the tower.

I looked at the steps, and I looked at the tower, and I looked at the sky, and I said to myself, Self, you can do this. Just go fast. Fast fast fast. I climbed all 143 steps repeating "Look at the steps. Look at the steps. Don't look up, don't look down, just look at the steps" and was at the top and climbing across the rock to the tower before Dan even made it halfway up. I didn't quite run them, but I went superfast, took deep breaths, and didn't allow myself to be scared. Up in the tower we found an older gentleman who has spent the last 26 summers living in the cabin at the base of the rock and sitting in the tower, looking for forest fires, all day long, every day. It was a pretty neat experience.

The fire tower had a huge lightning rod, so I felt pretty safe on the climb up and the climb down in that respect, but I had to take the stairs down nearly as fast as I'd taken them up, which in some ways was even more difficult because I'd already hiked 1.7 miles and climbed 143 stairs, so my legs were tired and noodly. When I made it to the bottom of the steps, I waited for Dan to come down, and when he reached the bottom I mentioned to him how proud I was of myself for making it up and down those steps. Because damn, yo. I totally did it, and I didn't have a panic attack. Go, me!