• Working it out

    I hate when people talk about working out, tell you how many miles they ran or how many push-ups they did.  

    Writing about it, however, is a whole different story.

    I can’t even remember anymore why I exercise. I’m pretty sure I stopped liking it years ago. I have no idea how to calibrate calories when I eat, so I definitely don’t know how to subtract them when I work out, and I don’t believe it when the treadmill does it for me.

    I would say I do it for my health except that I’m so sore most mornings that I make squeaking noises, so I’m not buying that so easily either.

    I do know that it makes me feel productive somehow, particularly when I’m not feeling so much otherwise. But then I can turn a load of laundry into a constructive experience if I really try hard enough.

    Ninety-nine percent of the time, I exercise in the morning, mostly so I don’t have to think about it, just go and get it over with. Also, I think I have less chance of throwing up with less in my stomach, though I’ve never researched that thoroughly.

    Tonight, I went to the ‘Y’ because my daughter Amanda wanted to use the elliptical machine. She would like us to buy our own elliptical machine for the house, but much like her wish for a Cadillac Escalade to replace our embarrassing minivan, we ignore her.

    My husband Rick wanted to take a walk, which we often do at night during the summer. And Alec, having no conscience at 11 to bog him down, simply wanted to eat another snack and play his new Wii game.

    Our compromise was to all go our own separate ways.  

    Exercising with your kids can be fun. I especially love it when the women in our aerobics classes bring along one of their cocky (re: cute and skinny) college-aged daughters and halfway through, the kid drags herself out red-faced and has to wait by the snack machine.

    I didn’t watch Amanda tonight as I was busy hyperventilating on the treadmill while listening to Campbell Brown interview Whoopi Goldberg on CNN. I like watching TV while I am in extreme pain and don’t know how people managed in health clubs before each treadmill had its own little set attached.

    I especially like watching Oprah and feeling very haughty as she and Dr. Oz talk about avoiding cardiac plaque build-up with exercise. But more often than not, I’m tuned into the Today Show watching Matt and the gang scarfing down Emeril’s jambalaya at 8 in the morning and feeling very jealous that they have such great jobs.

    Amanda listened to her i-pod, which I embarrassingly referred to as a Walkman (they tell me this is not unlike when I leave the room in the middle of something good on TV and ask my kids to “freeze frame” so I won’t miss anything).

    Then, after lingering just a little too long near the cute guy doing stomach crunches, Amanda and I debated how hungry exercise made us.

    We all met up again, as we so often do, back home in the kitchen. There, we bored each other with our tales of exercise while watching Alec eat a giant bowl of ice cream.

    It’s just not right.

  • My People

    After a hectic few days of re-connecting with Bears training camp and Bourbonnais, Ill. (neither of which I can recommend),  and attending a Doobie Brothers concert where middle-aged white people attempted to hear some funky Dixieland and dance a honky tonk (not a pretty sight), I spoke this morning to a group my husband likes to call my “people.”

    He says this as a dig, of course, because after 18 years of marriage, compliments are viewed suspiciously by both of us.

    “My people,” as he calls them, generally fall into the category of all those over the age of 70. And he’s right. I love older people.  For starters, I feel I have a lot in common with them like persistent heartburn, a fondness for eating at 4:30 and a penchant for talking about the next meal beginning at breakfast.

    Maybe it’s because, as the youngest of four children and separated from my next-closest sibling by seven and a half years, I spent a lot of time alone in the house with my parents. Aside from picking up my father’s Maalox habit, I bonded with them to the extent that I still feel most comfortable with people in their age group.

    I should point out that my mother exhibited almost none of the qualities associated with older people. Before she was sick, she stayed up late, slept in, kept the air-conditioning blasting and rarely wore a sweater.

    Along that same vein, my in-laws – other than packing for trips two weeks ahead of time, and starting each day in the middle of the night – are also atypical for their age group.

    This is particularly true as it relates to their social life, which is busy and exciting and involves more movies and dinners out in the average month than my husband and I have experienced in our entire marriage.

    My goal is to be half as cool as they are some day.

    That said, what can I say, older people like me and I like them. I don’t mind when they call me “Mitzy” instead of Missy, I envy them for their choice of sensible shoes and give me a good piece of pound cake over tiramisu any day.

    I often get invited to talk to senior groups and if I can, I always accept, even when I’m paid in mandel bread. This morning, I spoke to a men’s club gathering that was preceded by a half hour or so of business matters.

    Once, I spoke to a women’s temple group in which the business matters (raffle, silent auction, tributes to past members and, of course, minutes of last meeting) took up the first three hours of the three-and-a-half-hour program.

    Today, it only seemed like three hours.

    “I’m sure all of you know ‘Walt,’ ” the first speaker, who we’ll call Ed, told us. “He’s around here all the time and wears a brown suit and walks stooped over?”

    The membership nodded.

    “Well, he died this weekend,” said Ed.

    Sighs all around, as they passed a get-well card for someone else.

    We were told of gallbladders removed and blood work done and weakened conditions until I vowed to check myself into the hospital for a full work-up as soon as I left.

    Seamlessly, Ed segued into a regular feature known as dirty one-liners. This is a popular portion of the senior men’s club circuit. Warms them up for the woman sportswriter. It’s about this time that I try to conjur up the raunchiest lockerroom tales I can remember.

    But first, there was more serious business to tend to, in this case the passage of amendments to the club by-laws.

    During this part of the meeting, I seriously considered slipping out the back door for fear that it would eventually have to be broken up by police in riot gear. This made Morty Seinfeld’s re-election campaign for president of the condo board at Del Boca Vista phase III look like real life and my morning like a sitcom.

    Men cursed and were shouted down and then things got really unpleasant as one member asked that the amendments be read over again.

    It was about this time that a doctor was paged to help with someone else in the senior center, which provided a much-needed break in the proceedings as I silently hoped no cutting-edge medical procedures were required.

    My people were out of control.

    Thankfully, order was eventually resumed, I knocked ‘em dead – well, you know, not really – and I was out by 11:35, only 35 minutes past lunch hour but still a good four before dinner.

  • Walking away their way

    Someday when I retire, I’d like it to be on my terms. I’d like not to be laid off or given the “choice” of being reassigned to the e-mailroom at half the salary, or shown the proverbial door in any number of ways companies dispose of older workers while trampling on their dignity.

    So I get Brett Favre just like I understood Michael Jordan, even while I was rolling my eyes.

    I understand how someone who has attained a level of success well beyond their peers has a hard time walking away from what they love to do and just as significantly, walk out of the spotlight. And I understand how when they do decide to go, they want to do it their way.

    Both Favre, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and Jordan, an NBA Hall of Fame inductee, retired and came back, talked about coming back and didn’t. Both played beyond their prime. And both annoyed the cynics among us with their indecision and capriciousness.

    By the time Favre finally convinced all of us he is really, truly not returning to football as he announced this week, even his fans were yelling, “So, leave already.” It was the same way Jordan fans debated whether his final years with Washington somehow tarnished his legacy.

    On talk shows, some smart people and some not, speculated that it wasn’t football that Favre craved at all, but the attention all of his waffling was creating.

    This is Brett Favre, one of the most acclaimed and beloved players in history. No one but Bears fans hated Favre and they would have knocked off any one of their many stumblebum quarterbacks in a heartbeat at the chance of putting Favre in a Chicago jersey.

    Both Favre, who is almost 40, and Jordan, who retired at 40, were sore and arguably broken down when they retired, though Favre could probably still rank in the upper echelon of quarterbacks if he played this season. Jordan averaged 20 points on 45 percent shooting in his last season, scored 40 or more points on three occasions, and despite the fact that his Washington Wizards team was dreadful, they still sold out every home game in his last season.

    But was the end the way they envisioned?

    Jordan scored 15 points in his last game. Favre, who threw six touchdown passes against Arizona in the fourth week of last season, was intercepted eight times and threw for two touchdowns in his last five games.

    They walked away somewhat awkwardly, hesitatingly, without the full acclaim Favre would have had if he had chosen 2007 as his last season, and Jordan, 1998.

    That was the Bulls’ sixth NBA title and the moment that is forever frozen in our minds as we picture Jordan’s last moment of glory; the perfect ending as he stole the ball from Utah’s Karl Malone, dribbled upcourt and sank the game-winning three-pointer from the top of the key, his follow-through held just long enough for the dramatic flourish it deserved.

    That would have been the perfect time for Jordan to hang it up, we said.

    The ’07 season was the one in which Favre broke Dan Marino’s all-time NFL record for touchdown passes, led Green Bay to a 13-3 regular-season record, the division title and a berth in the NFC Championship game, which they lost in overtime.  But that was also the game in which Favre extended his NFL record for consecutive playoff games with a touchdown pass to 18, that last one a 90-yard pass to Donald Driver that was the longest in Packers’ playoff history.

    That would have been a perfect time for Favre to leave, we said.

    But it wasn’t right, at least for them. And they were willing to risk perfect endings for walking away when their hearts finally told them they had no other choice. As hard as it must have been, there was no question anymore, no doubts. On their own terms.

    The way we’d all wish for ourselves.

  • Fan mail and another hot dog blog

    It has been brought to my attention that I am a moron.

    For the most part, I welcome feedback to things that I write, though I prefer it to be of the gushing, fawning variety and anything critical to come from the people I love, such as the above.

    I developed this thin skin when I started writing columns in Cocoa, Fla., in the early 1980s.  I was enjoying myself, learning my craft as I made predictions on the local high school games each week, occasionally being sarcastic and OK, maybe caustic and perhaps even occasionally insulting, depending on your point of view.

    I thought I was hysterical.

    Shockingly, others did not. And so they would write to me, and high school football being the passionate diversion that it was in Central Florida, the letters were, um, very passionate.

    In the interest of good taste and federal regulations involving Internet decency, I cannot share the contents of most of them. One that stands out in my mind however, told me in graphic terms that I should stop writing about football until I could “pee standing up.”

    This was a recurring theme in those days, the fact that I was a woman apparently much more offensive than whatever it was I wrote. I did not take this particularly well. But I felt better after one early-morning get-together in which some of my male friends, in a show of support that nearly brought me to tears, set the letter on fire and then put it out in a manner in which the writer pointed out I could not.

    Of course, we were young and foolish and there may have been some alcohol involved. I have matured since then and now I simply pout when I receive critical mail.

    My husband has urged me in the past not to respond when I receive one of those e-mails that goes beyond the bounds of constructive criticism and human civility. But since you cannot set e-mails on fire with any real satisfaction, I often write back. The writer then responds, then I respond and then we’re in the kind of match that the writer in Cocoa eluded to.

    I have largely avoided this in writing my blog mostly because, as I have pointed out in the past, I suspect most of my readers are related to me.

    And I can take it when my relatives tell me I’m a moron.

    My brother, for example, just told me this today, when he informed me that I could have avoided the cross-country trip to the Sonic drive-in in Algonquin (technically only about 45 minutes away – an hour and a half or more factoring in Founders Day traffic) if I had known there was another Sonic about 15 minutes away from our house.

    I think he was making this up to bolster his point that there is a better drive-in, Superdawg, indeed closer to home. When I responded that I had never been to Superdawg, the shock – even via e-mail – was palpable and he let me know that his respect level for me had dropped to embarrassing levels.

    Superdawg is a Chicago institution. Of this, I am aware. I am also aware that I have passed by there about 200,000 times as a child on my way from our house to O’Hare Airport. Since I was not driving, I had no real control over the situation, but I do remember being equally captivated and terrified by the GIANT boyfriend and girlfriend hot dogs on its roof.

    You can see the giant hot dogs from Indiana on a clear day, so I’m still not sure why my father, a hot dog lover from way back, was never compelled to stop at Superdawg. I can only conclude that he was loyal to his own hot dog stands closer to home and that we could not possibly risk a stop to eat on the way to the airport and possibly miss a pick-up or drop-off (despite the fact that he would have allowed at least three hours to make the 20-minute drive).

    If we were the ones getting on a plane, we would have been all dressed up because that’s what you did in those days, and couldn’t possibly risk spilling on ourselves.

    All of this came up, in part, because Superdawg is building a new restaurant extremely close to where we live. It is scheduled to open in October and our friend Mike – also a foodie but not that snobby kind – told us it coincides nicely with his wife’s birthday, so we can all celebrate there (his wife’s expectations are pretty low, he explained).

    While he was still associating with me, my brother told me about the bike trail that should lead us right to the front door, which will make me happy. And it’s a drive-in, so our daughter Amanda should love it.

    We’ll try not to think about what our niece Erica pointed out after reading my last blog about our excursion to find a drive-in.

    “Isn’t that just like a drive-thru?” she asked innocently. “You order your food through a speaker and then you eat in the car?”

    She’s in college.

  • Family Fun Day

    Lately, parenthood has become a race. With one child going to high school in the fall and the other starting junior high, it’s like we’re trying to pack in all the fun before it’s too late and both kids are too embarrassed to associate with us any longer.

    At least this is what we hear from all the cool, professional parents who have already experienced this. They tell us that eventually, like when they’re 30 or so, your kids come back around to liking you again. But soon, and thankfully my husband and I are not so feeble as to have forgotten going through this ourselves, they will be mortified to do any of the following:

    Go to the movies with us within 30 miles of home.

    Go bike riding with us within 60 miles of home.

    Be seen in public with us.  Anywhere.

    I suspect the bike riding is even in jeopardy based on the reaction we got from our sweet, little Alec when we recently asked if he and his sister wanted to go on a walk with us. The walk takes us on a four-mile course around our neighborhood and our sweet, little Alec informed us that parading together as a family in this manner would be of the same embarrassment level as wearing headgear to school (and I sincerely apologize if any of you or your children had to do this).

    Other than that episode, however, this summer has been filled with more family fun than any family has the right to have. Take this weekend, for example.

    We let Amanda decide what to do Saturday, because we can never agree on anything and, well, we were obviously delirious.

    She chose a Sonic Drive-In in Algonquin, Ill., approximately 800 miles from our home, and we agreed with the stipulation that we would also go bike-riding on a trail near there (my idea) and hit golf balls somewhere afterward (Alec’s idea). My husband Rick did not get to choose. It just works better that way.

    So, why, you ask, would a 14-year-old girl want to go to a drive-in? We’re still asking ourselves this question. Apparently, she had never seen a drive-in until eating at a Sonic while visiting her cousins in Arizona recently, and thought it was great. She also watches the Food Network a little too often.

    Nevertheless, off we went, happy with our family fun time together until we were an hour into the trip, finally arrived in Algonquin and ran into its Founders Day celebration and Algonquin’s one traffic jam of the year.

    It was about this time that it occurred to everyone in the car but Amanda that we had driven 800 miles to eat a hamburger in a suburb much like ours. Only in our suburb, we eat them at a table.

    “You can’t be mad at me,” she informed us in a preemptive move from the backseat as the parade kicked into high gear about 72 cars in front of us.

    “Sure we can,” Alec informed her matter-of-factly.

    Finally, we arrived and it really was fun placing our order into the speaker, having our food roller-skated to our car and watching Rick spill each condiment in his lap.

    As a side note, I should mention that my husband reacts to the smallest stain on his clothes the same way a normal person might react to having an entire chocolate milkshake dumped down his pants. Translated, he does not like it.

    Not that this detracted from family fun time one bit. It was actually one of the highlights of the trip.

    Watching Alec do the same thing and react the same way in the backseat was almost as fun.

    While we digested, we drove around and angrily noted all the good stores and restaurants that Algonquin has which our suburb does not, not counting Sonic. After killing about seven minutes doing that, we drove to the bike trail and unloaded.

    This was Alec’s favorite part of the day because in a discovery only a boy could enjoy, he noted that the outhouse had a bottomless toilet much like the movie, “Slumdog Millionaire.” My husband got a big kick out of this too. Amanda and I did not.

    As far as I was concerned, the bike ride was great. I’m not sure if the rest of the family agreed and frankly, I don’t care. I have been dreaming of these family bike rides since before both children were born and I’d see families riding around with kids in little bike seats and those pull-able tent things and couldn’t wait to have kids so I could do that – so much so, Rick often reminds me, that when Amanda was still a baby (I remember her being about one, but Rick recalls her being closer to three weeks) I tried to tie her into a bike seat.

    (For those of you considering having children, they have to be able to hold up their heads on their own to best appreciate a family bike ride.)

    Anyway, I enjoyed the ride because both children could ride along supporting themselves under their own weight. Alec enjoyed the ride because we passed a small airport and he could watch the takeoffs and landings. Rick liked it because when the trail left us out into traffic, he noticed that we passed a restaurant where we once ate after one of those soccer games 800 miles away.  

    And we think Amanda liked it because she remembered insect repellent unlike the last family fun day when she swelled up and spent the next three days groggy from Benedryl.

    We never did hit golf balls, but we’re trying to train Alec for when he gets married and has no choice in what to do.

    Thankfully, we all share a similar, warped sense of humor that allowed us to laugh for most of the day. And when we got home, Rick and Alec went to hit golf balls together and Amanda and I went to see a movie they both would have hated.

    Family fun day was officially over.

    Can’t wait until next weekend.