I HATE CLAMSHELLS

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I feel entirely comfortable announcing my hatred of clamshells to the cyber world because Judy Kugel has declared in her own usually upbeat twice-a-week blog that she hates snow angels. Judy is a slim, trim 77-year-old academic, recently retired from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who is a self-proclaimed lover of exercise;  the way I love to eat, she loves vigorous cycling and hiking. They’re her idea of a super good time. (I believe she and her husband also have bulky gym-type equipment in the home, which they use regularly and properly, not — as I once did with a stationary bicycle — to hang clothes on.) So if she can hate her angel wings in public, who am I to prevaricate about my feelings for clamshells?

“Clamshells” in this instance are not what you find when you go clamming at the shore. Nor are “snow angels” what small children make in the snow.  They are part of an armatorium of whimsically named exercises imposed on those of us who are aging by licensed, and perhaps also by unlicensed, physical therapists in alleged restoration of the swift and pain- free movements of our youth. (Ha!)  There’s also “table top,” “soup bowl,” “chair” and “bridges.” If truth be told, I hate them all, but “clamshells” get first prize, with “chair” and “table top” tied for second. (“Bridges” is not so bad, unless you have to do it with only one foot on the ground.)  There’s also another extremely unpleasant one, done on your stomach with knees bent, but it seems to be nameless.

I don’t know the nature of the problem Judy and her trainer are attacking with snow angels against the wall:  fifteen at a time, hands and arms never leaving the wall.  All she says in her blog post is that she can only do five and they hurt. The reason I am supposed to be confronting three sets of fifteen clamshells on each side every day is that, according to this new therapist I’m seeing, I have weak hips and glutes — but especially on the right side — as a result of improper guidance by and work with another therapist five years ago after a right hip replacement.  (Why is it that one thing corrected always leads to another going wrong?) This weakness — which I admit without demur, although I wouldn’t blame it on my nice former physical therapist — has resulted in the top line of my pants tilting slightly to the left, an idiosyncrasy I could live with, and my left knee and leg periodically sending signals of something between discomfort and pain whenever I do much more than sleep or loll around.

I might add we live in a condo with two flights of stairs and no master bedroom on the ground floor, having been beyond optimistic in our late seventies when we bought it that we would remain gazelles forever.  However, I do not consider my left leg’s deficiencies and complaints over the past four years a reason to put the condo on the market.  (There are perhaps several other reasons, but these can wait for some other blog post some other time.  Maybe, if we’re lucky, some other year. Life is uncertain: surely I’ve already established that in this blog.)

The new therapist’s theory is that my left knee and leg are complaining because they’re doing not only their share of the work involved in moving me around but also the right leg’s share.   My sunny-tempered physiatrist (I call him Dr. Feelgood), he who wrote the prescription for this year’s bout with physical therapy — I use the word “bout” advisedly — does not necessarily agree with the new therapist’s diagnosis but does believe exercise is always a good thing.  (He even wrote several books about it in his spare time.)  Accordingly, every time I make an appointment for the knee, which is about once a year, he administers a series of four weekly shots  — the first a steroid, and then three of Synvisc, which provides lubication to the cartilage.  Bill and I used to be holier-than-thou about steroids, but not any more; Dr. Feelgood’s ministrations pretty much get rid of the “discomfort” for a while and provide what he calls a window of opportunity for all those healthful exercises. He writes the script, I go away promising to be good and try. (Yes, I really do try. At least for a while.)

Helpful acquaintances — usually at least twenty years younger — have suggested I spare myself this annual ritual of retribution for unknown past sins and have a left knee replacement.  They just don’t know. It’s not as if I’m a crack tennis player who must get back in the game.  I’m not (yet) in screaming agony.  The only reason I finally broke down and had the right hip replaced was that I absolutely positively could not step on the brake anymore and had to halt my car in my own driveway with the hand brake. Having recovered from a hip replacement in a rehabilitation facility where I shared a room with a woman who had just had both her knees replaced at once, I mentally divided in two what she was going through to rehabilitate herself, and decided no thank you, I would do whatever it took to forestall even one of what she was having.

This year whatever it takes in my current, discomfort-free window of opportunity includes “clamshells,” one of six tedious, boring, perspiration-making activities I’m supposed to perform every morning, or at least most mornings, before getting on with the day.  The other five, which chew up about forty minutes if done slowly and properly, I could perhaps learn to live with — although the cloud of gloom they cast over the prospect of getting out of bed tends to keep me from setting feet to the floor until the hands of the clock are well advanced towards noon and guilt overcomes indolence.  But “clamshells” are something else.

I know, I know: you still don’t know what “clamshells” are. (Unless you’re a physical therapist, or the victim of one.)  They’re like this:  You get down on the floor, if you think you can get up again, or on a very thin hard mattress if you’re not sure about the floor. We have one of those man-type mattresses left over from Bill’s divorced days; it’s now adorning his old bed in the finished part of the basement.  There you lie on your side, draw your knees up to a 90 degree angle, keep your back absolutely straight and unmoving (no rolling towards the mattress) and hold your feet together throughout the exercise.  Now you’re a closed clamshell.  Try to open the shell by raising the top knee and then close it again, with a controlled motion if possible. Fifteen times.  That’s a set. Rest. Do two more sets — that is, forty-five times all together.  Then you do the forty-five open-and-shuts on the other side.

This is supposed to be so good for my rear end muscles — which I never knew existed, and maybe they don’t — that I shouldn’t mind that my clamshell won’t open. It doesn’t open at all when I lie on my left, and barely enough to insert a pinky finger between the thighs when I lie on my right. But I do mind.  I hate failing at anything, especially failing at something I hate in the first place.  So my clamshells aren’t really like Judy Kugel’s snow angels.  I know she will persevere until she conquers the wall she’s standing against to do them.  Me?  All I know is why I wrote this post.  It’s to shame myself in public into getting down to the basement even though it’s already 3:30 in the afternoon.  If I go now, I can be back upstairs before 4:30.

If, if.  Now if only there were such a thing as a human clam opener.  No, scratch that. It doesn’t sound quite right.  Weak rear end muscles or no, I do try to run a clean blog.

NINA’S FOLLY

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What is it?  Well may you ask.  Its proud manufacturer calls it, alternately, a seat, a stool, even a “revolution!”  (You might want to know it also comes in black.)

I don’t usually fall for advertisements.  That’s Bill’s department.  Boy, is he ever gullible!  I have to hide the sales catalogues addressed to him that choke our mailbox daily, or he could spend hours perusing them in wonder and delight, and then, alas, acquiring too many of whatever is in them, almost never consulting me first. Need I add that nearly all his catalogue acquisitions turn out to be disappointing, if not blatant failures? But me — I wrote far too many ads in my pre-law days not to resist any efforts to extract money from me for items I never knew I needed until some clever ad person set out to persuade me I did.  

But everyone has an Achilles heel.  After we moved to Princeton, we bought two sofas from a New York-based furniture company called Room and Board  — one for the family room and another, somewhat later, for the living room.  That lodged me firmly on Room and Board’s email list. I often delete. But a few weeks ago came an announcement of a Room and Board blog.  Still a relatively new blogger, this I had to see.  The first Room and Board blog post began, somewhat defiantly:

You’ve probably heard the disturbing news.  Sitting for extended periods of time — like a lot of us do at work — has been linked to increases in heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  And NPR [National Public Radio] recently reported on a new study that links sedentary behavior with a  greater likelihood of being disabled after age 60. Unfortunately, working out regularly doesn’t decrease your risk for these conditions. Great.  So what are we supposed to do? Thankfully, the answer is pretty simple.  Stand up and get moving.

Pretty simple for Room and Board, that is.  They have two new ergonomic workspace options for us all to “try.”  The first is an adjustable “Float” desk from a company called Humanscale — an adjustable standing desk that lets you quickly alternate between standing and sitting while you work — at what I consider an outrageous price for a desk.  My workspace is not a paid workspace. So the “Float” is not for me, thank you very much.  Besides, I already have a perfectly good desk I’m not about to junk.  Not sure I could type standing up anyway.

However, the Room and Board blog post then continued its recommendations for a healthier life. These good people also want me to have:

…an active seat — anything that lets you wiggle and wobble around while you’re sitting, which strengthens your core and burns calories.  Many of us…have a fitness ball, but we don’t love (a) how dingy they become; (b) their tendency to roll off when we’re not looking; and (c) their space-hogging ways.  Enter the ErgoErgo stool.  Part sculpture, part spring and all fun.

You may be surprised to learn I do have a fitness ball. Unfortunately, mine is the medium size, not the large one that might put my arms at typing level.  However, it’s not dingy at all, since it’s hardly ever been used.  Nor is it rolling off anywhere or hogging space; it’s stored in our basement behind a closed door.  So that much of the pitch didn’t really reach me.

But the part about my “core?”  As someone who still hasn’t done her postpartum exercises in the nearly forty-five years since the birth of her last baby, I am extremely sensitive about suggestions that my “core” needs strengthening. In truth, I doubt I have one, if I ever did. [When did the word “stomach” fall out of use?]   I tell my Pilates instructor the “core” stuff is the part of Pilates I dislike most, which makes her laugh because Pilates is all about building the “core.” The Pilates people try to make it sound like fun, by calling their “core” exercises cutesy names like “froggies” and “tabletop” and “hundreds.”  [“Did we do our hundreds today?”]  But they don’t fool me. It’s no fun at all, and I go once a week, despite the expense, because one must do something. Could the ErgoErgo be another kind of something?  The Room and Board blog assured me it could:

This clever little stool stays put, takes up minimal space and doesn’t require inflating.  The accordion design allows you to rock and bounce, but the semi-pliable plastic feels more supportive than a fitness ball.  We’re all loving this new addition to our office.  In fact some of us are so smitten we’re ditching our desk chairs all together.

I’ve already confessed in at least one prior post how much time I spend on my butt producing a daily post for this blog.  Add in reading time, Netflix-watching time, just-sitting-around-pondering-the-meaning-of-life time and you might say (if Room and Board is to be believed) that I’m hurtling towards heart disease, obesity and diabetes as fast as I can.

I summoned Bill.  Big mistake.  Bill l-o-v-e-d the ErgoErgo at first sight, especially in orange.  Bill loves the color orange.  Still cautious, I consulted ErgoErgo’s own web page, which describes sitting on it as “Active Sitting,” and then immediately declared:

There’s so much to say about the benefits of Active Sitting that it has its own page!….The more you sit on it, the more you work your body, and the stronger your core muscles will be.  And you’ll improve your sense of balance.  But you’ll also benefit if you use ErgoErgo for l5 minutes, an hour each day, or just every now and then….ErgoErgo allows the body to move freely in any direction, and because there is no back rest, you engage your core and back muscles to build strength and flexibility.

With each repetition of the magic word “core” — my heart said, “Yes!”

“What have you got to lose?” said devil Bill.  “You can always send it back.”

$100 later, ErgoErgo was mine!

It arrived yesterday.  Bill happily unpacked it and brought it up the stairs to my office. “Not heavy at all,” he declared.  We stood it next to the printer while we decided where to put my desk chair.

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The desk chair looked terrible blocking the printer and the two nested white tables on which I often put things I’m working on.  Also it made that part of the room too crowded.  I like space.

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I hadn’t realized how big and heavy that desk chair is. It does roll, but not over the edges of throw rugs. Since I knew right away it  wouldn’t look good on the other side of my office against the closet doors, we didn’t even bother to try putting it there.

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In the end, we just left it temporarily by the window, while I sat down on the ErgoErgo in front of the computer to answer email while enjoying its healthful and core-strengthening benefits.

IMG_0483You know what?  First it felt funny, and then my back began to hurt.  Yes, I rocked back and forth a lot while thinking about the next sentence I was going to type.  And yes, I was sucking in my stomach more than I would usually do when I’m all by myself in a room. (I had to — in order to stay upright.)  But surely my back was not supposed to hurt while I was doing those two beneficial things.  I know what my Pilates instructor would say, as nicely as possible.  She would tell me my back hurt while I was strengthening my core on the ErgoErgo because my core was weak in the first place.  Still, that’s sort of a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

After fifteen minutes, I replaced the ErgoErgo with the desk chair, sat down with great relief, and summoned Bill again.

“Maybe you’ll get used to it,” he said.  I looked at him.  He’s the wimp of the two of us.  What’s with this getting used to pain?

He conceded the point without actually saying so.  “You could sell it to me,” was his second gambit.  Don’t think he would ever sit on it.  He wants to look at it.  He says it’s great design.  Also it’s orange.

“Where would you put it?” I asked.

“Anywhere!” he said gaily.

I’m stubborn.  I don’t like to give up.  Or admit I’ve been wrong.  Or send things back.  I considered leaving the ErgoErgo by the window, as you see at the top of this post (thereby blocking access to the printer and the stack tables), because it would be near my desk lamp, and I could maybe read when sitting on it.  While bouncing? Or working that goddamn core?  Well, maybe not.

How about the empty corner on the landing between the first and second floor of the condo?

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Not exactly awful, but a placement that asks the question, “Why?” Who would ever stop to sit or bounce on it — halfway up or down?

The corridor just outside my office door?  Under the wisdom of Rabbi Hillel, who cared not a whit for the core?

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As you can’t really see what Rabbi Hillel has to say from the angle of the photo, I thought I’d show it to you again:

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[“If I am not for myself, who is for me?  If am only for myself, what am I?  If not now, when?”]

Probably not the best place for the ErgoErgo and its self-referential focus on the core.

What about under the Brooklyn Bridge?

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I don’t think so.  It’s really just clogging the hall there.

Maybe I should give in and let Bill have it for his office?

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The problem with that is  — there isn’t any room.  Bill has already yielded to too many impulses!  See?

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That leaves the laundry room:

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Am I really going to sit in there bouncing while I watch the laundry spin?  Absolutely not!

Which means it’s back to the office for ErgoErgo — and trying again.

So I did.  I sat on it while writing this post.  I reached the part where I was about to upload the photo of ErgoErgo in front of the computer before I had to give up.  But that was forty-five minutes into the post.  So I’m doing better than my first time.  Who knows?  By spring, I may be able to lie on the floor and invite someone to jump up and down on my core.  Not someone really heavy, of course.  Maybe one of the cats.

This is not to be construed as an endorsement of, or an advertisement for, or a publicity message on behalf of ErgoErgo. I hope you can see that the post is definitely not any of those things. If anything, what it demonstrates is how two old people are spending their later precious years together — dragging a nutsy-looking, absolutely non-essential orange toy from room to room like young fools, so as not to concede one made a mistake that the other encouraged.  I suppose you might say it keeps us young at heart.

WHAT NEXT?

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[Written yesterday. Equally applicable today.]

More godawful weather. Can’t go out. Can’t concentrate. Can’t keep pacing.  All that so-called wisdom and calm that’s supposed to come with age just wasn’t able to make it to our house today.  [Got snowed in somewhere else, I guess.]

So here I sit.

Home of The Getting Old Blog

Home of The Getting Old Blog

Would I be better off in the tropics?  Which tropics?  I don’t like hot and sweaty either.  And they do say nothing of scientific, intellectual or creative value comes from steamy equatorial countries.  [Note: There will be no defense of that statement if anyone comes forth to challenge it. I’m just putting it out there as part of the cranky internal dialogue going on in my office on this fourteenth or fifteenth or sixteenth really and truly crappy day in a row.]

Pilates was cancelled.  The last Princeton concert of the Brentano String Quartet before they decamp for Yale, and for which we had free tickets, was cancelled.  Getting up bright and early in the morning was cancelled.  [After looking out the window and pulling down the shade again, we both went back to bed with the cats. ]

Now it’s afternoon and I’m wearing two sweaters and my new knee-high UGGS, but no makeup because if I’m not going out and no one is able to come here to see me, I can just put on a lot of moisturizer to protect my elderly skin from the drying effects of the indoor heat and leave it at that. Of course Bill can see, since he’s already inside, but he knows very well what my face looks like naked and seems not to mind, or not to mind once in a while.  Like now. And the cats certainly don’t care.  They don’t make the same value judgments we do. As a matter of fact, after chasing each other up and down the stairs four or five times, they’re not making any judgments at all. They’ve just collapsed in the bedroom on top of our duvet and are now asleep again. Smart cats.

So what am I going to write about for the blog on this truly yucky afternoon?  If I don’t do a piece every morning — in special circumstances like today, every afternoon — I will use up my small backlog of pre-prepared posts and freak out.  Why that should happen when there’s no backlog I can’t explain, as there is nobody at all except me, myself and I who is holding me to this rigorous daily schedule.  But I do. And it does.  [At least until such time as I decide to make a public announcement that I’m cutting back to two pieces a week, or one a week, or something like that.]  Perhaps it’s because I’ve had too much legal education late in life, which gave me notions about implied contractual obligations, such as satisfying the “entitlements” of one’s followers established by one’s “course of dealing” with them.

If I swivel my desk chair and look the other way, maybe I’ll get some ideas.

Other side of "Getting Old" home base

Other Side of “Getting Old” Home Base

Well yes, that was helpful.  I could write about:

1.  The old photograph on top of the vertical bookstand at the right near the window.  It was taken in Russia, probably just before the outbreak of World War I, and shows my paternal grandfather, my father, and an uncle I never knew existed until I was middle-aged, so there’s sort of a story about the uncle;

2.  The period of my life when I was fat:  the why, the how, the when, and other aspects of this topic — about which there are several manuscripts on the bottom shelves of the bookcases, and also several books about being fat by other people on the shelf just above the bottom one on the right;

3.  The Guatemala chicken at the very top of the bookcase and what in the world were we thinking of when we bought it for I don’t remember how many quetzals;

4.  The ten-session group therapy program for overweight women I tried to launch last fall before beginning this blog — that cost me close to $500 for five consecutive ad insertions in the local newspaper (tear sheets  of which are in a folder also on the bottom right shelf), but produced not a single telephone call;

5.  Smoking: Where and how I learned to do it (in college, with difficulty), how much I smoked (up to two packs a day), how long I smoked (twenty years), why I stopped (to live to see my babies grow up) and when (on June 6, 1969), what it was like to stop (extraordinarily difficult), and why stopping remains, after so many years, what I still consider one of the hardest things I ever did;

6.  Our last three trips abroad — to France, Greece and Portugal, the third of which was nearly five years ago, and the only three for which I have photographs on the computer, because the hard drive of my old computer died while Apple was transferring its data to my new one, so that the pictures of earlier trips Bill and I made together exist only in prints mounted in albums, which I would have to re-photograph in order to upload them here — and yes, I might do that when I get really desperate for material, but not yet;

7. Where we might travel next (before it’s too late), a thing we discuss almost daily when we’re cooped up together like this because of snow and ice:  France again, where we still have two friends?  Japan, where we know a former neighbor and a new “virtual” friend from this blog? England, home of both actual old friends and new “virtual” ones? Israel, where Bill has a niece and I know a woman who was in college with me sixty-four years ago? Of course, all of that is merely speculative daydreaming, unless Bill can get himself out of his favorite chair and start going to the gym fairly regularly so that travel abroad won’t just be taking taxis to restaurants and expensive shops to buy things.  [Hear that, Bill?];

8.  Exercise — haha! what’s that? — for those who are, ah,  “old.”  Patti, my Pilates instructor, is especially gung-ho on this one; she even gave me some written material about the benefits of Pilates she prepared for some other presentation but assured me I could feel free to use for the blog. She hasn’t actually ever read the blog, so her material may not be funny enough, but I suppose I could tinker with it, based on recent experience with what Pilates people call “The Reformer” and I call “The Torquemada”;

9. Personal maintenance, an endlessly fruitful subject for ladies who are getting old.  [Probably not so interesting, though, to any men who might stumble upon this blog.]  Could be broken down into separate posts:

  •  hair, hairdressers and fooling the public;
  •  eyes, God willing;
  • skin and your options, none of them good;
  • makeup, otherwise known as “putting on your face”;
  • feet, footwear and pain;
  • undergarments (Spanx or not?);
  • toenails (yellowing) and pedicures (what color polish?);
  • what to wear at the beach if you must go (a burqua?) — and must you go at all.

Oh, I’ve written 1045 words already, and haven’t even begun!  I guess that’s it for today.  Please do cast votes (in the form of a “Comment” below) for any subject identified above that especially strikes your fancy.  Or even ones I haven’t thought of yet.

Now I’m going downstairs to sit by the fire.  It’s a gas fire, but it’s powered by electricity.  So I’d better take advantage of it while the power lasts.  Who knows when a tree may topple a wire and leave us in the cold and dark?

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See you tomorrow.

I hope.