Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Perfect Car

My youngest son is driving a 1999 Honda Civic with bald tires and a trunk full of rainwater. We decided a couple of months ago, even before he discovered the bog in the trunk, that we need to get him into a newer and more reliable vehicle, and I’m happy to help with this. It’s only fair. I helped his older siblings with cars when they were his age. I have one caveat when I help my children with cars:  if you want financial help from me to buy and/or maintain a car then it has to be a Honda. I know and love Hondas. They go for a long time before they need any repairs, and when they do need repairs the cost is reasonable. My daughter once asked me if I would disown her if she bought a car that wasn’t a Honda. I paused to think about that. “Mom?” She sounded worried. Her present car is not a Honda and she is still in the will, but she takes care of the car of course.

While there might be advantages to having a car that can double as a fishing hole, I can’t say that I know what those are. I’m praying that the 1999 will hang in there for us for a few more weeks until we find the perfect used car for my son. I have alerted the local dealership that we are in the market, and have given my saleswoman the parameters:  Honda Civic, Fit, or Accord; 2008 or newer; less than 110,000 miles; $10,000 limit on cost; no mice living under the hood; vague scent of lavender wafting from the dashboard. This is completely doable. The saleswoman called last week to say she had just the vehicle – a 2009 Honda Fit with the scent of lavender. But it’s red. I explained to her that research shows that the police stop red cars far more often than any other color, and the driver of this car will be my precious multiculti son living in Oakland. We don’t want to invite trouble so red is out of the question. New parameter for her notes:  no red cars. Maybe we could find one with a cloak of invisibility. That would be cool, huh?

Every day I go onto and look at Hondas inhabiting my corner of the universe. Yesterday I found a strong candidate at a dealership in San Rafael. It’s a blue 2007 Honda Fit. I loved this car the instant I saw it on I love it because it’s my car; or would be if my car was for sale. I drive a blue 2007 Honda Fit. This caused me to consider if I should give my car to my son and buy myself a new one. The problem with that scenario is that I love my car and I want to drive it forever. Even thinking about giving my car away made me feel like crying. Is this what is meant by “the soul of the machine”? I am one with the soul of my car. I mean, well, for one, they don’t make the Fit in this fantastic electric blue color anymore. When I purchased my Fit, I entered my blue period. I ran out and bought a blue water bottle, blue boots, a blue travel coffee cup, and a blue jacket. When I shopped for clothing, I came home with blue dresses, shirts, socks, and underwear. (Seriously, who buys underpants to match their car?) I have never left my blue period—I’m still there. Blue post-its and stationary. Blue dishes and napkins. Blue breakfast smoothie every morning. Recently, when my husband bought a red bath towel, I demanded that he return it to the store because it clashed. “Really? Clashes with what? What color should I get instead, pray tell?” he asked in frustration. “How about blue?” I suggested; as if I was going to park the car in the bathroom to match.

I emailed a link to the blue Fit I saw online yesterday to my son. I half expect him to email back, “Mom, is that your car?” Is it too weird for a 20-something young man to drive the same kind of car as his mother? What if it’s a super terrific kind of car? Then it’s OK, right? Rest assured he won’t run out and buy blue underwear if he starts driving a blue Fit. (He’s a grown man, so I have no business discussing his underwear, even though I changed his diapers at one time.) I wonder if the obsession with color-coordinating with one’s car is a feature of owning a Fit. Maybe I can get National Science Foundation grant funding to conduct a research study.

I feel confident that we will buy him the perfect car in the near future. I just hope it happens before the 1999 spontaneously combusts, begins growing mushrooms, pops its tires, or starts hatching fish. Salmon would be nice. Except they are not blue.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Attention Span of a Goldfish

So this happened. Microsoft conducted a study on the impact on people of media usage, and concluded that the average attention span of the typical North American media user is eight seconds. This is less than the attention span of a goldfish (at nine seconds), which means that if you are an average media-user, and you try to do a stare-off with a goldfish, you will look away first. This will happen not because the goldfish intimidates you, but because you will be distracted sooner than the goldfish. How does one measure the attention span of a goldfish, anyway? Maybe you see how long the goldfish looks at the treasure chest before it swims over to the castle. And if the scientist has a shorter attention span than the goldfish, then wouldn’t the scientist get distracted before the goldfish swims to the castle? I need to have a seaweed snack.

In some instances, a short attention span might be useful. For instance, it’s probably not a good thing to waste too much time staring at goldfish. On the other hand, having a short attention span makes it difficult to read for an extended period of time, to write or lose oneself in creative pursuits, or to engage in contemplative reflection and deep thought. On this hand, it seems pathetic that a goldfish has a greater ability to read Dostoevsky than a media-savvy human. How many hands is that? I could use a manicure. I just noticed that my right hand looks older than my left hand. What was I saying?

Oh yeah. The study defined attention span as “the amount of concentrated time on task without becoming distracted.” Those studied who were heavy users of multiple devices were unable filter out irrelevant input and were easily distracted by the many media streams bombarding them on electronic devices. This is one of the reasons why I don’t allow advertising on my blog; because, let’s face it, who will actually finish reading the blog if cats, chocolate bars, the trailer for Galaxy Quest, boots, seaweed snacks, Paulownia trees, and the Raiders football team keep hopping and popping in the margins? I definitely must watch Galaxy Quest again. Excuse me for a couple of hours.

The brain is malleable and it adjusts to the work required of it. The brains of people who spend a lot of time on the mobile internet become wired with a poor attention span. The more time people spend reading on the internet and clicking through hyperlinks on an endless trail to nowhere in particular, the shorter their attention span, until they can no longer read a novel, finish eating breakfast, or tie their shoes (hence the invention of Velcro). Personally, I think this contributes to road rage because people have no patience whatsoever. They can’t wait for the guy in front of them to get out of their way so they can get to WalMart five seconds sooner to buy a digital box of Kleenex that they saw advertised on their phone. I confess the irony of this coming from me since I have no patience for waiting in line, but I had no patience for waiting in line long before the internet was invented, so perhaps I possess a sliver of goldfish DNA. (Picture me doing the fish lips thing—boop, boop.) On the other hand, I always bring a large book with me to read while waiting in line, particularly at the post office, since postal workers take longer to sell someone a sheet of stamps than it takes to rescue Matt Damon from Mars. And that was a way cool movie with amazing special effects and gorgeous Mars-scapes. Wait, how did I wind up on Mars? Where am I?

The Microsoft study found significant generational differences in the use of mobile devices, reporting that 77% of people age 18-24 said that when nothing is occupying their attention, the first thing they do is reach for their phone, compared to only 10% of those over 65 who said they reach for their phone when nothing else is occupying their attention. That statistic doesn’t tell us anything useful since most people over 65 generally can’t remember where they put their phone. This means they rarely have “nothing else occupying their attention” because their attention is occupied trying to remember where they put their phone; and their shoes, wallet, keys, coffee, toothbrush, oxygen tank, husband, or refrigerator. Wait, is this my house? Shoot, I guess it’s on me to have the furnace serviced. Where was I going with this?

Online reading, hopping, and following trails of information down a long-and-winding-road physically rewires the brain to process information in a way that destroys pathways that support sustained concentration and thought. This is why young adults in my children’s generation have more and more trouble reading books. Short articles maybe, or blog posts, yes, but a whole novel? Overwhelming. Fortunately the brain can be rewired with some effort. Spending time in nature, unplugged, is one of the best ways to rewire the brain for more sustained activity. When the brain is no longer bombarded with an avalanche of external electronic-generated stimuli, it relaxes. It doesn’t feel compelled to process all that scattershot info-image-input rattling at it. In short, entering a meditative or contemplative state, such as nature provides, allows people to regain control of their thought processes. The brain is an evolving organ and we can control its evolution to a large extent.

If you want to rewire your brain to think for itself and regain the ability to exercise sustained thought, I suggest the following exercises:  pet the cat, make soup, plant a garden, walk among tall trees, spend a day at the ocean, play hide-and-seek with a toddler. Find a terrific edge-of-your-seat book and slowly build up to reading more and more pages each day. I hesitate to recommend meditation simply because it would be hypocritical coming from me, since it does not end well when I try to meditate. To me it feels too much like waiting in line and I don’t have the patience, but it works extremely well for many other people. My friend Rita, a doctor of psychology, has successfully effected extraordinary positive change in public schools by introducing mindfulness meditation. Rita tells me that my daily morning walk is my mindfulness meditation. So maybe I am better at meditating than I think. An image of cheese just popped into my head. Is anyone else hungry?

Which leads me to the self-driving car. Seriously? Do we really need a self-driving car so people can occupy themselves bouncing around on electronic devices while on the road? Are people so incapable of having thoughts while driving? It concerns me that people can’t pay attention, because if we can’t pay attention long enough to read or follow a train of thought, then how can we pay attention to our lives? We are in danger of failing to live deliberately, failing to truly and gloriously dwell in the moment before it slips away, in danger of missing the opportunity to revel in the good things in life. Before I get distracted by answering my email, reading the online news, or watching another Facebook vid of someone’s patio furniture covered in snow during the Great Blizzard of 2016, I want to remind you, to remind us, all of us, to look up from the screen. Look up. Let’s change our minds while we still can.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

What's Eating Amy's Vegetables?

As part of my winter garden, I planted a bed of cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower in my upper garden, which is not protected by a rabbit-proof fence. Last winter, I saw bunnies engaging in fine dining provided by yours truly so what was I thinking, right? I had a dream that the bunnies would pass me by this year if I smeared sage on my doorpost, or something. I dunno. Mind blip. I might just as well have given the rabbit a twenty-dollar bill and told him to treat himself to a salad at the Garden CafĂ©. That would have cost less than buying the plants and the mulch and the fencing and the plant food and all that. When I realized my mistake, I had every intention of moving the tender greens to the lower garden, which is protected by a rabbit-proof fence, but the rain and the holidays intervened and I had more important things to do than rescue vegetables from mastication. Every plant was chewed down to the squeak. I made my bed and sated rabbits got to lie in it. That’s the circle of life, hakuna matata, and all that. But it did not stop there. The situation devolved into a vegetable apocalypse.

No bunnies, not even Bugs himself, could have prepared me for what met my eyes in my garden yesterday. The kale, collards, and garlic in my lower garden were in fine form only a few days ago when I nipped some greens for my lunch. By yesterday morning, something had made a meal out of nearly all of it. I thought these crops were safe inside the fence since the bunnies have never gone inside the lower garden. Yes, I watched Jurassic World, I should know better than to rely on fencing. Clearly something other than rabbits gobbled up my winter gardens, something like birds, bugs, a beaver, or perhaps a stray orangutan. Maybe a mutant vegan velociraptor rex. Should I be afraid?

Keeping edible plants alive and well long enough to make it to my plate is such a chore that it’s a wonder I ever eat anything I grow. Truly it’s a miracle that any of us have the opportunity to enjoy fresh produce at all. Luckily someone somewhere knows how to grow food. I spend an inordinate amount of time in the garden arguing with birds, insects, animals, fungus, mold, weather, extreme temperatures, weeds, oak trees attempting to take root, space aliens, evil spirits, and invisible mutant vegan dinosaurs. And that’s just the back yard. The front yard isn’t fenced.

Things are a little better in this house than they were for me out in the woods when I lived at the Ranch. The first day at the Ranch we were thrilled to see deer in our yard. Within 48 hours, we were running up and down the deck like lunatics in the middle of the night throwing rocks at the deer to keep them from eating the landscaping. The previous owners had a dog that chased them off. We did not have a dog. We got one immediately, and she was the sweetest, smartest dog ever. In fact, she was too smart to waste her time chasing deer when she could be chasing squirrels instead. In other words, we needed to put up a fence.

Let me tell you the main difference between city people and country people. City people turn gooey and dewy-eyed when they see deer. They fold into themselves and find their inner center and fall in love with nature (the abstract concept) all over again. Country people gnash their teeth and holler when they see deer. They find their inner eccentric lunatic bag-lady. To country people deer are unnatural, they are the anti-Christ. The Sunset Western Garden Book, which is the California gardener’s bible, identifies what they optimistically label “deer-resistant plants.” These are generally aromatic plants (think rosemary and lavender), bulbs, and plants with sticky or furry leaves. Deer also steer clear of nightshades (unfortunately) since they are poisonous. Most gardening books will tell you that deer don’t eat camellias, azaleas, or rhododendrons, but apparently no one has told this to the deer (and they can’t read). Then there are the baby deer, who don’t know what they don’t eat yet. They figure it out by tasting. So once I planted Icelandic poppies, which deer actually don’t like. I have seen grown deer point at Icelandic poppies and make fake gagging sounds. Baby deer, however, see the Icelandic poppies and say, “pretty, let’s have a taste.” They bite off the flower and then spit it out. Then they leave a note asking you not to plant any more of those things, which is moot, since the poppies are already ruined because, let’s face it, you don’t grow poppies to look at decapitated stems.

When I moved off the Ranch (where I had a fenced vegetable garden), the first thing I did was fence my back yard. The deer can get into my front yard, but not my back yard. So I have a back yard full of fruit trees. The deer decimated my fruit trees at the Ranch. Now, instead of battling deer, I get to fight off peach leaf curl, shot-hole fungus, marauding woodpeckers, and flying mutant vegan velociraptor rexes. But the natural world is astonishing and by observation people have discovered many useful things about our fellow creatures on the planet. There are organic nontoxic simple counter-measures. Clove oil stops peach leaf curl. Woodpeckers are afraid of shiny mylar strips. Squirrels hate moth balls. My mole chaser (a pole with a rattly windmill on the end) wards off moles and gophers. Straight vinegar (no chaser) kills weeds. Sluggo for snails and earwigs. Copper spray for mold on the apple trees. Neem oil for tomato horn worms and white flies. And on and on. How amazing that we figured out these remedies. If we keep going, we could probably figure out a simple natural remedy for every disease that plagues humans.

So what is really eating my vegetables and what surprising trick can I use to get rid of it? Maybe it’s more than one critter devouring my garden. It could be tag-team decimation; like the rabbits start and then caterpillars take over halfway when the rabbits get exhausted. Or maybe the birds duked it out with cabbage worms to decide who would get to chow down on my goodies. We are all competing for a piece of the vegetable pie and the biggest creature doesn’t necessarily win. It’s disconcerting to be outsmarted by a caterpillar who didn’t even take the Mensa Test. Sigh. In spite of it all, I get perverse pleasure out of pretending to be a gardener. All the aggravation is worth it when a surprising crop of extraordinary cantaloupes bursts out of nowhere, the plum tree goes berserk, a zucchini plant goes wild, or the joyous fragrant basil (steady as a rock, every summer, there is always basil) is as tall as my waist. For all the rest, the food I try and fail to grow, the food I can’t grow to save my life, the food I dream of growing; for all that, thank goodness for the farmers and growers who sell at the Farmers Market and the natural foods store. Bless the hands that bring us our food.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Objects in the Mirror May Be Fatter Than They Appear

Last week I maneuvered a routine health check-up without getting arrested, which was a major milestone for me because I have a medical procedures phobia, an irrational terror of hospitals and needles, and an oppositional defiant disorder that manifests when I encounter health professionals. A question-authority light blinks on in my brain the minute a doctor makes a health recommendation. Don’t take this the wrong way. Some of my best friends are doctors. My rational mind knows that most doctors went into the profession because they want to help people stay well, and if people are sick or suffering, they want to help them feel better. But when I enter a doctor’s office, an evil genie emerges from my psyche, hijacks my manners, and co-opts my genteel personality.

Since I am enthusiastically healthy, and since my last primary care doc skipped town eight years ago (I swear it was not because of me), I kind of sort of gave up on an annual exam. Recently I began to feel deprived because I don’t have a nice family doctor to call in a medical emergency. Besides, after the yellow-jacket fiasco last summer (my blog about that eventis required reading for all my friends), I will have to renew my Epi-Pen prescription in July and I don’t have a doctor to do that for me. A friend of mine who’s a doctor (see, I really do like doctors) told me about a new woman doctor in town who is the same age as my daughter and who grew up around here. So decided to go see her so I could have my own bona fide family doctor again.

My visit to my new doctor began with the receptionist handing me a release form to sign. Because I fear that doctors want to rip out one of my kidneys when my back is turned, I am skeptical of release forms. Sure enough, I took exception to the first item on the release, which gave the docs permission to do any procedure they felt necessary in the course of treatment in their office, including X-rays, blood tests, and electroshock therapy. I informed the receptionist that I didn’t feel comfortable signing the release because I wasn’t willing to sign over blanket permission to do any procedure. Fortunately, the receptionist was patient and clearly found me entertaining. She reassured me that they would not strap me down and do a procedure to me without my consent. She suggested, with admirable calm and a touch of whimsy, that I write on the form that I didn’t consent to that particular item. There is a special place in heaven for kind receptionists who humor eccentric old ladies. The other items on the form passed muster so I signed and was good to go.

Next a junior medical provider took me down a corridor to a massive scale that could have weighed a small cargo truck and asked me to step on. I walked onto the scale wearing my rain boots and winter jacket, with my large handbag over my shoulder, and carrying my lunch, several library books, an umbrella, and a box of my grandmother’s good China. Without a moment’s hesitation, junior noted the weight of the whole lot on my chart, rounding up for good measure. I asked her if she thought I should go on a diet and she offered to weigh me again without the umbrella. Now I know what my weight would be if I ingested four library books and the good China.

Junior took me to an exam room where she took my temperature by waving a wand across my forehead, which made me wonder what else she may have done secretly with the wand, and I became suspicious that she had done a procedure to me for which I had not given consent, like maybe a liver transplant. I resolved to take this up with the whimsical receptionist on my way out. Junior checked my blood pressure, which was a perfect 120/80, and she commented that she doesn’t see that very often. I offered her an organic tangerine. She referred to my information in her computer and asked me if I was taking my Epi-Pen as prescribed. I told her I carry it with me at all times, but, unlike a pill, it’s not that kind of prescription. I offered to show it to her, but she hastily declined, as if I had suggested something obscene. The Epi-Pen is kind of phallic, but not scary-phallic; sheesh. She told me the doc would be in shortly as she backed out the door.

While we’re waiting for the doctor, I will share a quick rant that explains why, despite the fact that doctors are light years beyond me in their understanding of biochemistry and anatomy, I do not trust their recommendations. Doctors are trained to treat disease, mainly with surgery and/or pharmaceuticals. They do not receive adequate training in nutrition, toxins in the environment, and how to prevent disease. Most of the research docs study in medical school was bought and paid for by Big Pharma (i.e., pharmaceutical corporations that profit off drug sales). To support my assertions here, I want to quote Dr. Marcia Angell of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Angell is the former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. In 2009, she published an explosive article called “Drug Companies and Doctors:  A Story of Corruption” in the NY Review of Books. Dr. Angell says, “The pharmaceutical industry has gained enormous control over how doctors evaluate and use its products. Its extensive ties to physicians, particularly senior faculty at prestigious medical schools, affect the results of research, the way medicine is practiced, and even the definition of what constitutes a disease.” Case in point is the ubiquitous use of statins, handed out like candy, and which are not the harmless magic bullet Big Pharma profiteers would like us to think they are. Stash this away for a moment as I will come back to it. Now here comes my new doc.

My new doc, I’ll call her Doc H, entered my exam room. She took the time to chat with me, then asked me some health questions, and she checked my heart with her stethoscope. She pronounced me healthy, said she would be happy to be my “regular” doctor, and that she would renew my Epi-Pen in July. Then she asked me why I have not had a mammogram recently. I told her that my biggest risk factor for breast cancer is radiating my breasts with mammograms. She looked at my health records and agreed that was probably true. (Points!) Then she asked me why I had never had a colonoscopy. I told her I’d rather go hunting with Dick Cheney than have a colonoscopy, that I don’t believe in them, that the prep for one trashes the immune system (it could take years to undo the damage), and that I think in the future bona fide research (if we can ever find any of this stuff) will show that this procedure is dangerous, especially for the elderly. She told me she was required to tell me that if I didn’t have a colonoscopy then she couldn’t tell me whether or not I have colon cancer. Since she can’t tell me whether or not I have brain cancer or pancreatic cancer or stomach cancer or knee cancer, it doesn’t seem like a big deal that she can’t comment on the colon cancer. And since I have no symptoms of colon cancer I have no reason to believe I have it. But if I do have cancer, and I were to trash my immune system prepping for a colonoscopy, I would ruin my chances of producing enough natural killer cells to destroy the cancer before it could get a foothold. I try to be a positive person, but I have no qualms about hating on colonoscopies. Doc H took my tirade about colonoscopies in stride. (Points!)

Next we talked about labs. I have not had any lab tests since the Clinton Administration. I would like some lab tests. I’m curious. Of course, I’ll have to get past the needle part without hyperventilating. I wonder if they would let me bring my cat with me to the lab to calm me down. Doc H wasn’t sure what tests would be worth doing since I’m so healthy. I chose one from Column A and two from Column B. Thyroid Panel. A1c (to measure blood sugar regulation). Test for vitamin D and vitamin B12 deficiency (since I’m vegetarian). C-Reactive Protein, which checks for inflammation that can impact heart health and arthritis, among other things. So far, so good. But then Doc H said that if the C-Reactive test shows inflammation she can prescribe statins for me. As you may have guessed, “statin” is my trigger word.

Big Pharma has brainwashed the medical community (and everyone else, it seems) about statins. I’m Jewish, half my cousins are cardiologists, and they all heartily (excuse the pun) approve of statins. How long will it take for real information about statins to reach the health care community and ordinary people? Statins have serious side effects. For one, they interfere with the ability of the body to process cholesterol, which is critical for brain health. New research is exploring the link between the rise in statin use and the rise in Alzheimer’s. I find this a no-brainer (ha, no excuses for that pun). Our understanding of fat, cholesterol, and heart health is changing rapidly. Fat does not cause heart disease. Sugar causes heart disease and is the culprit for most of our health woes. Good quality fat is an important part of our diet. Instead of gambling with taking statins, people need to eat properly. So when Doc H said “statin,” I went off like a firecracker. Blam! Steam poured out my ears, my eyeballs turned into pinwheels, my hair stood on end, and a speech bubble appeared above my head with the caption “Ah-whoo-gah!” Fortunately, I did not get hauled away in a straightjacket.

Doc H redeemed herself by informing me that the five pounds I have gained since I joined the gym is probably muscle mass, and it’s a good thing. It was worth the whole doc visit debacle, statin meltdown and all, just to learn this. Yay. I’m not as fat as I thought I was, objects as they appear in the mirror aside. I’m muscular. Pass the dark chocolate. I love my new doctor.

Devil bear at the lab. 
Is the cutesie bear supposed to make the needle look less menacing? 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Resolve the Gym

When I joined the gym in August, my daughter warned me about January, when the gym becomes mobbed with people high on the fumes of their New Year’s resolutions. She reassured me that this is a temporary catastrophe. The treadmill frenzy purportedly winds down swiftly since most of the gung-ho exercise enthusiasts who had all good intentions of improving their health but no clue how to use the equipment pull enough muscles to prevent them from doing more damage to themselves by continuing to hog the workout machines, zooming on the Nordic Track at knee-torqueing volume. Throwing your back out offers a terrific excuse for abandoning a fitness campaign. I wonder how many people with fitness resolutions actually arrange for proper training on how to use the equipment safely before they launch into an exercise routine. (Oh, wow, a giant exercise ball, I think I’ll roll on this and bash my head on the floor.)

I admit that I’m selfish. I don’t want to share the equipment at my gym. I go to the gym in the middle of the afternoon on Thursdays and Sundays when two weightlifters, a woman on the treadmill wearing a sleeping baby in a sling, and the cleaning lady are the only ones there. I also attend a couple of classes each week, taught by a professional sports trainer with a perky ponytail and an impressive sneaker collection who always appears encased like a breakfast sausage in brightly-colored, shiny, synthetic fabric. I worry that one day one of the guys in the weightlifting area will have a lapse in mental acuity, go off the deep end, and take a bite out of my teacher’s delectable raspberry leg. She looks so tasty in spandex. But I digress.

I’m not looking forward to the influx of people at the gym this month. It frustrates me when I can’t do my usual routine, which involves cycling through a dozen strength-building weight machines that work arms, legs, and abs. I use each machine three times. (My teacher calls these “reps,” which is short for repetitions. It helps you get fit faster if you know the lingo. I lost five pounds in ten minutes when I started using the word “reps.”) But when other people are on my machines, I have to skip around and go back to the machines I missed. Making this adjustment requires more brain effort than I am prepared to encounter at the gym. And what if I approach a machine at the exact same moment as a new gym user? Will she hit me with a barbell to prevent me from jumping on the machine before she can get on it? I could conceivably wind up in a musical chairs for a seat on one of my machines if too many New Year’s resolvers turn up. This is not the kind of thing you want to have to stay awake pondering in the middle of the night.

People who go to my gym are often a little odd and I anticipate more oddities turning up this month. I can say that because I go to that gym and I’m a little odd. For instance, there’s a wispy dyed-blonde woman who wears terrific fancy workout clothes. She lifts one 2½-lb. barbell over her head with both hands for several minutes, walks as slowly as possible on the treadmill for 20 minutes (she has it on the “do you seriously think you are moving?” setting), and uses some of the weight machines on the “lift-a-peanut” setting. She listens to something on her earbuds the whole time, probably music, or perhaps a motivational recording to keep her awake. I think she might be pretending to do a workout or maybe she works for a workout clothing manufacturer and she is conducting undercover marketing research. There’s a muscle-bulging guy, with what looks to me like the instruction manual for the assembly of a barge tattooed to his chest and arms, who removes his shirt and greases himself up before watching himself in the mirror as he lifts massive weights. They have weightlifting shows somewhere, right? He must be rehearsing for one of those. There are these two guys who go to the gym together and they use only two machines, both of them machines that work the leg muscles. Maybe they are actually mutant grasshoppers. One of them uses a machine while the other one stands next to him and talks with him, then they switch. They do this for quite some time, taking turns tying up these two leg machines and gabbing. They could just as well walk around the grocery store with weights on their ankles and leave the machines for the rest of us to use. Bicep strength must be against their religion. There’s a guy who sets the abs machine at the heaviest setting and adds extra portable weights to it to make it even heavier. I suspect he tells friends to punch him in the stomach for kicks; you know, like Houdini.

Fortunately, no one ever goes on the Stairmaster. So I can always use that when the other machines are occupied. I think people find the Stairmaster daunting because of the picture on it of the Empire State Building and the notation that to climb to the top of that landmark would require 1,860 steps on the Stairmaster. My math skills are limited, but I figure that at two visits per week, I should make it to the top of the Empire State Building by the middle of February. By then most of the people who resolved to go to the gym will have wimped out and I can have the equipment to myself. Getting adequate exercise is critical for health, and building muscle mass is an important piece of a fitness plan. So I encourage you to go to the gym, just not my gym.

My resolution for 2016? I resolve to say five things for which I am grateful every night before I go to sleep. With no repeats. Each night, five new things. And I already said dark chocolate. 

Even though I go to the gym, I was apparently not strong enough 
to pull this "cracker" (also called a "popper") with my son. 
He kept pulling it out of my hand. Someone else had to take over for me.