Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Ship Has Come In

My stepfather died last weekend. It was very sad, he was in his 80's and had spent most of his senior years as a vital, spry gentleman - a Clint Eastwood look-a-like - with a misspent youth and a colorful past. Jack Thomas had been a bartender and pro bowler, husband to 6, father to 2, stepfather to 4. He left behind a grandson and a mourning granddaughter who, even though he was my Mom's second husband, was the only maternal grandfather she'd ever known.

He lived in Las Vegas and I'd last visited him in August. I planned my next visit with him at the end of this month. He'd been in poor health of late and I'd always wrangle a little private time with him to check in and make sure that he was still happy with his living arrangements and that his caretakers were indeed taking good care of him. He seemed very happy during those final years.

My step father was the only thing standing between my brothers and I and our long awaited inheritance. My father had died at the age of 65, leaving behind a 3 million dollar estate. Under my Mom's watch, over the next 12 years, she squandered and dwindled it down to a few hundred thousand dollars. Poor health, gambling, moving 10 times in 12 years, giving in to the bullying of a greedy child - she and Jack had whittled away at it until little was left. A sad, sad story and a warning to others who think that a planned inheritance will see them through their retirement years.

When the dust settles, I believe I'll be coming out of it with a Thomas Kincaid painting, some furniture and a small inheritance, in the 6 figures. To to sum it up, my ship has come in but it's a leaky rowboat. The truly nice thing about all this though is that I no longer have to sweat the summers (if you'll pardon the pun) for many years to come. I'll be able to enjoy my well deserved 7 weeks from mid-June to mid-August off.

I Joined A Gym

I joined one of them there gyms. I know, I know $30 a month and $80 up front for the honor of giving them permission to dip into my account and take said thirty dollars. Monthly. Why did I do such an foolish, unspeakable thing?

Well, my roomie Mich and I have a best friend named Gail. We call ourselves the Three Amigos - or "Tres Amigas" (we're learning Spanish.) Mich & Gail were always going on about their zumba class. Nothing, no event no matter how earth shattering, interferred with them going to zumba 3 nights a week. To hear them tell it, it was the most fun one could legally have and the teacher was Something To See in action. Well, what could I do but go just to see what all the fuss was about. A 5 day free pass was secured and all excuses swept aside. It was time to enter the Inner Sanctum.

I had great concerns about this, which I repeatedly shared with my non-sympathetic Amigas. I had been leading such a sedentary lifestyle for so long that I wasn't at all certain that I could stand upright for an hour at a time, let alone move about vigorously. Also I had respiratory issues that stem from a bad ticker. I failed all respiratory testing that involved exerting myself. Any effort, even one as small as rising to go to the bathroom and returning to bed, caused my oxygen levels to drop dramatically - the opposite of most people's which rise upon exertion. I was afraid that if I worked out I'd pass out. I came up with a plan of action in case the worst should happen ... if I started to see stars I'd sit down until it passed ... girded my loins and headed resolutely towards the nearest 24 Hour Fitness.

Zumba is an exercise program similar to aerobics but set to catchy Spanish pop music. It involves salsa-type dance steps, some hip-hop, belly dancing and even (I swear) polka moves. The basic zumba step involves bringing your arms up to chest level, hands pointed outwards and shaking your booty. The class is filled with tiny hispanic women and a few of us white folk. It takes most of us whities quite a while to loosen up and start to use our "core" - that chubby area from under the breast to above the thighs, a move that comes naturally to our lithsome, graceful hispanic counterparts. But the biggest benefit of zumba, and what differs it from other work outs, is the core work out. You can actually tighten that tummy, reduce your backside and whittle away at that waist ... all things I desperately need to do.

Back in the day, when I was a young Mom, I used to take aerobics classes. It was an hour long class involving a warm up, mat work and a cool down. There were two or three songs of all out, full out exercise somewhere in the middle. From what I can tell with zumba, you go all out for the full hour. Oh there's a perfunctionary cool down song at the end during which we do stretches - which benefit me probably more than the rest of the our long ordeal does. But basically you go all out for the full hour. At least our amazing instructor does. I have taken class from a couple of other instructors and they might throw in a warm up song, but basically we go all out.

No one was more amazed than I when I made it through the first class. It wasn't until a couple of weeks into it that I had a moment where I thought I was going to pass out. While gasping desperately for air, Mich said I resembled one of those Dancing With The Stars celebrities trying to catch their breath after doing their number. But I have up until now remained fully up right and conscious at all times. The benefits were immediate. The next day at work I stood fully upright all day, instead of being bent forward at the waist and walking around with my butt sticking out. I was able to rise to my feet without needing the assistance of the nearest counter top. I walked with a spring in my step, instead of lurching unsteadily down the hallway trying desperately to look relevant. It was such an amazing transformation that I was hooked!

Now I go to zumba religiously at least 3 times a week. I'm also trying to make room in my weekend schedule for an hour long yoga class that happens at 10 am on Saturdays. I'm thinking the stretching would be a good balance to all the jumping around. If I have a day off and there's a morning class, I take that too. When I can't exercise on the weekends and I have to go 4 or 5 days between workouts, I start to stiffen up again and assume my old hunchbacked hobbit posture.

Wait, there's more! I haunt thrift shops searching for exercise wear and have actually been seen entering sports and dance stores hunting for dance shoes. People have started to comment on my new slimmer silhouette. If I could give up the candy I might actually drop some real weight. I know that Mich and Gail's clothes are hanging off of them but they've been at it longer than I have. As Mich keeps reminding me, it took me years to put on the extra pounds, it's going to take a while to lose it.

All in all, I think that $30 a month may be the best investment I've ever made. To take the normal zumba class around town costs $10 a pop. I'm taking at least 12 a month - you do the math. The benefits were staggering right off the bat. I'm hoping the zumba craze won't end for a very long time.