I have mixed feelings about surprises. I like good, controlled surprises but I hate when people try to pull one over on me.
But I do like surprising people.
That statement came from one of my bosses tonight after she heard I wrote a novel that had been published by Parisian Phoenixand was available at major online retailers. (Like here.)
“I didn’t know you were a writer.”
I mentioned it to her because I know she adores her cat and she knows I do cat fostering and rehab work. So I wanted her to know I was donating $1 for every print book sold toFeline Urban Rescue and Rehab.
I teased her that there was a lot she didn’t know about me. Like when I traveled to Siberia for pizza. And visiting Yemen and Somalia.
It always makes me feel good to stand out for things I can control— my hobbies, my opinions, my talents— versus the fact that I walk funny and fall a lot.
So good morning all, and I have to say it’s a gorgeous Saturday and I had another great workout at Apex Training with my trainer Dan.
The photo is actually from Thursday’s workout, taken by Dan so I could tag #NickBestStrongman on social media, which I did and his official Instagram account started following me.
But today, the teenager got up early and came with me to the gym. The teenager is super strong and very balanced with the use of her body, full of power, so I wanted her to have the chance to really lift.
I think she’d be an amazing powerlifter.
And she did most of my weights at the gym today without breaking a sweat. Flexibility is her weakness. Balance is mine. Well, other than the cerebral palsy.
The teenager and I did a barbell bench press of 55 pounds, and did some hex deadlifts as well.
I came home and had an almost vegan breakfast— cream of wheat, vanilla soy milk, fresh artisan cashew butter from The Peanut Company in Cape May, dried blueberries, chia seeds and the one animal product, local honey. That was so delicious.
I left for work today with the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumping sheets of rain on the Lehigh Valley, and I was honestly thinking that I’m grateful to have a job I like and a wage that keeps me from feeling like I’m on the verge of poverty.
With my past stressful work experiences I like the challenges and the environment at my warehouse job.
Because this post discusses my disability and itsimpact on my work performance and the struggle this creates for my employer to be fair, I am not naming that employer. If you read my blog with any sort of regularity, you know who it is. Let me be clear: I am NOT critiquing my employer or my local warehouse’s management.
I want to share the thoughts and questions as they run through my head.
I essentially fold clothes for a living. I often wonder what would happen if we made piece rate instead of the current wage. I make $18 per hour to fold clothes, but the expectation is that I will fold at least 90 items per hour. Now, I’m oversimplifying.
Most of the time, I reach 96-99% of this number. Tonight and Monday— 99%. Friday might have been 97%. But 3-4 days a month I only do 85.
My supervisor keeps asking what “they” can do to help— especially since in my weekly observations I routinely get 108%. It really bothers them that I am not at 100% or even consistant. My supervisor periodically makes it sound like she has to defend me in HR meetings.
I want to be able to say you are fully performing.
I have cerebral palsy, arthritis in my S1 joint and am also struggling with anemia. How do I explain this converges with my menstrual cycle not once but twice a month to leave me fighting pain and discomfort no medication I’ve found can touch?
How do I (and why do I have to) explain that cerebral palsy means the messages between my brain and my body don’t fire correctly and that my muscles stiffen?
How do I explain that anemia prevents me from moving any faster?
They give me examples of accommodations— sitting throughout the night, for example. (That would make my back stiffen even worse.)
I was told tonight that every employee needs to meet three areas of expectation— attendance (I got that), “culture” (meaning I have a good attitude and demonstrate their corporate values) and job performance.
I need to meet the numerical metrics in two work centers. So far, after ten months, I am 96-99% on one. And I seem to be a C student in all the others.
I get it. It’s a warehouse. You need metrics. We need to meet the numbers. But I’m so damn close. It’s not like I’m miles away. 99%.
I hope they really help me succeed. There was discussion today of potentially needing to take a medical accommodation form to my doctor. The problem with that is— my doctor doesn’t understand CP. I am still looking for the same answers my employer wants.
Am I wrong to want to do physical work when I don’t have the same body as everyone else?
Barbells might be my new obsession. Remember my new shirt from the Fitness Tee Company in Michigan?
I bought it after my first bench press with the barbell. I have always wanted to lift barbells. I’m fascinated with power lifters, and admire women like Meg Squats. She recently had a baby, but to stay on topic, here is one of her lifting videos: 5 things I wish I knew before I started lifting.
So when my trainer first put me on the bench with a barbell, it was in part to evaluate me. What he didn’t know was my secret burning desire to do it. And it did not disappoint.
Those first couple lifts I learned so much— about form, about using “power zones” in the body, and how a simple bench press uses most of your muscle groups. Fascinating. To see other people do it hints at the complexity, but to do it yourself is a true lightbulb moment to the depth of the interactive mechanics of the human body.
Today I did my first one plate barbell deadlift. Pretty much because my trainer said, “You could totally lift that,” and pointed to the barbell on the floor.
And I said, “I’ve always wanted to.”
You could totally lift that.
Dan, my personal trainer at Apex
So he let me deadlift the one-plate (on each side) barbell. I mimicked his form, which appeared to be underhand and it was a totally different kind of effort from the dumbbell deadlifts I previously completed. Those seemed very concentrated in the butt and legs, these included more of the body in a fluid way.
I did three in that first set and returned to my dumbbell circuit— 10 lb dumbbells in a swing style motion up to a press, 10 reps, followed by 10 bicep curls— before back to the bar. This was my cool down set of the day. And I did 3 more additional sets at the barbell— a set of five, another circuit with the dumbbells, then eight at Dan’s urging, another circuit, and he asked for another eight, but I tapped out after five.
I determined that I prefer underhand grip. Overhand grip puts too much stress on my lower back. Mixed grip is awesome, too, but I think that may require some work before I can up my weight. Mixed grip forces a certain instability and requires more focus on balance, which as a balance exercise would be stellar.
But what does any of this have to do with athletes and disability— the idea I propose in the title?
I have no athletic talent what so ever. My coordination is awful. I tend to walk “all done f*cky” when my health is poor or I am fatigued. I also deal with a myriad of aches and pains from walking crooked and associated issues with my S1 joint.
But my trainer often comments on my form, well, once he reminds me to point my toes for a squat or perfect that lean for a row. He’s even commented that I’m “built for that” while we do certain exercises. That once I correct manually what my brain can’t make my body do automatically, that I use a very deliberate form.
As I’ve mentioned before my weight training is very meditative for me because I am counting (something my trainer and the teenager were discussing because she said even with a decade of band she can’t count) and my trainer said I was good at keeping count, but that many of his clients needed assistance. I am also thinking about control in every motion of the exercise— from each body movement, to pace and control.
And on top of that, I try to note feeling and body function. Though that is touchy. In a “leg day” session a week or two ago, Dan said he noticed something strained about the lift I was doing. He wanted to know if it were legs or back bothering me.
I had to do an extra rep of the exercise to answer him. Because I hadn’t noticed.
“Ankles,” I answered. “My ankles are stiff and shaky today.”
All of this makes me think, and question, how those of us will a mild physical disability like cerebral palsy might be better athletes because we don’t have talent or physical advantages. But we know our bodies and we are accustomed to acknowledging the details of our bodies and their functions.
Does the fact that I am required to concentrate on every motion make me more prone to perform that motion closer to perfection than someone who can breeze through it without thinking about it?
Next, let’s briefly do a Purple Carrot Update. Today I prepped the matcha overnight oats and made the ramen bowl. (Video of matcha prep here.)
The teenager vetoed the homemade miso broth and fresh ramen.
I had the leftover black pepper tofu for dinner and it was soooooooo good, even leftover.
And most Purple Carrot meals take 30 minutes to prepare, which in my kitchen has been translating to 40 minutes. Much better than the cooking marathon caused when a Hello Fresh box comes.
But now to the Bizzy Hizzy. I finally learned the “mailer machine.” It’s a folding machine. We used it to fold the postal service priority mailers that go in each fix.
We had trouble getting the machine to work— so we didn’t really get started until after first break. We folded 4401 mailers.
Basically we unpack the mailers, sort them so they are less likely to jam the machine, and feed/empty the machine. There is a zen to lining up the mailers on the rolling machine, fanning them and making sure they don’t curl.
I was sent to the mailer machine as part of Stitch Fix’s quest to know what tasks I perform best. I perform regularly at 96% in QC but unfortunately when I have bad day that plummets to 85-90%. They raised the pick goal so I only do 75% of that. Apparently I have shown both potential and inconsistency in inbound processing and returns. I apparently tanked in style carding (66%) which I would like to believe was a fluke but maybe not. And a shocking 29% in NAP binning. It was shoes. And it was very painful.
I’m told they want everyone to have two work centers they can perform 100%.
So now I’m at the mailer machine.
If I’m honest with you, and it is very hard for me to say this in public, what I hear is: “You’re not good enough for us, so since you suck at everything, let’s stick you on this machine back in the corner.”
I feel threatened. And like a failure.
And that is not what they said. At all.
But I have a disability that makes me insecure and makes me feel inferior, unworthy. And certain childhood traumas leave me feeling unwanted, and as if I am a burden to everyone.
So I am being honest. For one reason. In case someone else is fighting a similar battle and needs to know he/she/they are not alone.
In 45 minutes, I need to leave for work. It’s Thursday and I feel like I haven’t stopped moving all week. I’m behind on my own commitments and starting to feel panicked.
The pop up kitten cafe fundraiser for Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab is this Sunday.
Although it has required effort from many people, in the last few days this has become my baby.
In the last 24 hours, we received commitments from Just Born candy and Target #2536 (the same Target where I used to work and that experienced a fatal shooting in the parking lot last weekend).
This brings our list of supporters to:
Many individual bakers
Easton Baking Company
Giant Food Stores
Today the teenager and I will be heading to Keystone Snacks to get the Veggie Chips donation.
So that’s the fundraiser but meanwhile real-life goes on. I haven’t worked on William Prystauk‘s upcoming novel in his Kink Noir series, Bondage, in several days. Our personal cat, kitty cancer survivor Opie has a very goopy, wet eyes. This is very unusual for Opealope so I gave him a couple treatments with a chamomile tea eye wash for cats grown and prepared by our fellow foster, Granola Cat Lady.
Despite all this (and only 5 hours sleep from sharing my bed with the teenager’s dog, F. Bean Barker), I still made it to Apex Training for leg day and some warm-up core work. My body was very stiff after that, not really from the workout but because my period is late and doing things to my body.
Although I have to admit I fell on the way to the gym and broke the screen to my iPhone. After 3.5 years I now get to test my SquareTrade insurance.
The other big news is that the teenager installed a new toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom. The old one had screws so stripped it kept falling off while you were sitting on it. Bad news is: our bathroom is 1950s Flamingo Pink. The new toilet seat is white— the only one they had. I hate white toilet seats on colored bowls but I also hate “falling in.” And now that she’s seen it, the teenager agrees.
I finally tried my Emmi Roth cheddar cheese snacks from Hungryroot which were supposed to be for tuna artichoke melts but I couldn’t bring myself to use such fancy cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich. A colleague and I were talking about snacks & cheese so I brought her some and we tried it at the Bizzy Hizzy.
She loved it so much she googled where to buy it. Apparently it’s only available in Wisconsin and Switzerland. It literally melts in your mouth.
After work I went to Sheetz and ordered a pina colada lemonade with immunity boost with my bonus points. It tasted like candy, too thick to be refreshing but definitely very summery. I added some mango vodka when I got home. (Here’s a video if you want to see me talk to myself in a parking lot at midnight.)
And finally, not sure if I mentioned it on the blog, but I’m another step closer to resolving the great EZ Pass Drama of Summer 2021. Did you ever procrastinate something so long it bit you in the ass?
Yeah, so that’s what happened to me.
So, our Nissan Ultima (oh how I loved that car) died suddenly. My husband and I were still together and only had one car. He replaced the Ultima was a used Nissan Juke— a car he had wanted for a while. We moved everything from the Ultima into the Juke.
I had ordered an EZ Pass when I started work on my master’s in world history at West Chester University and was driving down the turnpike at least once a week.
So I knew that the EZ Pass was connected to my car— the Ultima— but I never really used it. I forgot about it. And then I bought my Jetta because I hated the Juke. Our family didn’t really go anywhere. I worked retail so I never really got time off. I had stopped working on my master’s as money got tight and my marriage continued to fail.
I neither returned nor updated the EZ Pass.
My husband returned the box of random things from the Ultima and I, with other things on my mind, tossed the transponder in my car hoping to remember to update it.
I never did.
At this point, I don’t even remember how to access my EZ Pass account.
This summer, the teenager took her grandmother to Cape May. She pulled up to the first toll booth and the toll collector yelled at her for trying to pay the toll.
Being a dutiful child, she trusted the toll collector who told her she had an EZ Pass.
Two weeks later, we get two violations from NJ EZ Pass. $30 in missed tolls and $55 in administrative fees. My daughter and I send a check, but I also send an email stating that I understand I hadn’t updated the EZ Pass, but my daughter had tried to pay the toll and the toll collector yelled at her.
They cashed the check.
Then a couple weeks after that I get a letter from PA Turnpike EZ Pass stating I had insufficient funds in my account and they were threatening to ticket me. Now, my EZ Pass was on a credit card. That credit card expired one month before my daughter’s trip.
I call the number. Because I don’t know my account pin or my transponder number, I am forced to leave a message and they say they will call me back. That was Monday.
A couple days ago I get another letter from NJ EZ Pass. They claim I didn’t pay one of the two violations. I send another email and send them a screen shot from my banking app of the cashed check.
It’s now Thursday. I go to PA EZ Pass and try to remember all my account info. I easily succeed. I look at the “insufficient funds.” $5.37 cents. They also demand $35 to load my account fully. Even though I haven’t used it in three years.
And you can’t just pay what you owe.
I then go to the “manage vehicles” tab, add the Jetta and delete the Ultima. That took five minutes. Had I done that years ago, I could have avoided the whole drama.
When I turned up at the Apex Gym today for my first session of the week, I was accompanied by the teenager and her dog. They were both impressed— and in the dog’s case confused— that my trainer Dan was wearing his baby.
I am always impressed with the different bodies I see at the gym and the attention both trainers give to their clients.
There was a woman at the gym finishing her session when I arrived. She was working hard with some dumbbells, with her back to me. She was older than I was, and overweight, probably at least obese by BMI standards (because I am overweight by BMI standards).
But she was uneven, with 80% of her excess weight in her legs.
And just like with me, Dan supported her and challenged her as if we were athletes. You could tell she was proud of herself, and I was proud of her.
And I couldn’t wait to tell my trainer Dan that I can already feel my body moving better. In his eyes, he calls it “a little increased mobility” and to me, I feel like my knees are moving the correct direction.
I told him that I got to pick at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy and covered about 6,000 steps and pulled 216 items in less than three hours. Now those aren’t stellar numbers, but I haven’t left QC in months. And I didn’t hurt.
If this Apex experience doesn’t teach me to participate in exercise and strength training daily, nothing will.
Today’s workout t-shirt was “let’s hit the bar” by The Fitness Tee Company and my trainer Dan let out an enthusiastic battle cry. We did hit the bar, and we added weight to it. I really enjoy bench press.
In other news, I listened to the latest podcast from the NYT Daily Sunday Read, “The Man who filed 180 disability lawsuits.” It looked at the “industry” of people hired by lawyers to find non-ADA-compliant businesses. And sue them.
I need to digest this more, but the reporter interviewed a small restaurant that almost lost everything because of such a lawsuit, in what seemed a situation where a new restaurant just had everything go wrong.
But the reporter also interviewed the litigant who said businesses have a responsibility to know the law better (my note: it’s almost 300 pages) and that being disabled is expensive so these lawsuits help pay for his equipment and care.
First, the exciting news of the day… our new gym shirts from The Fitness Tee Co arrived a day early. The teenager presents an unboxing on YouTube here.
I couldn’t resist the doughnut tank and the other witty slogans. They were about $20 each and there was a BOGO 50 % off sale on the day I ordered. Shipping was $10.
Update on the progresswithApex Training: As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my trainer, Dan, and I worked core and lower body hard. (Read that here.)
Today my thighs and maybe my hamstrings hurt. Everything hurts. But when I went to work in QC tonight, I emptied every fix from the carts with the same squat form I would use if he were watching. That’s more than 125 times. And here’s the tidbit to consider about my quest to learn more about my body and my cerebral palsy, even though my thighs and hamstrings hurt, my knees moved much easier than I recall. Is it true? Or just my perception? And I came home without any back pain.
Three cheers to my trainer Dan at Apex.
In other Bizzy Hizzy Stitch Fix news, my supervisor has asked me to learn mailer machine. This is a work center only a few people in each shift know how to do. I have heard stories of the finicky and evil mailer machine. But, of course, I said sure.
As my supervisor walked away, I started to get a panicky feeling inside. Yesterday I was moved from my normal spot in QC to a position on the warehouse floor consolidating items in the flat pack bins. Then I got moved from that to men’s returns processing.
On Wednesday, I trained a brand new temp on women’s returns processing.
And now next week the mailer machine?
A few weeks ago it was a brief exposure to style carding.
My insecurity flared— thanks past employers— and I wondered “do I perform so poorly they keep moving me around to a place where I fit?”
And I chastised myself because I know the metrics, I’m not a bad employee. I hope they see I am reliable, flexible, smart, and enjoy learning.
To calm my insecurity, I texted my talented and lovely friend Joan. She retired from a place you might know, Martin Guitar. She worked, I believe, in human resource stuff. And she has some fancy jargon to toss around like Sigma and stuff.
I asked her, texting on my final ten minute break of the night: “I consistently achieve 96% of goal. They constantly train me for new things— spending a day here and there without mastering anything. Am I someone they can rely on? Or are they trying to find something I can do?”
I could hear Joan’s sigh across the night.
She replied, “They recognize that you are smart, and they don’t want you to get bored. They are cross training you to keep you flexible… They know you will catch on fast and do your best, even if it’s not 100% against their numbers. Does the job get done fast and well? Can they rely on you to do it? Of course!”
Everyone needs a friend like Joan.
Tell your insecurities to go f*ck themselves
The wise and effervescent Joan Z
She goes on, “Remember, they’re putting you where they need you. You are a willing pair of hands and pretty good at it. As I used to tell the people at the guitar factory, the more stuff you know how to do, the more valuable you are to the company.”
But here’s my favorite advice, “Tell your insecurities to go f*ck themselves.”
My body turned to me as I went to my car after work today, and as I fiddled with the radio (calling up Natalie Merchant on Spotify singing Space Oddity), my body said to me,
“Jesus, woman, what are you doing? We need to talk.”
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? But we can’t spend too much time on all this as it is 1:30 a.m. and my aching body craves sleep.
The teenager was up fairly early today so I suggested she and our almost 1-year-old pit bull/mastiff/black lab puppy walk with me to the gym, about 5 blocks away.
Now if you’re new here… I’m 46 years old, a former newspaper reporter. I have an amazing 17-year-old daughter. Her father and I separated two years ago but he lives nearby and is still an important part of our household. I have cerebral palsy. He has a club hand. I have recently started a quest to learn more about my body, restart my bodybuilding commitment (I was really into it six years ago) as an alternative to traditional physical therapy, and hopefully lose the 20 pounds I gained stress eating to cope with the toxic workplace of the last nonprofit I worked for.
So, the teenager, the dog and I walked up to the gym. F. Bean Barker is learning new manners everyday and the guys at the gym thought she was a beautiful dog.
And then the focus changed to leg day. Now, on upper body day I get to train like a normal person. On lower body day, my poor trainer has to balance my physical deficits with my desire to kick ass.
Or maybe I’m just as awkward both days, and I just never noticed.
Today was session six. It’s the last week of two sessions a week and next week we increase to three.
Please note: I have been in gyms lifting weights since college, which was about 25 years ago, and in recent years I’ve been in physical therapy to learn to walk, for balance, for the strain of my lumbar region caused by trouble with my S1 joint and my broken ankle. Every body is different. Every ailment or disability is different. It is a quest to balance what works for you, what your body needs and what hurts.
I firmly believe that nothing fixes the body like the right exercises. But for people with disabilities or health issues, it’s hard to recognize what pain you need to work through and what hurt is bad. As a weight lifter, I know muscle recovery pain. As a person with a disability, I often experience burning pain.
As a society, I feel like we invest so much money in medical tests, mental health, drugs, organic food, but we don’t want to pay for a trainer.
My trainer is getting to know me. He knows how to observe me. He asks questions about my mobility. We test exercises by going easy at first and adjusting them based on my performance.
And he reads me well.
There are times I can tell he’s afraid of pushing me too far and then I do the exercise and he makes it ten times harder because I surpassed his expectations. This makes him a good trainer because it means he’s testing my basic form and strength so I don’t get hurt. And he readsmy body language to see how I’m doing— not relying on my words.
A good trainer has to push you out of your comfort zone. But he also has to make sure everything’s executed for best impact and in a way that you don’t get hurt.
I have to admit, I hated him a little today. But I also love his full body approach. But when he tells me to do sumo squats with a 15-pound dumbbell and my toes pointed out AND make sure my knees “follow” my toes… I don’t know whether to cry or punch him.
It’s the gym— both those feelings are valid.
But let’s examine the issue. My knees face in.
This means to perform the motion he has requested, I need to move one foot at a time carefully into position. I need to really concentrate on balance. As I move, I need to keep my head up, focus on stretching the knees to position in line with my toes (which is not the way they go) while holding a weight and trying not to fall.
I was dripping sweat by the end of this session— before he hands me a kettle bell to end the work out with kettle bells swings.
When I got home, I made a massive high protein vegan pasta. See me make it here (this can also be my official “before” video.)
I ate 90% vegan today. Only animal products I had were half and half for my coffee and a pack of beef jerky at work. I almost had iced tea with local honey but the teenager spilled it when I left it on the dog crate.
This was dinner:
Speaking of dinner— tonight at the Bizzy Hizzy my team competed in the Stitch Fix olympics. We won the gold medal in the egg toss. I was relieved they weren’t real eggs.
In other news:
I almost started editing William Prystauk’s latest novel in the Kink Noir series.
My Poppy Z. Brite books have arrived.
I hurt. I hope it’s the good hurt.
My friend Joan not only brought us old linens, but scored a cat carrier and animal crate at a yard sale.
This weekend was hectic and quiet at the same time.
Saturday Nan and I canned some corn relish/salsa with some farm fresh corn on the cob. My mother-in-law, having grown up on a farm, knows her corn and has a gift for picking delicious corn.
Nan, as a lifelong blind person, has a fascination with all things cooking. She always says that she doesn’t understand how people learn these things. I told her I don’t quite remember how I learned to can, though I do know I always had an interest in gardening and in preserving the rich variety of foods we have in this region.
But it was fun to see Nan respond to the tools involved in canning.
Yesterday, Marsand Minerva attended an adoption event with our cat rescue group Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab. Meanwhile, the teenager and I volunteered with the FURR kitten event and backpack distribution through the Verizon Store in Forks Township. Our foster Touch of Grey came from there. They actually have foster cats free roaming the store!
The teenager and I finally got our FURR t-shirts. I’m very excited. The teenager looks really good in hers.
Meanwhile, at home, our foster tripod Louise has been very cuddly and at my side relatively non-stop.
AndI finished the proof for Manipulations. The book designer (my partner Gayle) will check out the file tomorrow.
My friend Bill sent me the manuscript for his next book in the Kink Noir series, Bondage. I’ll start my review sometime this week.
And finally, I made a list of all the authors and books that I hope to publish via Parisian Phoenix.
I was shocked how many titles were on the list. I hope I have the resources and the marketing prowess to do these books justice.