A Saturday morning fitness surprise and a delicious breakfast

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.

Me in my Best Strong t-shirt

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.

Disability Update: Weight training, the warehouse job and unboxing of CBD cream

A mish mash of disability related updates related to my life with cerebral palsy

I’m somewhere around week seven with my weight training with Apex Training and dreaming of a day when my stiff limbs might become those of a Paralympic powerlifting. I want to be a barbell athlete.

I missed Saturday’s session— I normally train 45 minutes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. But I picked up an overtime shift at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy.

I told Dan, my very talented and diligent trainer, that I would do a home workout over the weekend. I did not. And the lack of long hours and the mix of chores and resting I did over the weekend meant that I was not tired nor was I sore for Tuesday’s workout.

And he says he went easy on me, but he had me doing incline bench presses with 25 pound dumbbells. Now, for comparison, about 4-5 years ago when I was lean and strong, I was just ready to make the jump to 25 pound dumbbells but I couldn’t afford to buy them.

That’s when the teenager and I joined Planet Fitness, which lasted until the pandemic. Almost two years.

Yesterday was upper body day at the gym. That’s probably a good thing as my premenstrual hormones left me so stiff today I couldn’t bend at the waist or walk well. It also might have been impacted by the severe thunderstorm we had.

But somehow I hit 129 in QC at work. 130 is goal. At 11:41 p.m. my supervisor stopped by for an observation. I told her I almost called out but I knew she had to see me on a bad day. But when I started folding the clothes, I hit 35 in the first two hours (goal would be 32.5). But then I slipped and only got to 64 by lunch (goal is 65).

By third break I was at 97, which is shockingly on point. And at 11:41, she rolls up with her laptop. I’m both relieved and terrified.

She needs to see my struggle.

The cart I was working in had 3 refixes— out of 8. I don’t know why they call them refixes. They are fixes that are messed up and need fixing. So I guess the fixes need to be fixed again.

It was arduous. I was tired, sore and stiff. I had two damaged items of clothing and I wondered if she would think I damaged them. (Yes, I know I am insecure. My therapist says I “sell [myself] short].”)

I QC’ed in my observation at a rate of 115%.

And my boss had a suggestion to alleviate my struggle.

When I hurt I need to ask for refix carts. Those are the fixes coming out of the refix department once they are corrected. They come boxed on top of the cart so I don’t need to bend to get them.

They really do want to help.

And finally…

A few weeks ago, I asked the teen how her dad’s arthritis was. He has a club hand, so his left hand does most of his daily tasks. As a result, he has bad arthritis between his thumb, wrist and forefinger.

Turns out, his mother gave him Charlotte’s Web CBD cream and he swears by it. So I ordered some. And I ordered the CBD Medic Arthritis Cream as well.

They arrived today. So I took a shower, suffered through the contorting needed to shave my legs, and upon return to my room, I slathered the Charlotte’s Web cream on the knot in my back. The relief was instant, and I don’t want to think it had anything to do with the gin and limoncello cocktail I am drinking.

More details to come on the creams but it is so nice to go to bed without pain. And I think the knot in my back is loose. But I also must remind you—cocktail.

Can I touch my toes?

Yes.

And I didn’t even bend my knees.

This might be the best thing since Epsom salt.

Are disabled athletes more mindful?

Barbells might be my new obsession. Remember my new shirt from the Fitness Tee Company in Michigan?

“Let’s hit the bar.”

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?

Compelling idea.

A little bit of life updates: from warehouse work to cat fostering

This particular blog post will touch on brief updates of multiple areas of my life.

1. My new phone: The refurbished iPhone Xs sent to be my Square Trade has developed a green line in the display. I went to report it and their website is down for maintenance.

2. The laundry room project: The teenager has selected a color with the help of her grandmother, polka dot skirt.

3. Hungryroot and Purple Carrot: Yesterday’s meal kit was Purple Carrot’s Palestinian Spiced Peppers with Crispy Seitan and Tomato Caper Relish and Lemon Dill Rice. We also cooked the Chicken Bruschetta Burgers from Hungryroot. Everything was amazing.

4. Work and/or Disability: starting Thursday night my body was stiff and my right leg is giving me so much trouble. It appears to be the perfect blend of weather (tropical storms), hormones (ovulation) and disability (cerebral palsy). I was very uncomfortable.

But my numbers at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy have been consistently decent— I QC’ed 46 fixes from 3:30 to 6:30ish, and then picked an M cart in 20 minutes before clocking out at 7:05. The night prior I was on “mailer machine” (a folding machine that operates with a lot of compressed air) that they call creased lightning.

5. Foster Cats: someone expressed interest in Louise. Here’s a video of her last night: Louise

FURR Khloe
FURR Shady

6. The Gym (Apex Training): I did my first one plate barbell deadlift. I’ve always wanted to do barbell lifts. So far I’ve done bench press and deadlifts. Today I did four sets: one of three so my trainer could evaluate the weight of the lift, a set of five, another of eight, and a final of five.

He didn’t tell me how much weight that was— but my research from Mr. Google says the bar is 45 pounds and the plates are 20 kg. That together it’s 135 pounds?

Fitness update and my favorite vegetarian protein sources

My trainer Dan at Apex Fitness said something last week that made me chuckle and made me beam with pride.

“I forget you can handle more [weight] than most [women].”

“I still got it?” I asked.

He laughed.

Dan is very good at using full body motions even on isolated body part days. So on leg day we’ll throw in some bicep curls after those deadlifts and on upper body day, we do things that focus on form and stretching the lower body in addition to burning out the arms and chest.

I’m noticing much more flexibility in my body and that my chiropractor has gotten more agressive as well.

And I get to play with Dan’s super adorable baby and we talk a lot about food. He just picked up a client who is a vegetarian and doesn’t like tofu and some other stuff. We were brainstorming protein sources.

I thought I’d make a list.

Here’s my favorite vegan athlete on YouTube: Simnett Nutrition. Look at the sheer volume of food he eats. That is why I can’t be vegan. It has nothing to do with the diet— I just couldn’t stomach that much food.

For more gourmet cooking, check out Gaz Oakley, the Avant Garde Vegan (here).

My favorite vegetarian proteins that are not tofu

  • Greek yogurt
  • Cabot cottage cheese
  • Silk unsweetened soy milk
  • Nut butters (morning hack— coffee, nut butter and yogurt smoothie. Add dates if you want to feel trendy)
  • Homemade salad dressings featuring tahini or peanut butter
  • Add black beans or chick peas to anything you can
  • Add hummus or tahini and/or sprouts to sandwiches. Pick bread with higher protein.
  • Nuts and seeds (including chia, flax and hemp) on salads, oatmeal, in baked goods or smoothies
  • Ancient grain or chick pea pasta
  • Peas and lentils
  • Frozen lentil pasta
  • Morningstar vegetarian breakfast patties
  • “Wheat meat”/seitan
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Adding beans or eggs to soups
  • Eggs & cheese
  • Snap pea snack crisps
  • Special K nut and fruit protein bars
  • Sweet Earth frozen foods

And for vegetarian meal services/meal kits:

  • Purple Carrot offers meal kits and prepared food. They have low calorie and high protein options are plant-based and get on the table in about 40 minutes. Purple Carrot is expensive, and requires a minimum of three dinners a week. Read my previous blogs on Purple Carrot here.
  • Hungryroot has more flexibility than Purple Carrot and offers “free protein”with each box. You can order meal kits, prepared foods or groceries. I get one or two meals and spent the rest of my credits on groceries. A lot of their recipes include extra ingredients— instead of a small jar of a tablespoon of Chile sauce for example, they send a tub. So you can use the extra for other meals. They can get on the table very quickly. They use a lot of “whole” main ingredients coupled with prepared sauces which keeps nutrient value high but prep time low. Read about my impressions of Hungryroot here.
  • Hello Fresh has a lot of great recipes and offers vegetarian food. All the sauces are incredible. But you spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Also expensive. Servings tend to be small. I am told Every Plate is cheaper. My experience with Hello Fresh is here.
  • Green Chef, have not tried it

Week Four of Physical Training at Apex and more thoughts on Disability

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.

Link to the podcast on Spotify.

Luau luncheon at the Bizzy Hizzy

Changes are brewing at work. Tomorrow I learn the infamous mailer machine and QC Valley 0 has been transformed into a test site to see if QC centers can prep their own boxes as they fold each fix.

I’m terrified of this. I have a really awkward relationship with packing tape.

Middle of the Night Ruminations Providing Insights and Honoring Success

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 progress with Apex 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.”

So a big thank you to Joan!

Training Update: Finishing Week Three at Apex Training

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.”

But seriously.

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 reads my 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.

Saturday update: Apex session 4

Today marked my fourth session at Apex Training and my first meeting others at the gym.

Last night we had voluntary time off at the Bizzy Hizzy warehouse. We were released for a a long weekend at 6:30 p.m. (The warehouse is closed Monday for a computer upgrade.)

The teenager wanted to drive and enjoy sports mode in my Jetta. So we stopped at Sheetz and ate fried food and drank energy drinks as one should do at Sheetz. (View Sheetz Shenanigans here.)

I did some editing for Aspire to Autonomy. They are planning their annual 5K. They also recently opened a new safe house and currently have a labor trafficking survivor living there.

I also worked on more of the final proof for my first novel, the debut publication for Parisian Phoenix Publishing. No pressure!

And some of my main characters are having sex again. That, coupled with the fact that I was in men’s returns processing at the warehouse… led to some mental distraction.

I was in bed before midnight as I had a 10 a.m. session with Dan.

I love Dan’s philosophy in incorporating isolated and full body exercises. I love how he paces the workouts— apparently next week is our last week of two sessions a week and we begin three times a week and he’s going to develop metrics to track our progress.

I tripped on the way home, on the same damn bad patch of sidewalk, but this time I caught my balance and did not fall.

And when I got home, the teenager received her new crate for F. Bean Barker. And she bought one way too big. (More ridiculousness here— Bean and Em the FURR kitten).

Now, I’m off to grab Nan and we’re going to can some corn salsa with farm fresh corn.

Level unlocked: Bench Press

I have been strength training on and off for the last 20+ years. It definitely makes my muscles easier to manage and allows me to fight the control issues and long range effects of cerebral palsy.

Today I did my first bench press in my session with Dan of Apex Training.

And that’s my first bench press ever.

At other gyms, with other trainers, we never did bench press. At home, I never had the equipment to bench press.

I found it exhilarating— I never realized how much coordination and full body balance a bench press requires. I always thought it was purely upper body.

I can’t wait to do more.

We did various upper body exercises including some newer movements I hadn’t seen before but I am perpetually pleased with Dan’s knowledge. And he has chickens and we share some tastes in food.

Occasionally during the workout, he asked if I could do one more.

I can always do one more.

That isn’t bravado — that’s my mentality for life. That’s how I survive my disability. I have to push my body to do what it needs to do.

My success and “feel good”-edness continued through my work day. I QCed 132 fixes (goal is 130).

I suppose there are two ways to approach life with a disability… One is to do nothing, and give up.

The other is to do one more. And grow stronger.

I chose one more.