Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Power of a Single Clap

For quite some time before moving back to Iowa, I was not handling the stress of being a mom very well.  We didn't have a babysitter and didn't have anyone close enough that we trusted them to watch the kids. The only quality time together (without the kids) that DH and I had was when family came in from out of town - typically two times per year for my parents and 3-4 for DH's mom. 

It wasn't until we had already committed to moving back that a friend told me that most YMCA's offered free childwatch for people with family memberships.  While you can't utilize them as a babysitting service, they do watch your child while you are exercising.

We moved back Memorial weekend, May of 2006.  On June 8th, I decided to join the YMCA.  I was tired of being out of shape and felt like I should take a new approach to my health.  When I first started, I was doing the elliptical.  In August, I was talked into taking a cardio class (you can read about that story here.)  Every class is different.  Sometimes we do circuit training, sometimes kick-boxing, sometimes step.  It takes a few months before we see a repeat class.

The very first class that I took was a routine involving a row of steps lined up side by side - like a 40' wide/long step.  Half of the class (Group A) was on one side of the room, Group B was on the other side.  Group A would traverse the row of steps doing something like tap up/tap down to get to where Group B started.  At the same time, Group B would do something like lunges across the open floor to get to where Group A started.  We would do that about 4 times then do a different type of activity.  Over the top and back of the benches and moving squats on the way back.  The activities continue to rotate and one of the more challenging tasks is the inchworms.  Basically, it involves walking your hands into a push-up position (push-up optional) then walking your feet to your hands... continuing to the other end of the room.  Ugh.

I remember being dead tired and Leah even announcing to the class "If you need to take a break, walk the track."  She doesn't single people out unless they are doing something that could cause injury or if she knows they don't mind.  But since I was new, I didn't realize that she was indirectly directing her comment at me.  This time, she looked me straight in the eye, swung her finger in a circle in the air and said "If you need to take a break, walk the track."  Then she smiled.  Then I started to walk the track. 

Once I got comfortable with the class and the people, every time we did that workout I would say "This is the first workout I ever did."  Leah got to the point where she waited for me to say it when I arrived and saw the setup.

Well, this Wednesday was a little different.  Most of my regular friends were absent for the holiday so I didn't blurt it out.  Part way through the class, Leah announced "This is Nicole's class" (maybe she said workout or routine... I don't remember because I was already very tired.)  Anyway, it isn't my favorite routine in terms of activity, but emotionally, it is.  It is an absolute gauge of how far I have come in two years. 

As usual, I did my best - working at a high impact pace when I could and doing low impact on things like jumping jacks (because I have bad knees.)  I went strong on every pass across the row of benches and was able to smile as I remembered how difficult it was on that first day.  Lunges, squats and all that stuff are becoming easier but still are challenging in the midst of our exhaustion.  The inchworms were the true test.  While progressing through, Leah reminded us that the push-ups are optional.  When she saw that many of us were pushing ourselves to do them anyhow, she decided to jokingly add "Okay, you can add a clap in the middle if you like."  So on my next inchworm, I did just that.  I did a push-up with a clap in the middle... something I haven't done since my high school and college days of being in shape.  Leah acknowledged it as did a few classmates.  It made me feel great.

Granted, I have a lot of weight still to lose, but I feel so much better these days.  That one clap in the middle is a powerful reminder that with continued commitment, anything is achievable.

(The first photo was taken at Christmas 2006. The second one was just a few days ago when I tried on a fitted shirt that DH bought me.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Giraffe Must Die!

Note from Nicole:  This is a guest post from DH.  Enjoy!

Toy stores.  What red-blooded American doesn’t love a store that sells absolutely nothing that you need, but almost everything that you want?  I can now put myself on the short, but growing list of consumers that dreads hearing the “I’m a Toys “R” Us Kid” jingle. My recent visit to our local store has prompted me to write an open letter to Mr. Gerald Storch, CEO of Toys “R” Us.

Dear Mr. Storch:

I recently enjoyed an article on that highlighted the successes you have had in your short tenure as CEO of Toys “R” Us.  Many of the great changes you have made with store redesigns, new management and superstore openings are sure to increase the bottom line of your new private investors/owners.  However, I want you to be aware of some of the ever-intrusive policies and procedures that are turning away customers every day.

“May I have your Zip Code?” For years, I have been asked that question at checkout at the beginning of the transaction, and I reluctantly gave the information knowing that it was probably being used simply to gauge which customers were going to which store. I always felt uncomfortable giving this information out, but did so knowing that if you wanted to come to my house to take back the Monopoly game I just bought, you’d have to go door-to-door in a large area to find me. But, this has changed – leading me to…

“May I have your Phone Number with area code?” This has replaced #1 at the checkout line, and I will refuse to volunteer this information every time.  Please understand, the ONLY person I want to hear this question from is a 19yr old co-ed, preferable one who received some type of ‘augmentation’ for her 18th birthday.  I do not want that number given/sold/traded to some overseas marketing company so they may call during dinner to tell me about the upcoming sale on Tickle Me Elmos. I also do not wish to be contacted by a survey company asking how my shopping experience was.  And I certainly don’t want all of my purchases to be associated with a phone number – I like my family to be surprised on Christmas Day, not have the ability to find out what Dad purchased last week/month/year.  And most of all, I do not want ANY grief from the cashier when I politely decline to provide this information.

“Would you like to join the Birthday Club?” Quite honestly, the birthday club is a nice bonus. My girls love spending the $3.00 gift card sent to them each year. BUT…what is it with the overachieving attempts to get everyone who walks through the door signed up for it?  I’m guessing they get a bonus for most signups? On my last visit with my daughters, I was asked SIX TIMES by FOUR EMPLOYEES to sign my girls up for the club. Yes, two of the employees asked me twice in different parts of the store! This was all in the span of a 20 minute visit! Just take one or two of those employees and park them in a checkout lane so the rest of the customers don’t have to use the customer service line to check out.  Oh, and the last time I took my daughter to spend her gift card (wearing her TRU birthday crown and carrying her free balloon), yep you guessed it, an employee asked me if I’d like to sign her up for the birthday club…

“May I have your age?” What?!  I’m not buying liquor!  And even if I was, I am 40 years old and look every bit of 39.  I haven’t been carded in a bar in over a decade – why do I need to provide my age to buy a video game?  I was actually asked this question, along with #1 and #2 in the same transaction – so the teller wanted my zip code, phone number and age! And she wasn’t 19!  Frustrated, I asked if next she’d want a background check and a urine sample. She didn’t laugh.  Neither did I.

“Service Plans” Which brings me to the last item that put me over the top and the reason for writing this diatribe.  In an effort to beat the holiday rush, I stopped by one of your stores to pick up a couple board games as presents from Santa for my daughters. After declining to provide my phone number, the gal at the register begin ringing me up.  Mind you, the ONLY thing I was buying was three common board games (Monopoly Jr., etc.). After each one she asked me, “Would you like to buy a service plan to cover this game?”  I was dumbfounded and completely speechless.  In the past I laughed as overpriced service plans made their way from $2,000 television purchases all the way down to $16 alarm clocks. But a service plan on a non-electronic board game?! What exactly is this plan supposed to cover? If I lose one of the Community Chest cards, will I get a new one? When I step on the box cover, tearing the corner, will just the cover be replaced?  Or will the whole box? Will I have to mail it in first and hope it is not rejected for “abnormal wear and tear”?  Each and every game I bought, the computer prompted the teller to ask me this question. When she saw how ludicrous I thought this offer was, she joked too, “yeah, they make us ask that, but I don’t understand it either. This is a cardboard item – what exactly is this policy supposed to cover?”  At least she didn’t give me grief about not giving my phone number.

I know all of these procedures probably had some reasoning behind them when implemented, and I’m betting they were all instituted by different departments, as no one in their right mind would subject their customers to all of these questions/etc. in one visit on purpose.  So forget the remodels and train the new management to give the consumer an enjoyable shopping experience, not an inquisition.

Scott B.

I’m not expecting miracles from this post, but it does feel better to get it all out in the open. For now I’m buying my toys on Amazon...oh wait…they want my address and phone number too…

Monday, November 24, 2008

Best Christmas Presents - The Other Side

Yesterday, as part of a contest at The Present Professor, I posted about one of my best Christmas presents - a lesson learned. But I have to admit that the material side of me is aching to tell one of the best stories ever. And since it will haunt my brain until I type it up, I just need to do it. As I said in my contest post, I've been blessed with a wonderful husband that tends to buy me the things he thinks I would want.

When we first moved to California from Iowa, DH moved in September and I followed at Thanksgiving. I wanted to get used to being there so we agreed that I wouldn't look for work until after the first of the year. I spent my days basking in the non-snow weather, watching Los Angeles TV shows, surfing the internet, swimming in the apartment pool and using the apartment gym, walking the mile to the downtown shops, having coffee at the downtown coffee shop, going to the small grocery store and even played bingo at the center once. We only had one car so I was limited on where I could go, but I was okay with that. It was a new place, new things to do, an entirely new life.

The plan was for me to start looking for a job after the first of the year. In December, we stopped by some car dealerships to test drive a few cars to get some idea of what I might want to own. I didn't really have a preference as long is it was trustworthy and had lots of gadgets, compartments and pockets.

On Christmas morning, I received an awesome Christmas gift - a video camera. It was one of the first presents DH had me unwrap because he wanted me to be able to record our first California Christmas. One of the last presents I opened was a set of keys. Video camera in-hand, DH walked me out to the parking lot. There, in our carport was a Pontiac Bonneville... with a giant red bow on the top. It was an absolute dream; a car as a Christmas present. And the bow? I had always commented that those giant bows were the coolest and DH remembered that. So he told the salesman when he bought the car that it needed to have a giant red bow.

What made this extra special is that DH had managed to pick out the car, make the arrangements for the loan, get the car delivered and the keys under the tree - all without me having the slightest clue. He's quite a guy, let me tell you. In reality, I should have posted this story for the contest, but I didn't want to seem shallow. It wasn't the fact that he got me a car for Christmas that was great... it was the fact that he cared enough to make the holiday perfect.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Baring My Soul for a Zune

Have you ever done something that made complete sense at the time but you later realized it wasn't such a good idea? Okay, okay. Let me rephrase... In a non-intoxicated state of being, have you ever?

Well, The Present Professor is running a contest. Entrants (that's me) post a story on their blog (you're reading my entry) about the best/worst gift they ever received. Once all the entries are in, a poll will be posted on The Present Professor's site and readers get to select the winning entry. The person with the most votes will receive a Zune 80GB Digital Media Player. I'll be honest, I've read some of the other entries and they're pretty good so I feel the need to bare my soul in order to have a chance at winning.

First things first. If you're reading this, Mom, you need to take an extra step that nobody else needs to. In the upper right corner of your screen, you'll see an "x". Click it.

Okay. Just don't want mom to think any less of me. Now that she isn't reading, I can get onto the business of my entry.

I'm not in the least bit spoiled. Really. I never ask for anything for Christmas because I have everything I want. Hmmm. Maybe I am spoiled. Anyway, my husband has graced me with some wonderful gifts both for Christmas and for no reason. Things I've wanted but never asked for. Things I've not known I wanted but realized I did once he bought it for me. Growing up, my parents always tried to give us what we wanted also. I really can't complain because even when money was tight, my parents always managed to make Christmas special. So I did some brainstorming to figure out what my entry should be.

But the Christmas gift that stood out the most was something immaterial - a lesson learned. Once we got to the age where we knew that nobody would be sliding down our chimney, my mom was very blunt. "The presents are in my closet. If you want to know what you got, you're only ruining your own Christmas."

One Christmas, I let my curiosity get the best of me. As I cracked open the closet door, the item at the very front caught my eye. It was a pink button down shirt. I was instantly giddy and closed the door with the feeling of complete and utter satisfaction. What's the big deal about a pink shirt? Well, it's two-fold. First, it was the 80's and that was THE thing to have. Second, I attended a Catholic school with a strict white-shirt-required dress code. Any shirt that wasn't white was coveted even though we couldn't wear it to school. But pink? The icing on the cake.

It wasn't until the Christmas chaos dust had settled and I was surveying the loot that I realized the pink shirt wasn't in my pile. Actually, I didn't remember opening it. That's when I realized that it wasn't even a gift for me. It was a gift for one of my brothers. There it was... in his pile. The pink button down shirt wasn't even for me.

Let me say that it didn't ruin my Christmas because I was very happy with what I did receive. Physically, the gifts from my parents were great. Emotionally, the gift to myself was priceless. Sometimes things aren't what they seem so it isn't worth peeking in the closet.

Edit 11/24 - The contest poll is up. Would you please consider popping over to The Present Professor and voting for mine? They're accepting votes until 11/30. Thanks! Here's the link - the poll is the big black box and my entry is #11.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Is Early Intervention Worth the Trouble?

When Miss M was born, I was pretty much on my own while DH was at work.  Miss M and I would venture out to the store, sometimes go on walks and occasionally hang out with the neighbor who was only a few days older.  But we didn't participate in any kind of mommy and me groups, structured programs or hang out with other peers.  We didn't have any family living nearby either.

We had a lot of great one-on-one time and I loved it.  I took pictures of her, played with her, read to her, helped her learn her alphabet.  If I needed to microwave something, I would pick her up, point her finger and say the numbers as I helped her push the microwave buttons.  "3-zero-start"

What we recognized as she started to get older is that her rote skills were very strong.  I didn't realize it at the time, but the lack of interaction with other kids was having an impact on the development of Miss M's communication skills.  Before she turned two, we noticed that her ability to express herself verbally was below what "the books" said she should be.  During a visit to her pediatrician, I asked for his opinion.  He told me that it's like a light bulb for some kids - it just turns on and they start spitting out words left and right.  But he didn't have any guarantees so he explained that he could give me a referral to the Regional Center when she turned two or I could self refer.  In California, there are Regional Centers that are funded by the state to help kids that are behind their peers - physically, mentally, developmentally, whatever.  It was broad based and provided the testing needed to make sure Miss M was where she should be.

Well, I decided to self refer since I didn't want to wait until she turned two.  As a result, she was tested and it was determined that while most of her skills were age appropriate, her cognitive and receptive communication skills were significantly below her age.  We had one person, I believe a psychologist, test her and unofficially (yet inaccurately) diagnose her as autistic.  Thankfully, the pathologist that tested her a week later reassured us that she wasn't anywhere near autistic on the scales; she just didn't know how to communicate well. 

So we got an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan) approved through the Regional Center that included a Mommy & Me program a few days a week supplemented by in-home speech pathologist visits.  When she turned three, her IFSP was changed to a school district based IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and she started a speech and language preschool program.  When we moved to Iowa, the IEP followed us and it required the local school district to continue the services that were determined necessary by the people in California.

I fought hard for all the services that I thought she needed.  I opened my mind to any suggestions they had to help improve her communication skills.  I didn't worry about the "special education" stigma that she might carry with her through school.  My priority was getting her to where she should be.  Period.

Well, during Miss M's parent-teacher conference last week, we were informed that they didn't see a need to continue IEP services.  The had evaluated her on several different abilities and said Miss M is caught up with her peers in communication abilities and exceeds many in other skills.  On one of the tests, she scored the highest in her class.  They recommended we not renew her IEP when it comes due in January.  To ensure that it's the right approach, they'll do a 45 day trial of no-services where they will discontinue any special education, speech therapy, etc.  If we don't see a lapse, then we know she's good.

So I know that all the proactive therapies, teachers, IFSPs, IEPs, tests, classes and whatnot - all the early intervention work - paid off.  It was all worth the effort knowing that by the time Miss M reached Kindergarten, she was caught up with her peers.  If I had to do it again, I would take every single step, every headache and every heartache.  And if anyone ever asks my opinion on whether they should be proactive with their child, even if they are unsure, I would strongly encourage it.  People may say that their child is delayed because of older siblings "talking for them" or isn't walking because they just think it's easier to crawl.  Whatever the delay or whatever the reason, just ask your school district or physician if there are services available to have your child tested.  You won't regret that you did.