Toughing It Out

What I did this weekend — April 12, 2017

What I did this weekend

I spoke at the 31st annual CLPP conference at Hampshire college this past weekend and I was on several panels speaking through the lens of incarcerated sex workers.  I worked with another colleague on 2 workshops and then spent the Monday and Tuesday with another activist of legendary proportions meeting and greeting people who were accomplishing amazing things in her community.  But one always stands out.


Mama Dread and her Mission of Love impacted me in a way I hadn’t ever felt before and I want to tell you about her.

Mama Dread was once homeless and – while homeless – she started a community based organization called Mama Dreads Mission of Love and she worked to feed other people in the community who were also homeless.  She developed a following and almost everybody knows her.  Including the commissioner, city council folks and – of course – the police know her pretty well too. They harass her and her crew when they are going around town feeding people and helping them access safe resources, and they threaten her on such a regular basis, she carries around a card in her pocket that has the Homeless Bill of Rights on it.  She’s tried to get a regular place to let her cook and serve her homeless community but the churches and the politicians?  Well they just put up more barriers.

She even won an award for being the BEST COMMUNITY SERVICE PROVIDER TO THE HOMELESS in her town and that award came with a $500 prize.  But the folks who gave her the award told her they couldn’t give her the check because she wasn’t a licensed service provider with a 501c3 non-profit.

Mama Dread and her crew of about 20 other people weren’t swayed by this AT ALL!  They just kept doing what they do, however they can, and you can find them at almost every civil rights action meeting, working to change policies that affect not only them – but their community.  She partners with PRYSM and DARE and Coyote RI as well as many others – and she attends city council meetings and shes in the room with politicians and council members and law enforcement folks every chance she gets – and she is everything we admire in grassroots social justice movements.

Mama Dreads Mission of Love got some unexpected support yesterday from a pretty surprising source and I’m gonna come back and tell you how you can support her activation and her work.  In the meantime – you can follow her activity on Facebook and I think you’ll see why I want to see her work grow.

Love ya Mama Dread.  You all that!

Wild Aunts Guide to Life — April 7, 2016

Wild Aunts Guide to Life

I wrote this Guide To Life when my first niece left for college to mitigate potential crisis.  I have been asked for it several times since so I thought I would post it

1. Don’t lose your keys. Ever. It’s also a good idea to not lose your ID, your purse and your phone but stuff happens. If you focus on never losing your keys you probably won’t lose the other stuff. Make photocopies of all your Identification documents and keep them in a safe place.
2. Don’t walk in parking lots, garages or around the campus by yourself. Ever. Especially at night.
3. Don’t trust everybody.
4. Trust your gut. If you don’t feel 100% about something or someone – walk away.
5. Make a safety plan for everything. Put your friends on notice that you have one and encourage them to do the same.
6. Don’t talk bad about other people. Even if they talk bad about you. Particularly other women.
7. Don’t get pushed around physically, spiritually, emotionally or psychologically. Ever.
8. Don’t drink and drive. And don’t ride with someone else who has been drinking. Ever.
9. Don’t let your friends leave you by yourself if you don’t feel safe. Don’t leave your friends by themselves and if one if them disappears for more than 15 minutes go look for them with another friend. If they are gone longer than 30 minutes – notify the person in charge. If the person in charge doesn’t do something appropriate – call 911. You’ll only have to do this once and then everybody will know they shouldn’t disappear without letting someone know where they are going and when they will be back.
10. Treat yourself well and put yourself first.

I love you.

Aunt Alex

Scale? What Scale? — September 11, 2015

Scale? What Scale?

I’ve had a pretty bad relationship with my bathroom scale for – well – forever.  I really don’t care for scales in general. Or math or measurements or portion control or counting calories or carbs or fat grams or whatever tricks are played to calculate my self worth in relation to my body image.  And at the same time I am facinated by the numbers games – or really mind games – that I am willing to play to register my dedication to the process.  In the days before smart phones, I kept a food diary and I was less than accurate about my food budget.  The new apps on my iPhone are much more condusive to accurate reporting my intake of not only calories and other nutritional info, they are generous with calculating the activities that burn the calories and carbs.  I’ve actually lost two of those expensive wearable fitness accessories that communicate steps, sleep and activity.  Maybe it was for the best.


In fact – I have signed up for so many of these diet and fitness apps that I frequently get alarming emails admonishing me to enter what I had for breakfast or asking me if I plan to go to the gym in accordance with my profile goals, or even announcing a new sequence of ab exercises I have mysteriusly “unlocked” by virtue of being a “member”.   One of them even tells me how much I would weigh in 5 weeks if I were to have the exact same food and exercise routine every day after I proudly complete my entry for that day.  Some of them sync with each other and others don’t so really all I have managed to do is feel incompetant.  But feeling incompetant to manage my addiction for electronic apps that tell me how I should be feeling have not really impacted my actual fitness results.

After 7 and one half months of going to the gym every day (I’ve only missed 6 days total when the gym was closed completely and 2 days when I drove there and just couldn’t get out of the car) I can easily say I feel pretty good.  I don’t feel satisfied that I am making the kind of progress I would like to have made but there is a deep satisfaction in the achievement of simply showing up that supercedes my reaction to the reflection I get in the mirror and the number on the scale.  Spending this first hour of my day at this independently owned gym on a treadmill or reminding myself to count the number of reps is where I find sanity in the numbers.  Even when the scale doesn’t say a number I’d like, there is an overwhelming peace in this place.  Its become a refuge.  A shelter.  Even the physically brutal time with my trainer twice a week is something I look forward to because all of my preconceived notions of what kind of brain a personal trainer would have have been dashed.  We have breathless (or rather I am breathless and he picks up my counting reps slack) discussions of philosophy and community and humanity and often transition to business discussions of ROI or joke about how nice it would be if we could do business without clients or employees.  It has become my preferred form of therapy.  It is making me a better person even if not the skinny person I was hoping.

I still have my bathroom scale although I have been setting it in the bathtub behind the shower curtain in an effort to honor my pledge to only weigh in once a month instead of 3 or four times daily. I lost 8 pounds in two months for a grand total loss of 23 in 7 and a half months and I recite “MUSCLE WEIGHS MORE HAN FAT” out loud three times before getting on.  I take three readings at each weigh in to satisfy myself that it is as accurate as its going to get and immediately pet my beloved golden retriever Sugar Bear afterwards, who stoically has accompanied me for these dreaded weigh ins, afterwards.  She loves me regardless of the number on the scale.

My husband and lover (same person) of nearly 15 years has been guardedly respectful about this process.  His love for me has never been measured by the number on a scale or the size of my jeans.  I think it is partly because the gym and the trainer and the dedication I have demonstrated the past 7 1/2 months has curbed my desire to power-shop for silly outfits which I will never wear.  I have a closet full of designer labels from size 4 to size 14 that still have tags on them and I’m not even sure I would wear most of them if I could.

The other number in my life that is not a reflection of who I am is my age which recently rolled over to 51 years.  Some days I feel older than that pesky number and some days I feel like I am in my mid 20’s.  If you have read earlier posts you will know that I have been taking HGH injections as part of an anti-aging regimen and I have reported a general overall sense of well being in addition to smoother skin and lasting energy.  I don’t give all the credit to the HGH, but I think it has been a large part of my devotion to making the rest of my lifestyle match that effort and expense.

I know my relationship with fitness and health numbers are going to always be a part of my life but it is no longer the method that determines my mental attitude when taking on my daily activities.  I have accepted my age and my weight as a part of my overall desire to be a better person and I feel ready to take on new challenges that reflect all that I am becoming.  A recent visit to my physician for the whole annual physical was a positive reinforcement of my progress when my blood tests, sugar and cholesteral and all the other “lady stuff” came back with an all clear.  And if the doctor says I’m doing well…well than I must be doing well.

A Word About Sunscreen… — June 24, 2015

A Word About Sunscreen…

In college my friends used to call me the :SPF Police” because every trip to the beach or pool or picnic or lake would be accompanied by a huge bag of a variety of sunscreens in a variety of levels of protection and I would hand out the appropriate bottle and be kind of a pain in the ass about making them use it.  Of course I think the strongest level of SPF was 15 back then and I think I got a little misty eyed when a 30SPF lib balm appeared.  I used it on my nose.  I continue to buy lots of levels of sunscreen and although I like to try different formulas, my hands down favorite is Bain de Soleil SPF 4 and 8 in the Orange Jelly formula.  It comes in a tube and it is super luxurious and I have not seen it ANYWHERE in a couple of years…I miss it.

Now this may seem a little weird – even to people who know me – because I don’t burn in the sun.  Never have.  Even as a child my mother would always comment on how I turned “brown as an Indian” every summer.  But I watched both my sisters literally fry and get blisters on their noses, shoulders and back and it always looked so painful.  When I discovered sun screen in beauty school I thought it was a great excuse to use more body lotion and I used it daily from head to toe.

So imagine my surprise when I came in yesterday after spending less than 2 hours by the pool at a resort in Daytona Beach to painfully red blotchy skin on my face, neck, shoulders and legs.  Ouch!  I’m glad I never had to deal with this before but I figured it might possibly be a result of the HGH regimen I started last week.

Internet searches did not make any reference to this as a possible side effect but since there is so little information about it – especially when women are using it – I thought it might be good to mention.  It makes sense to me that there might be some sun sensitivity because of the almost immediate changes in my skin after starting the regimen.  Last night I applied several layers of moisturizer – letting them dry in between – and this morning I woke up to my usual tan – no redness.  I made sure I used a stronger SPF while we were at the pool today and snagged a chair under an umbrella just to be sure i didn’t get burned again.  The special care worked and we spent 5 or 6 hours out by the pool today with no ill effects.

Everybody should wear sunscreen every day – even when there’s no sun!  Reapply often – whether you get in the water or not – and make sure you don’t forget your ears!  Also – replace sunscreen every season.  Throw out the old stuff and spring for new.  Old sunscreen is the same as wearing no sunscreen.  Below are some of my favorite brands of sunscreen as well as a couple of sun-free bronzers when you can’t hit the beach.

Clarins Sun Care – $$$$$ – Great sun care line of products.  They go on nice and last extremely well.  This is my number one brand for boaters.  The Clarins formulas stand up very well to salt water getting sprayed in your face.  Yes – you will still need to reapply regularly but it doesn’t “sweat” off as quickly a cheaper brands.  I like both the SPF 15 and SPF 30 for faces…its a little thicker than the body sunscreen but has some pore minimizing characteristics that are nice.  They also make a sun screen stick if you are really lazy in a 30 SPF but it will melt if you aren’t careful  My husband Michael likes the sticks because they are easy and he doesn’t like the greasy feel of sun lotion.  Ok…AND he’s lazy about sun protection.

Do NOT use Clarins Bronzers…Streaky! Streaky! Streaky!  And they turn Safety Orange.  All bad things.

Panama Jack – $$$ – You can usually find this brand of sun care at a surf shop or hotel gift shop.  Its good stuff using a lot of natural ingredients and it was originally made for surfers so a lot of it is quasi-waterproof.

Australian Gold – $$ – You can get this anywhere and it is affordable and goes on nice and even.  It smells very nice but it has to be reapplied quite often if you are actually in the sun and definitely after getting out of the water.  I like all of the – formulas that have the bronzer in it – SPF4. 8 and 15.  The dry oils are nice too but I do not like the aerosol sprays.  They spray everywhere but where you point them and most of the sunscreen ends up blowing away in the wind.

Coppertone – $$ – Not a fan.  Does anyone else think it smells like you just left a chemical plant?  As for their bronzers…just say NO!

Neutrogena – $$$ but should be $$ – I like Neutrogena but I think it is over priced.  It – like Australian Gold needs to be reapplied often.  Bronzer collection is pretty decent.  Turns a nice gentle color and lasts about 5 days if you are careful.

HEMP Bronzer – $$$$ – Nice stuff if you can find it!  Its almost always at professional beauty supply houses so go get your hairdressers license and enjoy!  Never orange.  Smooth even application.

Fake Bake – also a professional product but you can sometimes find it at Ulta or Sephora.  It goes on nice but can turn a little orange on very light skin.

Health and Fitness gets a BOOST from HGH! — June 22, 2015

Health and Fitness gets a BOOST from HGH!

So yeah.  I turned 50 last August and times were bad.  Not “Natural Disaster” or “Permanently Scarred for Life” bad but menopausal, sad and depressed bad.  I’d gained the 50 menopause pounds (What?  Thats not a thing?) and I felt like my skin was starting to melt regardless of whatever expensive potions I’d been using.  This was strange for me because I am by nature a pretty happy person – and I don’t allow myself to feel bummed out for long.  And I had never let my weight skyrocket like it had – I’ve been pretty good about taking care of myself.  I taught aerobics in my 20’s – in the jazzersize days and I’m relatively careful about what I eat until the past few years.  But the past two years I felt completely out of control and by Christmas of 2014 I knew that it was going to require some real intensity to change the path of things if I was going to survive this phase of my life.  I never thought I would still be alive at 50 – but it was clear that if I was to grow old gracefully I needed to drag my dignity out of the ditch I was in.

In January I started going to the gym and almost immediately caught a really nasty cold that literally took my breath away for a few weeks.  By February I knew I had lost some momentum but I thought I’d head back to the gym and just see if I could rally on my own.  My husband suggested I try out a gym a friend of his owned and I immediately dismissed it as “a meat-head, bodybuilder boys gym” but his friend offered to let me just use the cardio room and assured me no one would try to trick me into doing any dead-lifts.  I was reluctant but I agreed and showed up on a Tuesday in some pretty ratty workout clothes I could still manage to get my fat ass into.  After 35 minutes of walking no where at 2.8 miles per hour I was a weak sweaty mess and my feet hurt.  I was whining before I even got out the door.  It took a good week before I was able to feel like I was going to survive this brutal 35 minutes – gradually increasing the elevation to burn an extra 25 calories than the day before and then 50 extra calories and then a hundred extra calories.  By the end of the first week I was burning 300 calories in 35 minutes and I felt pretty good about it.  The worst part was that I was sooooo bored.

The second week I found out that Netflix had released a new season of House of Cards almost a year before and I was really upset that I hadn’t seen it so I loaded the tablet in my gym bag and set it on top of the treadmill while I groaned my way through 35 minutes of cardio.  But alas!  The episode wasn’t over!  There was no possible way I could wait until tomorrow to see how Claire was going to manage Franks insatiable appetite for power!  So I ratcheted up the treadmill for another 25 minutes and huffed and puffed my way to the end of the episode.

And the proverbial tables turned.  I no longer could wait until the next morning when I could get back to the gym and watch another episode and I figured that while I was there I might as well get the most out f it as I could.  So I went faster and at higher elevations until I was easily burning 600 in 53 minutes.  And then it became a game where the burned calories became more important than the time I had left on the Netflix episodes.  When Claire and Frank closed out the season of House of Cards I watched 3 seasons of Luther.  Then a series about a crazy family and then the first season of Reign and a really cute series written and produced by Tina Fey.  Every day – seven days a week – I would head to the gym first thing in the morning and negotiate my performance to coincide with a random Netflix drama.  I am no longer bored while doing cardio.  I am on my 5th week adding in weight training 2 days a week and there have been a couple of days I have found myself at the gym twice in one day.  I’ve lost around 20 ponds but more importantly – I am regaining my swagger and I have more energy and enthusiasm for the day.

I talked with my Doctor and my Trainer about supplements to increase the effectiveness of all the work I’m putting in.  And in keeping with my tradition of non-traditional therapies – I wanted to know more about a particular hormone therapy called HGH.  I had worked at a day spa in Miami in the late 90’s when HGH was primarily something you could only find in Hollywood.  Human Growth Hormone is naturally produced by the pituitary gland and starts to decrease around age 25-30.  It was expensive back then and was hotly debated as to its effectiveness and – in truth – its safety.  As with anything – its not to be used indiscriminately and it should never be used to excess.  What is it supposed to do?  The benefits can vary from person to person and are pretty wide ranging.  An increase in lean muscle and a decrease in fat  is the leading effect but other benefits are better skin and increased energy.  I started a low dose HGH regimen on Friday and started noting that my mood was – shall I say – QUITE pleasant.  On Sunday my workout seemed to be easier so I increased the intensity.  And it doesn’t seem possible but I thought the skin on my face – particularly around my eyes – had a better texture.  This was confirmed when I caught my husband looking at me strangely and asked me if I was using different makeup.  I was not.

There is very little research posted online regarding women and HGH therapy.  The clinics I called to ask for more information started at around $1500 for a consultation and estimated it would cost around $1400 a month for a 5 on 2 off regimen.  This may sound expensive but in the late 90’s this same treatment started around $15000.  Most users notice improvements within a month.  Several noticed sooner but were not willing to commit that it was due to the HGH.  This type of therapy should really start a lot earlier than age 50 as anti-aging is not the same as reverse aging.  And its absolutely imperative NOT to overdo it.  The side effects of overdosing can be grotesque and they are irreversible.  Hormone testing for HGH can be done for around $300.  If you have a family history of cancer than my research indicates this is not for you.

I’ll be reporting my own progress in hopes that other women can benefit from this therapy if it is appropriate.