Exercising with limited movement

knee brace

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I can’t run. I can’t jump. I can’t do lunges, squats, or burpees.* So I can’t do most dance-based exercise or aerobics or standard-issue calisthenics that involve things like jumping jacks. What are folks like us to do? Those of us who are barred from popular exercise forms by something a little bigger than a lack of willpower? I can’t advise everybody, but here’s what I have learned after a lifetime of recurring pain and increasingly limited mobility.

There’s always Pilates. Pilates is good stuff. It doesn’t require any equipment. It is soothing, like yoga, but without the pesky cultural appropriation issues (please Google if confused). It is mainly performed laying down but can be easily adapted to work from a seated position. It is just about as low impact as you can possibly get. Pilates tends to focus on the core, on breathing and proper alignment and smooth motion. The goal is long, lean, supple muscle. And yes, you can totally work up a sweat doing Pilates.

When I’m having a really bad time of it with my knees and I can’t even get into the standard starting position of the Pilates DVD I work with, but I still want to work out, I do Jessica Smith’s chair workout, modifying as necessary. (There are times, when I’ve overdone it in the garden or foolishly tried to clean or do home improvement without kneepads, when the simple leg movements in this video are too much, too, and I simply skip them while continuing to flail my upper body.) Jessica Smith’s YouTube channel has tons of fun, no-equipment, low-impact workouts.

FitnessBlender is another great YouTube channel with hundreds of videos at varying impact and intensity levels. I do a lot of their stretching routines for cool downs.

Incidentally, the Pilates DVD I use is Kristin McGee’s Pilates for Beginners. I have been using this video for years and, miraculously, I have tired of neither the music nor Ms. McGee’s voice, which is a fucking miracle, as anyone with experience using fitness DVDs will know. I found it by checking out every Pilates DVD the library had available, weeding out the ones that angered me or just didn’t motivate me. This was the clear winner, so I bought a copy online.

If you have advice on how to work out around a mobility issue and how to keep it fun (and cheap) please please please comment below.

— Amanda

*I have detached bone fragments in both knees. On the left, the chunk is on the outside of my knee, detached from my tibial tubercle (one of the knobs at the top of the shin bone), below my patella, giving that knee the appearance of being extra knobby. (Unresolved Osgood-Schlatter Disease.) This chunk of bone sometimes distresses and irritates my patellar tendon, which stretches over it. This is my good knee.

In my right knee the bone chunk is on the inside of the joint. Part of one of my femoral condyles (the knobs at the end on the thigh bone) has detached and remains inside my knee joint, causing daily pain and fucking up my cartilage. This is my bad knee.

Kneeling, running, and jumping inflame the cartilage inside my knees and the ligaments on their outsides. It can potentially crush the fragments further, detach new fragments, or cause the fragments to move and lock my joints. 


I’m the boss of me, but it might be too much responsibility

teal hair 1 wm

My hair matches my cardigan! And look — I’m wearing both eye makeup and contact lenses! That hasn’t happened since my wedding in 2007! So much crunchy gel! So many exclamation points! Wow!

Somehow it only recently occurred to me that as a recluse self-employed person married to a person whose hair color used to cycle through the rainbow and who prefers to sing “What a Wonderful World” with the lyrics “I see hair of blue, black lipstick, too,” I would face no penalty, and likely only buttloads of encouragement, if I were to dye some or all of my hair a color not genetically inheritable by my species. When I mentioned to Matt that I had been thinking of getting a Rogue streak or a band of green in my hair he replied “Do it! Do it!” And then, pointing his spoon at me and looking grave, “Do it,” in a threatening tone.

I am happy to report that, while it was an incredibly time-consuming process (particularly for someone who has only ever used boxed dye kits from the health and beauty aisle of the supermarket) it was cheap and easy and not much messier than boxed dye. I’m afraid it might be addictive, though. I’m already trying to figure out where else I’d like a pop of color on my noggin.
When I turned 30 I decided I was going to stop dyeing my hair. I let it do its thing for about two months before I freaked the hell out and ran to the store for a box of my beloved Garnier Nutrisse. Under 10 years of #20 Soft Black was a startling amount of gray. Asked to estimate a percentage I said 50, but after a little online research I am forced to admit it’s more like 20%, but that’s a lot to get used to all at once. I dialed down the pigment to #40 Dark Brown for a slightly less garish contrast with my wintertime pallor, but I gave up on the no-dye experiment. Now that I’ve had a little taste of the good stuff, though, I have a new plan. When I turn 40 I will do as my favorite librarian of all time did: skip the bleach and dye just the gray a candy color. Granted Mrs. Anderson had an advantage by having naturally super-black Asian hair, but my natural color is still pretty darn dark (think Hershey bar) so it’ll probably work. Man, if I could be half as cool as Mrs. Anderson . . .
Incidentally, do you know how hard it is to take a selfie? I took fourteen pictures in the bathroom before I decided that getting a decent angle was going to be impossible.

And then another 6 in the living room. You can see me getting progressively less thrilled with the process.

Flimsy excuse to try making an animated gif, eh? This is what procrastination looks like, folks. When you’re supposed to be editing you’d be amazed at how productive you become in every other area of your life. My bathrooms have never been this clean. I’m even thinking of vacuuming out my car.

— Amanda

P.S. Gifs were made at GIFMaker.me, which was super easy to use and thoughtfully did not slap a watermark on my finished product.

I wear a cup

A warning to my dad and anyone else who’s not keen on reading about menstruation in general and mine in particular: you may want to skip this post. If you feel up to it, though, by all means read on! This is human biology: the topic and your interest in it are nothing to be ashamed of.

Continue reading

A post for all y’all who wear bras

NOTE: From a purely mathematical standpoint this is all very interesting, but this post may contain a biiiiiit too much information about my rack for my dad’s tastes. Be ye warned!

This came up on my Tumblr dash a few days ago and while watching I had one of those “Aha!” moments. She says that what she is telling you may sound nutty but to me it made perfect sense. Why in the world would the measurement of your “upper bust” (the circumference of your chest under your pits and above your boobs) have anything at all to do with the fitting of a garment that is sized based on the circumference of your chest under your boobs and the (gasp!) actual size of your boobs? My wild guess is that this erroneous (and sadly common) method of “fitting” bras was developed by lingerie department sales women who belonged in some other department because they were leery of touching other women’s breasticles.

Whatever the reason that we’ve all been lied to for all these years about what size bra we should be wearing, we are now free! But I should warn you: many of you will balk at the results of your self-fitting as guided by this video. I have been told by salesladies from JC Penney to Victoria’s Secret that I am a 36 C. Ever since graduation (both from high school and B cups) that’s what I’ve been buying without fail. If it was too tight, rode up, or gave me double boob (also known as “quad boob” or “spillage”) I blamed the manufacturer, not the size. This seems so silly to me now – it’s like I had been told 15 years ago that I had size 6 feet and I have spent this whole time stretching out shoes, cursing brands, and crumpling my toes without ever questioning the size I had been arbitrarily assigned.

According to this system I am a 32 F. Does that sound completely insane? 36 C to 32 F? If so, then lemme ‘splain you another thing that the great and mysterious “they” don’t seem to have passed on to the salesladies that have ill-fitted us: cup size and band size are dependent on one another. The cup size is not a constant (mathematically speaking). There is no standard measurement for an “A” (for instance) all by its lonesome. Cup size is meaningless without band size because you are not (as I always thought) mounting standardized boob-holders (cups) on varying lengths of band. Cup size is determined by the difference in circumference of your rib cage and actual boobage. Thus, in my case, 39 – 32 = 7″ difference. 7″ = F (or DDDD or G, depending on manufacturer, but let’s keep it simple for now). In the (correctly sized) bra I purchased today the cups do not look Dolly Parton-sized. They are markedly larger than the cups on the C I wore to the store, but they would never garner a double-take on my clothesline. (Seven inches of bust does not actually stick straight out from one’s rib cage like torpedoes, you know. There is a fair amount of distribution . . . bilaterally speaking.) As I suspected (and saw on the rack in the store) the F cups on a 38″ or 42″ banded bra are bigger again than those in the 32″ that I brought home. Not necessarily deeper, mind you, because there’s still the same amount of (ahem) protrusion, but they are much wider to accommodate the much wider mammaries that they must support.

Confused? No matter. Just follow the instructions in the video and take your new size to the store and experience a life-altering moment. Try not to scream in the fitting room. A silent freak-out dance will suffice. When I got the right bra on my chest it felt like that moment after you’ve gotten off an international flight (that’s been delayed on both ends) and slogged through the warren-like bowels of a strange airport for another several hours and have just flung yourself face first into the(comped) mattress of a queen-sized bed at the Hilton. Sweet, beautiful oh-god-imma-stay-like-this-forever relief.

(Please do peel it off yourself before you attempt to ring it up, though, or things will get a little strange for the sales staff.)

— Amanda

Hold it


I have failed Selfie 101. For starters, I should have taken a picture yesterday when I was all fluffy and voluminous. But I think you can almost make out (through the blurriness) how shiny and almost-curly my hair is. This is dry, crunchy hair, before finger-combing through the initial gel stiffness.


What appears to be a rogue curl sticking out of my temple is in fact the camera strap dangling down from my raised arm. For those of you who are wondering: yes, I dye my hair. Religiously. I’m going gray at warp factor ten. The crew have abandoned the ship and the disembodied voice of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry is calmly counting down the self destruct sequence.

I have changed my hair gel! This is big news because I make my own. For the last three years or so I have used plain, unflavored gelatine as my “sculpting product” but I have recently made the switch to flax seed gel. It needs to be kept in the fridge between uses (truthfully, I should have kept my gelatine gel in there, too, but I didn’t). It’s not any more time-consuming or expensive to make the flax seed gel and it, like the gelatine, does not have any noticeable smell on its own. But best of all is that when I really gob it on it works just like the storebought stuff in the plastic tube, but without flaking. Plus, the omega-3 fatty acids in flax seeds really and truly is good for your hair and skin, whereas the long-held idea that gelatine is good for hair and nails turns out to have been a marketing ploy that dates back to the era before enforceable truth in advertising laws.

Here’s how I made a week’s worth of flax seed gel:

Combine 1 tablespoon whole flax seeds and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. stir constantly (to keep the seeds from permanently adhering themselves to your pan) for about five minutes or until the water begins to thicken and the spoon leaves a “comet trail” of froth (like the stuff that forms on top of your fruit when you make jam or jelly). Promptly pour the stuff through cheesecloth and squeeze to extract all the gel. Don’t wait too long or the stuff turns into Flubber and you can’t sieve the seeds out. Store in the fridge between applications.

Here’s the warning: the texture of the finished product is pretty gross. Very mucous-y. Exceptionally snot-like. It doesn’t bother me, but if, like someone with whom I cohabitate, you are very sensitive to heinous textures, you might not want to attempt this.

— Amanda

Vintage hair removal


I have wanted a safety razor for a long, long time. I don’t have the skills to use a straight razor and I’m tired of bags of plastic sticks with skin scrapers on one end. Lots of companies still make safety razors, but they also abound in junk and antique stores. However, I kept running across the ones that were either gunky bronze or had the little serrations like a hedge trimmer, which I incorrectly assumed were for giving yourself film noir stubble. (It turns out that these are called “comb-edged” razors and they still give you the highly sought-after baby’s-bottom-smoothness, but are recommended for men with especially bristly faces.) Matt found a closed-edge, double-sided stainless steel jobber in great condition at a junk store over the holidays and put it under the tree for me. I didn’t have a chance to use it until today, though, because my blades only just arrived. Razor blades for razors (as opposed to razor blades for paint scraping or craft implements) are no longer sold at the corner drug store,* so I had to resort to online commerce. On the upside, the blades are ridiculously cheap and plentiful on Amazon. (Seriously. I paid $0.04 for two packages of ten new blades.)

Which brings me to my next point. How did these things get replaced by the plastic things most folks use today? Having just used this thing I can tell you that convenience and ease of use – whatever Gillette, Bic, and Schick may tell you – are not an issue. (See next paragraph for raving.) You buy one shaver (mine was $5 or $10 but fancy new ones range from $40 to hundreds each for the platinum or elk horn-handled models) and then feed it blades at a cost of practically nil to somewhere around $0.10 each and it lasts you a lifetime. Somebody may have used my razor their entire adult life before it ended up in a junk store by way of an estate auction. I think the profit factor is definitely the motivator here. What red-blooded capitalist wants to sell people one razor and a few packs of blades a year for chump change when they could make a cheap plastic handle and then charge $20 for a handful of complicated cartridges? Or, worse, they get you to do what I did: too goddamn lazy to change cartridges, I bought the giant bags of entirely disposable razors. (Al Gore has a place reserved for me in his special environmental offenders ring of hell.)

Well screw all that angst and worry. I have a way better product now. Here’s the rave you’ve patiently waited for: this thing practically shaved my legs for me. I’m blind as a bat without my glasses, and the steamy, dim light of the shower is especially difficult for me. (Yes, I gave this dangerous-looking implement its inaugural run in the shower. I shaved with Ivory soap, too. Why do a test run in less than authentic conditions? If I’m going to shave my legs at all it’s going to happen like this.) I was afraid I was going to end up looking like Michael Palin’s barber character from the Flying Circus, but it turns out that you’d have to actually try to harm yourself with this bad boy. I watched a dozen videos and read a dozen articles before attempting this feat, and one thing they all advised was to “let the weight of the razor be all the pressure you apply.” Which, like a new knitting stitch, didn’t make any sense until I tried it. The razor is really heavy – I wouldn’t be surprised if it has a secret lead core – and if you just touch it to your skin, holding the end of the handle very lightly, and drag it around (in straight lines, mind – no side to side stuff) it pivots where your fingers grip the handle and glides over your skin, leaving absolutely nothing in its wake. What takes some getting used to is not the technique, as it turns out, but the sensation – or lack thereof. No scraping feel. You can’t feel the hairs being cut. Why? Because hair doesn’t have nerves. It’s dead, Jim. What you feel when you shave with a regular razor is skin cells being shaved off. (Which isn’t a bad thing, actually –if you are a light touch and use a sharp blade you get outstanding exfoliation. If you push down or use a dull blade you get razor burn.)

And for those of you who learned in school that the safety razor was invented by Gillette purposely for troops in WWI, I learned today that our teachers were only half right. As the name implies, the safety razor was originally intended “to reduce the level of skill needed for injury-free shaving, thereby reducing the reliance on professional barbers for providing that service and raising grooming standards”.” Patents for safety razors were applied for as early as 1847 (and not by Gillette). But the rest is largely true. Gillette invented the double-edged razor blade and was awarded a military supply contract to manufacture the 3.5 million safety razors issued in personal grooming kits to troops. Why worry about the state of your facial hair when the Germans are shelling you? Because they were also lobbing in canisters of mustard gas, and a gas mask is only as effective as its seal. For a good seal against the skin, smooth cheeks are essential. When the men came home they brought the kits, and their new shaving habit, with them

— Amanda

Source: “Safety razor”. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_razor

*Note from the future (08/27/15): though they aren’t listed on the website, my local Rite Aid does now carry generic safety razor blades at a reasonable price.

Remodeling my hair


M’Amélie chérie. This collage created using stolen internet images and Fotor.com.

I have been hemming and hawing over this for ages, but I have finally committed to it: I am growing out my bangs. I’m not getting rid of them, though. I wouldn’t dream of it – my bangs are well and truly a part of my face. I can hardly remember not having them. They hide my expansive forehead (my dad says that in our family we have fiveheads) and draw attention to another family trait: Jack Nicholson-like eyebrows.

I love my bangs, but they have been hell-bent on scalp domination. When I first had them carved out of my once-thick head of curls they began, at their deepest point, an inch past my hairline. With glacial speed, the part has worked its way back from there, advancing one stray follicle at a time, as I cut my own hair for the last ten years. Now the apex of the U-shaped part is precisely at the tippy top of my skull. When I look directly ahead the part is invisible in the mirror. I estimate that more than one quarter and perhaps as much as one third of the hair on my head is tied up in laying flat over my forehead. This is hair that could be better occupied giving the illusion of volume in its natural state: soft, wide-gauge ringlets.

So I’m growing the mess out and gouging in a new, much, much shallower part. And I like my bangs super duper short, too, so I’ll be giving myself my beloved Amélie’s bangs. (Just the bangs, though. My hair’s not as kinky as it used to be but I still think I would be inviting a whitegirl afro by chopping it as short as Amélie’s infamous wedge.) It will be a trial, I know, but it shouldn’t take too long because the longer part of my bangs is already 5 inches long (just measured it right this very second) and the bangs I want will only be about 1 inch long!

Wish me luck. From what I hear from other folks who have grown out bangs it can be a royal asspain. Thank goodness I have a stockpile of scarves and hats.

I promise before and after photos!

— Amanda