Wednesday, April 30, 2008


After working for the Government, Financial Industry and Healthcare I saw every acronym under the sun; or so I thought. While driving around Australia, roadside billboards encouraged motorists to practise (yes, with the English “s”) two AFD’s a week for better health. The billboard gave little to no hint what an AFD was, depicting photos of couples enjoying a walk together or families out at the beach. There was such a frequency of the messages as we drove from Sydney to the vineyards of Hunter Valley that my curiosity quickly became overwhelming; I had to know what an AFD was. I don’t remember who exactly provided the AFD education, it could have been a waitress at a pub, a friend or random person on the street, but it was surprising and amusing to find out the definition behind the mysterious acronym; Alcohol Free Day.

Drinking is as much part of the Australian culture as big portions are to Americans. Everywhere you go there is a pub brimming with men and women alike enjoying a pint of their favorite beer, playing darts, engaging in conversation and relaxing with family and mates. This laid back part of the Australian culture and their ability to create a community over cocktails, is one of the many things I love about the country and its people. Teetotalers would definitely declare that the entire citizenry of the Island nation has a serious drinking problem but their drinking is no more a problem then in any other place in the world. Actually, I think the Australians are much more social in their drinking and in my experience are much less apt to hide it or imbibe alone.

Apparently the frequency of their socializing is a big enough problem that the Government found it necessary to start a public awareness campaign aimed a reducing the number of days people drink and not necessarily the amount. What a country! I started wondering deep down inside under all this European blood was an Australian just waiting to come out. Encouraging people to put down their bottles 2 days a week is like an open invitation to drink 5 days a week. If a person in the United States admitted to drinking 5 or more days a week they would be met with concerned looks, sneers and rejection. As one of my Australian friends has pointed out, that is one of the many differences between a country founded by convicts and a country founded by puritans; convicts are more fun.

Upon returning home from my adventure down under we could not help but share the AFD public service message with all our friends, many who thought we were joking. Public health campaigns in the United States usually focus on nutrition, exercise or the benefits of breastfeeding. It is comical to think of how an AFD campaign would be received in the US, the types of studies needed to prove any real health benefits, and if it is even necessary in a culture more focused on short term binges then daily drinking.

Coming from a family that often enjoys too much of a good thing and always watching my caloric intake, I thought I was all too aware of my drinking patterns. The AFD campaign opened my eyes to some interesting personal patterns that included having a drink (or two) after a particularly stressful day at work, frequent attendance at happy hours, a jam packed social schedule and an inability to turn down a free drink. Suddenly, when paying very close attention to my AFDs vs. ADs (alcohol days), I realized that after joking around that 2 AFDs hardly seemed like much of a sacrifice that I often didn’t adhere to this simple guideline.

"Stay busy, get plenty of exercise, and don't drink too much. Then again, don't drink too little."
-Herman "Jackrabbit" Smith-Johannsen

ADs were often just a glass of wine with dinner which aligns with many medical studies that show a single glass of wine daily actually has plenty of health benefits. Unfortunately, my attempts to enjoy the finer wines and spirits of life in daily moderation are just that; attempts. I easily succumb to peer pressure and it doesn’t take much of an arm twist to convince me to have another at happy hour, a party, or dinner. This unfortunate trait to enjoy too much of a good thing makes it impossible to follow the healthy guideline to have a single glass of wine a day. Perhaps the Australian Government, in their AFD public health campaign, realized that their citizens are also unable to embrace moderation and opted instead to encourage weekly holidays from alcohol. Two AFDs a week is a modest goal and even with a jam packed social calendar I am finding it easier and easier to have three or four AFDs a week which is helping out with the size of my waistline and my wallet. People no longer assume if I bypass the wine or beer for an ice tea at an event that I must be sick or, *gasp*, pregnant. All it takes these days is one simple explanation; it’s an AFD.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quote of the Week

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.
- Albert Einstein

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Taking the relationship offline

The closest I get to online dating is helping friends find a good match, write an eye-catching profile or recover from a bad date. Having picked up my husband the old fashion way, in a bar, my knowledge of online dating etiquette is quite limited. While our long distance relationship forced us to do a fair amount of “courting” through email, we did not have to wrestle with common online dating dilemmas: who to write, what to say, when to wink, if to take the relationship “off-line”, and how to meet in person. In the past I used to think that online dating was a passing fad, but the large number of my friends navigating the complex world of, eHarmony, Yahoo! Personals,,, Millionaire Match, and a host of other websites is proving me wrong; online dating is probably the most common dating tool among the tech-set these days. I cannot help but wonder, with the millions of people meeting people online year after year, has the overall rules of dating changed?

It is obvious that how people meet has changed, but ultimately “real” relationships should not have transformed with the onslaught of dating and social networking websites. Whether you met online, in college, at work, through a friend, at the gym, on an airplane, or at a bar, there is a certain point in every relationship that how you met no longer matters. It is at that point that the rules of internet relationships get replaced by the more traditional tenants of any friendship, romantic or otherwise: respect, honesty, trust, loyalty, admiration, understanding, shared interests, and open communication. Unfortunately it seems like these important pillars of strong relationships are forgotten in a technology age where people have “friends” they never meet, and where everyone can all too easily lie about their backgrounds, looks, personality, interests and dreams.

It is easy to develop very casual relationships online and make “friends” on Facebook, MySpace, Multiply or any other social networking site or chat board, but this same casualness with a group of people who might share your love of underwater basket weaving should not change how you handle your flesh and blood friends. When I say handle I mean not replacing meaningful conversations, face-to-face meetings, heartfelt phone calls, and the delivery of important news through impersonal measures like email or, god forbid, text messaging. It is one thing to have an online relationship, but once you have developed a true bond with a person and started seeing, or having sex, with them outside of cyberspace, rules that govern relationships should adhere to the wisdoms of traditional tried and true friendships. It is okay to start a relationship online, but once the relationship develops into something serious it is not okay to end it that way. Breaking up with a friend or lover through email or text shows a lack of courage, respect and character, even if you met over email in the first place. Technology might change the way we meet and connect, but it is so important to remember people are more then profiles and avatars who can be “de-friended” with a click of a button. We must each fight the urge to take the easy way out of hard conversations to ensure a future for what truly keeps humanity together; love and friendship.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Quote of the Week

Passion is universal humanity. Without it religion, history, romance and art would be useless.
- Honoré de Balzac

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nutra-Not So Sweet

Daily bone-crushing headaches caused blurry vision and sleepless nights. These headaches would start at the base of my skull and quickly progress to my brow bone; my head felt like it was split into two halves. Medical Professionals were perplexed by the location and frequency of the headaches and ordered a gamut of tests to get to the root of their cause. Blood tests, x-rays and cat scans proved inconclusive leading the doctors to blame stress, prescribing nothing but muscle relaxers and pain killers to ease the discomfort until I was able to address and combat my stressful environment. Soon other symptoms started taking over my body; mood swings, lethargy, joint stiffness, swelling, and tingling to name just a few. Blood tests ruled out lupus, Lyme disease, Epstein Barr (chronic fatigue syndrome), and rheumatoid arthritis and MS was ruled out after a re-review of my previous cat scan. Officially, the diagnosis on the joint pain was carpal tunnel syndrome, but fibromyalgia was still considered a possibility. Deep in my heart I knew stress and my desk job could not be the causes of my health problems and I grew increasingly despondent with the thought of a life filled with pain.

Happy-go-lucky Chelle was replaced by just trying to get through life Chelle. Each day was a painful struggle and behind my forced smile was a miserable person. To make a concerted effort at normalcy I made plans throughout the summer to visit family and friends, finding comfort in their love and hospitality. During one trip I realized by weekend’s end something shocking; my head felt fine. It was somewhat ironic that the best I felt in nearly a year was after a weekend of drinking nothing but wine and beer and eating a cornucopia of delicious, fatty foods. Could it be that living healthy was the culprit in my health problems and the cure was eating crap and drinking like a fish?

My return to work after a long weekend away followed the usual routine; wake up, make coffee, shower, eat granola bar, drive to work, walk to desk, get thirsty, pop open a diet coke… Almost immediately after sipping the zero calorie bubbly goodness pressure shot from the base of my neck clear through my head as tears shot from my eyes from the sheer intensity of the pain. Diet Coke was a staple in my diet and it was not uncommon for me to drink it throughout the day. Initially I refused to believe that my beverage of choice was the culprit in my maladies but decided to treat the possible offender like any new food allergy; remove it for a week, reintroduce into diet, analyze results.

Fast forward one headache free week and the re-introduction of Diet Coke confirmed it was indeed the source of my pain. Then began the task of figuring out what ingredient in soda caused my headaches. I began trying different soda brands in diet and non-diet varieties and taking copious notes to whether the beverages triggered a headache. Aspartame, aka NutraSweet or Equal, was leading the ingredient analysis. To fully test the theory I began the same analysis with food and candy containing the suspicious ingredient, even ate a packet of Equal and sure enough, got a headache every time confirming that I needed to expunge aspartame from my diet. Months after giving up aspartame another positive result surfaced; my joint pain, swelling and stiffness disappeared. Turns out my headaches and joint issues were medically related to the same root cause. Years have now passed since the discovery and it is hard not to link other past health issues on the substance; my seasonal allergies are milder then in the past and I no longer need to use an inhaler.

I honestly do not know how people allergic to common food and ingredients like wheat, milk and eggs survive. Attempting to remove aspartame from my diet revealed just how many products this sugar substitute hides in, from food and drink to medicine and toothpaste, and how hard it is to find alternatives. Even under a watchful eye I would somehow consume some NutraSweet and suffer from the consequences. My poor friends must put up with my fear and neurosis with every meal out as I quiz waitresses on food content and often bring my own soda to ensure a pain free weekend. The side of me that wrestles with her weight curses the inability to get a diet beverage out at a restaurant or bar, but the extra calories are well worth a life free of pain.

Most of my sugar-free needs these days are met with Sucralose, aka Splenda, but I am increasingly nervous that someday my Splenda Diet Coke issue will cause lead to health problems. These types of allergies are often referred to as “exposure allergies” meaning the more you are exposed to the substance the worse the symptoms become. Many researchers and medical professionals classify aspartame as an intolerance and not a true allergy while others actually classify aspartame medical issues as poisonings. I was an avid Diet Coke drinker for nearly two decades before it starting making me sick. How long before other manmade chemicals start messing around with my body? Even scarier, was there permanent damage from my years of aspartame consumption?

Working around this allergy/intolerance/poisoning is often difficult but I am so thankful I discovered the cause of my issue. I often wonder how many people are misdiagnosed with a whole host of ailments, treating themselves with expensive and sometimes dangerous drugs, when they are actually suffering from some sort of food and drink related allergy. Could all the new dyes, chemicals, compounds and additives added to our diets be the cause of even more medical issues yet researched? The makers of all these new products claim no, but after my experience I am skeptical of their counter-claims and research. The manufacturers of aspartame deny any and all claims made against the safety of their product, citing and documenting lack of proof; all but claiming people with issues have other problems that should be addressed. It does not take a controlled scientific experiment to reasonably assess that aspartame made me, and many others, very ill. I encourage everyone suffering from unexplained medical issues to examine their diet and make some changes. We are all guinea pigs in long-term chemical additive experiments and I personally would volunteer in any aspartame study to prove there is a link between this substance and a host of debilitating symptoms.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Quote of the Week for the Birthday Boy

Wishing my loving husband Wade a very happy 33rd birthday, you are the best!

Men are like wine. Some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.
- C.E.M. Joad

Friday, April 11, 2008

Aged Before Beauty

You are beautiful, thin, healthy, strong, smart and amazing. You do not need to wear that makeup, go on that crash diet, and for Christ sake you look just as good pale as you do with a deep, dark tan so stop leaving the house without sunscreen. Those pants do not make you look fat, if anything hiding behind baggy clothes that are 2 sizes too big for you makes you look fat. Everyone is not thinner then you, better looking then you, smarter then you, or more talented then you. Stop the self-deprecation, open your eyes and take a really good look at yourself to see the real you.

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and smack your younger self? This feeling is often sparked by an old photo from an event or time in life where you can distinctly remember feeling like garbage and in hindsight understand it was crazy and stupid to feel anything less then triumphant. Often I look at one of these photos and am surprised at just how good I look, especially photos from my teenage years when I hated everything about my body; my thick legs, wide shoulders, big butt, boxy waist, stringy hair, shiny skin, big feet, thin lips, etc. etc. etc. Obsessing over these issues probably perpetuated them as food quickly became the cause and solution of so many of my problems.

After tripping upon a photo album from my prom I had mixed feelings of sadness, anger, delight, and hunger. I can vividly remember the months and weeks leading up to the prom, trying every diet under the sun, buying multiple dresses in the hopes one would make me look thin, and crying to friends and my mother about how I was going to be the biggest, ugliest girl at the dance. In true early-90s fashion my dress had gigantic puffy sleeves that strategically drew attention away from the rest of my “fat” body. Standing pin straight and sucking in my gut all night made for a terribly uncomfortable evening. It is so sad knowing my prom night was not as fun and memorable as it should be because of an obsession with my perceived size. I say perceived size because looking at the photo now I cannot comprehend why I thought I was fat and what made me feel so unattractive; oh how much I wish I could have the waist, legs and wrinkle free skin of a seventeen year old now! As “they” say, youth is wasted on the young and what a waste in hindsight not enjoying the beauty and strength that is being young and (relatively) carefree.

Of course, can you imagine the arrogance of teenagers with perfect self-esteem and zero feelings of personal doubt? Oh yes! So many of today’s teens seem not only self-confident but almost over confident. Witnessing some of the narcissistic attitudes displayed by so many teens in the media today makes me realize that low self-esteem and self-loathing could be an important element necessary to keep egos in check and prepare us for the horrors and disappointment of adulthood. If we actually understood we are at the top of our physical game at 18 wouldn’t the rest of life seem bleak and impossible? High School physics is hard enough without learning a lesson that only comes with time; gravity is the law and it applies to Newton’s apples and our own breasts. Ignorance of youthful perfection could be the bliss that is needed to keep trudging through future birthdays and the downward droop of our mid-sections.

Putting ourselves down is certainly not limited to our teenaged years. Photo after photo, memory after memory it is hard not to think of how much more fun life would be if we focused on the positives of body and mind rather then the negatives. Longing for the smooth skin and gravity defying butt that only a person under 25 or under the knife will soon be replaced by yearning the days when I could walk for miles pain free, go to work routinely without makeup, party until the wee hours with friends, and sleep soundly through the night in my 30s. It is hard to think that 15, 20, 30 years from now I’ll be looking upon my 30s as potentially the best years of my life and regretting the time I wasted obsessed with my imperfections. Changing this attitude is easier said then done in a world that worships teenage pop stars, botoxes well earned frown lines, celebrates beauty over substance, and promotes anything over a size 4 as being fat.

How can we embrace and survive aging, especially as women who are thought to be all washed up by their 40th birthdays? The answer to this question is about as unique as all people who face it. The beauty of getting older is the confidence gained in getting wiser and I learned I don’t want to look at photos of myself in a decade or two and feel the mixed feelings I looking back now. Working through my own body image issues I have come to accept some of the inevitable parts of getting older, but continue to fight some others. My goal is to learn how to embrace the beauty and strength I have today while attempting to preserve what I can for tomorrow through important steps like better lifestyle habits, more time with friends and family, mind expansion through reading, and enjoying the little things in life. Someday I hope to look back at pictures from today and smile with the knowledge of a life beautifully lived, no regrets; cellulite and wrinkles and all.

Vita brevis. Carpe Diem!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Such a tease

We are all a little shy, nervous, apprehensive and self-conscious our first time. Walking into the room you are bombarded with millions of thoughts racing through your mind; what position should I start in, are the lights too bright, does this outfit make me look fat, am I already sweating? Then the music begins and your heart starts to race in nervous anticipation as to what happens next. You are afraid you won’t know the moves and terrified about not keeping up. It starts off slow and gentle but quickly escalates into a fury of energy and movement. Catching a glimpse in the mirror of your hot and sweaty body moving to the rhythm of the music is like having an out of body experience, watching in wonder and disbelief at the way your own body moves. It had been such a long time since I was a newbie in an aerobics class and I had forgotten just how nerve-wracking it could be.

The Firm opened their workout studio in Minneapolis 21 years ago and is considered to have the most innovative aerobics program in the mid-west if not the country, receiving awards from magazines such as Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar. For years I have heard that The Firm had the best aerobics classes in town, ones that pushed physical limits and provided entertainment making it impossible to miss future beatings, er, I mean classes. Despite being a sucker for a good aerobics class I never visited the Mecca of Muscles because it was slightly out of my way, expensive and filled with people whose butts you could bounce a quarter off of. After nearly four straight months of hitting the treadmill in my office gym and the elliptical trainer at home, boredom was threatening to end my exercise program. I needed something different to get out of my exercise funk and decided it was the perfect week to give The Firm a try. Misery loves company and with my friend Amy working locally for the week I had the perfect partner in crime to share the experience with. After consulting the schedule and class descriptions it was clearly obvious which session we had to attend; Cardio Strip Tease.

The Firm Minneapolis website proclaims Strip Tease as delicious and nutritious. The official description asserts that normal people need help acting sexy, not Mary Ann sexy but the over the top sexy brought to us by Ginger. Even Gilligan would agree I am more Maryann sexy: big smile, fun, intelligent, not afraid to climb a tree for coconuts. Maryann did not try to be sexy and if she did try she would look silly. Ginger on the other hand had all the moves that render men speechless; the bedroom eyes, hippy swagger, shiny hair, seductive voice. Could a workout actually render a person like me "Ginger sexy?"

Walking into The Firm it is hard not to notice that everyone around has rock solid bodies, just as the name of the club suggests. Entering the gym is like walking onto the set of a 80's rock video filled with good-looking, sweaty people decked out in spandex dancing against a rough and urban backdrop. The front desk receptionists are like drug dealers; so excited to sign up another happy customer that they offer a free week to entice a long-term addiction. We signed up for our week and met the Strip Tease instructor who was not wearing any shoes… or socks. We called the gym prior to our arrival to ensure there was no dress code requiring tear away pants (good thing, mine were at the cleaners) but neglected to inquire about shoes. We learned that the Cardio element of Strip Tease makes wearing the preferred foot ware of “stage” performers, acrylic stilettos, too demanding so most people just go barefoot. Makes perfect sense since bare feet are probably worn more often in the boudoir then 5 inch heels (footnote to self: research statistics on bedroom shoe habits of American women). You know what they say, when in Vegas do as the showgirls do, so we left our sneakers and our dignity in the locker room before joining the class.

After we found our spot in the room, the music started and the bumping and grinding began. It took every ounce of adult in me not to giggle at the image of my hips gyrating in the giant studio mirrors. Every move I saw in the mirror reminded of the Seinfeld episode where everyone discovered Elaine was a terrible dancer. Did I always look this ridiculous when dancing? On a positive note the sheer embarrassment of bad moves and trying to inappropriately touch myself in front of a room of people elevated my heart rate even further, adding to the intensity of the workout.

Kelly the instructor made it look so easy and I wondered whether she learned her technique through a previous career. I am comfortable enough in my sexuality to admit that her moves, expressions, body, and pretty much everything else about her was hot. Each song and routine got sexier and naughtier. Even if I look like a beached mammal dancing it is hard not to get a good workout with the sounds of Justin Timberlake, Brittany Spears and the local favorite, Prince’s Pussy Control, pulsing in the air. Watching her move I had a sudden revelation on why men love long hair so much; long, thick, sexy hair is a show prop. Long hair provides us mere mortals a way to draw attention away from the klutzy moves made by the rest of our anatomy. If my hair were longer no one would notice my hips were off beat and my arms resembled one of those crazy octopus like sprinklers that children run around in during the summer. Unfortunately my short hair excuse was completely quashed after noticing the hottest stripper in the class was a twenty-something gay Asian man with short black hair.

Unlike popular pole dancing classes which require special equipment, the beauty of strip tease is it utilizes paraphernalia that can be found in the average home. Working our abs and gluts required nothing more then a mat to lie upon and moves pulled straight from the porn on demand channel. We used a box from step class as a makeshift prop to practice chair dancing; memories of Flashdance flooded my brain. Our favorite use of props by far was on our second visit where we used a towel to simulate tossing articles of clothing across the room in what was one of the more useful lessons for long term enjoyment.
“I have a head for business and a body for sin.”
-Melanie Griffith in Working Girl
Yet despite the embarrassment and soreness we attended another class in an attempt to bring sexy back. It was so much easier to relax and enjoy it the second time around. Strip Tease really shed some light on women who dance for dollars as their livelihood; beyond being morally degrading, stripping is physically exhausting and not an easy way to make a quick buck. The moves worked out our hips, thighs and abs and our bodies required a ton of Advil the next day. Personally it was an eye opening experience; not that I deemed myself in the company of Marilyn Monroe or Sophia Loren, but there was a part of me that thought with all these curves and a hint of confidence I had to possess a little bit of sexiness. Unfortunately this class served as proof that using and moving these curves makes me look more like Shamu then Shakira. Maybe if I sign up classes and practice really hard then Cardio Strip Tease can both tone my body and teach me to be more Ginger-esque, but until then I plan on keeping my day job.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Quote of the Week

A little something for April Fools Day...

The trouble with practical jokes is that very often they get elected.
- Will Rogers