We’ve reached the depths of winter in the Midwest, and the part of that dismal season when changes in temperature mean melting snow, then refreezing, then melting again, then refreezing again. It makes walking outside a treacherous exercise that is not for the faint of heart — especially if you’re walking on ever-slippery brick.
But there is an alternative to outdoor exercise for those of us who are too cheap to get health club memberships but who desperately need the exercise if they hope to stave off the condition of Rapid Waistline Expansion. It’s called the stairs. And if, like me, you toil in an older building where there are lots of stairwells with different designs, like the stairwell shown above, the stairs can be a pretty cool option aesthetically, too.
According to the medical experts, taking the stairs does have the effect of burning some calories — although not enough to allow you to rationalize eating a Snickers bar a day, unless you’re walking to the top of the Empire State building on your way to work — and other health benefits as well, including building and maintaining health bones, muscles, and joints and improved aerobic capacity. I like doing it because it gets me moving and gets the blood flowing during the day, and I feel like I’m at least doing something to maintain or even improve my health while at the office.
Of course, it’s a lot easier taking the stairs going down, than going up.
Right after waking up I realized with a start that I have a crucial exam today. Even worse, I’ve been procrastinating studying for the test, and not even going to the classes, besides. Now, Exam Day has arrived, I am totally unprepared, and I am well and truly screwed. How could I be so stupid and reckless?
The next thing I know, I’m rushing through the empty, echoing halls of the building, looking for the room where I’m supposed to take the exam. Everybody else must be in the classroom already! Unfortunately, in my rush to get here I obviously forgot to write down the room number where the exam was being given, and now I’m frantically racing through the empty hallways, trying to find the right room before the test starts. My anxiety level shoots through the roof, and I think: I am a colossal idiot to have foolishly gotten myself into this horrible predicament.
At about this point the conscious brain takes over and realizes that I’m a 60-year-old lawyer who doesn’t take classes or critical exams any more, and I wake up with a start and a racing heartbeat.
Why do I still have exam anxiety nightmares, even though I haven’t had to endure a crucial exam for more than 30 years? It’s apparently a very common dream, and no doubt it’s because those long ago days of actual winner-take-all exams with real-world consequences engraved permanent, scarring concerns deep into the dark, twisted world of my id, where they are ready to spring forth with only the flimsiest excuse. Expose me to any unusual stressor, and that night I’ll probably be kicking myself once more because I’ve blown off the class and Exam Day is here. Yesterday I took some on-line training modules that ended with short quizzes that you needed to complete to show you’ve paid attention. I got passing scores, and I could have taken the quizzes over even if I didn’t get a passing score the first time around, but perhaps even that limited, low-pressure exposure to simple testing is enough to trigger the bad dreams.
It’s sad to think that I’ll probably continue to be haunted by the specter of long-ago exams for the rest of my life, but at least when I wake up I have the pleasure of knowing that the days of all-or-nothing testing are behind me — except in my dreams.
Twenty years ago, I last got a good look at my chin.
We were on a family vacation in Florida, with all of the slow pace and lassitude and relaxed approach to life that you associate with a welcome, sandy beach vacation during the cold weather months. I got totally into the kick back spirit of things and just didn’t feel like shaving — so I didn’t. And after letting the whiskers sprouting from the lower half of my face run riot for a few days, and surviving the initial itchiness that inevitably comes with any growing beard, I decided I might just keep the beard for a while to see how rejoining the hirsute set worked out.
I’d had a beard in college and when I worked as a reporter for the Toledo Blade, then shaved it off when I took a job on Capitol Hill. There weren’t many beards on the Hill in those days. I grew the beard again when I went to law school, then shaved it off again when I started to work at the firm because having a beard didn’t seem like a good idea for a new associate in a law firm in Columbus, Ohio. But by 1997 I’d been at the firm for 11 years, and I figured by then my colleagues would be willing to put up with a little beardedness. And the great thing about a beard is, you can always shave it off.
Twenty years later, I’ve still got that beard hiding my chin(s). The color of the hairs has changed from solid brown to a mixture of brown, gray and white, and I’ve gone through three beard trimmers trying to keep the bristles in moderately presentable form. I’d like to say the beard makes me look distinguished, but that remains an aspirational goal that is yet to be achieved.
Happy beard birthday to my whiskers!
When it comes to singing, I subscribe to the Buddy the Elf approach: “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
So, yesterday I donned a Santa cap and, with about two dozen other lawyers at the firm, engaged in our annual holiday singalong. We remember and honor two of our departed partners who loved the singalong, perform for a roomful of absurdly supportive colleagues and friends, and belt out favorites like The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) and I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas, as well as new parody songs with lyrics deftly penned by one of our talented partners.
When you only sing out loud once a year, it takes a while to really hit your stride . . . if you even have a stride. There’s a musical concept called a key — I think that’s the right word — that you have to figure out, and it takes some searching and a few songs to find the right range. I usually realize I’m singing in the wrong key when the high notes come out like more of a high-pitched screech; then I overcompensate and end up in a key where the low notes come out with an earthquake-like rumble. This is why no one who has any kind of singing talent wants to stand next to me at these annual performances.
Our little singing group will never be mistaken for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but we make up for our overall lack of talent with enthusiasm and sheer volume. And Buddy is right: It’s fun and it always puts me in a good holiday mood.
Last night I iced and decorated the sugar cookies, and then I got up early this morning to finish putting the cookies into festive tins and writing notes for the recipients of this year’s holiday baking — who I hope will enjoy the new recipes and the new twists on old favorites.
And, because no job is truly completed until the clean-up work is done, this morning I also stashed the baking implements and remaining supplies and wiped down the countertops, so there’s nary a sign of a marathon baking effort. Now, I can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee . . . and, admittedly, a warm feeling of accomplishment, too.
There is a great library space at our firm, filled with all kinds of law books. Of course, technology being what it is, those grave, bound volumes of paper that represent the brooding omnipresence of the law and its teachings aren’t really used anymore. Everybody tends to do their research using on-line resources. The books, in the meantime, look impressive on shelves — but that’s about it.
When our research staff approached the task of decorating the library for the holidays, however, they came up with a creative use for the books, which have been carefully stacked and configured to resemble a Christmas tree. Pretty cool! And it’s good to see those old volumes taken off the shelves once more.
Ho, ho, ho! Merry Bookmass!
Yesterday I was at the dentist’s office, getting my teeth cleaned. As I was reclining in the chair, with the dental hygienist sand-blasting my teeth in a desperate attempt to make them slightly less dingy, she groaned. “Oh no! They’re playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer again!” she said.
Sure enough, some uninspired, generic version of Rudolph had just begun to play over the office sound system. I hadn’t really noticed until she mentioned it, but the sound system at the dentist’s office was tuned to a local pop music station that starts playing a steady diet of Christmas music as soon as Thanksgiving is in the rear view mirror. It was only Wednesday of the first week of the Christmas music marathon, and already the hygienist was feeling the pain of the relentless carol barrage. I said, “Well, you’ve only got four weeks to go” when she removed the scraper and saliva-sucking tube from my mouth. She smiled bravely behind her mask but responded, “I’m not sure I can make it.”
I like holiday music, particularly the classic versions of carols and pop hits like Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree or Blue Christmas, and I’ve got a playlist of Christmas music on my iPod that I listen to while doing my holiday baking. I could probably listen to an endless loop of the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack for hours and be perfectly content. But the generic stuff, like a version of Do You Hear What I Hear by the latest one-hit wonder pop star, is nothing but grating. I can’t imagine being forced to listen to instantly forgettable renditions of holiday music all day, every workday, and I’m grateful that I work at a job where that isn’t part of the performance expectations.
Employers should consider whether it’s only fair to their employees, and their sanity, to take an occasional break from the Christmas music every now and then. Who knows what a dental hygienist, armed with hooks and scrapers and sand-blasting implements, might do after being driven around the bend by the 25th playing of Celine Dion’s version of Feliz Navidad?