Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thoughts on Being Over 50

People like to say that 50 is the new 30. I must admit that I feel 51 years young instead of 51 years old. It's funny when other women talk about how they feel so old because they're going to be turning 30. My response is, "Been there, done that, lived to tell about it and the same thing for 40 and 50." I feel that life gets better as you get older.

When I turned 50 last year, I was so different from my image of what a 50-year-old woman should be. That image was formed when I was younger from observing my mother and other women her age. My image of a 50-year-old woman was someone with the following characteristics: Big beehive hairdo (with a dye job), polyester pantsuits, gravelly voice from too much alcohol and cigarettes, slightly overweight, takes various prescription drugs, and doesn't exercise.

Let's go over these things one by one...

Beehive hairdo: Let's just say that the women of the B-52s don't need to worry about any competition from me. I have a fairly short haircut and my hair is my natural brown with a touch of grey. I haven't bothered to cover up the grey because there isn't that much. Also, I view each grey hair as a life lesson learned.

Polyester pantsuits: OK, I do admit to wearing polyester because my work uniform is made with lots of it. But when I'm at home, I'm in jeans and cotton shirts or wool sweaters. My technical running gear is made with polyester, but at least it has a nice feel and doesn't look like traditional polyester.

Gravelly voice from too much alcohol and cigarettes: Nope! I definitely don't have a gravelly voice. My mother smokes and I always hated her cigarette smoke. I tried to smoke when I was in junior high but hated it. I did my share of drinking when I was in college, but now I hardly drink. I'll have a glass of wine with dinner once in a while. I don't like to drink much because it affects my running.

Slightly overweight: I'm at the low end of the normal weight range for my height and age and have never been overweight. In fact, as a child I was underweight.

Takes various prescription drugs: I just read a book which said that the average 50-year-old American takes between 7 and 11 prescription drugs. The only drugs which I take daily are a multivitamin and a calcium supplement. The last prescription medicine that I had was for a skin problem on my hands last year.

Doesn't exercise: Regular exercise is part of my life. I can't imagine my life without exercise. In the winter I do a mix of running and downhill skiing. When it isn't ski season, I run, hike, and ride my bike. If I'm going someplace in town, I either walk or ride my bike. I haven't started slowing down yet and finished in the top 20% overall among the women and in my age group during my most recent half-marathon in October. When I do an on-base race, I'm one of the oldest, if not the oldest, woman in the field. It's a fun feeling to be older and still be among the top women in the race. A couple of years ago I was the 4th place woman in an on-base race at age 49. It was the first time in a long time that I finished "off the podium" on base. One of the top three women, who was in her 20s, said that she hoped to still be running when she was my age. At first I was a little offended because it felt like she was implying that I was ready for the rocking chair instead of the race course. Then I decided to take it as a, "You go, girl!" At that moment I realized that I was a role model for what an older athlete can do.

One of my wishes is to be like the senior citizens that I see on the running/hiking/biking trails and ski slopes. I think it's wonderful that those folks are defying the stereotype of how an older person should be. They're probably not anything like how they imagined a person their age would be. I also want to be different than my image of someone my age.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Helicopter Parents and College Life Lessons

A while back I saw a "20/20" story about helicopter parents. It featured a single mother with two college student sons to illustrate the growing helicopter parent phenomenon in the States. The mother takes care of her sons' needs so that they can concentrate on their studies. Mom has both sons' class schedules and gives them a wake-up call so that they'll get to their first class on time. The sons don't even choose their own classes, Mom does. She has a copy of the boys' syllabi so that she knows when they have papers due and exams. Of course she calls them to remind them of upcoming tests and deadlines. On the weekends Mom drivestwo hours to the university, cleans her sons' dorm rooms, and does their grocery shopping and laundry for them. When the boys were questioned about how they felt about their mother doing so much for them, the response was that it helped to make their lives easier. No surprise there! If I had someone taking care of all of my needs, my life would be easier too.

Those boys have it much easier than when I went to college. I had an alarm clock instead of a daily wake-up call from Mom. If I missed a class because of oversleeping, it was my responsibility to find out what I missed. Nobody reminded me when I had exams or papers due; I had to read my course syllabi on my own and plan my study time. I even chose my classes without any parental input. I read the information about the required classes for my major and picked my classes accordingly. My half of the dorm room sometimes looked like a tornado came through it because nobody cleaned up after me. When I got tired of my room looking messy, I cleaned up. My mother did my laundry for me once when I came home for a weekend. After that one time she told me to buy a box of Cheer and read the back. At that time, Cheer laundry powder had directions for which clothing went into hot, warm, and cold water.

Being away at college on my own taught me a lot of real life skills. From my sophomore year on, I worked part time while going to school. I learned to use my time wisely because I had less time to study than non-working students. One of the most important things I learned was how to prioritize tasks. For example, if I had a limited amount of time in which to study, I had to decide which subjects were the most important to study at that moment. Prioritizing tasks is an important part of my life as a parent with a full-time job. Another important life lesson was doing a little bit of a project each day to meet a deadline instead of putting it off until the last minute. That has served me well in my various jobs because I always met my deadlines. Getting along with others and resolving problems with roommates through compromise was something else that I learned. It would have looked silly to call my mother to help sort out any minor roommate issues. She would have told me to fight my own battles. In college I really learned how to organize my things and follow the saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place." It was much easier to find my books and papers if they were in the same place and if I kept my part of the room clean. I also learned to sort laundry carefully so that my whites wouldn't turn to pinks due to errant red socks.

I wonder how the boys in the "20/20" episode, and other kids with helicopter parents, are going to fare when they graduate from college. They seem to be missing out on learning vital life lessons because they are not doing much on their own. Will their mothers accompany them to their job interviews and negotiate their salaries for them? Eventually those kids will have to leave the nest and have their own families. Will their mothers continue to micromanage their lives as they have kids because they never learned how to do organize their lives on their own? The mother in the "20/20" episode alluded to that when she said that she hopes to become good friends with her future daughters-in-law. I wonder how the grandkids of helicopter parents will turn out. Will they rebel and become more independent, like kids of previous generations, or will they also end up dependent on their parents (or grandparents) for every little thing? Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spring Skiing in November

The weather in Garmisch has been unseasonably warm. You'd think it was May or June instead of November with the warm, sunny weather. Even the mountains are warm compared to how they should be at this time of year.  The snow that fell on the mountains in the ski area by my house has all melted away. 

Right after the first snowfall a couple of weeks ago the Zugspitze glacier opened for skiing. The Zugspitze, which is Germany's highest mountain, has a small ski area. Because of its height, it's the only place to ski in the area at the beginning and end of the season. It's also the place to go when the other ski areas don't have much snow. The Zugspitze ski area improved several years ago when they replaced one of the t-bars with a chair lift. It's the only chair lift on the Zugspitze, but there are three different runs you can take from the top of it. The runs are rather short, and the hardest ones are intermediate level. 

Because of my work schedule, today was my first day on the ski slopes. I went up on the Zugspitze. It was a beautiful, sunny day.  The snow was soft, like spring snow. I started off with a short-sleeved technical shirt, a lightweight long-sleeved technical shirt, and my jacket. After a couple of runs I ended up shedding the long-sleeved shirt. It was even warm enough to eat lunch outside. As this post's title says, it was spring skiing in November, though it felt more like April. The down side is that there is a small base of snow (official report 85 cm) with a lot of rocks showing. At least it was easy to see the rocks and avoid them. For now it's best not to ski off-piste because of the rocks. But it will be a lot nicer after another snowfall or two. I felt like I skied pretty well for my first day, though I just skied for a couple of hours. Burning out on my first day wouldn't be any fun. I'll get stronger and gain more endurance as the season continues. It was also very uncrowded for a weekend. There was almost no waiting for the chair lift and the runs were almost empty, which was very surprising. I heard that it was very crowded yesterday because of the good weather. Maybe a lot of people got scared off from coming back today. I'm not complaining because I hate waiting in long lift lines. 

During ski season I'll ski two to three times a week and run twice a week. My runs become a little longer to make up for not doing it as often. I'm looking forward to more snow and a good ski season. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Culture Night/Kulturabend/Kultyurnii Vyecher

Last night was Culture Night at my work. Let me explain what Culture Night is all about...

I work in a school where students from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the USA, Africa, and South America take special courses in democracy building, counter-terrorism, and national security. The students are military officers, police officers, or government workers in their countries. They come for various courses, ranging in length from 3 to 12 weeks.

The 12-week course is offered twice a year. The highlight of that course, at least for me, is Culture Night. For Culture Night the students cook their national dishes, wear traditional clothing, and even play music from their countries. They also display photos or other items from their homelands. The alcohol flows freely, with vodka, wine, and different types of schnapps (which could also be used as paint thinner) offered by almost every country. It's wonderful to see the national and personal pride that goes into preparing the food and displays.

Culture Night is always on a Saturday. The advantage of working on Saturdays is that the kitchen in the building where I work is next door to my office. I get to smell all of the good cooking and often be the official taste tester. Working the day of Culture Night also has its down side. There have been a couple of times where I’ve had so many free samples during the day, I was too full to enjoy the main event.

The most important thing to bring to Culture Night is an appetite. Every table that you pass has students calling you over to try their food. It’s almost like being in a room full of Jewish grandmothers telling you, “Eat this. It’s good for you.” I learned early to serve myself. If I let the students serve me, I’d get a portion large enough for a 300-pound man. The students are rightfully proud of their national cuisine and want people to enjoy it like they do. But they forget that there are about 40 other countries being represented, all with students wanting you to try their food.

I think that one of the questions on the application for the 12-week course at the school where I work is, “Are you a good cook?” People who answer, "No" have their applications rejected. The students do a great job cooking their national dishes and the food is always delicious. There are a couple of delegations who “cheat” and order food from local ethnic restaurants. But these are the small delegations with only one or two students. The Romanians have a fellow countrywoman in town who makes their Culture Night dishes. But everyone else cooks their food. The Kyrgyz students impress me the most because they make their noodles from scratch instead of buying pre-made ones.

Last night's Culture Night was a success. I had a lot of my favorites, such as: Tajik plov (a rice dish with meat and carrots), Afghan chicken and rice, Turkish pizza, Mongolian dumplings, Turkish and Moldovan stuffed grape leaves, and Romanian nut-filled pastries. Some new things which I had that were also great were: Pakistani chicken over basmati rice, Saudi dates with an almond rolled into the middle, Georgian eggplant that had lots of garlic, Latvian ham-filled pastries, Argentine meat-filled pastries, Libyan nut cookies, and a unique Belgian jelly-filled candy. Every Culture Night I also have a glass of wine from a country that is not usually thought of as a traditional wine producer. Last night I had good red wine from Montenegro.

The next Culture Night will be in May. I'm looking forward to having some of my favorite dishes and trying new ones.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Go Speed Racer!

Okay, so I'm not a "demon on wheels" like the cartoon character Speed Racer. I wouldn't even call myself a demon in running shoes. But this week I've been a real speed demon, at least by my standards. I think it has something to do with a combination of cool weather (but still above freezing) and the ice that was there last week melting away.

A couple of weeks ago we had our first snow. As is the case with October snowfall, it melted away quickly. But the combination of warm days and below freezing nights froze the melted snow and created lots of black ice on the trails where I run. The good thing about the ice was that it forced me into a slow pace. There was enough ice for the paths to be slippery, but not enough for me to put ice spikes on my shoes. Since I was still in recovery mode from my recent half-marathon, a slower pace was good to let some little nagging problems heal fully.

This week I was really flying and feeling like I wasn't expending extra effort. That's such a wonderful feeling, especially because all of the little aches and pains from the race are gone. I often get faster after recovering from a race, so this is not a new phenomenon. Being on terra firma instead of ice was an extra added bonus, as was the sunshine.

There won't be too many more days like this left. It's supposed to cool off and start raining on Sunday, and the forecast calls for snow on Monday. Ski season has already started with the local glacier opening last weekend. However, the snow is not very good yet. Once ski season gets in full swing, I will ski 2 to 3 times a week and run twice a week. My runs will be slightly longer to make up for the lower frequency.

I have always enjoyed winter running and am looking forward to it. Running while it's snowing is like being in the middle of a snow globe. I like running on fresh snow, before it has been packed down and hardened. There's something about running in fresh snow that makes me feel like a kid again. People who insist on running indoors on a treadmill during the winter are really missing out.