Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Coach Laura: Personal Trainers

Dear Coach Laura,

I want to participate in a fund-raising bike ride this summer. I exercise regularly and am in fairly decent shape, but I know that to get ready for this ride, I need to prepare above what I can do on my own. I've been thinking about hiring a personal trainer and was wondering what you think about what to look for.  I go to a gym with what looks like hundreds of "personal trainers." 
  • How should I choose one I can trust, whom I can work with for as long as I need to, who will help me reach my goals?
  • What can I expect in my first few meetings with a personal trainer? 
  • How will the person know what I really need and how to gauge my progress and keep me from injury?
  • I saw a personal trainer, a young guy, looking like he was bored and/or irritated, working with a woman who looked like a stay-at-home mom who was wanting to get in shape. She was struggling with some weights and running back and forth across the basketball court picking up cones and putting them down again, etc. She had a look of distress and even agony on her face. I thought, poor thing, she needs someone who will actually work with her, not stand there like that, making her do things that appear to be beyond her capability.  How can I avoid getting in a situation with a trainer like that?
  • What if I decide to switch trainers after some time?


In Training

Dear Training,

First of all, congratulations on your fund-raising efforts! It's such a great way to get involved - you get to participate in a great cause and it benefits you also. 

You ask some really good questions. You're right - if you're going to spend that extra bit of money on a trainer, you want to make sure you're happy with that "purchase." I think that's the important thing to remember in this - this is your money, and you get to dictate how to spend it. In making your selection, keep that in the front of your mind, and the selection process will start to take care of itself. 

A lot of trainers will offer one free session, or some other type of introductory session. Take advantage of that session and get to know your trainer. See if you mesh together, get along, make sure that person is willing to work with you in your goals. It's good that you have a goal you're working towards. Be clear and specific in stating those goals to potential trainers. Choose someone who has experience with the type of activity or goal you want to accomplish. 

It sounds like, based on your observation of the trainer with that woman at your gym, you already know who NOT to pick. It's also possible that that woman didn't approach that trainer with specific goals. If the woman wanted to be a better basketball player, that's one thing, but if she's not enjoying it, it sounds like the trainer is a little lazy and falling back on something HE likes, not something that's going to benefit his client at all. A good trainer is one who listens to the client and is willing to work with that person to achieve goals. And if neither one of the people are having fun, there's no point in either one pursuing that activity, in my opinion. 

Which brings us to your final question about switching trainers. Let's go back to the point about it being your money. Have you ever switched brands of something? It's YOUR money; you get to decide where to put it. Make sure you're making it count for you. Remember - you're paying him - make it count for you. 

Best of luck to you in your ride and choosing a trainer. You're definitely on the right track!

To your training,

Coach Laura

Benson, Arizona

Madame L thanks Laura and Jeff for their comments! Sierra Vista and Fort Huachuca are some of her most favorite places of all time and places.

(Fort What? Huachuca. Bless you!)

Anyway, here's the song:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Flying Pigs and Other Impossibilities

Dear Madame L,

You know how, when people want to say that something is going to be impossible, they come up with expressions like "when pigs fly," or "when hell freezes over"?

Why do you think these expressions are so evocative? Do you think there's a difference between the impossibilities we're talking about when we use different ones of these expressions?


Hoping Never to See a Flying Pig

Dear Hoping,

Is that because you don't want to be caught beneath said pig? Or because you don't like the idea of impossible or unexpected things happening?

Great question! When Madame L looked on Wikipedia for "when pigs fly," she found found out that the expression is an "adynaton---a figure of speech so hyperbolic that it describes an impossibility."  

At Omniglot you can find out how to say "when pigs fly" in many different languages. Here you'll see that the exact words are often different from those in our English expression. For instance, in Catalan it's "when cows fly," in Spanish it's "when frogs grow hair," and in Danish it's "when hell freezes over." 

Which brings us to your second question: Madame L used to think there was a difference. She thought that the images of pigs or cows flying or of grapes growing on willow trees are whimsical and funny, and therefore less ominous than the expression "when hell freezes over." So she thought that hell freezing over would indicate some more dire impossible event. 

However, the list of expressions from different languages has disabused her of that notion; and she has searched in vain for a scholarly treatise on the subject.

But Madame L has a great idea: Would any of her Dear Readers like to come up with their own adynatons? These two come to mind immediately: "when hens use toothbrushes," "when the Eagles reunite" (Oh, that one's taken, ironically, if not happily)...  

(Please avoid politics and religion.)


Madame L

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book Review, February 24, 2013: After the Fire

Madame L found this book of poems by J.A. Jance as she was wandering through her local library looking for something entirely different. 

J.A. Jance is mostly famous for her mystery novels starring Seattle detective J.P. Beaumont.

Madame L has not read any of these novels (yet), nor any of the other novels written by Ms. Jance. But she will read one soon. And this is why:

This book of poems with commentaries, "After the Fire," is one of the most intriguing set of poems Madame L has ever read. As all her Dear Readers know, Madame L is a big fan of poetry. (And as you/they also know, Madame L loves to juxtapose things like "a big fan of" and "poetry," just like, if she were an "aficionado of NASCAR," she would put it that way. Because Madame L is somewhere between just slightly and totally weird. Which is just fine with Madame L, thank you very much.)

So, but, here's the thing: If Madame L had read any of these poems on its own, she would have appreciated it very much. She didn't know there would be commentary when she checked the book out, and if she had known, she probably wouldn't have bothered. It's unusual for Madame L to appreciate commentary about poems, stories, and authors. (Remember how Madame L has commented on her disdain for interviews with authors and suggestions for reading group discussions and such? Exactly.)

But in this case the commentary works. Maybe it's because J.A. Jance writes the commentary herself, and she also writes prose, and she's not just some publishing company hack trying to sell more books to the lucrative book-club market (is there such a thing as a book-club market, and, if so, is it lucrative for publishers? Madame L doesn't know for sure, but speculates that this must be the case, else, why all those incredibly idiotic sets of questions at the back of books for book-club members to discuss? and is it proper and/or appropriate to have a parenthetical comment this long and rambling? and if not, raise your hand if you think Madame L cares).

Where was Madame L? Oh, yes. The commentaries for these poems are as beautiful and haunting as the poems themselves, which is saying something.

Rather than ramble on any longer, Madame L will just quote the final stanza of the final poem in this collection, "Benediction":

And as the storm clouds rolled away,
Their edges silver-lined,
I watched a rainbow bridge the sky
And knew God's grand design.
He changes weakness into strength,
Makes courage from despair.
Our stumbling feet turn into wings,
When we come to Him in prayer.

Yeah, it's not John Donne or whoev. And that's good.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Dear Madame L,

I heard a cashier in the grocery store yesterday say, "Whatev." And I wanted to ask her, "What?" Except I knew she would not know what I was asking "What?" about. Also, she was saying this to an elderly man who was asking her a question, and I suspected she would be as rude to me as she was being to him.



Dear Whatever,

Madame L welcomes you to the modern world of customer service in your local grocery store.  

And, since Madame L is basically a kind-hearted person, she will explain for you:            

This is how some people now say, "Whatever." It's shorter, see? And since these people are all very busy and don't want to spend too much time even showing another person how much they despise them for asking for help ---  by, for instance, uttering one syllable more than absolutely necessary ---  they say, with an extremely bored look on their face, "Whatev."

Best of luck,

Madame L

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Federal Employees Roaming the Streets?

Dear Madame L,

It looks like Congress is going to allow "sequestration" to take place. But as I understand it, this will only affect federal employees and retirees. What's the problem with that?



Dear Affected,

Oh, yeah, that's right, Kind Reader, you ARE affected. If and when the "sequestration" takes place, here's what will happen:

--Let's say you live in a Congressional district, as Madame L does, where about 14,000 federal employees and retirees live. All those desperate individuals will start roaming the streets with baseball bats and monkey wrenches, looking for someone to steal food from. Wait, no. That's from a movie script.

But the following really will happen:
--Hundreds of thousands of  federal employees will be furloughed, and the services they provide, from prison security to food inspections to volcano monitoring to infrastructure to air traffic control, would be affected, according to Office of Management and Budget acting chief Jeffrey Zients. The OMB has been providing guidance to agencies for handling the situation, including who can be furloughed and who must be kept working full time.

--Health research will be hampered and in some cases halted as $3.6 billion is cut from the budgets of the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Science Foundation.

--Our military will be "devastated," says Defense Secretary-Nominee Chuck Hagel, singing the same song his predecessor, Leon Panetta, has been singing for months now. This is made worse by the fact that Congress hasn't even gotten around yet to passing the defense appropriations bill for 2013, which leaves the Pentagon (along with other federal agencies and departments) with 2012 levels of spending after a series of "continuing resolutions," the standing joke among federal employees for years now.  

--It shouldn't need to be said, but apparently some Members of Congress don't get this: Our national security will be endangered.

--Payments to and work by non-government contractors to the military and other federal agencies will be stopped, so tens of thousands of private-sector employees will also be furloughed, laid off, or fired.

--Let's say a volcano erupts during the sequestration. It will take U.S. Geological Survey employees, who have been furloughed and therefore unable to monitor their equipment, significant time to respond.

--Insert any other natural or man-made disaster in place of "volcano erupts" and the same thing will happen. That's because furloughed employees are not even allowed to set foot on the property where they would be working.

--Retirees will stop getting their pension checks, so they won't be able to pay rent or buy groceries, so not just they, but the economy where they are living, will suffer.

Does Madame L's Member of Congress know how those 14,000 employees and retirees, plus their families, will be affected? Of course she does! Does she care? Madame L doubts it.

And what about YOUR Representative? There's only one way to help these people care: Write them a letter or email message. Better yet, call their office and leave a message. You'll find contact information in the the "Contacting Congress" block on the upper right of this page.


Madame L

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Space Junk in Low-Earth Orbit

Madame L thanks you, Laura, for posting this comment:

"From what I read, this one was only two meters wide. Is it possible that one that small just doesn't make it on the radar (so to speak) of astronomers? Also, people were only injured, mostly from shattering glass as they got close to windows to see what was causing the noise, than from the meteorite itself. I read another interesting blip about why so much of it was captured on dashboard cams - it's because Russians are apparently horrible drivers so many people have dashboard cams as liability protection. But I'm rambling now, and this is your blog, Esteemed Madame Elle, not mine."
In fact, Madame L read the same thing: No one was killed, but people were injured by flying glass and so on, when the meteorite hit in Russia. And, as you wrote, the one that struck Earth was not an asteroid and was small enough to invisible to the astronomers who are tracking these things. 

Check out these great NASA graphics showing the space junk in low-earth orbit (LEO) to get an idea of the needle-in-a-haystack nature of the project of identifying all these objects. (Here's one of them, below:)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Science Vs. Meteorites

Dear Madame L,

After you wrote about the meteorite that was coming close to the Earth but not going to hit us, I was surprised to read this morning that it has hit Russia, killing thousands of people.

What's the story?


You Don't Trust Bill Nye, But Who Should I Trust?

Dear Standing in the Corner Losing Your Trust in Science,

It was a different meteorite. You can read about it here.

But what Madame L is wondering is why "they" (you know, THEY!) didn't see this one. 

Madame L will let you know more as she finds out more.


Madame L, Still Trusting Astronomers More Than Bill Nye

Thursday, February 14, 2013

CNN Vs. Science (Guess Who Wins?)

Dear Readers,

Let's say you think comedian "Bill Nye the Science Guy" is the person to ask about astronomy. And let's say you think CNN actually reports any real news any more. Then do you think you might find a unicorn in your back yard tomorrow?

Madame L wishes people would stop blaming the blonde who is after all just being paid to wear a red dress and be blonde while reading a bunch of fast-scrolling "information" and questions from a teleprompter. 

Madame L thinks people should be writing letters of outrage not to CNN, which gave up all pretense of being a real news-reporting organization the day it showed George W. Bush standing on the deck of aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln with his "Mission Accomplished" sign in 2003 while the sailors and Marines had to stand there stiffly acting like they thought the U.S. had won the war in Iraq. 

Instead, people should instead be expressing their outrage at Bill Nye the Science Guy for not laughing like a maniac when asked that question or for agreeing to be interviewed on CNN in the first place.

Anyway, yes, Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be passing close by our little planet on Fri., Feb. 15. The asteroid will come within a little more than 17,200 miles (27,680 km) --- even closer than some of our communications satellites --- but, not to worry, it won't hit the Earth. Not this time, anyway. Mwa-ha-ha.


Madame L  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Dear Madame L, 

Don't you think you're being a little harsh about the "sequestration" that Congress seems to be getting ready to subject federal agencies and departments to? For one thing, unless you're a federal employee or a family member of a federal employee, it won't affect you, right?


Not So Worried

Dear Not Worried,

Madame L doesn't think she's being harsh or overly concerned --- or anything except painfully realistic --- about what may happen if March 1 comes and goes without Congress discharging its duty to take care of the federal budget and all those who are affected by it (i.e., every single American).

An official of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) explained last Friday, as reported by Federal Daily, that there is "no way" to avoid furloughing "hundreds of thousands" of federal employees if a sequester goes into effect. 

Every program and every account will be affected equally. Even those hypocritical Republicans who keep wanting us to find new wars to fight and new funding for Dept. of Defense-related projects in their districts  will not be able to save the DOD and its military and civilian employees and its contractors.

OMB Federal Controller Danny Werfel said the $85 billion in mandatory cuts would be applied to every federal government account, each one being forced to be cut by a certain percentage. The agencies won't be able to move money from one account to another that seems more important. And that's because "the way the sequester law is written....underneath the account, even at the Program, Project and Activity [level], they all need to be cut by that same percentage."

Werfel said the cuts would create "a serious crisis in military readiness and pose the risk of creating a hollow force." 

On the domestic side, he said, "The Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture would have to cut back on food inspections, leaving the country more vulnerable to public health risks due to food-borne illnesse. The FBI would have to reduce its law enforcement capacity. FEMA would have to eliminate funding for firefighters and other emergency personnel. And the Justice Department would have to furlough hundreds of federal prosecutors."

Madame L wonders if any Republicans are listening. In case they are, and in case You, Dear Reader, have a Republican Member of Congress, please write to him/her to let him/her know how displeased you are with the Republican Party's malfeasance.


Madame L

Friday, February 8, 2013

Weird Words of the Week: Quilt (and Sequestration)

So, Dear Readers, Madame L has been trying  for weeks to get up the nerve to write about sequestration, a fancy word for "Congress now gives up its duty to govern and to budget responsibly and proceeds to cut the budgets of every important U.S. government agency while not forgetting to keep paying themselves and all their pals."

Madame L apparently just doesn't have as much nerve as she thought she did. But here's an equally puzzling word: Quilt.

Madame L thought of this word as she has been reading Aunt Ellen's recent posts about the various kinds of quilt blocks she's been making.

According to Wikipedia,  "The word 'quilt' comes from the Latin culcita meaning a large stuffed sack, but it came into the English language from the French word cuilte."

A large stuffed sack, huh? Madame L remembers sleeping under a huge and heavy stack (not a sack) of beautiful old quilts at Grandma McBride's house in Pima, where it was so cold in the winter that you needed all those quilts PLUS a sister who shared the bed with you PLUS a brick Grandma had heated up in the wood stove and wrapped in a towel to put by your feet. (Yes, Madame L is old enough to have lived for some time in a really old house with a wood-burning stove! Amazing, isn't it, for one who looks so very young!) 

Madame L also has fond memories of several quilts made for her by relatives through the years, starting with Great Aunt Minnie (for Madame L's wedding) , and of quilts she has made for other people. Lately, though, Madame L confesses that has found an easy way to piece together fleece fabric blocks to make blankets with fringe around the blocks and edges. 

Still, though, some of Madame L's fondest memories are of sitting under quilts as they were being quilted in the living room of the home where she grew up; and, later, being one of the people sitting around the outside, working on the quilting herself. (And, whether you were under the quilt or around the edge, you learned so much from quilting! --- and not necessarily about how to sew.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Who Does the NRA Really Represent?

Dear Madame L,

I watched part of the Chris Wallace's interviews on Sunday with Mark Kelly and Wayne LaPierre, but I couldn't stand to watch the whole thing. When Wayne LaPierre started talking about how Pres. Obama's children don't need more protection than most school kids in America, I freaked out. What's the story, anyway?


Don't Want the Government to Take My Guns

Dear Fellow Gun-Owner,

Madame L understands your desire not to watch a proven liar tell even more, and even more scandalous, lies on a supposed news show on TV.  Madame L did not watch the show (she never watches Fox News even if it's the only place where some supposedly important news story is on air). However, she found the transcript online and read it, surprised that the Fox News personality Chris Wallace actually challenged Wayne LaPierre and brought a little sanity to the issue. (Here it is, for your reading pleasure.)

Madame L also understands your fears about changes to existing gun laws, because she sees how these fears are being fanned into flames by people like Wayne LaPierre based on outright lies, subtle plays on concerns about big government, and big doses of ignorance. 

But what Madame L does not understand is why people are letting Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association, which long ago stopped representing American gun owners in exchange for representing weapons manufacturers, get away with these evil lies.

So Madame L was not just surprised but pleased to read these parts of the interview:


WALLACE: A couple of weeks ago, the NRA started running an ad that created a great deal of controversy. Here's a clip.
NARRATOR: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?
WALLACE: Mr. LaPierre, do you regret putting up that ad?
LAPIERRE: The point of ad was this -- it wasn't picking on the president's kids. The president not --
WALLACE: It mentions them.
LAPIERRE: The president's kids are safe and we are thankful for it. The point of that ad --
WALLACE: They also face a threat that most children do not face.
LAPIERRE: Tell that to people in Newtown. Tell that to people --
WALLACE: Do you really think the president's children are the same kind of target as every school child in America? That's ridiculous and you know it, sir.

WALLACE: I understand there are lots of problems out there and this isn't going to solve all of them.
But you can't say, that -- first of all, the gangs don't commit the mass murders, Adam Lanza wasn't a member of a gang. James Holmes was not a member of the gang.
You talk -- one of the points of the ads that I want to ask you about, is you made it a class argument, the rich and elites.
WALLACE: They have bodyguards. They have security.
LAPIERRE: Sure. And Mayor Bloomberg has it. Mayor Bloomberg has bodyguards.
WALLACE: I'll tell you who else has security. You do.
LAPIERRE: Sometimes. Yes.
WALLACE: And, you have security. Today you have security.

Madame L knows this won't be the end of the issue, and Madame L does not claim to know what we should be doing to stop the violence in our country. But Madame L thinks that Wayne LaPierre is not the person anyone should be listening to.

In fact, a few moments' reflection and a look at what the proposed legislation actually intends shows that no one wants to take anyone's guns away. What sane legislators want to do is keep assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines out of the hands of criminals and insane people. Also, reasonable people recognize that when guns are in homes, they are most often used against the home-owners and especially against women.  

And apparently most other Americans agree with Madame L, including you, Dear Reader. Madame L hopes you and all of her Dear Readers will make your opinions known to your elected officials at the national and state and local levels. 


Madame L

Monday, February 4, 2013

Vaccinate, Then Get Your Booster Shots

Dear Readers,

Jenny McCarthy, the actress who headlined the anti-vaccination movement in the U.S., has just been quietly replaced as a celebrity for an Ottawa anti-cancer group's fund-raising event. 

You may have heard about Ms. McCarthy, who claimed that her son "got" autism as the result of a vaccine and that she "cured" him with some kind of treatment that everyone knows is bogus. 

Madame L just read that Ms. McCarthy brags about getting injected with Botox. Madame L would have laughed except it isn't a laughing matter. Madame L highly recommends this article, which begins with the heart-breaking story of a little girl in Australia (where the anti-vaccination movement is even stronger and more rabid than it is in the U.S.) who died of whooping cough because she, and someone else she came in contact with, hadn't been vaccinated.

Here are some links from the article:

Immunize for Good (especially their Fact or Fiction section)

 The Antiantivax website

Madame L hopes these will provide a healthy cure, or a vaccination against, false ideas that are being spread by celebrities with the help of ignorance and anti-government sentiment.


Madame L

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review, February 3, 2013: Brother Cadfael

Madame L has never been disappointed by any of the Brother Cadfael books. (Remember when Madame L wrote some harsh words about one of the books in another series by another author whose books Madame L has usually enjoyed? Well, none of that here.)

Brother Cadfael is a lowly monk in a Benedictine order in western England in the Twelfth Century. He mostly takes care of his garden of herbs, and the people he can cure with those herbs, but he also solves a lot of mysteries. 

Madame L has enjoyed these books for years, but just now, as she was writing this post, she read what Wikipedia has to say about Brother Cadfael and his creator, Ellis Peters. 

And what a lot she has learned! For one thing, Madame L has been pronouncing the good monk's name wrong all this time. (That "f" in his name is pronounced more like a "v," for instance.) For another, it turns out that Ellis Peters is a woman, Edith Mary Pargeter, who was also a linguist and translator (Czech to English).  

Madame L thinks these books are so enjoyable and even uplifting (unlike way too many murder mysteries) not just because of their historical accuracy, twisting plots, and great characters (especially Brother Cadfael but also the other monks, who are so human and funny in their unwanted humanity).

No, Madame L thinks, the books are so good because of the truths they tell, through those means, about all of us. Case in point: the final three paragraphs of "The Sanctuary Sparrow":

     "'Whatever she did of worst,' said Cadfael soberly, 'came of that in her that might have been best, if it had not been maimed. She was much wronged.'

     "'Old friend,' said Hugh, shaking his head with rueful affection, 'I doubt if even you can get [character's name] into the fold among the lambs. She chose her way, and it's taken her far out of reach of man's mercy, if ever she'd lived to face trial. And now, I supposed,' he said, seeing his friend's face still thoughtful and undismayed, 'you wil tell me roundly that God's reach is longer than man's.'

     "'It had better be,' said Brother Cadfael very solemnly, 'otherwise we are all lost.'"

Yes, the truths about all of us, and also about God's  "long reach" which saves us all from being lost.