What exactly is a Bonnie Raitt squat?

I stood at the podium at center stage and surveyed the auditorium. 

The balcony was empty, as were most of the first floor seats, save for my 20 or so eighth grade classmates. 

“O.Henry,” I began. “Who was he?”

I paused after the first sentence and gripped the side of the podium, startled by the sound of my voice in the microphone. As someone who rarely spoke above a whisper, I was stunned that the volume of my voice was seemingly booming, echoing off of the hard wooden seats and cracking plaster walls. I shook less and less with each line I delivered before returning to my seat, trembling as the adrenaline left my body. 

At the end of the class, Mrs. Howard tapped at my Jansport book bag as I walked out of the auditorium. 

“You have a knack for public speaking,” she said and I nodded shyly before walking to my next class. 

I think we were both surprised by the clarity and strength with which I had spoken, since I was loathe to speak up in class or make eye contact when speaking to a teacher. That speech was the first time I realized that I really had a voice. And I didn’t know quite what to make of it. 

 This is how you perform a Bonnie Raitt squat….

This is how you perform a Bonnie Raitt squat….

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Talking was always a problem for me as a student. My dad would come home from each parent/teacher conference and give me the same lecture. “They say that you are a good student but that you need to speak up,” he would say. “You need to raise your hand more. And you mumble too much. You need to E-NUN-CI-ATE.” 

For added emphasis, he would over-enunciate the word enunciate, just to be sure I got the message. I did get the message, I just didn’t care to speak up in class. I didn’t want to raise my hand, I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to myself, and the last thing I wanted to do was use my voice for, well, talking.   

This story came to mind last week when, for the 10th time of the day, someone misheard my directions for an exercise. 

“What is a Bonnie Raitt squat?” Suzanne asked one day in our team training class. 

“Um…I don’t know, but I asked you to do a body weight squat…” I replied. 

We now do Bonnie Raitt squats in class regularly. 

“What is a lame-ass squat?” Another asked on a different day. 

“Well, actually a landmine squat,” I said, as I shook my head, thinking of my dad’s yearly lectures. 

Finding my voice has been a life-long process and certainly not one that’s come easy. It took a number of seasons coaching high school and college kids before I realized that I needed to treat every practice and game as though I was on stage. That I needed to flip a switch and turn my voice and my presence “on” so that I could command the presence that a coach needed to effectively coach.

I don’t write about this today for any other reason than to acknowledge that finding your voice can be really difficult. Whether it’s finding the voice to advocate for yourself with a doctor, the voice to stand up to your boss, the voice to speak up for your children or your family, it can be really difficult to put yourself on stage and find the ability to speak up. It can be startling to hear your own voice ringing out in anger, in excitement, or in delight. 

Often when I write on this site, I do so to give voice to something that someone else might be thinking or struggling with. About body image, about mental health struggles, about life.

But how much better do we feel when we have some solidarity - some understanding that others have been where we have been - have felt what we have felt. So we try, I try, to give voice to struggles and to pains and to some joys as well.

You have a voice.

Remember that you have a voice. 

And as much as possible, surround yourself with people who support you and give you the courage to use that voice. 



42 random thoughts on being 42

I didn’t do this last year, but, if I’m going to write about what’s on my mind, well, here you go.

1. Holy sh** I’m 42.

2. That was Jackie Robinson’s number, but you already knew that. (But do you know the last player to wear that number since it’s been retired throughout all of MLB?)

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3. Bobby Kennedy died when he was 42. It’s amazing to realize how much he did in such a short amount of time. Like have 11 children, serve as Attorney General, and foster change in civil rights. 

4. Captain America is my favorite super hero.

5. Ok, so is Wonder Woman. They are equal favorites.

6. I’ve recently discovered cupping, which is why my back looks like I’m a red spotted Kimmie. Cupping and massage work well together.  

7. I have a thing for vintage running shoes. Ok, ok. I have a thing for shoes.

8. Sometimes I deadlift to Spandeau Ballet

9. My grandparents, Irene and Charles Smithbower, were married on November 11th (sometime in the 40’s…)

10. My favorite series of books as a kid was Frog and Toad.

11. My sports number throughout high school was 11, but up until then, I wore number 4 because my dad told me once that his dad liked Lou Gehrig and that was Lou Gehrig’s number. 

12. Holy Sh** I’m 42.

13. When I was a 10, my dad bought me a football from K Mart and it was pretty much the best day ever.

14. The most helpful thing I’ve ever done for myself is to find a good therapist. I’m grateful that I have one now.

15. This is my 47th blog post of 2018. 

16. This is my 211th blog post on this site. 

17. My beer of choice is Iron City Light. Sure it tastes like pee, but it’s home.

18. My favorite song to play on the guitar is Lodi by Creedance Clearwater Revival.

19. If I turned my car on right now, an easy listening AM radio station would come on. Because AM radio.

20. I’m currently listening to “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor - and it’s really good.

21. I have a weird obsession with the show Criminal Minds, even though it jumped the shark eight years ago. Also books about serial killers….

22. The furthest I’ve ever run is 20 miles. 

23. Then I had knee surgery.

24. I hiked 290 miles of Rocky Mountain National Park when I was 21. 

25. I once taught Freshman composition at the University of New Mexico. 

26. I used to write a weekly column for my hometown newspaper (The Ebensburg Newsleader). It was titled “At the Last Minute” because, shockingly, I wrote it at the last minute. I know. Clever.

27. My favorite all-time Steeler is a tie between Hines Ward and Jack Lambert. Because Jack Lambert.

28. I’m not doing this list next year.

29. Kind of like I’m not doing the Tough Mudder next year.

30. My mom went in to have me on November 9th and they had to induce labor a few times before I decided to come out, two days later. 

31. When I was in high school, I said I would live in New England with my basset hound named Bob, even though I’d never been to New England and had never owned a basset hound. (The only reason Rooney is not named Bob is that Sheila wouldn’t let me…)

32. I got my ears pierced when I was 17 years old. In Canada. It hurt. 

33. I had an obsession with the name Bob when I was in high school. That was my fish’s name. He’s buried in a band aid box in my parents’ back yard.

34. My favorite quote is “It’s never too late to become what you might have been” by George Elliot. I’m grateful that along with the aches and pains that come with aging, also comes the relief of knowing that I’m living the journey that I’m meant to be living, regardless of the wrong turns, right turns, and many side trips I’ve taken along the way. I might be hiking this mountain sideways, but damn I’m making the most of this journey. 

35. One of my other favorite quotes was given to me 22 years ago, right before my 20th birthday, by a priest in college who was the kindest, most influential people in my life. It goes like this  

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

37. As much as this quote frustrated me when Father Drexler handed it to me on a sheet of yellow legal paper 22 years ago, I can appreciate that somehow, this has turned out to be true.

38. But I still have questions…

39. I have found an editor who is helping me write a book. (I’m reserving the exclamation for the moment when I write the book. Don’t forget that according to my college professor Dr. Minot, we are only allowed 5 exclamation points in our lives…)

40. I have my struggles, and I have bad days, but I’m definitely living a very blessed life.

41. I’m not doing this next year.
42. Who’s kidding? Of course I will….

Seriously, thank you to all of you who take the time to visit my site and read what I write. I’m deeply humbled and honored that you would spend your valuable time with me.

Wishing you every peace and kindness, today and always.

The best intentions

Shortly into my first season as a head softball coach at a small DIII school in Boston, one of the players walked off the field with me after practice.

“You know,” she said, heaving a bag of catcher’s gear onto her shoulders, “you’re not nearly as intimidating as I thought you were.”

I laughed.

“You thought I was scary?”

“Yeah! You have an intense resting bitch face.”

And so I was introduced to the term resting bitch face....

Lately, as I continue listening to a book on happiness, I find myself trying to implement different strategies to help reduce stress in my life, work to make my leisure time feel both refreshing and renewing, and struggle to complete my gratitude journal everyday, I think more about intention.

I think especially about the intentions that I put out to the world and to people with whom I interact everyday.

I think about the number of students I coached, or maybe whom I didn't coach because of the energy I inadvertently put out to them when my mind was preoccupied.

I grew up not far from the world of Mr. Rogers. Literally. In fact, the recent tragic shooting in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh literally happened in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. Like most folks my age, I adored Mr. Rogers as a kid. And when I’ve revisited his story and various documentaries about him as an adult, I’ve thought yes, this is the kind of person that I want to be.

In doing research for a book that I’m writing, I visited the website of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania, and I was easily reminded as to why I almost became a nun in 1999. Their social justice work, their community involvement, and their commitment to using kindness to bring peace to this world are all still values I find appealing.

And not the kind of values that my resting bitch face promotes.

I have my struggles, many of which I’ve documented here and on my blog. I battle anxiety, I battle depression even more, and I am often paralyzed by the fear that I'm not doing enough - even though I don't even know what enough means.

I'm easily preoccupied with my intention to get everything done on my ever growing list of things I want to do.

But that preoccupation often becomes my intention and I lose sight of the big picture.

Recently, I've begun to ask people what the highlight of their day was, or what they're looking forward to. And many folks are startled by the question. It's ranged from the sarcastic to stunned silence to a flat out answer of "nothing."

So what if we focus on our true intentions?

To be present with people we love.

To do work that provides us with meaning and plays to our strengths.

To leave every person with whom we interact feeling a little better than she did before she saw us.

To bring our best intentions to the forefront of our daily exchanges.

Wishing you peace.

I have privilege

When my dad lost his job in the steel mills, he bounced around before landing a job as a corrections officer at a maximum security prison in rural Pennsylvania.

My dad is a mild-mannered fellow, good natured, kind and often a man of few words. He’s also 5’7 and about as imposing a figure as my 10-year old basset hound… 

One night, when I was 12 years old, my dad wasn’t yet home from work and I could sense that my mom was worried. I was picking up her anxiety and matching it with my own when we were both jarred by the piercing ring of our rotary telephone. My mom answered the phone, said a few words, before returning the living room, pale faced.

“There’s a bomb threat at the prison,” she said. “Dad can’t come home yet.” 

I’m sure I don’t know half of the stresses and situations my dad dealt with in his years before retiring from his job. I know it changed him, I know he grayed earlier than his brother who is eight years his senior - and I know retired as soon as he could.

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I asked him once, a few years ago, what it was like to work around people whom you know have committed horrific crimes.

“Most of those guys,” he said, sipping his coffee and looking out the back window of our kitchen. “Most of those guys didn’t stand a chance. They didn’t have the privileges you guys had,” he said, referring to my brothers and me.

I nodded and sipped my own coffee, but didn’t know what to say.

I don’t often think of myself as growing up with privilege. 

We didn’t have a lot of money. There were some tough times especially when my dad lost his job. But one of the best descriptions of privilege I ever read is “if you don’t have to think about it, it’s a privilege.” 

Well, there were plenty of things I didn’t have to think about, and that I still don’t have to think about. 

Privilege doesn’t mean we haven’t worked hard or overcome obstacles. But recognizing that we have privilege can fundamentally change the way we see our lives as they are now. Recently, I’ve been reading Shawn Achor’s “Happiness Advantage,” (which I highly recommend). In it, Achor, who grew up in Waco, Texas and never expected to leave, writes about how he viewed attending Harvard as a privilege, not an expectation, and how that view fundamentally changed his experience of Harvard, compared to the many students who were attending the Ivy League school to live up to a family legacy or expectation.

I have a lot of day to day privileges that I don’t have to think about - I am able-bodied - I live a middle class life with easy access to community, education, and health care. Though I don’t right now have a spiritual home, I’ve never felt threatened by whatever spiritual practice I’ve chosen to pursue. I live in a country where I have the freedom to write and publish a blog, and pursue whatever career I’d like.

I’ve also had the privilege of other’s support while I pursue my career.

I forget about these privileges more often than I’d like to admit. Because, again, I don’t often have to think about them.

Mostly, I try to keep this blog to all things fitness and mindset. But in all that I write and all that I do, I believe in kindness to self and others. And I wonder what it will take from each and every one of us to help facilitate peace and kindness in places where peace and kindness seem so far away.

And I think about my dad, and his words to me.

I have been afforded many privileges in my life. It’s up to me recognize those privileges, and make the most of my opportunities. But it’s not just being grateful and appreciating what I’ve been given.

It’s also about using our privilege to help create opportunities for people who haven’t been afforded those same opportunities.

That is the true kindness, isn’t it?




My blue sky moment

My cousin’s wife walked into the funeral home. 

She wore a sequined top that shone in the afternoon sunlight, and as she greeted us all with hugs announced “I wore this because I thought it was the kind of top Aunt Juanita would love.” 

We all nodded our approval before my cousin Terri spoke up. 

“Go have a look in the casket.”

Much to her chagrin, and everyone else’s amusement, she was wearing the exact same blouse my Aunt Juanita was laid out in. It was the lightest moment in an otherwise very sad day. But it was the kind of story my dad’s sister would have told over and over again. She had that dry British sense of humor that is common in my family. She had a knack for finding humor in strife.  

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Doug has written a few times about remembering the blue sky - that even when the clouds are hanging above you to remember that there is blue sky above. That moment of levity was my blue sky moment in the day. Recently, I’ve been focused on the practice of gratitude, trying to think of three new things every day to be grateful for, and to think of why I am grateful for them. 

That day, in that moment, I was grateful for my sense of humor and that my family shares in that humor. Humor is how my aunt survived a life of struggle. Humor is how I’ve learned to make the best of sadness. 

I’ve been home to Pennsylvania only twice this year, both times for a funeral. The longer you live, the more loss you will have I suppose. I am lucky, in that I’ve been spared the kind of loss that many others have lived through at much younger ages. If there is a cost to aging, then the empty feeling of losing someone we love must be the price of admission. 

I left the church to the closing hymn of “On Eagles Wings,” crying harder than I meant to as I watched my brother and cousins carry her casket. As I held the umbrella over my mother’s head on our walk to the car, I remembered the quote, “if you live to be 100, I want to live to be 100 minus a day so I never have to live a day without you.” 

Oh the wisdom of Winnie the Pooh. 

Emptiness is a tough feeling. It’s hard to know what to do with the hollow pit in your stomach. We cope in different ways - with food, with alcohol, with anything that will make us feel numb for a little while. Later in the day, after the funeral, I hung out with my dad at one of his local clubs, a time that would have typically been spent in the company of my aunt as well. 

Sitting in that club next to my dad, I missed my aunt - I thought of her laugh and her jokes and her love of Patsy Cline. I looked over at my dad who was sipping his beer, staring intently at a preview of Sunday’s Steeler’s game. I can’t imagine the pain of losing his first sibling - of seeing his family shrink. I felt a catch in my throat and tried to freeze the moment in my mind - I want to freeze so many moments of time with my dad.   

I leaned over and tapped my head on his shoulder for a second, then focused my attention on the t.v. 

Two people, holding their grief together in silence. Holding their grief together in love. 

My blue sky moment? That everyone should be so lucky, to have someone with whom to hold their grief.