Wanted: Shoe Magician

If I’ve let on that finding a magical pair of shoes is the hardest part about dressing a fused ankle, it’s not.

Finding someone who has the skills to shape them into something I can wear is the real challenge. This has become a big issue for me this past year.

I found my first “shoe guy” in 2005, a couple of years after my injury, when I started to walk again. He owned an orthopedic and prosthetic company for years and taught me how to manage my ankle fusion through footwear — what sole shapes to look for, the best brands to use, ideal materials, etc. I worked with him over 10 years and we came up with some new twists on the old orthopedic shoe varieties.

Then he retired. The nerve, right?

I was referred to a different orthotic/prosthetic company and was shocked to find shoe guy #2 on the first try. Bonus: He wasn’t even close to retirement age. He modified 4-5 pairs for me. They’re some of my favorite shoes to date.

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Some of my lifted lefties

Last summer I heard through the grapevine that shoe guy #2 had gotten into some trouble. After a quick Google search, I found his mug shot. The accompanying article included a messy tale involving impersonating an officer and assault with a firearm.

WTF?

Needless to say he no longer works at that office. So began the hunt for yet another shoe guru. I talked to local cobblers and met with another prosthetic company but ended up back at office #2. (stay with me here)

Unfortunately, they were scrambling to find a qualified replacement for the alleged criminal. They hooked me up with shoe gal #3. She was green and I was her Guinea pig.

I brought in two pairs of shoes that ended up under construction for over two months. She really wanted to get them right. She listened to my concerns and specifications — she even brought in reinforcements! Unfortunately, they aren’t great but I gave up and wore them anyways.

Shoe gal #3 and I never found our shoe groove.

This year I’m back to square one. After feeling overwhelmed and frustrated for the last eight months, I’ve recently found a shop that has me hopeful.

I dropped off my new pair of Converse with the cobbler/owner of Sierra Shoe Repair and saw no trepidation in his eyes. That’s a good start. A lot of local cobblers will do shoe lifts or “build ups.” I haven’t had good luck with them in the past but I’m willing to give it another try.

I’ve known about Sierra Shoe Repair for a few years. They’ve been around Fresno for awhile but recently made some changes when the previous owner was tragically killed. They talk about it here.

The eldest son now owns the shop and it feels legit. Rockabilly music, antique sewing machines and framed photos of Italian relatives make for a unique and welcoming vibe. Along with lifts and repair, they also craft custom shoes and handbags using materials imported from Italy.

My shoes will be ready this week. I’m excited but nervous that I might have to start from scratch again. Will this be a disaster or did I just find my shoe magician?!

I’ll keep you posted.

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Extra points for having adorable business cards
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Hello, Lover

I’ve spent a most of my adult life in comfortable (a.k.a. boring) shoes. This is not by choice but a necessity.

My hunt for a functional yet stylish shoe is exhausting. Whether it’s shopping or dressing up or packing for travel, I do not enjoy thinking about what goes on my feet. I feel I’m part of a small minority of women when I say that shoes are a constant source of stress in my life.

Ever since Carrie Bradshaw declared her love for Manolos, it seemed shoes became an integralgiphy part of a woman’s personality. Putting on that perfect shoe could make you feel confident, sexy and stylish. I mean, you may not fit into last year’s jeans but you can still feel hot in those heels!

Shoes have the opposite affect on me.

I’m rarely compelled to recite terms of endearment to a pair of my shoes. I actually get anxious spending too much time in the shoe department and typically ends in cursing, self-loathing and a pity party in the middle of Macy’s.

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SAS comfort shoe (I don’t actually own this style)

My options often feel so limited that I’ve been known to throw in the towel and go to SAS. If you aren’t familiar with anything from the SAScollection, picture your school lunch lady. It’s humbling to find yourself buying the same sandal as an octogenarian.

I try to think of it as a fun game of who wore it best.

I could easily spend my life in orthopedic shoes, but I refuse to go down like that. I’m a young, 30-something woman for God sakes!

I have to carefully and methodically shop for shoes. Here’s my checklist:

  • Shape of the sole must be flat and square and thick. No stacked heel or wedge or slight incline. My shoe magicians specialists need enough sole to slice it down the middle, or sand it down, to adhere a 1/2″ lift (my left side is shorter than the right). Then they shave the lift into a “rocker” shape so that I roll smoothly through the forefoot. This makes up for the lack of movement in my ankle.
  • Material of sole. EVA is a workable material and I’ve become pretty good at feeling the soles of shoes to see if they make the cut — literally.
  • Secure. My foot is pretty rigid and the left is 1/2 a size smaller than the right. I usually buy to fit the bigger foot so a shoe without proper support leaves me slipping and sliding all over the place.
  • FASHIONABLE. This one’s tricky.

All of the criteria can be overwhelming so to keep it simple I will buy the same style in different colors. Recently I replaced an old pair of Chuck T’s. Modified 11 years ago, these classics were long past their prime so I found the same shoes in a super cute color.

OK, maybe I do get a little excited when I find a new pair of shoes. (wink, wink Carrie Bradshaw)

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I’m aware that my shoe stress may come off a tad dramatic or even vain. But think about your feet — they affect every aspect of your life! So, my concerns are more than a lack of stilettos in my closet.

Healthy feet, by way of comfortable, supportive shoes, give us the opportunity to fully live our lives. Finding accommodating footwear since my accident has allowed me to walk for hours exploring New York City; Dance in the streets of New Orleans; Wander the cobbled canals of Venice.

We are traveling this Summer so I’m getting new footwear ready now. I took the above Converse to a shoe cobbler in Fresno that I’ve recently discovered. I’m feeling hopeful with a sprinkle of anxiety. Stay tuned for my review on this latest shoe magician.

Next time I’ll get into my previous shoe guy — he was a doozy!

Shoe Hustle

Walk a mile in someone’s shoes.

I think about this sentiment sometimes when I’m hustling to find a new pair of shoes. If you slipped on a pair of my sneaks, you’d be lopsided and probably dread shoe shopping as much as I do.

I’ve had a problematic gait stemming from a car accident in 2003 that crushed my left leg and ankle. I’ve had 11 surgeries over the last 14-plus years. Early on they added metal and screws to fuse my shattered ankle joint. The fusion was to alleviate some of the chronic pain I’d have for the rest of my life.

It’s mostly helped…except when I have to find shoes.

That fused joint is the reason I have to modify all of my left shoes with a 1/2″ lift. My left leg is shorter than my right and has little to no movement. Because of that rigidity, I also need a tapered, or “rocker,” sole to make up for the lack of mobility in my ankle. The lift and rocker is necessary in all of my footwear. This is done by a professional shoe orthotist or cobbler (more on them in a future post).

Here’s a look at the operation:

I’ve spent hours scouring the internet, hunting down various shoe sites in search of something that can undergo this type of transformation. It takes a critical eye and a lot of trial and error. But if I didn’t have all of my shoes modified, I couldn’t walk very far without a lot of pain and a very apparent limp.

I buy about 2-3 pairs of shoes each year. I’m looking for a new pair right now. Something cute and comfortable that I can wear when we travel this Summer. It’s frustrating but I keep reminding myself it’s not impossible.

It just takes a little patience…and a lot of hustle.

 

 

 

Sweatin’ to the Newbies

Anyone interested in getting high? High on fitness!download

(Warning: puns continue)High-Fitness-Logo-1

High Fitness classes are the latest craze in my neck of the woods. People of all ages are going gaga over this action-packed aerobics class. I hear it mentioned at the gym, see it all over Instagram hashtags #aerobicsisback, and the sweeping line to get into a class is impossible to miss (I’m talking 80-100 people waiting in line for a class on a weekday morning!).

I’ve been waiting for the right time to give this new school aerobics class a try. When my spunky, talented dance fitness instructor (apparently they don’t call it Zumba anymore?) said she was subbing a class over the weekend, I knew this was my chance.

After asking around and doing a bit of research, I learned that High Fitness is a high intensity, high energy aerobic workout incorporating simple choreography set to a variety of contemporary music. Here’s an explanation from the High Fitness pros:

The creators boast about people getting “addicted to the high,” and from what I’ve seen, that seems accurate. The Fresno Bee got wind of it last December, writing about its popularity at our local gym, GB3.

My endurance is pretty good right now from all that dance fitnessing. I thought with some slight modifications I was ready to give it a try. Bring on my new favorite workout!

My first mistake was not getting up early enough on Saturday morning and strolling in with only 5 minutes to spare. There were probably 60-plus people in the room and all the good spots were taken. I squeezed myself into a spot on the side where I could barely see the instructor or move without the fear of hitting someone. I was constantly craning my neck to see tiny Tiffany way up in the front, while myself and the other late arrivals tried to follow along smashed up against a weight rack.

Tip: There are some dance studios and “boutique” fitness studios that offer High Fitness in a smaller space i.e. smaller classes. That’s a good option if you don’t want to deal with crowds.

But that was all logistics so I tried to power through…

The music was good. A fun mix of pop and hip hop from the past couple of decades that appeals to many age groups. It’s definitely one of the most appealing elements of the class. Spice Girls, anyone?

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Photo credit: highfitness.com

Tiffany has great choreography, and her High class was no different. Moves were sassy and vibrant, working well with the music. You can get the hang of them quickly. It’s a lot less dance and more squats, burpees and jumping mixed in with a few aerobics classics. I imagine retired (or current) cheerleaders love this class. It had that peppy, athlete vibe.

I like a good pep routine but overall, I have to say I’m not down with High.

I couldn’t finish the hour. The moves were too intense and although they offer modifications, I was frustrated by the number of changes I had to make. I really wanted to love this class but found my limitations distracting. I saw people of varying ages and abilities happily modifying moves but that’s just not me.

Shining a spotlight on my inabilities takes the fun out of workouts for me. I don’t want to feel weak; I want to feel empowered.

In the end, I held strong for 40 minutes until my toes started to throb. They were operated on last summer and now a good indicator when I’ve gone too far. One thing this experience showed me was that I’ve finally learned to listen to my body. I no longer push myself through that type of pain — even when my ego is trying to convince me otherwise.

Sorry, High Fitness, I’m just not that into you.

 

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Yoga on the Cheap

Summer is in full swing and it’s been tough keeping up my regularly scheduled fitness. Between work, travel and occupying a constantly bored teen, my yoga practice has been slippin’. It’s difficult to make my favorite class on Saturdays and I can’t rationalize shelling out cash for drop-ins at local studios. I’m forced to get creative.

Enter: my quest for free yoga on YouTube.

I have been mining YouTube for fitness gems for years. DVDs get repetitive and I prefer to mix up workouts. YouTube is perfect for this. Here are some of my favorites for an inexpensive yoga fix:

Yoga with Adriene: She’s a good mix of crunchy but not too granola. Whether your aiming to feel more energized, relieve stress, or focus on specific parts of the body, beginning and advanced yogis have many options with Adriene.

 

Tara Stiles: Tara Stiles is pretty amazing to watch. She’s tall, thin and ultra flexible — but don’t be intimidated. She has a lot of short videos for varying levels. She’s my go-to if I only have time for a 10 minute routine in the morning or before bed. She moves quickly so having some yoga knowledge under your belt helps.

Shiva Rea: These videos aren’t the highest quality but they get the job done. I like the Shiva Rea approach; it’s challenging, a little intense and well paced. She makes me feel all spiritual and s**t.

Yoga House: If you want to learn or perfect specific poses, check out Yoga House. They have a variety of short videos showing you how to get in and out out of various asanas. The video quality is good, just ignore the random passersby in the background.

 

Last but not least, my favorite cheap yoga find is at Lululemon. They offer complimentary community classes on most Sunday mornings before they open for business. It may seem odd to practice in a retail space but it’s surprisingly serene. Classes are led by different local teachers each week. It’s a great way to check out new instructors without paying for a class. I follow Lululemon on Facebook to keep track of weekly in-store events.

Also, free classes take the sting out of buying $100 yoga pants.

Namaste.

 

 

How Joy Got Her Groove Back

 

We’re half way through the year and I have to admit, it’s been a doozie.

I came down with pneumonia in February and was hospitalized for seven days. Yes, SEVEN days for what I thought was just a bad case of the flu. When the ER doctor came in and told me I had pneumonia, I looked at him in disbelief and said, “Just a little bit of pneumonia, right?”

Nope.

It was a large mass in my lung. I was admitted, put on a ton of antibiotics and waited days for the fever to break. It turned into, what I assume in my limited knowledge, the full pneumonia experience. I lost 12 pounds in 6 days. It took weeks to gain any semblance of energy.

But this post isn’t to dwell on that low period of sickness. It’s to talk about how I got back up. I was scared to work out. I didn’t want to push my body too quickly, relapse, and end up back in the dreaded hospital.

Fast forward to June. I’m feeling back to normal and giving props to Zumba.

I am a self-proclaimed gym-class snob but I found a couple of talented Zumba teachers at my local gym. They put together a fun, fast-paced, total-body-workout that I’ve been practicing about 4 times a week. (sidenote: I was so excited to take my teenage daughter with me but after a few classes, she’s still not a fan.)

Zumba is practiced worldwide and got it’s start in Colombia in the 90s. A typical class is a series of choreographed dance routines set to a variety of music, usually with Latin movements and rhythms. The classes I enjoy are an energetic mix of hip hop, salsa, booty shaking, and a high intensity cardio workout set to a variety of music. It’s basically a dance class, which is why I love it.

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I feel like it’s gotten me back into shape faster than my usual workout routine. I have gained back most of the weight that I lost (bummer) but most of the loss was muscle anyway (double bummer) so c’est la vie.

I do have to be careful and find ways to modify around the fast movements and jumping during a typical class. I used to think I couldn’t take the class at all because it’d be too hard on my injury. I’ve found ways to change up jumps and twists here and there and I’m pretty proud (and surprised) that I can keep up. I’m able to get down and sweaty like any other person in the class!

I’m not sure how long this new fitness inspiration will last but for now, I’m just thankful I got my groove back.

Wait(ing) For It

 

In celebration of the new year, we planned our first family trip to New York City. We were so excited to visit famous landmarks and museums, but especially looking forward to seeing as many Broadway shows as possible.

Quick backstory: our household became obsessed with Hamilton: An American Musical last year when our 13-year-old started playing the soundtrack non-stop and energized our desire to see live theater. We knew it was nearly impossible to score tickets to Hamilton in New York since it’s sold out months in advance. As our trip approached, we convinced ourselves not to hold out hope of seeing it. That is until we got to the city.

Hamilton 3.jpgWe arrived in NYC on Saturday morning. By Sunday, we were standing outside of the Richard Rogers theater taking pictures and soaking in the Hamilton vibe. We talked to the door man and got some insight on getting tickets via the cancellation line. By Tuesday we were standing in that line, hoping for our shot at the most hyped musical on the planet.

Here’s the skinny on scoring day-of tickets through the cancellation line: be one of the first 10 people in line on any given show day and you have a 98% (give or take) chance of getting a ticket. On Tuesday afternoon, we strolled by the theater, realized we would be 14-16th in line and decided, “why not?” It was raining and we didn’t have plans for the rest of the day. We made new friends and listened to the urban legends of Hamilton tickets. “They let in 21 people yesterday!” and “They’ll release a bunch of standing-room-only tickets for $10!”  We waited from 2 pm until the 7:05 pm curtain.

We didn’t make the cut.

Bummed but not surprised, we sprinted to Chicago and got tickets for that instead. It was great! We saw Kinky Boots on Wednesday and it was fantastic. It was even better than Chicago but we still had Hamilton on the brain. If these other shows were so great how amazing could Hamilton be?! We were dying to find out.

Thursday was our last night in the city and my husband decided this was it. He planned on getting to the cancellation line early. He would stake out a spot in the front of the line and wait as long as necessary to get his girls tickets to this show. Freezing temperatures be damned, he would wait for it and make Hamilton happen!

By 9:45 a.m. we were the 4-6th in line. My husband stayed in line all day while my daughter and I came and went, bringing food and warm drinks; ducking into nearby hotels for a few minutes of warmth in the restroom; shopping for souvenirs at the official Hamilton store down the block. We made friends with our line cohorts and we kept each other entertained throughout the long day of waiting. A professional line sitter, who had seen the show so many times he’d lost count, and was first in line at 5 a.m. was the self-appointed one. He gave us the skinny on all the shows and various cast members. Also keeping us company on the cold cement steps of the Richard Rogers Theater was our Hawaiian friend who flew to New York by himself just to see Hamilton. And let’s not forget the 18-year-old newlywed couple from Virginia who spent their honeymoon waiting in line on a freezing New York day for a shot at tickets.

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Hanging outside the theater with our new friends on the coldest day of our trip

Happily, it all paid off. Around 5:30 p.m. they released a few tickets and we scored front row seats to the 7 p.m. show! I was so elated I sprained my ‘good foot’ during my celebratory jumping and squealing. Our fellow line friends also got in. It was a lucky day for everyone!hamilton-2

Our review of the show: amazing. It lived up to our high expectations and I say, without a hint of sarcasm, it was absolutely worth sitting outside in the cold for eight hours. My husband agrees.

We were so familiar with the original cast soundtrack that it took a minute to absorb that it was happening right in front of us. Being in the front row put us in the line of fire for all of the sweat and energy oozing from the cast. We saw the spit spray as they belted our beloved tunes to the balcony seats. What we lost in perspective, we gained in the details of the costumes, choreography and facial expressions that may have been lost a few rows back.

Looking back now, it really blew our minds. I’m pretty sure Angelica smiled at me while I was bawling during the curtain call. Jaelynn swears King George scowled right at her. It was her favorite moment of the show.

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Our view of the Hamilton stage from the front row

It was a perfect way to end our most excellent New York adventure.