The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Badass Not September 17, 2014

Back in the day, I kinda thought I was a badass. I wasn’t, of course, but I tried hard to convince myself – and many of the people around me – that I was. Inside I was full of self-doubt, but I was still together enough to pretend to the world that I was fine. More than fine. And truthfully, there were moments when did indeed feel strong and confident. Maybe there were some moments when I really was a badass. Good at something in my own way. I think I knew it on some level, yet still, a voice nagged at me… They’ll figure you out one day if you’re not careful…

But for a while, there was something I truly did have going for me. I was in shape. And for a few years there, fitness was my thing. Really my thing. Worked out six days a week, and worked out well, thoughtfully. I’d have women come up to me and ask me for tips, for help with their routines. Back then I hadn’t the life experience to know that a good measure of that fitness was, plain and simple, thanks to youth. And thanks also to a chronic sense that somehow I could just never measure up. And so I made up for it the best ways I could. Being a mini rock star in my small sub-culture, dressing fine, and being on stage – whether I actually was on stage or not. Always fundamentally insecure, always trying to appear that I wasn’t trying. And frankly, the only true barometer I had that showed me I was truly good at something was seeing my hard work paying off in the form of a fit body. So I kept at it.

Until, of course, life took over. My story is not unique, really. Nope. Woman has kid, becomes busy, hell, becomes divorced, poor, run-down by the duties of the post, and, well… Next thing you know a decade’s passed and thirty extra pounds have come to live on your frame. It does sneak up on you. I had no true understanding of how large I’d become until it became necessary, once again, to buy ‘fat clothes’. That, and the observations of my young son that “I really was getting big now”. One can only stall so long. Clearly action was needed. But when I stared down the solution in the face, I wondered how I would approach it. What motivated me then didn’t drive me now. I couldn’t just put on the 80s hair metal cassette and kick some ass… It wasn’t about any of that anymore. How was I going to do this? Sure vanity drives me still, I think all humans share that to some degree, but this time it was more about my quality of life. And the very length of it, too. I’d taken enough of those online tests that determine your ‘actual’ age vs. your ‘age in years’ to know that my prospects weren’t quite as good as I pretended they were. Bad enough I’d smoked all those years. Then there was this inactivity thing on top of it. Ich. Time to move.

At first, I did not want to go to the Y. For one, all I’d ever gone to were women’s gyms. There I was off the hook. Didn’t have to look good for anyone. (Keep in mind, the last time I spent a lot of time working out I was much younger, and my wiring was different than it is now.) And this time, some shadow of that adolescent concern still bothered me. It bothered me for or a day or two. Until I realized that, unlike the me at 25, it honestly wasn’t about my ego anymore. My fitness or lack thereof. And ironically, in some ways, being an overweight, middle-aged woman gave me a new feeling of freedom. Some of it due to the anonymity of my demographic, some of it due to the fact that I don’t care so much anymore how I appear because there are more important things in my life. Course I do care, but also, I don’t. You know, not in the way I once did.

The variety of ages and abilities of the people attending the Y blows my mind. I’ve never before been a part of such a diverse population. Not in my jobs, not in my small, personal world. Not really even on the street. But at the Y – there are ninety year olds and two year olds all doing something. Hell, there are mommies pushing infants in jogging strollers… It’s amazing. Kinda reminds me of the picture books for young children that show all the goings-on of the outside world. Like a Richard Scarry book, or like a Sesame Street short. People of all shapes and colors and ages are there, just doing their thing. Gives me a lot of latitude just to chill and concentrate on doing my own best – and not worrying about looking my best while I’m doing it. I’m still kinda acclimating to the idea of being really sweaty and gross looking in front of, well, everybody, but it is freeing. And while I may not be able to go as low into my squats as the women in my Zumba class (seriously, when did I become this friggin weak??) I know that it’s ok. I don’t have to be a badass anymore. I just have to be. Thank God.

As I’ve passed my first week of routine workouts, I’ve come to notice a couple of things. One, is that my long morning workouts have not served yet to raise my overall energy, instead, I feel like passing out on the drive home. ! This, I hope, will change before long. I remind myself that it’s hardest in the beginning. That I haven’t worked out like this in a decade. (At least one hopes these are sound arguments for hanging in there.) I’ve also come to observe something about the way I move through the world – about the way in which many, likely most folks move in this world: I used to move through this world in spite of my body, now I’m moving through the world because of my body. Simply walking has become a more thoughtful process. And crazy as it might sound, I feel less daunted by it. It feels more familiar. I don’t look for the closest parking space anymore cuz I don’t dread the walk. Ok, so maybe I might not love the walk, but still, it doesn’t feel like quite the burden it did just a week ago. Which is hopeful, because this time, I have a feeling this workout thing might have to become part of my life for the long haul.

And maybe, if I live long enough, and well enough, maybe that’ll give me enough street cred to finally make me a legitimate, card-carrying badass.

 

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Magic Bus September 12, 2014

It’s the small victories that keep us going, right? Today will mark the first time my son will have taken the bus home from school, and that in of itself – what with the savings of another twelve plus miles in my gas-guzzling CRV plus the hour out of my day – can be taken as a small victory. It’s got me fairly giddy with freedom, yet in spite of having made great strides on my to-do list, I still feel as if I should be further along for all this pedaling. I didn’t make it to the Studio yet to put time in insulating, but I did find a local feed store that’ll deliver 200 pounds of layer mash for a modest delivery fee, and a price that beats the corporate-owned Tractor Supply Company. That was another win. I signed up for Weight Watchers online, got my cheapo laptop to talk to my printer (the tower’s done for, I’m afraid), and was able to get some necessary docs printed out. Maybe not much, but still. Progress.

And then there was the Y yesterday. It felt strange to be back in the culture of fitness; I realized, mid-mile, that it had been over a decade since I’d taken a stab at coming to a gym. Not since my son was a baby and I’d made it my priority to drop the enormous amount of weight I’d put on during pregnancy had I spent more than two hours in a health club. I’d tried once a few years ago, but couldn’t muster the focus. But now, having given up smoking in earnest more than two years ago, and finding myself drifting, without a sound excuse, pound by pound, up and up through the numbers… Now I had to do this thing. Funny though, for as incredibly difficult as it was to get the proper clothes together, figure out my schedule and then actually join a class (which was already going when I got there, ich, I’d so hoped to sneak into the group at the start and become invisible), once I got moving – it felt good. Wow. Not saying it was easy though – that Zumba class kicked my butt, and that itself shocked me. I’d not fancied myself quite so out of shape. Or quite so large. I hadn’t been in front of the mirror for the nearly hour-long class, so when I began to walk around the track and caught sight of myself in the mirror, I was disappointed. Man, I’d been getting into my groove again, sweating in earnest as I hadn’t in years, and now I was rediscovering my ‘old gait’ (it amused me to see how naturally my body found its preferred form) and beginning once again to think maybe I just might have a little badass left in me – when I saw my profile. Shit. Was I really that goddam wide? Guess so. Second lap. Check again, maybe it’s not as bad as it looked the first time. Maybe I was looking into a seam in the glass or something. Nope. Still wide.

Thankfully it didn’t dampen my spirits. In fact, I improved my time each lap, until I’d done a little better than a mile. It felt good to move again, and I was happily surprised at it. I would never have guessed I’d enjoy it so much. I hoped it wasn’t simply the magic of the first day. It’s the beginning of anything that’s the hardest, so I reminded myself that it was an achievement just to have finally gotten here. Today I felt a tiny stab of guilt at not going, but I simply cannot do it all. I’d neglected my desk for several days, and we all know how that stuff adds up. I’ve mapped out a morning workout each weekday after I drop Elihu off at school, and it looks like it’ll work well. That will give me time to work at the Studio, prepare teaching materials, work at my desk, and maybe (I almost dare not say it) begin to organize material for a book. I hesitate use the words ‘my book‘, but to be truthful, it’s on my mind. May take a while to get to it, what with Halloween coming (killer costume yet to be made – that’s hours upon hours of labor) and getting the Studio ready for winter. But with the school bus relieving me of a trip three times a week and a new, predictable routine, I think I might see some possibility growing…

Bus’ll be here before long, and I gotta get back to it. The bus number is easy to remember, and nice, big numbers, easy for my kid to see. Even if I’m next door at the Studio, I have the peace of mind to know my son is now old enough to walk down the driveway by himself and get himself a snack. He can ride his bike and watch the men working on the new house, he can play a video game or play his bass, read a book or spend time with his chickens. I feel freer and more hopeful about the future today, and I have a lot of things to thank, among them, that wonderful, magic bus.

 

Panic 1-1-1 September 7, 2014

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It’s the infinite possibility that gets me. The unfathomable, unknowable vastness of situations that exist – the organic events going on, right now, in the very spot of grass beneath my feet, the goings on of people and commerce in my town, across the whole state, the whole country, and at the same time all the like going on in other towns, in other countries, even on other continents… It’s the weather systems that surround our globe and the super-heated action taking place miles below our feet… and then of course some similar sort of activity also taking place on some other planet so far away that you could never even begin to comprehend how far away it is, much less come to understand and know all that goes on there, too. Oh, and then there’s the microscopic, unseen world that supports and makes up the world that we do see; events of commonplace chemistry and basic physics taking place that have unto themselves limitless interactions, relationships and morphing outcomes ceaselessly going on – no matter whether you’re paying attention or not. The whole bloody lot is always moving, reacting, growing, decaying…. Life always moves. And life is e-normous. Limitless, in fact, many would agree.

Which of course is fine, and all is as it should be, I suppose. Everything nests somehow into everything else, and therein lies the beauty of it all, the Godliness of it all. It’s just that it’s so much. And perhaps I’m short-circuiting or something, but lately I’m highly inclined to want to get a grip on how all of it works. Now I realize how silly that sounds, honestly, I do. But that’s the thing with problems that arise from your thinking process; they can be downright illogical. And no matter how illogical, the thinking still appears to be real to the thinker. And so that hyper-awareness of the largeness, the unknowability of it all then helps to tip me into that most unpleasant state of panic once again. I hate it, but can’t seem to stop it. I’m walking a fine line here, even in the wake of Robin William’s depression-related suicide – because I do not relish the idea of people thinking I’m crazy. But having panic attacks is in of itself is a kind of crazy – as is depression, or being manic. And so many of us suffer in some way during our lifetimes from some kind of mental health issue. So many of us have lived our own kind of crazy at one time or another. Really, how in hell can you live on this planet and not lose it from time to time?

These days, in addition to the run-of-the-mill panic attacks which come on through obviously stress-induced and rather specific situations, I’ve been finding that unremarkable events are also acting as triggers for my panic. Because, as I’ve just pointed out, nothing is really all that unremarkable when you think about it. I even find that glancing at clouds can frighten me, because I realize how big they themselves are, and how high up they are too, and I begin to experience a mild fear of heights even at that line of contemplation. Sort of a sympathetic vertigo, you might say. Conversely, when I try to pull my awareness back into my immediate sphere of experience (as a means of calming myself), I cannot help but then become acutely aware of the activity all about me – the activity of cells, the movement of insects (they by themselves spin me off into a world of disbelief and wonder – how in hell can something so tiny have all those systems packed inside? And don’t get me started on nano technology – the subject can literally make me light-headed and slightly dizzy. Really.). So my challenge then becomes how to tame this mental mess. And believe me, I’m working on it.

Sometimes, when my life’s a wreck or I can’t pull myself out of an undesirable situation, I try to imagine what advice I would give myself if I were somebody else. An objective outsider. Because as we all know it’s much easier to tell someone else how to change their life than to actually make those changes for yourself. ! Using that tactic, I find it’s easy to coach myself. And so I make a list of categories which might benefit from a little assessment: Financial, Professional, Physical, Spiritual.

Ok, number one: there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead, what with the Studio, the lack of a real job and income – and so it’s easy to understand how I might be panicking just a little. So what can I do? What action can I take to mitigate the financial stress? Cut down (on what?!, the cynical voice inside me bitches) on expenses, be frugal with all food, drive as little as possible, take extra piano students as I can. Ok. Not much, but something. And The Studio? I’m doing what I can; bought my first rolls of insulation, watched some YouTube vids, consulted a few pros and have assembled my tools. I’ll begin installing it this afternoon. The new electric lines are in, and the heating units go in next week. There’s networking to be done, so I need to meet with a couple of folks over the next month. I’m still a bit overwhelmed, but what more can I do right now? (If I began to contemplate the legal issues ahead I’d feel as if I were back to square one. Maybe the lesson here is ‘one step at a time’). At least I’m doing something, and the situation’s in hand.

Next is of course, are the health issues. The arthritis in my fingers has accelerated rapidly over the past month, and where before it was merely unsightly, now my knobby distal knuckles are warm and painful nearly all the time. I’m only responsible for playing three classes at school this year, but even so, with my fingers getting stuck in between the black notes and aching as they do, I wonder how it’ll work out. I’m back on the glucosamine regimen, plus have added some Chinese herbal supplements, topical applications of essential oils, I’ve begun acupuncture again and will shortly try a few rounds of electromagnetic therapy. I’m not sure how I’ll sustain such treatments on such a tight budget, but at least I’m underway. Doing what I can.

Also, I’ve gained a lot of weight over the past few months, and I’m a little frightened by it. So, again, what action should I take? I know, join the Y. Check. Joined at a discount, no less, thanks to the scholarship program (some red tape and hoops to jump through, but I’ve come to understand that being poor is in of itself a part-time job.) Ok. Done. Now, what to wear? I donned my old sports bra the other day, but I’m so much larger than I was the last time I wore it, the damn thing ripped in two when I tried it on. Ich. Ok. Just gotta replace it. An unforeseen expense, but as my local health-nut and excavator friend Al said to me this morning (on his cell phone in the middle of a 20 mile bike ride) “Just get a new one and keep going. Keep going.” Mom’s underwriting my new Weight Watchers membership – and that starts Monday. I simply cannot imagine going back to such an austere diet. I once lost 55 pounds on WW, after the birth of my son, so I know the culture well. (Atkins is more fun, but WW is more realistic and its success longer-lasting.) But honestly, it comes with hunger pangs and an undeniable lack of satisfaction. I suppose the loss of extra fat on my frame and improved numbers (bp and cholesterol) should make up for the near-constant feelings of hunger… that’s the idea I guess. And hopefully, after I’ve made movement a part of my routine, I’ll just plain feel better. I know it’s true, I’ve experienced it before, but it seems ridiculous to me from where I stand right now. Life without a few glasses of wine each day? Life with portions a mere quarter of the size I’m accustomed to? Sheesh. It’s but a day off, yet I still don’t believe it’s coming. I don’t suppose anyone is ever ready for major change. Just gotta jump in. (Or as my buddy Al would say, “pull the trigger”.)

Now to the spiritual part of the equation. Got much of that down I think; I spend a lot of time in nature, I express gratitude all over the place and I’m always reaching out to people and spreading kindness and love where I can. But I can’t lie; I’m still dealing with feelings of betrayal and anger towards my ex husband – I’m still upset that he doesn’t support us better, that our poverty is just fine with him and his parents. It still angers and frustrates me that I don’t have a partner, a spouse, someone to take up the slack every now and then, help with homework, maybe even vacuum or make dinner once in a while… And I know, as a student of basic spiritual concepts, that ultimately that shit comes back to me. But still, it’s on my plate, and six years later it’s a larger issue than I’d like to admit. And in addition to the forgiveness thing, maybe some mental silence might serve me too. I think I could muster ten minutes a day concentrating on nothing but my breathing. Twenty, probably not. But ten, yeah. And perhaps in the realm of intention, a little more controlled thought also might serve me well… That is to say, replacing the doom and gloom imaginings with lovely visions of what the Studio might look and feel like when it’s up and running and inhabited by happy folk. Ok. Begin minimal meditation practice. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Good. Sounds doable.

The list seems so short when I see it here, so why does it feel so daunting? And good Lord, it seems I’ve been through all this before. How have I not made more progress, I wonder? I remind myself that if I could just live panic-free and enjoy both mental and physical fitness, life might be a lot more enjoyable. Cuz right now, it’s only minimally so (hence the comfort of food and wine. We all know that drill). As I watch people go through the activities of their day, I often wonder: what is life like on the inside for them? What are their demons, their challenges? To what degree would they consider themselves to be content… happy? One cannot judge a book by its cover; I’m fairly sure no one is quite as put-together and problem-free as they might seem. But then again, maybe there is a sweet spot on the other side of all this self-improvement. Maybe one can be happy, content. Fit. All at the same time. At least one hopes.

Yesterday I saw a man riding his bicycle down our road. He was loaded down with stuff – a bedroll, bags, pieces of cloth, a crazy-looking horn, baskets brimming… Clearly, he was not out for a day ride. Unable to forget the cyclist, I turned around a couple of miles into my commute and doubled back in time to see him tackling the great cemetery hill – a hill which even as a healthy young child I would walk my bike up, rather than ride. I carefully passed him, pulled over to the side of the road and waited. I watched as he rode up the steep incline in a serpentine fashion. Interesting technique, I thought. He was actually making it up the hill – and with a full load, too. This person was impressive, and I had to meet him. He might be just the inspiration I needed.

As soon as he’d come down the other side of the hill, the man pulled into a church parking lot and disappeared around a corner. I walked around to the back, and announced myself first, lest the poor rider be seeking a bit of privacy to relieve himself perhaps… As I entered the church’s back yard, I saw this slender, tanned man sitting in the cool of the shade at a picnic table, a veritable banquet spread out before him. He was digging into some bread and hummus when I joined him. I learned that he was from Oakland, California, and had left the day after Christmas, last year. He’d made it to the Canadian east coast, and was now heading back. Altogether, he was very unaffected and matter-of-fact about his journey; when I asked him questions he answered them directly, and for the most part he didn’t seem aloof or coy, just possessed of a quieter nature, and perhaps exercising just the tiniest bit of caution in the face of my enthusiasm. I had so many questions for him, and had I not needed to get Elihu’s bass delivered to him in time for orchestra, I might have been a bit more focused with my inquiry.

Among the many things I wondered, the most prominent question was: what occupies your thoughts as you ride? He admitted to a certain incessant, repetitive nature to his thoughts, and offered that it was in fact, one of his main challenges. What criteria did he use to choose his route? How could he afford to do this? What had he done before? He was a little cryptic with some of his answers, but I sensed he was the sort of fellow who would have declined to answer if he felt it beyond his comfort. He told me that he’d just turned 65, so there “was no job to go back to now” as he was officially retired, but that he had worked in the flower industry. Still so enigmatic. As a day laborer? As the CEO of a company? In what way had he worked? He said he was “used to being outside” with his work. Ok. That narrowed it down some. But so many more questions burned, and as we got off into tangential topics of getting fit, perhaps having a dog to inspire daily activity, what programs might exist to help pay for the cost of a dog if I did get one, how different regions of the country dealt with recycling and such, I got further away from my informal interview and settled instead for a gentle, enjoyable conversation. How I had come to live here, how Chicago had been so brutally cold when he’d ridden through it last March… There wasn’t enough time to learn from him what I’d hoped. But I suppose there is no possible way to truly understand such an enormous undertaking unless you, well, undertake it. And perhaps that was the most important lesson here.

I gave him my card and encouraged him to stay in touch by email when he checked in with the world at his next library stop. I hoped so dearly that he would, but even if he didn’t, no matter. Phil had added to the quality and fullness of my life just through this simple meeting, and if I never heard from him again, this would have to be enough. It certainly was a dose of inspiration come to me at a time of need. Maybe that itself was more than enough.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of ones popping up during my days – and my nighttimes, too. And while I’ve made an effort not to get too terribly esoteric in my writing here, nor to explore in-depth some ideas that have long been a part of my life – for fear of turning some folks off for good – I will admit a completely open mind when it comes to matters that our mainstream culture still doesn’t treat as legitimate. Like ghosts. Or apparitions that appear to people who are dying, and unexplained experiences like music in the air, or the scent of flowers – just as real as the real thing – arising from nowhere. Or like repeating numbers. I won’t go and tell you that I think God is directly communicating with me and offering me a personally targeted message in my time of introspection and need, but I will say that something is happening to me these days. I’ve seen the number 111 pop up in all sorts of places, and finally, it’s caught my attention. In fact, I’ve seen the number 111 appear so frequently over the past week, that I’ve taken to photographing it. I awoke last night at 1:11 and grabbed my camera. I am not nuts. It’s happening. A quick Google search helps fill things in, but still, I almost don’t even believe my own story. Have I been seeing what I want to see? Have I been exaggerating the truth? Am I just looking for help, in any form at all? Am I leading the witness?

In the end, who really knows? No one. It’s just one more event taking place in this endless maelstrom of life. And happily, it doesn’t make me panic. Instead, it gives me a tiny seed of hope. And that’s something I need to cultivate these days. So who cares where it comes from? I’m going to take it as a little knowing wink from the universe telling me that things are going to work out just fine, and I’m going to keep on moving forward into this worldly adventure, taking each moment one by one… by one.

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Off Balance June 15, 2014

Since Madeline’s been gone, it’s just felt different around here. Elihu’s noticed it too. The small flock that remains is a rather dull bunch, as something about the attack on the coop the other night has the birds behaving a bit less like themselves – and ironically, perhaps in some cases, a bit more like themselves – than before.  For the most part the gals all meander about as they’ve always done, only we notice they’re not quite as brave as they used to be. They don’t take over the porch (a frustrating but endearing activity), they don’t seem to make it as far as their once-favorite flowering quince bush, and in general they stay uncharacteristically close to the house most of the day. Austin, our slightly neurotic guinea fowl, deprived the past few months of his best pal Maximus, has been acting quite nasty to his coop mates, challenging poor Baldy, pulling every last feather from his royal rear end, as well as running after the hens in fruitless circles as they cluck in distress. And since Madeline – the one rather calming element in the the group – has been gone, he has become something of a bully. Elihu and I both know we need to get him some hens, but emails to local chicken friends turn up no prospects. He’s becoming a drag on the flock, and his bursts of incredibly loud calls of  ‘chank chank chank’ (I suppose him to be expressing some inner conflict – at least he can get it out, good for him in that regard) that sometimes last for five minutes at a stretch and permeate every closed window with ease – well, this is becoming much more than an occasional nuisance.

The absence of our goose Maximus has changed things too. We hadn’t lost any hens to predators over the past two years, the time since we’d had him. But with the coming of warm weather, we’ve had a handful of losses. No coincidence. I guess a two foot tall white gander made an impression on the neighborhood fox and raccoon. With that imposing figure no longer standing guard in the door of the coop at sunset, the critters have nothing to dissuade them. And no one to slow them down, either. Poor Bald Mountain did his regal best the night we lost Madeline; he had put up something of a fight with the attacker, and was covered in new, open scratches and was limping even more than before (in the past he’s lost a spur and returned home quite beaten up after fending off potential invaders). The back half of Baldy’s comb had been bitten off, and though the wound was beginning to clot, he was covered in fresh blood when we first saw him.

We came home shortly after dark to a message on our phone machine from our neighbor. He had discovered Bald Mountain on his front door step. Putting the story together it seems that after the confusion of the attack, he’d ended up fleeing, running through the woods and across the field to our neighbor’s house, where they found him on the stairs of their front door, seeking safety. Neighbor Chad was more than a hero, and wrestled the rooster onto his lap, driving him home on his four wheeler. But by then the damage was done. Madeline had been lost in the skirmish, and Azalea, as we later came to learn, had hunkered down in the darkness for her survival. What a good boy is our Bald Mountain, what a fight he must have  given. How stunned and impressed we were at how far he’d traveled to save himself (it is quite a distance). And that he sought out a house, a light, something he clearly recognized to represent the safety of home – it all has us even more grateful for our poor old fellow. Now, if only Austin, that damned nuisance of a guinea, would let poor Baldy alone.

It occurs to me, as I look about at my tail-less rooster, my psycho guinea fowl and my frantic hens, that this is no longer a harmonious homestead.

It’s also becoming a drag to go out these days. To get dressed, to make myself presentable enough to go before people. Somehow I made it through the last few weeks of school, but these days, like a blossom bursting forth overnight from a tiny bud, I too seem to have expanded my own previous dimensions in a very short time. Regret mounts when I think back to last summer; I inhabited a body of a sexy size 10 (for me this was a huge personal victory) and yet now I find I’m surfing Ebay at 2 am searching for fat shirts with empire waists and stretch waist pants, some even size 16. Sixteen? When the fuck did this happen? I ask myself over and over as I find myself unable to button the waist on the few remaining ‘fat’ pants I find in some long-forgotten storage bins. Seriously, how did I get here? Oh, I know how. The stress of this past year really got to me – the new music I’ve needed to learn and play, the unpredictable and horrific panic attacks I’ve suffered with (yes, they are no mere annoyance, they are irrational yet real experiences of pure terror) and the relentless nature of single motherhood have called for a deep soothing, one that only entire tubs of hummus and double portions of curry chicken with a half bottle of red wine can provide. Yeah, I’ve been riding this train for a while now, and now it’s finally arriving at its destination.

The kid”ll be gone on Tuesday for a good month and a half stretch, and finally I won’t have to concern myself with the preparation of three meals plus snacks all day long. I have no new music to learn, no one to perform for. ‘Me’ time is finally here. But then there’s that catch – the one my astute child himself brings up when I talk about how much ‘progress’ I intend to make in his absence. “I know what you’ll end up doing, Mommy” he says, his voice dripping with cynicism, “You’ll say how fat you are, you’ll look at all the work you have to do at the Studio and all the stuff to do around here, you’ll feel sorry for yourself and then drive to Stewart’s and get a bag of chips and a bottle of wine. Then you’ll tell yourself it’s just for tonight. But it won’t be.” Really? Am I that bad? I wonder. Am I that obvious? Crap. With a month to myself stretching before me, I feel hope and despair rising up inside of me all at once. Ich.

I haven’t done my taxes yet this year either. Filed for an extension. But I’ll need to file for another soon. Plus I need to re-apply for food stamps, something which in of itself is very much like filing taxes. This is support we desperately need at this point; living these past three months without that help has been pretty brutal. Between having to eat and wanting things such as a bike, a bike rack to carry said bike, orthodontics and bass lessons, it’s been tough. Time’s been at a premium too, as with all the outside work my new job requires, I just haven’t had the time to sift through a year’s financial information. So this too is something I have on my growing to-do list for the time ahead. And then I remember the bag of chips, the bottle of wine… Yeah, this kind of a desk-bound project is likely to inspire a desire to consume empty calories. When you’re at this end of the spectrum, it’s kinda hard to remember what it was to live at the other end of it – it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to be the super diet-conscious, portion-conscious, yoga class-attending person that you once were long ago. But I’ll find my way back, eventually. I hope.

There is also the garage to deal with. Looks like a bomb went off inside. The detritus of a long, unforgiving winter. My office is filled with bins marked ‘to file’, ‘to archive/scan’, ‘to do, medium importance’, ‘to-do, urgent’ (now that’s kinda funny, the bin’s been sitting there for months, untended), piles of Elihu’s art need to find a home, piles of clothing I can no longer fit into sit, waiting, while mice leave tiny turds all over them and begin to pull at the threads… Water continues to seep into my basement, and a white, fluffy mold has burst through my paint job of a couple years ago, sending a funky smell (and millions of funky-smelling spores too, no doubt) into the air. Piles of hand-me-downs sit, waiting to be put away, as well as do a thousand other tiny artifacts of our life. I know that my situation is not so far from most folks, and certainly I am not the only single parent with an extra heaping of life on their plate. But still… I just shake my head in deepest wonder…. How does everyone else do it?

Elihu and I spend a fair amount of time on the streets of Saratoga, watching the people walk past. He busks, I sit on a bench, read and watch. And I wonder about each one of these people. They all look so well-tended, so healthy. They wear trendy clothes, they sit outside at the hip restaurants and spend $200 on dinner without batting an eye. How do they do it? What do they do for a living? Do they have bins of un-filed crap at home like me? Yes, they’re out strolling the boulevard, looking fine, but are they happy? What kind of thoughts do they have? What motivates them? Do they feel fulfilled? Empty? Searching? If one didn’t ask these questions, it would seem that everyone is doing just fine, doing exceptionally well, thank you. I search their eyes for answers, I lean in to overhear bits of conversations in hopes of finding answers. They give no clues away. Perhaps their basements are moldy and full of piles too. Maybe not. They just look so good on the outside, there’s no telling.

I think back on the chapters of my life in which I felt the most promise, the most fulfilled, the most in balance. And, ironically, for all the moaning I’d done last year about turning 50, I can in retrospect say that for about half that year I felt the best that I had in a long time. And the time before that in which I remember feeling really good about things was when Elihu was a toddler – I’d successfully lost 55 post-baby pounds, I had a husband, a child and a home I loved, I was singing regularly in front of a top-notch, swinging big band, and life felt wonderful. Before that, it was a time in Chicago when I was playing in tons of bands, on the move all the time, making music I loved and being nearly constantly in the company of dear friends. These were the times I felt things to be most balanced in my life, and thank goodness I have those memories – they remind me of how it felt, how it might feel once again, if all goes well. It may take a little alone time to consider the new recipe I need these days to find myself living a balanced life once again; it’s my hope that a little reflection will re-invigorate my quest and bring some answers to light.

I know it’s important that I use my time wisely and get stuff done – but I also know it’s important to find peace in doing simply nothing at all. And, somewhere in between, lies that perfect balance. Here’s hoping I can come close.

 

Surprise January 3, 2014

This week has felt surreal, and on top of the sorrow my family’s currently working through, other little mishaps have been taking place. My toilet has broken (plastic parts and hard water do not mix), my drains have plugged up, my windows have been stuck, the doors to the coop must be coaxed to close and lastly, we had to kill Lefty Lucy after the flock tore into her mercilessly one night and left her near dead. The poor hen had recovered fairly well in the kitchen over the past week. so I returned her to her roost one night to find her covered in blood and far worse only the next morning. When I realized how the flock had treated her as a compromised bird (she retained a limp after an injury last week) I knew what had to be done. She did not face a life of any quality, so it was time to put her down. When I told my mom that I was simply keeping her comfortable until she was able to die, she remarked ‘kinda like your dad’. Yeah, I guess. So our friend neighbor Zac came over with his axe, and obliged us by chopping off her head on a nearby stump. Elihu tossed her out to the edge of the woods, and by the next morning she was gone.

Plus there’s this strange new twitch in the middle finger of my right hand. I’ve been feeling some tension – for no reason I can even figure – in my right shoulder lately, and I surmise that it’s related. Some nerve thing. Just a few months ago I’d experienced some ongoing and very annoying electrical tingling feelings in my left hand, and also a few in my left foot – but that was an easy self-diagnosis. Years ago I broke my neck – C6 and C7 (which later fused, giving me a C13!) as well as my left shoulder. I just figured time and gravity had come to roost and were now compressing on my nerves. I’d figured that being structural, the only fix would be yoga and a general improvement of my overall fitness. I went to an acupuncturist with few hopes, but after four visits the annoying electrical feeling was completely gone. Completely. And so, while it’s yet another unforeseen expense of life, I must find a way to carve something out of my budget to have a few more sessions. I have never in my life had any bad experience – or major injury – to my right side, so I can’t imagine what in hell is ultimately responsible for it. But a moment’s reflection and I needn’t look much further for reasons, because I realize that it is true: I am getting old. Well, at least older. And now a physical body of evidence is beginning to show itself. Crap. I still can’t believe I’m here. That I now know what it is to have a parent die. That I now know what it is to have aches and pains for no good reason. Crap.

Santa was good to Elihu this year, bringing him an Ergo electric bass and amp (hours logged on it already) and a couple of battling robotic spiders, but more surprisingly, Santa was good to me too, and brought me a Wii fit board (love the used game place – next-to-nothing prices for year-old products) and a Wii fit game. He musta known my health needed a little rescuing. Hopefully, in spite of a heavier work load and mom duties ongoing, I’ll be able to spend a little time with my cyber coach. I have plans to join Weight Watchers with mom, too. While it might be frustrating that I’m here again, this year I mean to do more than the Band-Aid approach to weight loss (and fitness). I’ve done the Atkins thing a few times now, and while it always works, it never feels right. I can’t help but feel it’s counter-intuitive to see an apple as an enemy. I will, however, take with me the conservative approach to eating carbohydrates. That is the beneficial ‘take-away’ from those experiences. I’m not a carb craver, so that’s not so hard for me. What I do find exceptionally challenging is simply eating less. Ich. More honestly speaking, what I find challenging is the challenge.

Now yet another challenge… I just received an email that had my body flushed with cold. I thought that I’d just been through all the extremes I could handle in losing my father this past week, but this was horrible in a new way. I hated this feeling, and what’s more, I hated that there was no good outcome from it that I could see. No relief, no ultimate fix, no happy ending. Elihu’s beloved teacher at the Waldorf School was leaving after the end of fifth grade. How many times had we thanked God to have found her? How many times had we exclaimed that she was the best thing ever to have happened to Elihu? How many times had Elihu himself told us how much he loved her, how he loved her way of teaching, of being? So many times we’ve thought how lucky we were, how amazingly lucky… This news has me wanting to cry, but I feel cried out. I feel the dull throbbing in my right shoulder and begin to feel like things are all pressing in on me. I’m almost scared, but more than that, I feel defeated. My son has been a joyful child due much in part to his teacher. How will my son remain joyful now? I know that whomever replaces her will be a gift too, I know that. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Waldorf teacher that’s not pretty spectacular. But still. I sit with this new information for a bit. How will I tell my son? I know he’ll cry. His heart will break at this news, I just know it. I look outside at the mounds of new, white snow. It’s a gray, snow-covered morning. Beautiful, serene, unaware that all this human drama continues on…

Yesterday we removed the ornaments from the tree. It had begun to dry so terribly that many were now falling off. One ornament, the one that we’d gotten just after I learned I was pregnant (the ornament was made in Italy, and so was Elihu) had fallen to the floor, but interestingly had not broken. I heard it fall, and was rather amazed to see the delicate glass globe in the middle of the floor, intact. I had been given a second chance, now it was time to remove them before they all fell and broke. Good thing I had no time to anticipate the taking down of the tree, what with all this nostalgia and sentiment flying around these days it woulda been hard on my heart. Even so, it was a poignant afternoon yesterday as ancient and sad Christmas music played and years of memories, in the form of ornaments, were each recounted and packed away. I kept torturing myself by thinking that I’d put the tree up while dad was here, and now I was taking it down after he had died. He was here, now he’s not. This gorgeous tree was here and beautiful one day, simply gone the next. After about an hour of recorders, lutes and lots of D minor Elihu called from his room and asked if we couldn’t have something ‘less sad’. That kid always keeps me level, I swear. Time and place for everything. Yeah, I suppose you’re right kid, enough of the sad.

But now this. I was ready for the empty living room, I knew dad was going. And even the bird, I knew we’d have to do her in. But Elihu’s teacher? I had no preparation for this. I gotta keep it together, I’ve got to expect that surprise, wonderful, yet-unseen outcome. Life is full of surprises for which we can never fully prepare. I hear that Elihu’s up now. When to tell him? Fist we’ll have breakfast, tend to the chickens and fill the table feeder outside our window. Even there we have our little surprises – just a few days ago we were visited by a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker for the very first time in our five years here. So there are some good surprises to be had too. I know that. I’m ready for just about anything to happen next, I guess.

So go ahead, life, bring it on. Surprise me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Post Script: Careful what you ask for… Moments after I wrote this post, when I went out to the coop I found Lefty’s ‘twin’ sister, Righty, lying dead (identical and petite white leghorns, each had a comb that hung over on a different side, hcnce the names Righty Tighty and Lefty Loosey). Looked like she’d died recently. A victim, like her sister, of hen-pecking. She was featherless on one wing and covered in blood. When I picked her up by her legs and turned to check the boxes for eggs, goose Max started violently pecking at her. Many times I’d seen him take a bite at a bird’s back end, but it was never more than a territorial nip. This was strange and different behavior. I scolded him soundly then walked out with the dead hen. I walked her out to the edge of the woods where we’d left her sister. I kissed her cheek and told her how sorry I was. Then I left her. What a nice surprise that’ll be for a hungry fox.

When I got inside I found Elihu talking on his new IPad (left by Santa in Illinois) to his father and sister in England. Soon after he was playing his bass for her. And just now when I peeked in again, I saw Elihu explaining to her how he wove his silly bands into jewelry. Wow. Here in our little country home was an open window into another home halfway across the globe – and in real time, too. Call me old-fashioned, buy I still marvel at technology. My mind is still blown to think that my first cell phone was the size of a brick and got too hot to touch within minutes, and here my kid is chatting away without a second thought to the visual image of his dad and sister, thousands of miles away. (A bit mind-blowing too is the fact that my son has a sister his own age. Even though I’m at peace with it, and understand she’s an important part of Elihu’s family, I still can’t quite integrate that into my thinking.) Yup, surprises are everywhere.

A final Post Script: Surprise! My comments feature on this particular post has become disabled somehow, and in spite of my best efforts to reverse this, I cannot figure it out. Never happened before…

 

Atkins Winds Down June 2, 2013

When I started on my weight loss campaign back in February, I’d hoped to use this forum as a substitute for the famous Weight Watchers weigh-in. I had enjoyed some good successes on Weight Watchers in the past, and I attributed it mainly to the element of witness that it provided. (I realize this is perhaps the ‘down’ side of WW for many; I can remember my mother herself complaining bitterly about it.) Personally, I needed it. I needed the accountability. Weight Watchers online? Not so much. Why? No accountability! Hey – if it’s one thing overweight folks usually have a problem with – it’s the truth! Sneaking something here, downplaying the significance of repeatedly over-sized portions, justifying it all in the name of comfort, or some such reasonable excuse…. Isn’t this one of the reasons we’re there to begin with? Doing in online means weighing yourself at home – rounding up a half pound cuz your scale isn’t accurate enough – rounding down cuz you just know the scale can’t be right… I can even see one giving up before too long if going it alone. I know I can’t be entirely right about this – but even so, I think some will know what I mean. Anyway, doing it on my own is not for me. I like the weigh in. Only I was clever – speaking of evading the whole truth, did you notice? – I never actually mentioned my weight. Only the amounts I lost. Ha!

Since I’d also had success once upon a time with Atkins (just how many diets have I been on? you may wonder), and knew it to be more ‘fun’ than WW (lots of salt and fat), I thought I’d go the no carb, low carb route this time. Plus, in my experience, I’ve made progress faster with Dr. Atkins’ method. The down side of this trendy diet is, however, that if you go right back to your pre-Atkins life as usual, it’s likely you’ll find all that weight back on your frame after a while. This time, I have taken a different tack. I don’t intend to live a carb-free life, but in that I certainly don’t need all that quick energy – and in that carbs are far more prevalent than they ought to be in our grab-and-go culture, I’m simply opting not to go looking for them. First, I don’t eat fast food. I don’t prepare rice or pasta at home. Don’t eat bread, pancakes or bagels. In ongoing, everyday life, that is. But I am not going to avoid them to the point of being a lifelong carb martyr! Forget it! When life presents its little moments – like eggs benedict one Sunday out of many, or a rare dinner out – I am not going to whine about carb counts. But in terms of everyday life – it actually works out well. I must admit, that it is a little pricier to eat so many vegetables and so much meat, but in that I no longer make wine a regular part of my life (carbs), the money I saved there goes into the food budget. Ich, there’s never a perfect plan. Ya just gotta figure out what’s really important. If I have to cut back on something else in my world so that I can maintain a size 10, that’s ok.

Years ago, when I’d hear people complain about the inevitable weight gain that came with aging, I’d thought they were idiots. Yes, there was a time when I worked out seven days a week, when I race walked miles every day, when I just knew that would never be my story. I was way too aware for that. But now, as my life has changed, as my time thins out and I must settle for a to-do list half done, now that I am no longer one person in the world, I have had to – finally – accept that there might be a bit of truth to this change-of-life-weight idea. Sure, I suppose one could keep it up, but as I’ve said before, you can’t do it all, and if you’re to keep some things in your life, other things have to go. If my weight is to go up, this is a good time I suppose. My body has changed over the past five years, and it’s got me crying uncle. My thighs have that crazy crinkly skin that looks all dried out in spite of being perfectly moisturized. My hands have been transformed by arthritis. The silver on my head has found its way to other parts of my body, and regular readers may remember that my neck is no longer behaving as it once did. So I suppose it figures that my weight too might settle into a new groove. It certainly seems to have. While in years past I’ve lost as much as 55 pounds on a diet (the post-baby, WW success) and have always, always been good at knocking off ten pounds as needed here and there – I just cannot seem to budge past the weight I am now. Maybe I go down a pound, up a pound, but here I hover.

For years I remember 123 being my resting adult weight. I can also remember in those days becoming extremely upset if I should migrate up one single pound. On my 5’4″ frame I do know that it’s possible to see the effects of weight gain or loss fairly quickly, but in my younger days I had absolutely no perspective. Man, when I think back on the emotional energy I gave to that shit, it makes me shake my head. If only I could tell myself back then not to worry so deeply. Not to tie up my emotional health like that… But I realize my frame of reference was different. All things in their time and place, I guess. Some time in my early thirties my base weight snuck up to 126, where it stayed for a few more years (that’s what I weighed when I got pregnant. It jumped to 188 just before I had the kid!!). Post-baby WW loss my ‘resting’ weight landed at about 135. In the wake of my move to New York and separation from my husband, naturally I went back up again. Topped off at around 163 pounds some time last year. That was deflating. Or inflating, as it were.

I’ve landed at 140. A hundred and thirty-nine on a good day, 141 on a not-as-good one. I’m pretty sure I could bust it down to 135 again, maybe even 130, and I might give it a go in the future, but for now I’m not in high diet gear. There have been so many parties lately – my mother’s retirement, birthday parties, end of school events – not to mention fresh fruit. Seems crazy that such a healthy carb as fruit should be such a no-no, but it is. So when cherries hit the stores recently, I knew my full-on Atkins thing was going on hold. I refuse to feel that eating fresh fruit is bad. Sheesh. I do understand the theory and the science, but at the end of the day, a cherry’s simply got to be better for you than a cheddar cheese stick, ya know?

So fellow dieters, I can report success, albeit on a different ‘scale’ (!) as at one time in my life. While I’m not a fan of the overly-used phrase ‘to be comfortable in one’s own skin’, it does describe the phenomenon that’s taken place in my life these days. Probably a combination of physical age, of experience and shifting priorities. I do enjoy feeling good in clothes again, but I also realize that the look I’m sporting would have been entirely unacceptable to my twenty-something self. But I’m not twenty-something. It’s taken me awhile to get it, much less to make peace with it, but I’m much further along in the process than just a year ago. I complained once in a recent post that I don’t know what the hell happened to my forties. Now I think I have a good idea – I raised a child from baby to young boy, I learned what it was to live life on my own, and I became acquainted with a new body. As long as I can continue to understand that I am not who I was two decades ago, and as long as I can adjust my expectations accordingly, I think I can proclaim that this most recent dieting chapter has been a success.

Post Script: While on the subject of numbers, we’ve just reached 23,000 visitors to this blog! I remember when Elihu and I jumped up and down and danced around the house for joy when we reached 1000. Ah numbers, we’re so attached to them, huh? But this number is truly significant because it helps to remind us that we’re not alone and that we have friends somewhere out there in the world. Hello to all of you, and thanks for being with us! We send you all our love and gratitude…

 

Atkins: Seven, Eight Weeks? March 25, 2013

It feels like a year but I don’t think it’s been two months yet. Not in a mood to check. Lost about twelve pounds, then ceased losing over the past two weeks. In Atkins language, I’m “stalling”.  Yeah, I know why. Portion control, as usual. I don’t have much latitude with this silly diet, so I admit I’ve started to go heavy on the heavy cream in my coffee as a perk in my day. The pours have gotten more generous, and coffee has begun to last the whole day, instead of just a cup first thing in the morning. That, and a couple of strawberries here and there. So goddam counter intuitive that I shouldn’t be able to eat a fucking piece of fruit, right? I don’t eat much of it, but every now and then I am so tired of sugar free jello being the only sweet thing on the menu…

I don’t mean to sound so bitchy, after all, this is my choice to do this. And I am, lest I forget, now able to wear some new pants that have been waiting in a bin in the basement unworn for the past four years. I guess some progress is better than none. I just need to step back for a minute and regroup. To help myself get back on track, I’m pouring out my day’s ration of cream ahead of time.  Same goes for cheese. Limiting myself to two eggs a day. It’s easy to go a bit overboard with Atkins, cuz it seems so forgiving. Eat fat and lose! Yay! But then you realize after a month that it’s like anything in life. Sounds novel at first. In the beginning, limits feel reasonable, easy to manage. But somewhere down the line one’s patience thins and limits are tested. So then you stall.

Back to basics. Will review a couple of Atkins sites, pump myself up with new inspiration and remember that my 50th will be here the first week in May whether I can wear my old skinny jeans and dresses or not. New clothes that cost me nothing and make me happy to wear?  That really would be a nice birthday present. Ok. I’m good. I’m back on the horse again…