The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

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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Just a friendly reminder that if you’ve enjoyed my posts and would like to buy me a cup of coffee (that’s a blogger’s euphemistic way of saying ‘give me a small tip’) you can click on the tip jar icon at the top right of this page and it will allow you to do so rather effortlessly through Paypal. Thanks for considering, and thanks even more for contributing to the coffers of this writer and mother.

 

 

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…

 

Atkins Four Weeks In February 11, 2013

Hooray! Seven pounds lost so far! I now weigh less with all my clothes on – shoes too – than I did one month ago with no clothes on at all. Now that feels good. And my jeans more than comfortably close around my middle. Still the same size, but hope is restored and I can fully visualize that next size down. Good news for me, because I was just beginning to lose hope. 

I kinda gave up on the pure induction lifestyle (less than 20 carbs a day) when I had to cook for my father this week. He likes a drink before dinner and almost always has wine with his meal. I missed my wine, so I very much enjoyed having a glass along with him – plus the tiniest taste of the meal’s pasta, rice or bread portion. Yeah, in fact I ‘cheated’ a few times. But all in all, I’ve come to a rhythm that works for me. My best successes on diets have always come once I’m over the initial phase of becoming reacquainted with the counts – grams, portions, fat, carbs and so on – and have come upon the go-to shortlist of foods that work best. I find I’d rather have just a few foods that I like really well and that fit the numbers, than have to come up with new ideas over and over again. For me it’s just easiest to ‘set it and forget it’. In short, diets for me are a bit monotonous. Which is fine for a few months, and usually that’s all I’ve ever needed. (With the exception of the post-pregnancy loss of 55 pounds on Weight Watchers, and that was a long and slow process of nearly a year. I ate a good variety, but portions were small and I used a great amount of personal discipline. Not sure I could muster that kind of self control right now.)

I’ve decided to allow myself a few small cheats, as it saves me from feeling the poor-me, my-plight-is-so-boring-and-everybody-else-is-having-such-a-good-time self pity thing. In the end I’ve got little to complain about – I eat sausage and eggs for breakfast every day, and I’m seldom gnawingly hungry. I might miss a good handful of potato chips, but really, now that I’m in my groove, it’s not that bad.

Now on to month two…

 

Atkins One Week In January 21, 2013

While modesty prevents me from disclosing how much I weighed when I started my new diet campaign one week ago, I can happily report that I have lost three pounds since then. I do realize that when a woman appears to lose weight, she may in reality have lost nothing at all. We women retain a lot of water, and with our cycles our weight can easily vary by three pounds from one day to the next. Having said that, I’ll add to the mix that I no longer have a period, that my weight no longer does that ‘younger woman’ flux, and that I weighed myself at exactly the same time in my schedule one week later as a means to reflect the change in my weight as accurately as possible. So, in fewer words, the gist is this: Atkins works.

There are two things I want to report about my first week’s experience with this seemingly crazy, unnatural diet. First, is that I am very seldom hungry. Honestly. Even during the course of a regular, non-dieting day I am often uncomfortably so – and during a good old-fashioned low calorie, low fat diet I become absolutely ravenous. The only thing that would keep me going during a Weight Watchers diet was the reward of my weekly visit to Mr. Lee’s Evanston Grill for his locally famous and much beloved Bi Bim Bop. (That, plus the burning image in my mind of zipping up my beloved size 8 vintage cocktail dresses once again.) I had my oasis in each week – that glorious relief, that reward, those beloved flavors, that sexy, fatty, perfectly marinated beef. It kept me going. Then after my respite, it was back to a long week of hungry hours, of my being constantly preoccupied with my next bite, of watching my daily ration of points disappear quicker than I’d expected.

The second thing to report is not as encouraging as the first. It is this: salt and fat become tedious, and sweet snacks are virtually nonexistent on the diet. For me that’s generally ok – cuz I don’t really find sweet foods all that compelling. Sure, I love a great dessert, but I’m happy 90% of the time if my meal doesn’t end that way. And if given the choice between chocolate and salami, well… nuff said. But when you’re eating meat, eggs, fat and cheese – and the salty flavors that go with that territory – you find yourself really wanting the contrast. Plus on Atkins you can get a funky taste in your mouth in the beginning – as well as headaches (things I’d forgotten about) and you really want some relief. Even sugar free gum has carbohydrates, so the options that you might have thought were abundant are really not so. The solution? Ah, the Atkins staple; sugar free jello and artificially sweetened whipped cream. Now I really dislike artificial sweeteners. So much so that I cannot stand more than one sip of diet Coke – no exaggeration. However, in the context of some over-the-top, full-on fatty, heavy cream, a pinch of sweetener (gotta watch out there too – not all artificial sweeteners are low-carb!) can do the trick. So my relief comes in the form of jello – and changing up the flavors helps to reduce the monotony just a bit. (A very tiny bit, but a bit nonetheless.) Another tip: a shot of breath spray gives a little temporary relief too.

The fact that I awake each morning knowing that I won’t have to be distracted by hunger throughout my day is such a plus – I’d even go so far as to say that I see it as a kind of upgrade in my overall quality of life. I certainly can’t imagine living so strictly low-carb all of my life, but I can see the obvious advantage of exercising a little self-control and avoiding the gratuitous starchy foods that are all too easy to eat in large quantities. I don’t need heaping platefuls of rice or endless pieces of fresh-baked italian bread. If I set out to have a taste of rice, pasta or bread and am not starving at the outset of my meal, I think I’d be apt to eat less. Frankly, I piled on the mindless carbs mostly cuz I was hungry. (This does however require some planning; protein needs to be on board and in your system before you’re faced with some tempting carbs.) Not feeling such a terrible gnawing in my gut gives me much more power to say no. I’m not saying binges are off the map – I believe every experience has its time and place. But in abstaining totally, it’s given me a bit more perspective on how many carbs I used to eat, and how thoughtlessly I did so.

Sure hope I don’t appear to be standing on a soap box here, just want to pass on some of my observations from this first week of re-acquainting myself with the Atkins diet. Not sure if I’ll be as chipper and upbeat about it in the future as I am today. I’ll check in each week to report on the process – I myself am curious about how my feelings will change, and if my progress will be steady or stall out after just a few more pounds. I think I can increase the likelihood of my success if I step it up a bit too; if I add routine workouts and watch my carbs a bit more diligently I think it’ll help. Many was the time I ate more than I’d thought by making an assumption about something before checking first. (Pickled okra are not carb-free, who knew?) 

Although three pounds isn’t going to register on my frame, and my pants likely won’t begin to fit differently until I’ve lost a good ten pounds, I absolutely know that something in my body has changed. Also, I’m thinking it’s a good time of year to try out a new diet – no parties on the horizon, no food-related holidays to pose undue challenges and stress… and a still a couple months yet til my half century birthday. So I’m feeling ok, hopeful. A subtle feeling of dread is lightening as I assert a bit more control over my life. I do realize that total control over our lives is never fully within our power – but with that in mind, I am enjoying the result of my current, tiny success.

What I really miss most is a glass of wine. When I’ve seen ten pounds gone, I’ll treat myself to a glass. That first sip will no doubt be more enjoyable than so many that have come before… Til then, however, it’s one week at a time….

 

Larder in Order January 16, 2013

Don’t like to think of it as a New Year’s resolution, but rather a project that I’ve been putting off for a while now, one which just so happens to be starting in January. I am finally embarking on a diet. One that is well planned, one I have read about and researched, a diet that I in fact did myself years ago and lost 20+ pounds in a relatively short amount of time. (Then I had a baby and kinda undid all that.) This is a diet that just looks wrong at every turn. It is the most counter intuitive way in which one could possible approach food. Healthy inclinations must be ditched, quelled, ignored. This is the diet of protein and fat, the diet that hardly allows the meagerest ration of carbs in order for success: the Atkins diet. Can’t refresh myself with a peach, nor an apple, nor a fistful of blueberries on my cereal. And cereal – with milk, heaven forbid – that’s entirely out of the picture. Really, just what the hell is this diet about? Some may know well, others may have a faint idea. In a nutshell? Turn your body from a machine that burns carbs for fuel into a body that burns fats and proteins. Simple. And yes, it does work. But like I said, it sure don’t feel natural… there’s a tiny voice in my head the whole time saying ‘your cholesterol will skyrocket… what if it backfires and I end up gaining fifteen instead? Sigh. Only thing keeps me going is knowing I’ve done it before, and successfully.

So yeah, you simply deprive your body of ALL carbs (ok, maybe not ALL carbs, but maybe like 99% of the carbs you’ve been accustomed to eating for your entire life) and you honestly do force your body to shift it’s source of energy. Seems kinda sneaky to me. Kinda not right. But hell, it works – and although it’s certainly not a way in which I intend to live years down the line, for now, it’s just what I need. See, I’m turning 50 on May 7th, and by then, I’d at least like to feel good in a dress again. It’s been years since I’ve worn the dress of a real, grown-up woman. And that aint right. (Oh, does anyone remember my dresses? I remember gowns upon gowns in my closet – and yes, I most certainly enjoyed and wore them all!) So, enough pussy-footing around here. I quit the cigarettes in earnest, now it’s time to get back to the body I feel represents me. I’m still kinda dragging my feet on the working out thing. I just can’t seem to find the time… and I know that sounds like a huge excuse… but I’m working on it. Created an enormous to do list (which I add to moment by moment) so that I may know what I face and plan my life better. So goddam much to do! But I’m gittin there… If it kills me…

It began in earnest with a tidying up of my pantry. I realized that I knew where just about everything else in my house was, but my pantry was an unknown to me. If I was going to organize the way I ate, I’d have to organize my food first. Cans from the year we moved here still hid in the back, there were empty storage containers way, way in the back on tippy-top shelf… So I did it. Had a Sunday of domestic tasks (venting the birds was one) and so it was time. Pulled everything out, relabeled tins and tubs, and most importantly, got rid of the crap we’ve kept ‘just in case’. Plus got rid of things we had only the teensiest bit left of. I had two goals, the second of which didn’t even become clear until the first was met: feed the chickens. I didn’t have enough money to buy feed, nor gas to get there and back, and so had to become clever about how I was to keep the galls alive (and laying) for another day or two. Everything I found was boiled or just dumped into a couple of huge pots. Warmed and softened to a pleasing (it’s relative) gruel-like consistency, it was the perfect answer for our gals. They even seemed to be having fun, picking out favorite bits and running all around the hen house with large, choice pieces hanging from their bills. And lots of variety – and flavor. Mama added some salt, cuz it may as well taste good, right?

With all this purging of the ancient foodstuffs and all the identifying of containers going on, I began to get clarity. About food. What I had, and what I tended to use most…. I stood back and could see my pantry well-labeled, easy to see all shelves, all contents. A good, solid start. Every container was boldy and neatly labeled in sharpie so that even Elihu, with his limited eyesight, could find things for himself (thereby reducing my temptation when making him snacks.) Only problem is that 99% of my pantry was off my list. I needed protein. I needed fat. And here before me was a closet mostly full of white foods – rice, flour, pasta, sugar; all carbohydrates. The big no. My larder had no lard!

My new go-to food source will have to be the fridge. Lots of vegetables, meat, cheese, and – how fortunate for me – eggs. These little miracles of nature will really end up helping me out the next couple of months. Thankfully, I love em, and I enjoy savory things more than sweet. A variety of hot sauces and I should be good. It’s just the cost of the rest that worries me a bit. The main reason I chose the Atkins diet was because I could simply not afford the $150 fee for Weight Watchers (with which by the way, I have experienced the most weight loss – 55 pounds – and had kept it off the longest…that is, until Fareed made his big announcement a few years back). Atkins seemed doable, after all, we get food stamps, so that removes some of the burden. But only one week of shopping into the new plan, and I’m beginning to worry. Meat is expensive. So is produce. It’s gone faster than I’d thought, in spite of my conservative approach and waste-not consumption. (My second reason for Atkins, btw, other than cost, was that I knew I had a pretty good chance of knocking fat off quicker – and there’s just not a lot of time before my 50th to go slow and steady like WW does.)

In spite of my concerns about cost, I do feel pretty good about my prospects for staying the course. I have now a small paycheck from the Waldorf school which will help me cover the extra food costs, and I also have a new student starting next week. We’ll butcher a few of our chickens, and that will help a little too. And eggs, got those for sure. ! Having money helps, yet having hope is really what’s key here – I feel like I’ve lived with so very little of that these past few years. I have up moments, and I am grateful every single day for the amazing little homestead we have, yet being socially isolated and having nothing much on the horizon to look forward to has kept my overall mood since living in New York a bit down. So this is good. I now have a picture of myself effortlessly slipping on one of my old dresses. I have a goal. I’m beginning to get brave enough to dare to remember how good it can feel…  How good it feels not to be winded, to actually tuck in a shirt, to wear knit fabric…

Folks often say that you have to go through emotional pain, not around it, to arrive on the other side. Ok, I’ve done some of that. I’m doing a lot better than a couple of years ago. So onto the physical part of the equation… Ironically, it looks like I may have to consume the fat in order to ultimately lose it. Still seems all wrong, but I’m committed for now, and thankfully I finally have the resolve to push ahead. Onward and upward…