Thrush and little green chickens

It is the first morning of Wood Thrush song, so loud and close I don’t recognize it at first. The flute-like whistles sound shrieky up close, but up close you can also hear the quiet churrs and burbles that follow the whistles. It is stunning. I sit on the porch and start to write but I can’t write while that is going on.

As I write that I can’t write, the song stops and then takes up again much farther off, as if the thrush is respecting my territory. Continue reading

Torture regime

I have just finished the fourth week of my new exercise regime, a 20-30 minute daily program of high-intensity exercise involving weights and cardio intervals. You have asked me to report back. How am I doing?

Faithfulness: My biggest achievement is that I have actually done it for four weeks. I have done something I don’t like–intense exercise that makes me huff and puff and sweat–because it is good for me. They say you won’t keep up an exercise regime you don’t enjoy. Well, I have. So there. Continue reading

Food stress

Yikes. This is what happens when I let up just the least bit on the diet discipline. I am up 3 pounds from my goal weight, which, by the way, lasted only that one week. The weight comes back right to my midriff, a ballooning muffin top that I can feel growing by the day.

I just dumped into the trash the cinnamon rolls and Pringles that my latest houseguest didn’t finish. I didn’t even compost them. They would poison the animals that check out the garbage. What possessed me to buy bread, chips, ice cream? The stress of not knowing what to feed people.

The food thing is really the biggest stress of having houseguests. This is true even when it’s our kids, whether it’s their food restrictions or ours, or the changing tastes of the little one. We develop our own eating and food prep patterns. As a good hostess I am attentive to the tastes of my guests and I don’t feel quite right just making them eat the way I do day by day.

I just read an article about Bill Clinton going vegan. He entertained the reporter, who was expecting tasteless food. Of course, some wonderful chef had laid out a feast of all kinds of wonderful salads and dips and beany things–things I know how to prepare, and also how much time it takes to do so. Sure, it is wonderful to go vegan, and you can make things taste really good as long as the people you are serving have a sense of food adventure and you have time and you don’t mind missing the mark sometimes with a dish.

But my guest for much of the past two weeks was a teenager from Congo who was accustomed to an entirely predictable diet of rice, fufu, manioc greens, meat, and fish (not so much the fish). Back home she’d also had a chance to develop a taste for soft bread and chips of all kinds, as well as sweets, especially vanilla ice cream. So after I had watched her picking at my healthy vegetables and mostly leaving them on the plate and taking her slender self away from the table to chat with her 2,000 facebook friends on my iPad, I started giving in to her tastes and let her pick her diet off the grocery shelves, rather than trying to cook up, juice, and salad-i-fy my bounty of CSA produce. In the process, I got off track myself because I don’t like to prepare two or three different dinners.

I can’t blame Deborah for those 3 pounds. My body is just trying really hard to get fat again. There is no such thing as a weight-maintenance diet for me. It is lose or gain and I’m gaining, fast. Gotta go back to losing.

But first we are getting together with my brothers and spouses this weekend in North Dakota. Most of us struggle with the weight thing but I don’t see us getting together to go on long walks. We will eat together (all healthy food of course) and sit around talking and laughing and arguing. I’ll probably pack on another pound because that’s just the way it is. A good time will be had by all.


3D render of a gold starI shouted this to my husband this morning and he didn’t know what I was referring to at first. Oh. You reached your goal weight. Good.

I’ll admit it was a bit anticlimactic because I’ve been hovering close to 145.8 for two months and actually reached it several times but never on Weigh-in Saturday until today.

My reward on Weight Watchers online was a star that was larger than other milestone stars and it bounced. I was offered the option of setting a new goal and reminded that my healthy weight was 109 to 137. Yes I know but I’m not going there yet, if ever.

So I chose the option of maintaining the current weight and then checked my food tracker and saw that I was now allotted 32 points for the day instead of 26—a 23 percent increase. I spent three extra points on a slice of rice millet toast with coconut butter and honey, along with my usual small bowl of cereal and fruit. (I have been craving sweet recently and ate several spoonfuls of that Trader Joe’s organic honey from India yesterday.) I am now feeling quite full.

I think I would gain weight on 32 points a day to say nothing of the 49 extra allotted each week for indulgences, which I seldom dip into very far. So basically I have to keep doing what I have been doing recently. Pretty boring.

Slow weight loss is good but 8 months to take off 22 pounds is ridiculous. However, I was already eating healthily and exercising quite a lot when I started so it took extra discipline. Plus I am 68 and I really do think it is harder to lose weight as you get older.

I was within a pound of goal at the 6-month mark, when I bought all my new clothes. It just took me two months to take off the last pound.

I don’t think buying the new clothes prematurely is why the last pound took so long to come off. My body and spirit were just needing to let up a little on the discipline. When you start eating maple syrup by the spoonful and heading straight to the olive bar at Whole Foods, you know you need something you haven’t been getting.

(We now have a Whole Foods in the nether reaches of Michiana though not yet a Trader Joe’s. When TJ arrives we will have at last joined the United States of Couth. Plenty of uncouthness here to go around still—every brand of all-you-can-eat excess fried fast cheap gloppy yummy to-go supersize self-destruction available, by car no sidewalks.)

Last September I wrote that I would be ecstatic to get back to what I weighed 7 years ago when I was feeling fat in Japan. And I am! Who-hoo! But this morning I am also thinking there are a few things I don’t like about weight loss. (Discipline isn’t one of them. I enjoy being disciplined. It brings its own rewards.)

1. It comes off where you don’t need it to. Like my face and hands. One friend who hadn’t seen me for months said she missed my round cheeks. I do too. They made me look like my sweet mother. Now I look more like my thin-chinned Aunt Irene.

Thus losing weight does not solve all my appearance problems. I must keep working on my posture. I am still an older woman and look like one though truly I feel much younger than I did a year ago.

2. I become judgmental. I feel superior to and sorry for all the obese people who are walking around the track and huffing and puffing on the machines at the Y. I am smug about having nipped my weight problem in the bud before it got that bad. And I feel a tinge of scorn for the other obese people who are sitting around watching their kids swim or do gymnastics rather than moving themselves.

Reminder: Even 22 extra pounds sapped my energy and made it really hard for me get my butt moving. Those who are working out are heroes. Those who are sitting represent what I felt like doing 8 months ago.

3. It can make you want to give advice to others. Everybody who loses weight wants to do this and I am no exception, though I try to rein myself in and talk only about my own experience. During this personal campaign I came to the stunning realization that I am responsible only for myself. I am not responsible for the way other people eat except those who eat at my table.

In fact, the more I talk about it the more I may turn people off. I may inspire guilt rather than courage. But writing about my effort has been good. It has helped to keep me focused and accountable just a bit beyond myself.

So thank you for reading and cheering me on.



I guess I have found my weight maintenance, as opposed to weight loss formula: stick with the plan except have seconds every now and then, or a few evening snacks. I have been doing this for several weeks because the strict discipline I need to actually lose weight is flagging. Obeying my body and indulging my spirits, I am letting up a little. And indeed, I am holding steady.

But I am hovering half or three-quarters of a pound above my goal, which is 145.8. (I did see it once but it disappeared by my weekly weigh-in day.)

Why that odd number for a goal? It is 10 percent below the weight at which I signed on to Weight Watchers. It is actually more than 10 percent below my starting weight, because I lost more than 5 pounds on my own before WW. But I read somewhere that losing more than 10 percent at a time isn’t good because it encourages rebounding. Maybe my body is saying, you already lost more than your 10 percent, let’s just keep it there for a while.

But this is very boring. I want to reach a milestone. I want to see what bells and whistles WW online offers when I reach goal and 10 percent at the same time. (Those little stars and words of cyber praise bring a silly kind of satisfaction.)

What I really want to do is throw the discipline out the window.

However, what this low hovering is teaching me is that if I think losing 22 pounds is hard, guess what. Keeping them off is even harder. Because I’ll have to keep up the discipline without the reward of seeing weekly progress.

I’ll have to keep up the three miles a day or equivalent.

I’ll have to keep counting points and stick close to the minimum.

I’ll have to keep drowning the evening snacking urges in herbal tea.

One six-ounce glass of wine, weekends only.


All of this will have to continue after I reach that magical, mythical 145.8. Reaching my goal changes nothing. I may be able to let up a little, like I have been doing recently, but not a lot.

What has to change is my mentality. Setting a goal tricks you into adopting discipline. Eventually you will reach the goal and, unless you can immediately set another goal,  you have to concentrate on the intrinsic rewards of that discipline. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

The fact is, my tummy feels much better going to bed on chamomile tea rather than Trader Joe’s Sesame Sticks. I can’t even drink two glasses of wine anymore without getting a headache. The thought of cheesecake turns my stomach. If I crave anything it’s veggies and brown rice and some sweet, ripe papaya.

My daily exercise makes me feel good and sleep well. My energy level is at a new normal, much higher than before. Even though the midriff bulge isn’t gone, it’s hideable. I like looking in the mirror and I like trying on clothes.

I have to remind myself of these things and be grateful and pat myself on the back. That’s a good shoulder stretch, too.

Life is like spilled beads

beadsI dream of sorting tiny beads. It’s not just me. I have kids “helping.” Of course every time the beads come into some sort of pattern they get messed up. And then we start over.

I don’t know what this is about except life. Cooking, cleaning, writing, losing weight, working on myself. Nothing is ever accomplished, done, satisfactory. Expecting it to be so is futile, given the material and who’s working with it. I’m not God the master artist. I’m just a bunch of easily distracted kids and this is really, really demanding work, making sense of life, making progress in life.

I dream this after starting Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, a novel about the lives of Ursula, who, every time she dies (the first time right after birth), goes back and relives the same life up to the point of that death, which she or circumstances now prevent, until the next death happens–maybe only months or hours later this time. For example, it takes her three or four tries to survive the great influenza epidemic of 1918. After infancy she has vague but urgent premonitions before the last thing that killed her happens and she takes a small evasive action. When I left off last night she was 7 and was beginning to experience déjà vu in other things as well.

This is an intriguing premise for a novel but mind-boggling to think about. (I recommend anything Kate Atkinson has written.) Another mind-boggler I’ve read recently is A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. That one plays with time and the idea of parallel universes, parallel lives, subtly, not in a sci-fi way.

The thing I live for is to see patterns and connections. Thus the beads in my dream. Now I see them, now I don’t, and there is very little to hold them in place once I do see them.

Take weight loss, for example. I was following a formula that was working. The last few weeks I’ve been following it strictly and it hasn’t worked. The scales register a gain. If it is the scales, why does it act up in that particular way? If it is my body, same question.

And on a larger issue, every time I think I am in general becoming more disciplined and purposeful, I have a day like yesterday when I watch hours and hours of TV and read novels and get no exercise and exceed my food points.

I guess that is no great mystery. I was a tiny bit discouraged by the weight gain. What the heck nothing works anyhow I may as well be a lazy slob.

But church was good yesterday and the dream class I’m leading there went really well again. At first the dreams are like spilled beads and then we begin to see the patterns.

Today I’m ready to get back to the bead sorting. Having fun doing it.bead girl



Cooking and shopping

I went clothes shopping yesterday even though I had vowed not to until I reached my goal weight (~ 2 pounds to go). It was a case of spring fever, stirred not by the arrival of spring but by the continued failure of spring to arrive.

I tried to ward off the shopping urge by cooking up a couple of tasty things in the morning since my freezer stash of MREs (isn’t that what the military calls them? Meals Ready to Eat) was diminishing. For dinner I made a sweet potato–kale–chickpea stew that was a little disappointing. Too many sweet potatoes. I followed a recipe that I won’t use again so I will not pass it on.

For lunch I made up my own vegetable-barley soup and that was outstanding. Let’s see if I can remember what I put in it.


Practical Mystic’s Vegan Borsch

Contrary to conventional wisdom, borsch does not have to contain beets. It is just good vegetable soup. However, every borsch I have tasted in Russian and Ukrainian households is scented with dill and includes cabbage, which is why this vegetable-barley soup tastes like borsch to me.

Chop and sauté in olive oil:

1 fat leek

2 cloves garlic

1/2 small cabbage

2 stalks celery

2 huge carrots

1/3 lb mushrooms

1 t. dried basil

1/2 t. pepper flakes or to taste

When leek and cabbage are wilted and you smell the mushrooms add:

2/3 cup barley

1 can crushed tomatoes

about 6 cups vegetable broth or to desired consistency

a bouquet garni of a few sprigs of fresh parsley and dill

Salt and pepper to taste

Simmer for half an hour or until barley is tender. Remove bouquet. Stir in more chopped fresh dill and parsley. If you’re not vegan you can serve it with a dollop of sour cream but it is really fine without.

Eating this soup for lunch with my husband just seemed to fortify my shopping urge, however, so I gave in and headed toward the outlet mall.

Confession: This is not the first time I’ve broken my vows and gone clothes shopping. However, on the first excursion 10 days ago to the nearest mall I saw absolutely nothing I wanted to wear. Truly. I am no fashionista but I apparently do not dress the way women in this region do. Besides, in the local stores the plus sizes, what they now call “Women,” are right out front, crowding out the size 10 petites that I hope to fit into. Sadly, obesity is the new normal in small-town northern Indiana and southern Michigan.

My fondest hope is to wear fitted little jackets. The local stores weren’t even showing fitted little jackets.

I came back determined to wait out the weight loss, go for a true spree in April to Oak Brook Mall near Chicago, and buy me some real clothes. But then I thought of the outlet mall in Michigan City, 35 minutes in the other direction, and I decided to just go look without any expectations at all.

Although there, too, many, many ugly clothes were on display, the veil was lifted from my eyes and I began seeing things I wanted to wear. I ended up buying a pair of jeans, a pair of dress pants (10P!), a little green top (M!) and not one but two fitted little jackets (12 but that’s okay) before I ran out of shopping steam.

Such irreverent preoccupations for Holy Week. We didn’t make it to the Maundy Thursday service but it was good to see the new Pope commemorating by washing the feet of juvenile delinquents. This evening we will go to Tenebrae, I promise.

No sign of spring except me

No sign of spring except me


I don’t eat any of that stuff

I should write something spiritual for Holy Week but food is on my mind.

I am in the 147s this week, two pounds to go. This morning, however, I felt like eating and eating so I ate two pieces of GF toast with honey and coconut butter along with my smoothie. It was not hunger. It was loneliness and relief and any other emotion you can name. Heightened feelings of any kind can make me want to eat. Not always, not as much as they did six months ago, but often enough to remind me of the need for continued vigilance.

It helps to have eliminated whole categories of food from my diet–we’ve gone gluten-free vegan for Lent and perhaps, with some minor modifications, forever. I am no longer tempted by real bread. Meat has no appeal whatsoever though maybe some fish. As soon as I think about taking myself out to lunch to celebrate getting through a difficult conversation I think about wading through a menu of glutinous, cheesy, meaty gunk and say no thanks.

It is funny to see a big gloppy sandwich in a TV commercial and be tempted for an instant and then imagine biting into it and thinking, no, I just want a tiny slice of that sandwich, three bites. Really. The thought of eating the whole thing or even half of it is overwhelming. But it is bread and meat and cheese so I don’t have to even think about it.

“I don’t eat any of that stuff” is my new mantra. I was repeating it and laughing when my daughter-in-law was describing the perfect mac and cheese she’d had at a restaurant. There is a great sense of freedom in having liberated myself from even having to consider foods that I know are bad for me, and, progressively, from even the hunger for them.

The rewards are considerable. I continue to lose weight steadily and my cholesterol and Vic’s blood sugar and blood pressure are back within healthy range.

It is very much like giving up cigarettes (I speak from experience; I smoked for two years when I was old enough to know better). You may wish for a cigarette or a cheeseburger now and then but you just don’t want to go down that road. The hunger goes away if you don’t indulge it.

The difference with food may be that you can usually have a few bites of a bad food, if you really want it, because depriving yourself might make you want it even more. This is what most experts say and this is the Weight Watchers philosophy: Don’t deprive yourself.

I don’t totally buy that. Here is where narrowing down what I eat helps. If I feel like indulging myself I can usually find a substitute within the categories of food I allow myself–because self indulgence is really what it’s all about. Treats. Want a cheeseburger? How about, instead, a salad loaded with goodies like avocado and nuts and dried cranberries? Want a slice of Chicago-style pizza? How about, instead, two slices of Amy’s GF-DF Spinach Pizza with a glass of red wine?

Pulling this switch on myself reminds me of how I often handled my young children: how about playing with this set of measuring cups instead of that glass vase? The hungry little kid in me wants something but it doesn’t have to be a cheeseburger. This morning’s treat was the extra toast. It was enough. I stopped wanting to eat and eat.

So. No ham and scalloped potatoes for Easter. I don’t even want them. I may break the vegan fast and serve salmon with the usual grilled asparagus and maybe a pilaf and strawberries with whipped coconut cream and have two glasses of wine. That sounds like a feast to me.



I was impatient for spring and then this happens. But isn’t it pretty?

Impatience is creeping into my weight-loss campaign, too. I have four pounds to go. This may not sound like much but it might take two months to get there.

The focus of my impatience is not my diet. I feel like I could keep eating this way indefinitely. Rather, it is about clothes. My wearable wardrobe is shrinking with my body: three pairs of pants, none of them dressy, and a few of my latest sweaters. The rest is baggy. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to buy some new clothes but that would defeat several of my intentions.

The first was not to buy anything new until I reached my goal weight. I have had the experience of buying things that I thought would fit after I lost another pound or two–and then I didn’t lose the weight. This time, no wishful shopping.

The other intention was not to make this weight loss about appearance. It wasn’t at first. It was about health in the long term and energy in the immediate, as an indicator of health and vitality. And it is working. My energy is up. In a week I walk 10 to 15 miles and do several hours of yoga and other exercises. I sleep well and feel great.

By now, however, I am getting used to this new vitality. Ho-hum. So what else can this new body do? The next thing is fitting it into some new clothes. I am impatient to get to this next thing.

Impatience is unkind. Impatience lives in the future and dismisses the present. Impatience is in a hurry. Impatience is ungrateful. Impatience sometimes says what the heck and sometimes tries to muscle through.

It is not impatience that has got me thus far on this matter or on any other. Rather, I have come to a profound respect for the rhythms and pace of my own body and spirit. I know both the joy of discipline and the limits of willpower. I have come to depend less on treating myself to special rewards and more on recognizing the rewards that are already there. The thing I know to do is to keep focused on the present.

A snowy day is no good for shopping anyhow. But it is good for purging closets. Here are my baggy clothes, ready to bag up for Goodwill. Bye-bye XL! My closet is ready for those new clothes and I am ready for spring. All in good time.



Getting back on the bike


My neglected Bianchi

Last year after I suffered a pulmonary embolism I got scared and fat.

Or you could say I lost confidence in my body and one result was that I gained weight.

Ironically, my lungs were found to be riddled with blood clots just weeks after I had achieved a major (for me) athletic goal: I had trained for months and then biked 100 miles one chilly, rainy September day. Actually 106.3 miles.

The health crisis had nothing to do with biking but it knocked the wind out of my sails. I had been all set to buy a new bike in the spring of 2012 and get even more serious about cycling. But all that conditioning—which certainly helped me through the crisis—began leaking away in the 8 days I spent in the hospital at the end of 2011. My energy was at a low ebb by this time last year.

On top of that I was put on blood thinners for the rest of my life because I have a genetic condition that makes me susceptible to clots, and I began to worry about bleeding. You always take a few spills when you are getting used to a new bike and clipless pedals. What if I were biking alone and fell and got a concussion and bled to death before anybody found me?

I didn’t buy a new bike in 2012, nor did I get on my old one. Not once.

I told myself all kinds of stories to justify not biking. I wasn’t ready for a new bike. It was a rainy, weird-weather spring, hard to get on the bike for those 5 consecutive days you need at the start of the season to toughen up your butt. The summer was too hot. I made trips to Congo in May and July.

All that was true, but it is also true that I had lost confidence in my body. I lost confidence in my ability to prevent a fall or recover from it. I lost confidence in my strength and energy. I had long since lost confidence in my ability to control my weight. And my body responded to my lowered expectations. I lost strength and energy, gained weight, and moved with less grace.

I believe my recent bout with back pain was partly a result of this loss of confidence in my physical self. My back had become the repository of all my doubts, insecurities, and fears. Even though I had already begun to reverse the weight gain and energy decline, my back was throwing one last spasm of grief and protest against all the vicissitudes of life as a mortal being. It was at its worst in early December, around the anniversary of the pulmonary embolism.

And then it recovered. I am writing this to celebrate my mortal body, now 68 years old. It is leaner, stronger, more energetic than it was a year ago. I am grateful for my physical presence in this world.

My body will take me on adventures this year. Maybe some of them on a bike. Maybe a new one.