Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Verdict, Old Wives, and A Few Good Books

A Verdict:
In my December 9th post, I was cheerfully optimistic that I could get back to my goal weight on my own. No need for outside help for me! Even so, my self confidence kept colliding with the heavy weight of my previous failed efforts. "I (might) need the discipline of a structured program to get myself moving (in the right direction)," I admitted. "I'll get a sense of which version is true in the weeks ahead." The jury is in and I'm going back to Weight Watchers. The numbers this morning were the same as three weeks ago. It seriously sucks rodents when a 5'4" woman considers herself lucky that the scale shows a weight of only 203.5 lbs.

Old Wives:
On December 20th, I was deriding old wives. I had decided to work on a Christmas project in the garage with the garage door open despite my sniffles and cough and the chill weather. The idea "that 'you can catch a cold from cold weather' is an 'old wive's tale,' "I wrote adding that they were "not the most knowledgeable of old wives at that." One dismisses the wisdom of old wives at one's own peril. My cold got worse after playing elf in the garage. Matt and I had to miss the family Christmas celebration because I was too sick to attend. Ditto New Year's Eve. For the first time in years, we had plans for the night. Instead we're staying home. Matt has tossed a few "I told you so's" in my direction. I shoulda listened when he told me to stay in our nice warm house.

A few book reviews:
Well, at least being sick has given me some reading time. Unfortunatley I've nodded off much of the time, but here are a few notes about the books that I've been reading:

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan tells the story of the great environmental, economic, and human tragedy that occurred in the Great Plains during the Great Depression. This is a history rather than a historical novel, yet the individuals whose struggles Egan's describes, become alive in his telling their stories. A compounding tragedy is that the land still bares the scars of man's abuse of it and that, even with this knowledge of prior devastation, we continue to ravage the earth. I heartily recommend this engrossing book.

Set in Cairo around the time of the first Gulf War, The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany, tells the story of a highly varied cast of individuals who lives intersect through their connection to this building. The roof dwellers, the poorest of the residents, include a young, aspiring policeman who is drawn to the jihadists when his dreams are shattered. Other plot lines involve the gay editor of a French language newspaper, an aging playboy whose sister is trying to get him declared incompetent so that she can have his share of their inheritence, and a number of (redundancy alert) corrupt politicians . Though the plot lines of this book are strong and the characters are well defined, the thing that I found most compelling was the sense of claustophobic oppression that those in the underclass experience as their daily due. For a sense of this experience, I recommend this book.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is the story of 9 year old Liesel Meminger, and her foster family in Nazi Germany. The narrator is Death. I initially found this to be quite a distraction because Death seemed to have a child's voice. After the first hundred pages or so, I found that the unintentional humor and irony of the narrator, Death, softened the edges of a trully horrific era. The characters were multi-faceted and the events vividly portrayed. The ending surprised me. The book is a major page-turner. At times, I almost literally couldn't put it down.

My expecatations for The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch were way too high. I had seen Diane Sawyer's interview with the author and had bookmarked his lecture on my computer, but had never gotten around to watching it. I decided to read the book instead. A mistake. From the bits that I have seen of the video, the man himself is the inspiration. The book has much wisdom in it, but would have been more appropriate for a younger, more goal oriented me. I've given it as gifts to my daughter and my son + his wife. My daughter has already read and enjoyed it. I expect my son and his wife will enjoy it as well.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk is the book that I'll be reading next. I'm drawn to it because of the back cover description: "An exiled poet named Ka returns to Turkey and travels to the forlorn city of Kars. His ostensible purpose is to report on a wave of suicides among religious girls forbidden to wear their head scarves." Pamuk won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. Margaret Atwood's recommmendation of the book on its front cover carries much weight with me. We shall see if this author joins the many whose works are "must reads" for me.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Santa Arlene Among Her Peers

The last few weeks have been defined by busyness, the march of the Santas, my usual seasonal melancholy, and a cold with resulting lethargy followed by a self imposed forced march to productivity. This last of these had me hard at work in my garage today, an elf in her workshop, with the garage door open despite the chill weather so that I wouldn't miss the mailman to whom I wanted to directly give my Christmas cards (having finished with them after the posted pick up time at the closest mail box. I wondered about the effect of the cold weather on my sickness, decided that "you can catch a cold from cold weather" is an "old wive's tale" (and not the most knowledgeable of old wives at that), and turned the portable heater to its highest setting. I'm hoping that my sickness will pass in time for me to attend the family Christmas celebration that is the occassion that had me playing Santa's elf in the garage.

But it is not Santa's elf, but Santa himself, that is my primary identity. The pictures below were taken in San Francisco last Saturday. The lovely reindeer who appears in three of these pictures is my daughter, Rachael. The great fun for me is the joyful silliness of the whole thing, the merriment of playing with other Santas, and coming up to perfect strangers, asking them if they've been good or bad, having them actually answer, and giving them a Santa gift. Behind the personna of Santa, I gain a freedom to easily connect with my fellow human being and find most of them enjoy that unexpected connection. I also gift the cops and talk with them. The not-that-well- hidden presence of alcohol is their chief concern. Between two flasks of Jim Beam, numerous bar stops, and friendly sharings from my fellow Santas and other assorted characters of the season, I managed to maintain the optimum level of non-sobriety throughout, in love with the world and not barfing on it. The police were actually very cool in dealing with our raucous crowd, staying at the periphery, available in case things got enough out of hand to require their intervention. The surprises this year included a full on snow fight at one park, a bouncie house at another, and milk and cookies somewhere else. What a wonderful life it is being one of many Santas.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eight Months From Now

Instead of focusing on an "auspicious" start date when I would vigorously begin a weight loss program from which I'd never ever stray (except, occasionally in moderation), I've been looking ahead eight months and asking myself where I will be with my long lapse of self discipline. What comes to mind is an image of myself like this one, taken in Barcelona on May 25, 2006. I was in the low 160's then and headed back down, I thought, to the weight that I'd finally reached three years earlier, 127 pounds. Eighteen months before that I'd weighed 197 pounds.

I began my return to the land of big-size from that of size ten petite with a party week-end in Arizona shortly after getting a pound and a half below my goal weight. Throughout the entire time that I was getting rid of the 65 lbs., I'd never once cheated nor had the temptation to do so. Sticking with a healthful eating program had been easy for me. In Arizona, my food choices were pretty much limited to tortilla chips or potato chips. I had no access to transportation (which is mostly true; I'm painting this with broad brush strokes.) I took a vacation from healthful eating and vacationing became my lifestyle. When life presented its challenges, I went on vacation. I began this blog with the title "Onwards, Getting Rid of the Regain" on 9/29/05 at 185 pounds. The last time I weighed myself, the scale read 203.5 lbs., .5 pounds less than my most recent high. When my weight began its long climb upward, even to the point at which I first began this blog, I was pleased that I wasn't one of the many who would talk about regaining their weight "with a bonus." Now I can't even claim that success. I've struggled with my various regains from the beginning, the first five pounds and five pounds beyond that, then fifty pounds and more, much more. I've re-lost and regained mountains of fat. I'm glad that I've kept up the struggle. If I hadn't, I might be up a hundred pounds from where I am now. Or maybe not. Perhaps I would have avoided the binges that have been so much a part of my weight gain if I'd accepted the numbers somewhere along the line. In any case, I'm not willing to accept 203.5 lbs. And I'll deal with the downscale numbers when I reach them. And I will reach them.

I've realized that reading the blogs of my on-line friends inspires me whether they are succeeding in their struggles with weight or whether they are going through a difficult patch. In the first case, they provide a positive example. I want to show them (hi Annette) that I too can succeed. In the second case, they give me strength by validating for me how difficult it can be to get back on track once veering so far away from it. I want to be their positive example. I want to be one of the people who don't give up and ultimately succeed. My on-line friends who either don't share this challenge or write about it rarely are also sources of inspiration. They allow me to function in this loose community as a full human being. My current blob-like state along with the lack of self discipline which produced it only a partial defines me.

The last successful time around, when I went from 192 lbs. to 127 lbs., the image that helped me get there came from a dream. For a reason that I can no longer remember, the powerful symbol of this was a red triangle. Along each of its lines was a different word and the words were Fat, Stupid, and Undisciplined. This was the first impression that I believed my bulging self made on people who didn't know me. In my dream, the sun enveloped me in golden light and I knew that the time had come when I would succeed in getting rid of the weight. All I had to do was "stick with the program and the weight would take care of itself." It was it this point that I joined Weight Watchers.

I'm not up for a WW rejoin right now. I'm not up for counting points or even doing the current core program. This may change, but I'm not up for it now. But the image of eight months is a compelling one. I'm thinking of a swimming pool now. I'm thinking that I might be able to swim clear across the pool to the eight months side. On my own.

I want to end this post here. The end. But I wrote one more paragraph and have decided to include it. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I like the sound of my own words.

Or maybe not. Eight months might be the side of the pool. Holding on to it may keep me from going under, but I may need the discipline of a structured program to get myself moving to the other side. As a metaphor, this all falls apart; at my current weight, I'm my own flotation device. But I can't dive in just now. I'd hit my head against the cement sides of the pool.

I'll get a sense of which version is true in the weeks ahead.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Seeing My World Through Daisy's Eyes

It is 12:54 a.m. I'm almost at the point where I'm likely to drift unimpeded into Sleepland once I snuggle into my pillow. Daisy, with her copper owl eyes, has been watching me type. At one point, she seemed fascinated by the magical appearance of the letters on the screen. I guess, not knowing the process, it is for her as if something suddenly popped into existence. I experience the opposite of this at times when things seem to pop out of existence. At these times, the concept of anti-matter as I understand it seems very real to me. Most recently my glasses, which so often disappear, really did disappear for a full day. I ended up driving to my glass class without wearing them. I had a major headache as the day wore on. My glasses did not turn up, though I did find them, and not by searching, but rather by analyzing Sherlock Holmes-like. The infamous family room couch, which is the scene of most of my food crimes, swallowed up my glasses and spit them out on the floor beneath. I'm struck as I write this that the word is "glasses" and that we refer to them as plural. We talk about a pair of glasses when referring to only the one item. The thing about my family room couch is that this one item is constructed as if it is three items with the space between each of the seats sometimes forming a chasm into which things fall at will. Underneath this couch, this too-heavy-to-move-by-oneself couch, are pencils and ice cream spoons and bits of food. It is really rather disgusting when you think about it, which I don't. Thankfully I was able to fish out my glasses with a ruler.

Daisy is no longer watching me. I will probably find her nestled in the blankets on the bed. She will find her comfortable spot curled within the arc of my left arm as I begin to drift off to sleep. When I turn to make my full committment to the land of dreams, she'll hop off and go to one of her night time places. In the morning, she'll come to investigate whether I'm ready to greet her and the new day. If I turn back to the pillows, she'll leave only to return a bit later. I wonder what she makes of the long uninterrupted slumbers of us human beings. I suppose cats don't wonder about such things. They accept their world as it is and they deal with it. Daisy was wary of me in the beginning of our relationship. In addition to accepting her world and dealing with it, she was and is open to seeing her world differently. I think I can learn something about life from Daisy.

Morning postscript: Daisy was not waiting for me in bed nor did she come in later last night. She did her morning check up on me. Cats, like humans, are not always predictable.