Thursday, October 23, 2014

Good Gravy

In the All Saints Episcopal parish cemetery on Pawleys Island, South Carolina, Dorothy M Elerbe is immortalized with the words: “She made good gravy.”

I’ve heard some pretty boneheaded things when someone dies. My “favorite” top two are: “God needed another voice in his choir” (barf!) and “He/she wouldn’t want you to be sad/cry” (liar, liar pants on fire!). Name ONE person on this planet who honestly doesn’t want to be mourned when they die? To know that there will be at least some small demonstrative expression of grief from those who care about them most?

I do! I want tears! Lots and lots of tears. I want Kleenex stock to go up slightly when I pass.

However, I know that to be worthy of another's tears, I need to have made good gravy while I was alive.

Like many of us, I often spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about or acting upon things that don’t really mean a lot in the grand scheme. Given this truth, my tombstone would look something like this:

“She lost a lot of weight…a lot of times.”
“She intended to write a really good book.”
“She thought about volunteering.”
“She hated winter.”
“She rarely left the house without makeup on.”

Not exactly the kind of stuff that brings tears to people’s eyes.

As anyone who practices mindfulness or meditates or prayers for insight knows, “practice” comes with a price. An often sticky, uncomfortable price. It was recently – through being present with someone I love very much and listening to his words without thinking of my response as he was talking – that I became aware that I’ve been keeping spontaneous joy and love locked up tighter than gold at Fort Knox. Whether it’s been for the sake of pride or out of fear of vulnerability, I’ve become less trusting of my feelings and more influenced by chronic pain and what others think of me. I love those who are easy to love and don’t engage the tender parts of those who are difficult or those who could hurt me.

How simple it is to pick up and snuggle 18-month-old Audrey when she runs to me, or read to 3-year-old Mae while she sits on my lap. That stranger in line at the grocery store who is struggling to use her debit card? No love for you! Those far-away loved ones whose opinions or actions differ from mine? No compassion for you!

This isn’t to say I spend every day judging or waving my cane at the neighbor kids: “Get off my lawn, you little bastards!” But I could certainly use Dorothy M Elerbe’s gravy recipe to help me open up and love a little more than weight, makeup, intentions, or even "Downton Abbey."

There’s a dry board on my refrigerator on which my niece used to write uplifting phrases. Before she moved back to Minnesota, she wrote: “Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.” I will to keep that there because it reminds me to stick with my novel. But above it, I am going to write, “She made good gravy.” 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

About Last Night...

There have been moments in my life when I’ve sensed the presence of a deceased loved one. While warm and bittersweet, I understand those feelings to be resurrected memories of the connection we had when they were alive; me consciously sating some need I perhaps hadn’t completely identified. I don’t believe those vague presences stem from a visit by their spirit.

That’s why I can’t explain what happened last night.

I often employ the “Just ignore it, it will go away” approach to healthcare. But after a months-long battle with hip pain – in which the last few days I’ve been barely able to walk – I finally mentioned it to my doctor. She ordered x-rays, and as I wait for the results, I'm living with limited mobility and a crap-ton of pain which makes me feel trapped, angry, alone, and scared, bordering on the edge of self-pity. And I hate self-pity, especially in the middle of the night.

Jim and I were at my house last night, and he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. My bed tends to envelop us like a taco and I knew my hip would not be comfortable within such limited space, so I got up and limped to the spare room where I lay awake, playing Canasta on my phone.

After a few hours, I found a comfortable position on my side, facing the wall. Hugging the top of the body pillow I'd tucked between my legs, I started to fall asleep, but not before Jim walked in the room and – saying nothing – placed a hand on my shoulder and one on the back of my neck and kissed my head, just above my ear. I felt safe and loved and more than that, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

I woke up at 4 a.m. when again, Jim came in the room.

“Why aren’t you in bed?” he whispered. At some point while I was sleeping, I’d rolled over on to my back, and Jim sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked my hair

“I couldn’t get comfortable and I didn’t want to wake you,” I said softly.

“You can wake me up anytime.”

“I know. But you knew where I was. You came in around 1, remember? You kissed my head.”

“This is the first time I’ve been up,” he said. “I didn’t know you weren’t in bed until just now.”

“What do you mean?” I started to cry. “But I felt so safe. I was finally able to sleep. I thought it was you.”

“No, it wasn’t me.” He moved his hand to my leg, covered in three layers of blankets, and began rubbing the top of my hip. “But someone wanted you to know they cared.”

When I'd crawled into that spare bed, it didn’t occur to me to reach out to anyone – dead or alive. I was entirely alone, physically and mentally. I made no effort to meditate or pray. I was resigned to my fear and went through every scenario I could think of for how – or if – I would walk normally again. I assure you, I was in the throes of self-pity. My mind was all about me. I had no conscious thought to partner with a departed loved one or god or anyone else.

Whoever or whatever touched my shoulder and kissed my head knew better than me what I needed, and gave me the one thing I could not give myself: peace. And even skeptical me knows not to attempt to explain, justify, or otherwise dispute such a gift.

How about you? Have you experienced something like this before? Leave a comment if you'd like to share your story.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What I Did On My (barely) Summer Vacation

You know how when you get home after being away for several days? You might think, ‘Gee, it’s good to be home.’ Yeah, well, I’m still waiting for that feeling.

“Relaxed” isn’t exactly my middle name, so when Jim suggested we go to the beach because he wanted to relax, I said I probably wouldn’t like that. I need to be busy to have fun. Hiking, sightseeing, shopping, going to a play. THAT’S fun. Sitting around doing nothing? Capital B boring.

Then I saw the ocean from the balcony of our 12th floor hotel room at North Myrtle Beach and I didn’t care if I did anything else all week but sit and stare at the ocean.
Of course I didn’t lose all my uptightness, at least not at first. There was the lesson of the wake versus the break. Jim was a bobbing in the wake while I stayed closer to shore where the waves were breaking. When a wave knocked me to my knees and handed me a mouthful of salt water, Jim told me to come out to where he was. I was afraid at first, but he showed me how to let the wake pick you up and put you down, and I thought how what is true in the ocean is true in life. Sometimes you have to go beyond your comfort zone to find peace/the answers/fill-in-your-own-truth.

I spent a lot of time under an umbrella by the dunes, too. Butterflies and dragonflies alighted on the tangled myrtle, and a Carolina anole stopped long enough for me to snap a photo before scurrying off into the underbrush.
Saw my first alligator in the wild.
We didn’t lie around the beach all the time. We did take a tour of the area, which included a visit to an All Saints Cemetery, complete with the ghost story of Alice Flagg, whose brother forbid her to marry outside her social class. She died of either consumption or malaria when she was 16, and when her brother found the engagement ring she wore tied to a ribbon around her neck, he ripped it off her and threw it in the marsh. She was originally buried on their estate, but she haunted her brother and so he had her moved to All Saints Cemetery, where she is said to appear wandering, looking for her ring.
I was fascinated yet creeped out by a lubber grasshopper at the cemetery. He was at least 5 inches long.
I took this photo of two women sitting at the pool while I was eating breakfast. They were having fun laughing together. I sent the photo to my friend Pam and told her this would be us one day.
I didn’t eat this, but Jim wishes he had. I ate some amazing food, including (don’t laugh) a pecan waffle at Waffle House. I’d never eaten there before.

 The characters in my novel needed a vacation, too, because when I sat down to write (under that umbrella I told you about earlier), they had a LOT to say. I hope someday the people reading on the beach or poolside are reading my novel. Or maybe I will put a copy in their hands next time I’m there.
Jim relaxed.
I let my hair go native.

We took the back roads all the way to Myrtle and most of the way back. Talk about relaxing, even behind slow traffic on a two-lane highway. We saw some amazing landscapes, including the Blue Ridge Mountains. Of course I had to play “Country Roads” on our way through West Virginia.
So as I wait for that “good to be home” feeling to ascend, thank you for letting me share my vacation with you. Please post a comment and let me know about your vacation epiphanies.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rebuilding

Seven months ago today, my boyfriend Jim’s garage burned down, taking with it 70 percent of all he owned in the world.
Second only to the pain of personally losing something or someone we love is watching someone we care about lose something they love.
Conversely, the same is true when we witness their Phoenix moment, when they rise above the loss.

Some people – including me – wondered if Jim would sell his place and move away from the memory of that night in February. But he meant what he said when the fire still smoldered: “I’ll rebuild.”

I bought this bracelet yesterday:
When I saw it, it struck me that for awhile now I’ve been living in the future. “One day, when my knee doesn’t hurt anymore, I’ll ride a bike again.” “One day, when I say no to the white bread in a restaurant again, I’ll lose weight.” “One day, when I work out with hand weights again, my arms will have the definition they used to.” Envisioning an end goal without considering the journey is like Jim dreaming of one day having another barn. He can dream all he wants, but dreams don’t get things built.

Whether you’re rebuilding a barn or rebuilding your resolve to lose weight or start exercising...again...starting over takes a lot of courage. The work will take place in the shadow of what took away what you built in the first place. Will the same thing happen again?

Today, seven months after the fire, there is no sound more lovely than that of a backhoe hauling away ash and debris and digging a ditch for a water line. Soon enough, there will be a barn, of that I am certain. There could also be another fire, of which I’m not certain. But that’s the chance you take when you rebuild something you love.
Cooper inspects the site of the new barn.

Monday, August 4, 2014

AIM: Changing the Plan


This month, we bid a fond AIM farewell to our colleague, Shelley. She will continue to blog at My Journey to Fit, and we wish her the best in all her endeavors, particularly as she trains for the Houston Half-Marathon.

We’ve also decided to post AIM quarterly rather than monthly. Our next post will appear November 3.

Nothing doesn’t change, and forward is rarely a straight line. In my ongoing journey of weight loss and maintenance, not only does my body continue to change, so does my mind.

I discontinued my Weight Watchers membership about 2 years ago, but the knowledge I acquired from being a WW online member for 5 years was invaluable.  Weight Watchers taught me about portion control, and helped me see and understand my eating patterns. While I’ve gained some weight back, I’ve not forgotten the lessons I learned, some engrained so deeply they’ve become rote.

I’m also learning new things about nutrition – and myself – every day. I’ve let go of that death grip I had on food, and have adopted a balanced and more moderate approach to food, even viewing food as part of the societal mechanism by which we relate to one another. These are things I now welcome to ponder, all the while I’m free to continue to reject that which does not “feel” right (eating highly processed foods, for example, or meat).

My body reminds me every day that it is aging changing. It requires a different kind of care than even 8 years ago, and I’ve incorporated the same kind of mindfulness I have with food into the care of my body. For instance, it takes about 15 minutes after I get out of bed in the morning to move somewhat deftly, and by deftly I mean limping less. I have this habit of grimacing and not breathing when I hobble walk from the bedroom to the bathroom and down the stairs. Noticing the grimace and noticing I’m not breathing is like noticing when I reach for more than one piece of chocolate or a second scoop of potatoes. Remembering to breathe is as kind to my body as remembering that my plan for the day is to only have one piece of chocolate or to control my serving of potatoes (or tuna or milk or cheese or whatever).

Successful weight loss – as I’ve said a million times on this blog – is not over when you reach goal. If your mind doesn’t change, and your perceptions and beliefs about food stay the same as always, your body cannot change. At the same time, if you don’t change your mind about your body, and love and accept it at any weight, with all its sags or bags or fleshy parts, your body cannot change. Or perhaps it will change, but what good is change if you aren’t willing to accept the results, right?

I know several people – me included – who found maintaining a low-end weight difficult, both physically and emotionally. I was afraid to change and yet I was miserable. Changing to a more moderate approach to food was NOT easy. Not one bit. But it was necessary, and I’ve been happier maintaining my body at a higher weight.

How do you decide when it’s time to change up your own routine or way of thinking? What have been some specific changes you’ve made to align your dietary needs with your emotional and physical needs?
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AIM: Adventures in Maintenance is Lynn, Lori, Debby, and Cammy, former weight-loss bloggers who now write about life in maintenance. We formed AIM to work together to turn up the volume on the issues facing people in weight maintenance. We publish a post on the same topic on the first Monday of each month. Let us know if there is a topic you'd like us to address!

Lori @ Finding Radiance
Debbie @ debby weighs in

Cammy @ The Tippy Toe Diet

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where Have I Been All My Life?

If there is a lesson I learn over and over again it is that nothing is permanent. Nothing stays super awesome, nothing stays super bad, and nothing stays just OK, especially if we choose them not to be.

I’ve been wandering in a haze of OKness since finishing a nutrition certification program last year. I’d spent two years training for something I thought I wanted to do, only to find out it wasn’t what I wanted to do. While I’m still committed to my own nutritional health and wellness, my heart isn’t in counseling others about theirs. My first and true love are words, and while I will continue to share my thoughts and experiences about weight and food and exercise here once in a while, I am (finally!) breathing life back into the ZenBagLady blog. And...I’m writing a novel. The weight book and the grief book are on the back burner right now as I do something I told myself years ago I couldn’t do: write fiction.

I’m not sure why I thought I couldn’t write fiction, but then, it wouldn’t be the first time I thought I couldn’t do something.

When I was a senior in high school, I went to see a guidance counselor because I thought I wanted to go to college. Maybe be an English teacher or a veterinary technician. The guidance counselor looked through my records. I was a B-minus student who skipped school a lot, usually to smoke pot in the parking lot with my friends before going to Burger King for chicken sandwiches and onion rings. I was also a student who scored in the 97th percentile in the PSATs and worked at least 20 hours a week.

The guidance counselor sat back in his chair and looked at me over the top of his glasses.

“Ever think of getting married?” he asked.

He didn’t know that I was pretty good at discussing early 20th century literature and diagramming sentences, or that I was the one in my four-person biology group who did most of the fetal pig dissecting. He didn’t know because he didn’t ask the right question, and I was too dumbfounded and eager to please authority to know what the right question was. What a kick in the pants to hear: “You’d better get married because clearly you’re not good at anything.” The even bigger kicker was that I believed him.

I got married a year later. A year after that, I had a baby and my husband died. While the guidance counselor could not have foreseen this fate, I see now how his question set me – an uncertain and naïve young woman – on a circuitous career path.

By the time I actually went to college, I’d been a waitress, a secretary, and a beer cart girl at a 9-hole golf course. Nothing wrong with any of those jobs, but I knew I had to pursue words as a career. Working full-time for most of the 10 years it took to complete my degree, nothing has been more personally satisfying than graduating Magna Cum Laude. It forever put to rest the subtextual notion that, academically, I was not good at anything.

Hopefully I’ll still be good at something academically come January when I start graduate school. Like a former editor of mine once sang, “The old gray matter, it ain’t what it used to be.” But this program is designed to prepare graduates to teach lit and comp, something I didn’t think I could do 33 years ago. So, at age 50, I’m out to prove myself wrong once again.

What have you told yourself in the past that you can’t do, only to discover you can? How do you find your way out of OKness?

Monday, July 7, 2014

AIM: Food: It’s All In A Day

If you’re reading this in the morning and thinking, ‘Hmmm…what do I want for breakfast?’ click on over to Shelley’s breakfast contribution to our AIM progressive meal day. If it’s lunchtime, check out what Cammy has cooking.

If it’s mid-day or dinner time, welcome to my contribution: appetizer and a veggie main meal. (There will be links to Lori and Debby a little later.)

I’m not a summer cook. I don’t know how to grill and I don’t want to learn. (However, I do know my way around a marinade or sauce in case BF is in the mood to grill, which he’s really good at.) I also hate heating the oven on sultry days, mostly because I’m too cheap to put on the air conditioner just to make something to eat. So in the summer, I prefer to eat fresh and out of a can (i.e. canned black beans or canned tuna on a salad). The crockpot’s a godsend, too, and I have no problem with a little stove-top cooking.

So, if yinz came to my house for appetizers, I would serve this hummus:

Sun-Dried Tomato and Curry Hummus

This is loosely based on a Weight Watchers recipe (Roasted Red Pepper Hummus). I wasn’t crazy about the original, so I “made it my own,” (somewhere, Paula Abdul is clapping for me).

1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained (reserve the drained liquid)
4-5 sun-dried tomato halves (not the kind in oil)
3-4 (or more) garlic cloves, peeled
2 T tahini
3 T lemon juice
1/3 C Greek yogurt
¼ t pepper
¼ to ½ t salt
1 t curry powder (I use a combo of hot and mild)
½ t cumin
½ t coriander

Put all ingredients in a food processor and process for a minute. Add a little of the reserved liquid (or if you forgot to save it, like I’ve done before, use vegetable or chicken broth or water) and process for another few minutes. Check for consistency and add more liquid if you want. Process for about 3-5 minutes, or until desired consistency.

This is really good right away or after a few hours in the fridge. It’s got a nice bite, especially if you add some hot curry kick. I serve it with baked pita chips and veggies.

If you were moving on to Lori’s for a meat-based main meal option, click here to see what she has cooking. If you’re staying at my house after the hummus, I would serve a vegetarian meal.

There are a million vegetarian options I could choose from, but paprikash is one I haven’t made in a long time. While it is somewhat time intensive due to all the chopping, it’s one I love making for other people, mostly because not many of my friends know what to do with paprika other than sprinkle a little on top of deviled eggs. Paprika is one of those under-appreciated spices in the white-bread world.

Vegetables Paprikash
(From the book “1001 Low-Fat Vegetarian Recipes” by Sue Spitler)
4 servings

2 C thinly sliced cabbage
1 C each: sliced onion or leeks, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, and celery
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ C sliced mushrooms
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 T olive oil
3 T flour
1-2 T paprika (I use 2-3 T, including a mixture of hot and sweet paprika. You can use straight up regular Hungarian paprika as well)
¾ C vegetable broth
½ C sour cream (regular, reduced-fat, or fat-free…I’ve used all three with great success)
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté vegetables in oil in large skillet until tender, 5-8 minutes. Stir in the flour and paprika; cook, stirring 1-2 minutes. Stir in broth and heat to boiling; boil, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Stir in sour cream; season to taste. Serve over whole wheat egg noodles or a bed of lettuce, or roll in a wrap or stuff in a pita.

Now it’s time to head over to Debby’s for a little dessert.

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AIM: Adventures in Maintenance is Lynn, Lori, Debby, Shelley, and Cammy, former weight-loss bloggers who now write about life in maintenance. We formed AIM to work together to turn up the volume on the issues facing people in weight maintenance. We publish a post on the same topic on the first Monday of each month. Let us know if there is a topic you'd like us to address!

Lori @ Finding Radiance
Debbie @ debby weighs in
Shelley @ My Journey to Fit
Cammy @ The Tippy Toe Diet

Monday, June 2, 2014

AIM: The Organized (Or Not) Approach

It is 7:09 a.m. on Monday, June 2, 2014. It is the first Monday of the month, the day we publish our monthly AIM post. We chose this month’s theme more than three weeks ago to avoid deadline panic. And so, as with most things that I need to do in the future, I thought, ‘I’ll get on that…someday.’

Today is “someday” and I’m just now getting my thoughts on the screen. For three weeks, I’ve bounced a few thoughts around. Even wrote a few of them on a restaurant napkin and an index card. Yet here I am, 51 minutes to my 8 a.m. deadline and I’m thinking feverishly about how to organize this blog post about organization.

While I do some of my best work on deadline, I don’t live my best life that way. Indecision, procrastination, distraction, and no accountability postponed my decision to lose weight the last time, and are always looming threats to maintenance. Organized, I am a force to be reckoned with. Disorganized, and I don’t think the most clearly, and I don’t always make the best decisions.

That’s not to say everything in my life needs to be organized to be successful. Flying by the seat of my pants can sometimes illicit the most insight, coax creativity, or be the best fun ever. Some of my best days start with the conversation: “What do you want to do today?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do today?” But when it comes to weight loss and maintenance, the disorganized “someday” approach derails me, mostly because I’m looking for an excuse to avoid that which seems unpleasant or difficult. Saying “no” to the white bread and butter the waiter brings to the table seems easy enough, but sometimes it is difficult, and so in “someday” mode, saying “yes” propels responsibility and culpability into the future. When I’m organized and consciously aware of my plan, I live in the moment and not in “someday.” Ergo, I make better decisions.

I won’t bore you with lists and details of how I organize my food plan or workout plan except to say I’m less likely to say, “Screw it. Let’s order pizza” when my pantry and refrigerator are well stocked.
I’m more interested in sharing this side note about organization: You need to be willing to forgive yourself if you don’t always stick to your plan. Like today, I’m well aware that this blog could have been written weeks ago, but beating myself up for it isn’t going to get it written any faster or better, just as beating ourselves up for eating off plan or skipping a workout isn’t going to help us lose weight any faster or better.

“Someday” is today. May you live it conscientiously and without fear or dread of what you eat, how you move, or how you think about yourself.
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AIM: Adventures in Maintenance is Lynn, Lori, Debby, Shelley, and Cammy, former weight-loss bloggers who now write about life in maintenance. We formed AIM to work together to turn up the volume on the issues facing people in weight maintenance. We publish a post on the same topic on the first Monday of each month. Let us know if there is a topic you'd like us to address!

Lori @ Finding Radiance
Debbie @ debby weighs in
Shelley @ My Journey to Fit
Cammy @ The Tippy Toe Diet

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Boom. Done

My fortune cookie last week
I’m not a very good painter. (As in painter of walls and furniture.) I’ve had ambition to paint, but never enough to get me through an entire project, or at least, an entire project done well.

I can see the potential in a worn piece of furniture. I can imagine what a room would look like in a different color. But usually that’s where my motivation ends.

Until this week. This week, I did the one thing I never bothered doing before any other painting project:

I learned how.

My niece is moving in for the summer. I have a spare room and a spare bed, and instead of hauling her dresser out here from Minnesota, I told her I’d get one.

I looked at new dressers in my price range (read: cheap) and I was pretty sure if I bought one, we’d be making s’mores over the fire we’d make with it by the end of summer. So I sent out an email to friends and local family members to keep an eye out for a used dresser. Jim’s mom called and said a friend of hers was moving to Florida and was getting rid of all her furniture. Perfect! For $20, I got a 5-drawer 1950s-style chest of drawers, and man, was it ugly! BUT…I saw its potential. A little paint…

I can't find the photo I took of the entire dresser, but you get some idea of its ugliness.
The blessing and curse of dating a carpenter is that I can’t fake my lack of carpentry knowledge. The blessing is that I can plead ignorance (or actually BE ignorant) when it comes to things I know I can’t or don’t want to do, like fix the exhaust fan in the bathroom. It’s a curse when I think I can do something and I screw it up.

In my mind, the dresser project was going to go this way: Pick a main color and an accent color, buy a brush, throw down a drip cloth and paint. Boom, done.

In Jim’s mind, the dresser project was going to go this way: Ask the guy at the paint store what he recommended I do to the dresser to get it ready for the paint. Sandpaper? What? Huh? Ask the guy at the paint store to recommend the right kind of primer. Primer? Ask the guy at the paint store to recommend the right kind of base paint. You mean there’s more than one kind? Buy a block of medium sandpaper. Buy a 4-inch roller and a couple of pads. Go home. Remove handles of the dresser. Scuff dresser. Prime dresser. Wait at least four hours. Those are the instructions where? On the can? Paint dresser. Wait another four hours. This will take forEVER! Paint dresser again. Next day (next day?), prepare area for accent color by taping the edges of the bevels. Paint accent color. Wait four hours. Paint accent color again. Dry overnight before reassembling. Boom, done.

Asking questions and painting things slowly and deliberately was new to me. Painting was supposed to be easy, something we all innately know how to do, right? Gee, hmm...maybe that’s why my painting projects never turn out the way I envisioned.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

The reason so many of us don’t lose weight or don’t keep it off is that we never took the time to learn how. It should be easy, right? You stop eating so much, you move around a little more. Boom. Done.

But it’s not that easy. There’s way more to it than that. And it starts by asking the right questions, both of ourselves and of others who know what they’re talking about.

However, knowledge only enhances ambition. You can be excited you bought the right paint, feel smart that you bought the right roller and pat yourself on the back for selecting the right drop cloth, but the dresser won’t paint itself.

Boom/done doesn’t happen in successful weight loss and maintenance. Success is an every day commitment to patience, ambition, and learning how.

I'm a day away from boom/done

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Love Always Trumps Weight

Today is my 31st Mother’s Day, and it’s also 31 years since I first weighed 200 pounds. Kind of a strange two things to put together, but if you’re like me, you remember what you weighed at momentous points in your life.

I made my formal debut in the 200-pound zone when I stepped on a scale in the labor and delivery ward of Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on March 10, 1983. I made my husband Bruce stay in the labor room. Anyone who didn’t wear scrubs to work didn’t need to know how much I weighed. Bruce was a hair over six feet tall, weighed 170 pounds, and had no clue that when we were married a year earlier, I weighed just 10 pounds less than he did.

As I walked to the scale, I felt the air on my bare back since my stomach took up most of the gown. The nurse held my hand as I stepped up. I looked down at the round monitor that brushed against my lower belly. 205.

“Please don’t tell my husband,” I begged.

Not that Bruce would have cared that I weighed over 200 pounds. I was the one with scale issues. When I looked at myself I saw a double chin. When Bruce looked at me, he called me beautiful. I told him he was just being nice. He told me he never lied.

I’d gained 45 pounds in nine months, 15 more than my obstetrician recommended. It’s not that I didn’t care about my health; I’d just never been told by a doctor to gain weight, only to lose. So when chubby, self-conscious, 19-year-old me was given permission to gain 30 pounds, I went a little food crazy for the first seven months.

I was free to “eat for two.” I didn’t have to “suck it in.” I made grilled Spam and Velveeta sandwiches on white bread, doused salads in full-fat salad dressing, ate ice cream late at night, and put half-and-half and brown sugar on my cream of wheat every morning.

When I developed high blood pressure in my fourth month, I watched my sodium intake and cut out cheddar cheese, ketchup, canned soup and TV dinners. But there isn’t much sodium in baked potatoes with sour cream, prime rib, fried eggs, Hershey Kisses or zucchini bread.

We were farmers. Bruce and I had moved back to the family farm when his parents retired. We had a couple hundred cows, three sows, a bore, and a couple dozen feeder pigs. Bruce and his brother also farmed several hundred acres of corn and soybeans. There were endless chores every day.

When I blew out of my maternity coat late in my eighth month, I dressed in layers and wore Bruce’s coveralls when I went outside. My fur-lined boots were heavy, but twice a day I trudged through knee-deep snow to the silo, then the pig shed, and then the water trough. I even cleaned out the silo room a week before my due date, thinking I could “help things along.” I burned dozens of empty pellet bags that had accumulated over the winter. It took 10 trips back and forth between the silo and the area where we burned trash – easily a 100-yard hike one way – and for my efforts, I was rewarded with eight hours of Braxton Hicks contractions.

At week 40, the baby was still a few weeks from coming out on her own. The doctor predicted she weighed more than eight pounds and measured longer than 20 inches so, certain she was “done,” he decided to induce labor.

Returning from scale, Bruce helped me into bed and the nurses hooked up a Pitocin drip and fetal monitor. After the first contraction, I didn’t think any more about my weight. Scale shock gave way to labor, and for 13 hours, my body cramped and pushed until Carlene was born, all 9 pounds and 22 inches of her.

In the recovery room, a nurse brought Carlene to us and offered to take our picture. My hair was matted to my forehead, I had IVs in both my hands, my face was swollen, my breast was exposed, and Bruce was still wearing scrubs. Normally I’d have protested, but this was not a normal night. Bruce and I were smiling and gazing at Carlene as the nurse took our first and only family photo.

The next morning, the water weight bloat from the drugs was mostly gone and my blood pressure was normal. As I waited for the nurse to bring Carlene to me, I laid in bed and touched my stomach. I gathered its soft folds of deflated skin in my hands. I’d heard it was called an “apron,” the skin that folds over the top of your pelvic bone and rests on the crease where your thighs meet your torso. I followed the rivulets of squishy stretch marks with my fingers and remembered how upset I was when I noticed the first one – a small, light purple line just to the right of my belly button. My mother birthed five children and never had a stretch mark. After one baby, I was littered with them.

I kneaded my skin gently and smiled. I still weighed around 200 pounds, but I had a perfect little girl and an awesome husband.

I’ll lose the extra weight, I thought.

Until his death 10 days later, Bruce and I spent our time figuring out how to be parents. He got up with me for every feeding, especially the ones at 2 a.m. when a Sioux Falls TV station aired “Rocky & Bullwinkle.” In the evenings, he rocked Carlene and sang to her while I slept. In the mornings, Carlene sat in her infant seat on the kitchen table while we ate breakfast. While I moved gingerly and leaked profusely, it was…to this day…the most contented I’ve ever been. A lesson in love, which always trumps weight.