Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Can Swim!

Cadet Ana Andino broke the Houston Police Department Academy's record for female push-ups by doing 405 “real” push-ups during physical agility testing.

I can do 45 push-ups, of the “girl” variety, and only when broken up into three sets of 15. But that’s a far cry from what I was doing six months ago when I was barely able to do 20 push-ups off a door.

Ana Andino inspires me because, like me, just six months ago she couldn’t do 25 push-ups. According to the press release, “Cadet Andino had no previous athletic experience, just determination to see her goal through to the end... Andino, a single mother, practiced day and night. ‘I would watch TV in the push-up position and my children would count my push-ups for me. My children are what kept me motivated and they encouraged me to not give up. I did it for them. I told them that you can achieve anything you believe you can do.’”

When I started physical therapy for my shoulders, my physical therapist said I was “capable” of doing not only “girl” push-ups (where you use your knees for support), but full-blown plank-style push-ups.

“Me?” I said. “With torn rotator cuffs and messed up biceps tendons?”

Yes, he said. I could do anything once the right muscles were strengthened.

I assumed (and yes it’s true what they say about “assume”ing) that once you were injured, that was it. Granted, I’ve worked hard to ease the pain immensely in two years through strength training, massage and chiropractic, but pain easement and general mobility was all I hoped for. Now, with the help of a “never say never” PT, I think outside that narrow-minded box. While my goal isn’t to break any records, I’m already seeing the fruits of my push-up labor.

The most obvious is that holding grandbaby Luca is much easier than holding grandbaby Claire when she was an infant. In fact, I can hold both of them quite easily.

(In the photos, Claire, me and Luca before Claire passed out – finally – after a busy afternoon)

The not so obvious became clear yesterday when I went swimming, and I don’t mean just standing in the pool twirling Claire around in her floatie device like I did last year. I mean I swam, as in backstroke, sidestroke and treading water, something I haven’t done since long before 300 pounds and my self-imposed No Swimsuit policy.
And while I’m no Dara Torres, I discovered I can still find my way from one end of the pool to the other.

And it felt…


I started by pushing with my legs off the side of the pool and floating on my back. Then I took a chance and waved my arms, gently at first, and to my surprise they not only didn’t hurt, but they moved me forward. I moved them more aggressively and I moved faster. I stared up at the sky, and with my ears underwater, heard nothing but the muffled voices of my daughter, niece and granddaughter, and I swam back and forth through the water, loving my muscles and thanking god for my drill instructor physical therapist.

Just like two years ago when I discovered by strengthening the muscles around my crap-for-knees I could go biking for 15+ miles, I learned my shoulders can take on physical goals I thought were beyond their ability.

For years I let my weight, and then my injuries, prevent me from getting in a pool and enjoying one of the most peaceful activities I’ve ever known. Thanks to a PT who saw me as more than an injury or a formerly obese person (those are my blinders), I can now add swimming to my expanding list of exercises I like to do.

My arms are a little stiff today, but not in a “what the hell did you do to me” way. They’re becoming awakened, like aspiring Buddhists. I’m not quite ready to move on to “real” push-ups, but it’s exciting to think about how much more stronger I’ll be when I do. I’ll move mountains!

Monday, July 27, 2009

U awake?

I got a text message on Saturday morning from a number I didn’t recognize. It read, “U awake?”

I’ve received lots of misdialed phone calls, but never a misdialed text. I smiled for a moment and wrote back, “I think you have the wrong number.”

I thought that was the end of it, but the question lingered and I heard a voice whisper, “U awake?”

Of course I’m awake, I thought. My eyes are open. I’d just worked out in the hotel fitness room and taken a shower. I’m checking my email and going over my to-do list. I’m ready to finish the drive to Chicago, to follow my carefully laid out plans….

“U awake?” it asked again.

Yes, yes, I’m awake! Now leave me alone!

But it didn’t.

In my last blog entry, I wrote, “I’m the Queen of Planning…” and told you how I’d planned our trip down to the minute, miles, mayo and mustard. I must have sent so much intense energy into the universe with all my planning that the universe decided it was time we talked. First with “U awake” and then through the Audio Dharma daily reflection in my in-box that I received as I sat on the bed eating the free hard-boiled eggs (egg whites only, of course), courtesy of the hotel breakfast buffet. The title of the reflection? “Mindfulness of Planning.”
“Planning is an important practical skill. You don’t build a house without planning, or run a business or a myriad of things we do in life. But it can also be an unskillful habit arising from worry or anxiety, where we plan and re-plan anxiously.”

I sat with this for a few moments. I watched my husband working on his computer. I thought about lunch and how I’d like to eat outside and not in the car, like I’d planned. I remembered the sign for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that I’d seen – and ignored – along I-80 on each of the dozens of trips between PA and MN I’d driven over the last 18 years. I always wondered what the Dunes were, but was always too busy to find out. “Maybe next trip,” I’d tell myself.

I went to Google and typed in Indiana Dunes. Went to Mapquest and got directions. 71 miles, with only 8 of those miles off my planned route to Chicago.

“What do you think of having a picnic at the Indiana Dunes?” I asked Larry. He turned away from his computer, smiled, and said, “Sure.”

That was easy. I guess I was the only one in the room with the planning issues.

When we arrived at the visitor’s center, the park ranger directed us to the recently completed Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Development. The land was used for years by steel mills as a dumping ground for hazardous waste. In the last four years, two acid ponds have been cleaned up, and wildlife and native foliage have been reintroduced.

We walked along the jetty and the beach. The sand was soft and warm. The Gary, Hammond and Chicago skylines were visible across the lake and large sporting boats dotted the water. It was there I felt awake for the first time in weeks.

The next day, on our way home from Chicago, my daughter called. Her husband had become sick and needed to go to the hospital (nothing too serious…he’ll be fine) and she asked if Claire could spend the night at our house. We were still seven hours from home – plenty of time to worry how I was going to handle all the unpacking and watch a 21-month-old baby.

But instead of worry – and with only minimal, useful planning – I stayed “awake.” With the help of my niece, other daughter and husband, we took care of Claire and had a fun, unplanned evening. She fell asleep in my arms after a bath and some ice cream and didn’t wake up until 6:30 this morning.

(My niece took this photo of me as I was writing this blog in the car. I didn't realize how intense I get. Not only did have no idea she'd taken the photo , I didn't notice her reading over my shoulder.)

I’m sure things would have worked out just fine if I hadn’t visited the Dunes, if I hadn’t “strayed” from my planned path on Saturday, but the voice asking, “U awake?” made the experience of watching Claire after a long trip (and an even longer week) enjoyable and not just something I “got through.” I plow through enough things in this life. Taking care of my granddaughter, no matter what the circumstances, should never be one of them.

(Claire helping me wash carrots for dinner.)

I’m applying this same “awake” philosophy to the next four days. I’ll have very little time for a formal workout, which in the past always made me feel guilty. But if I stay awake, stay mindful of this moment and the next and what I put in my mouth, this experience will be enjoyable and not guilt-ridden as my other “vacations” have in the past (since losing weight, that is).

Thanks for reading along as I work my way through these last few weeks. Just as I finally stopped the weight-loss/weight-gain roller coaster that was my MO for years, I’m working on stopping my typical reactions of guilt, worry, and self-inflicted angst when things don’t “turn out as planned.” It’s turning into a bit of a bumpier ride than changing the ways I viewed food and exercise, but as long as I stay aware of that voice that asks, “U awake?” I’ll be fine.

So how about you? U awake?

Claire and me chillaxin' on the deck

Friday, July 24, 2009

Schedule Interruptus

Greetings from I-80. I’m in Elkhart, Indiana, home of the RV Hall of Fame. Who knew? We’ll be in Chicago tomorrow to pick up my super fantastic niece, Michaela, for a one-week visit to western PA. She is a great big bright star in Larry’s and my otherwise craptastic week of death and such.

Take Wednesday night. We had a torrential rainstorm. A couple of them, actually. And guess who left the sunroof open in her “new” Jeep?

Yeah…that would be me. If my Jeep is a rain gauge, we had at least an inch of rain. And the water is still being absorbed into the carpets and seats. Larry and I had to sit on towels while driving today.

I’m suffering from “schedule interruptus” and it’s making me a little nuts. Life happens, I know that, but negotiating life’s surprises is tricky for me sometimes. It’s as much mental as physical, particularly when trying to stay ahead of the weight curve

I feel like I’ve been dancing in circles for a week. My granddaughter does that and then falls silly giggling on the floor. Her balance is WAY off. And right now, so is mine.

On a typical day, I easily balance calories in and calories out. There may be moments of some food angst, but otherwise it’s all rote.

Then I find myself on an airplane to Houston and sleeping in an unfamiliar bed and trying to cook in a strange kitchen. Then a few days later I’m in my car on a freeway to another unfamiliar bed and no kitchen and I wonder, “What will this cost me at the end of the week?”

Will I pack on a pound? Two pounds? Oh, but wait….does it matter?

Well, yes, it does matter and no, it doesn’t matter. As the Moody Blues said, it’s a “question of balance.”

The question is, can I handle these blips in the schedule, these changes and interruptions and stresses? I wish, after more than 5 years into this journey, I could say (and heartily), “Yes!” But the truth is, I’m still that surfer on the surf board, that bigger kid on the end of the see-saw. I worry too much about the immediate lift and lilt, and instead of seeing the big picture, I see only the minutia.

It’s not like I didn’t plan ahead. I’m the Queen of Planning, as you know. At home this morning, I made dinner for tonight: Hearty Lentil Spaghetti, roasted broccoli and, for my husband, garlic toast. It could all be microwaved in our hotel room. Also in the cooler I packed hummus, salsa, salad and sandwich stuff (including Miracle Whip Lite, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, spicy brown mustard), carrots, string cheese, shredded squash, eggs….good lord, you name it, I’ve got it.

Is your underwear in a big knot just reading this? It’s OK if it is. God knows I have years of it stuck up my backside.

The big picture. The balance. I’m working on it. Because right now, my husband is shutting the hotel blinds and is setting his drink on the nightstand. I promised we’d watch a movie in a few minutes, so I’m posting this and letting it be. Tomorrow, I’ll exercise (I picked a hotel with a workout facility) and I’ll eat their free fruit and yogurt. Then in the afternoon, I’ll see my brother and sister-in-law and Super Fantastic Niece and again, the balance will again beckon me.

Deep breath.

It will all work out. And maybe the inside of the Jeep dry out, too. My butt can only hope.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flying, Funerals and Food…Lessons From Houston

Thank you to all of you who posted comments and sent emails of condolence regarding the death of my mother-in-law. They were much appreciated, and they bolstered my strength as I struggled with my three fears of this Houston trip: flying, funerals and food (as in too much or not the right kind).

I’ll start with food because it was the easiest dragon to slay.

Amongst the French bread, pate, salmon, shrimp, and wild boar (that would be my husband who ordered that) at the French restaurant brother-in-law David took us to Saturday, was a lovely salad with thick slices of Beefsteak tomatoes and a fabulous vinaigrette. I had a few slices of whole grain bread with raisins and two bites of Larry’s strawberries and cream dessert and went home feeling neither guilty, full or unsatisfied.

Folks in Texas like their beef, at least my husband’s family does, but I only had to explain my vegetarianism a few times. David bought grapes, bananas, melons, lettuce and tomatoes in anticipation of my arrival, and at the luncheon after the funeral, brother-in-law Bob made sure there was plenty of “real greens” salad (no iceberg) – plain, not swimming in Italian dressing. It helped, too, that David lives two miles from a Whole Foods Market.

I went for a 30-minute power walk around David’s neighborhood on Sunday morning while it was still only very warm and humid and not Africa hot and so humid you need gills to breathe. I finished my workout with some strength training and ab work in his laundry room. It lessened my anxiety for when I had to confront my next fear: funerals.

It’s understandable that after my husband’s funeral 26 years ago (when I was just 19 years old) that funerals would make me sad beyond the grief over the loss of the person who had died. But early on it got to the point where the smell of carnations – any carnations, anywhere – made me sick to my stomach and I associated the smell of churches with death. (Have you ever noticed every church, like all grade schools, smell the same?)

Anyway, I tried to avoid funerals, attending only the really important ones and usually sitting in the back or, if I had to sit up front with my family, sitting near the aisle in case I needed a quick exit if the odor from the gazillion sprays of carnations wafted in my direction. It was when I was asked to give the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral that my fear of funerals peaked. But with the help of my Aunt Shirl, who held my hand through the viewing (I’m not a fan of looking at dead people, either) and who instructed me to look at her when I felt nervous during my speech, I made it through without passing out.

Since then, I consider each funeral a learning opportunity, breaking it down by 1) reminding myself that it’s not my husband’s funeral redux, 2) it’s not about me, 3) my role is to support my friends and/or family, 4) it’s not about me (yes, I have to do that a few times), and 5) (the big one) death is inevitable…which leads me to flying.

I hate to fly. Wait. That’s not true. I love to fly, especially on a clear night in an Embraer jet and I have the single seat and I can turn off the light and look at the stars and the city lights. I feel like I’m flying through a Christmas tree. No, it’s not the flying part I hate. It’s the bumping around, or more specifically, the anticipation of possibly bumping around. So it’s more accurate to say I hate turbulence. My sister once told me that turbulence was simply road bumps in the sky, which was a nice try, but to me, every bump feels like a poke from the Grim Reaper’s sickle.

It takes a great deal of positive self-talk, meditation and “come to Jesus” moments for me to get in the proper mindset to fly. It’s always worth it, though. Especially this time. If I’d let my fear of turbulence keep me away from Houston, I’d have missed one of the most surprising moments of the Bering family history.

As we sat on the runway on the way home yesterday, I asked my husband, “What was your favorite part of the weekend?”

“Pat,” he said before I finished my sentence. “Definitely Pat.”

Pat is Larry’s brother who, after a 10-year hiatus, came to his mother’s wake Sunday.

We were all – Larry’s three other brothers, two sisters, and assorted nieces, nephews and significant others – inside the Eastman Funeral Home chapel prior to the wake, chatting about how beautiful Mom looked in her lovely peach dress patterned with small white flowers. Her hands were wrapped around her rosary and a photo of her 5-day-old great-granddaughter, and she had slight smile on her face, an almost Mona Lisa-esque look of relief and peace.

The mortician came in and asked Larry if he could spare a moment to take care of some last minute business. I was sitting in the third pew near the aisle (but not, this time, because of the carnations). Larry had only been gone a minute when I heard him come back in the chapel, sobbing. Larry doesn’t cry easily, so either the funeral director handed him a really big bill or he’d seen a ghost. I turned around just as he said, “Look who’s here.” And there he was: Patrick, the prodigal brother.

Very few things in my life have taken my breath away and I’m rarely surprised. When I gave birth or watched the birth of my granddaughter, it was no surprise. I knew they were coming. Joyous, yes. Surprising, no.

But seeing Pat’s smiling face and the tears in his eyes and his ears flushed from uncertainty as to how his family would receive him, I lost my breath. It flat out left my body. I began shaking and sobbing, sans tears, as I hugged his 6’1” frame.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” I whispered in his ear.

One by one, everyone in the room greeted him as Lil laid in her casket, smiling. I have no doubt she had something to do with this.

We’d all debated several times throughout the weekend whether Pat would show up. Some held out hope, some firmly believed that no, he wouldn’t. I can’t speak for the family, but I wonder if we didn’t all, somewhere in the back of all our minds, hope he’d come to Houston. The Berings are an incredibly fluid, bending, and forgiving family. They proved their heritage that night and the next day at the funeral and the day spent at Bob’s afterwards.

(In the photo: Pat, LouAnne, David, Carol, Larry and Bob)

I flew through turbulence both ways to see the Berings and they “rewarded” my courage by not giving a damn what I ate, plus they helped me navigate another funeral. What a family. What a weekend.

(And Patrick, if you’re reading this, please don’t leave us again, OK? ‘Cause I’ll fly out there and haul you back to the family if I have to. I’ll even eat airplane food if necessary. That’s how much the Berings mean to me. Love does that.)

(In the photo: David, me and Pat (and my tat))

Larry and his brothers :)

Uncle Pat with some of his nieces and nephews (well, one nephew in the photo...there are others)

Friday, July 17, 2009

(clap, clap, clap, clap) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

I hear they have grocery stores in Houston. That’s good to know. It would be tough to get my little cooler of hummus, broccoli, string cheese, Greek yogurt and eggs through airport security. They’d probably frown on my bottles of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, too.

Larry’s mother passed away on Monday after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s, and so we will go tomorrow to Texas for her wake and funeral. The only good thing about funerals is they bring together people you haven’t seen in a long time. Sure, there will be tears, but there will be plenty of laughter, too. Lillian’s family knows how to celebrate life.

I’ll be gone for four days. I haven’t been out of my routine that long since last summer when I traveled across Minnesota visiting friends and family and living out of a suitcase and Styrofoam cooler. However, instead of freak out, I’m going to chillax. Yes, me. I’m going to chillax.

I’m bringing along my Therabands in case I get some time for rehab on Sunday or Monday. But if they sit untouched at the bottom of my suitcase, I won’t sweat it (literarily or figuratively). If I get to take a walk in the mornings before it becomes Africa hot, great. If not, no problem. (By the way, I think it should be illegal for anyone to die in Texas in July. No matter how hard I try, I will not be able to avert a total hair disaster this weekend. Even Texas doesn’t have enough hairspray.)

Why the relaxing of the sphincter? Because, in the words of the Buddha, I’m choosing to not “add to my suffering” by fussing over the things I can’t change like the weather and the schedule. I need to see people and be places at certain times for four days, and so I’ll see what happens moment by moment. As long as I get to a grocery store to have some go-to foods at my brother-in-law’s, I’ll be just fine. (Full disclosure: If you could hear the inflection in my voice, you’d realize this is a quasi self-pep-talk and not quite a statement of fact.)

So there you go. I’m traveling without food (although I am packing a jar of PB2 and some stevia packets) and am pretty sure I will not come home weighing 170 pounds more than I do now. Besides, I’ve been away from home enough times since reaching goal two years ago to know that I typically lose weight when I’m away, which would be a bonus considering I have a nagging two pounds that don’t seem to want to go away this summer. But again, if I come home weighing the same or a little more, I’ll simply buckle down when I get home and get rid of them. And that’s not a pep-talk. That’s the truth.

So Texas and all your heat and humidity, here I come. I wish it was under better circumstances that we meet again (and perhaps, oh, DECEMBER), but we’ve got some celebrating to do.

I’ll check in with ya’ll (I’m practicing) next week if not sooner (just in case I need a pep talk from all of you).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If We Knew Then What We Know Now: Talking to Young Women About Prevention

BlogHer is sponsoring its annual blogging conference next week in Chicago, and a few of my blogging friends MizFit and Roni (along with Heather from MAMAvision, Claire Mysko and Kate Harding) are hosting an afternoon session on Friday, July 24, called “Blogs & Body Image: What are we teaching our kids?”

For a synopsis and more information about this session, please click on this link to MizFit’s posting. Even if you cannot attend in person, you can participate through Twitter and through posting your own blog about this topic.

Over at Refuse to Regain a few weeks ago, I wrote the following:

“None of us can really know why lies underneath as we shed pounds. I was thin a few times when I was younger, but I was just that: younger. My skin was younger, my muscles were younger, my breasts and thighs and tummy were younger. Then they were introduced to gravity and cellulite, and as I got bigger and smaller and bigger again, my body got confused, and the things that bounced back before didn’t this time…

"Years of such extreme weights has caused me to have such sad, flappy skin (and I) mourn the loss of elasticity that could have been mine if I’d taken better care of myself in the past. I just wish there was a way to get that message across to young women today. Alas, so many more people are obese now than ever.”

There is a fine line we walk when we contemplate discussing overweight/obesity prevention with young people, particularly females. How do we encourage them to embrace being "healthy thin" rather than allowing their body to gain and gain OR lose and lose in a bulemic/anorexic nightmare as they try to live up to societal standards of beauty? How can I, as someone who’s been there, done that on the obesity side say to a young woman, "You're gonna really be happy you maintained a healthy weight as a young woman when you get older”?

I posed the question, “What would you have done differently if I knew then what you know now?” to MizFit and here is her answer:

For me, absolutely nothing. For me I think it took knowing the ‘pain’ (eating poorly, feeling bloated and **tired** and plain ole UNCOMFY in my skin. On all levels) to have the Ah Ha! moment of realizing I needed to change my ways to live longer and enjoy that life more.

But that's just for me and to me.

I spend lots of time working with tween girls and what I try to convey to them is simple: We get one body, that’s it. Take care of it and keep it healthy and strong and it will serve you well. Sure we are amazingly resilient creatures (I rebounded nicely from my beer and pizza diet days) but why put yourself through that?

I try and convey to them that, in my opinion, thin and starving is silent and unnoticed. I watched one girl in particular grow thinner & thinner (I didn't just watch...being euphemistic here) and the more she became the 'media feminine ideal' the less she participated in our discussions and the more silent she became.

I would (no shocker here) encourage any young woman to explore resistance training not for the health benefits (though there are many) but for the internal strength I've found through this pursuit. The confidence. The certainty when it comes to speaking up and stating my mind in group situations. That is something I wish I'd discovered when I was younger.

Miz is right; we all need to have our own personal aha! moment to really make it our own journey. But I love that she discovered it early and not at 300 pounds as I did. Aha! must come from a healthy self-worth, from a place that says, “I’m worth taking care of.”

So perhaps the focus shouldn’t be on food and nutrition as much as self-compassion and awareness.

Those of you who’ve been reading me for years know that I preach self-friendship as the way to get started on a weight-loss journey and to stay on track down the scale. I’m learning that the same philosophy can apply to obesity prevention as well. What a different path I’d have trod if, when I was 16 or 18, I had the self-respect to love the body I had in that moment – the one I thought was “fat.” Because I listened to other people (“You’d be so pretty if you’d just lose weight…” Sound familiar?) and was sucked into societal norms of beauty, I treated my body harshly for years.

I’ve raised two daughters, both of whom have a few hang-ups about their bodies, but for the most part, love and respect themselves and treat themselves accordingly. Somehow my “self-friendship” message was present during their growing up. Funny how I didn’t apply it to myself, though, until recently. Why is it that we want what’s best for others, but treat our own needs as second-class citizens?

Writer Anne Sexton wrote, “Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself.” My hope is that more young women will find the beauty in being themselves.

So now it’s your turn. What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now? And how would you talk to a young woman (your children, friends' children, etc.) today about your experiences with weight and body image?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Alzheimer’s, Beauty and Tuesday Afternoons

I was a columnist for our local paper when I wrote this piece on a Tuesday afternoon in November 2006 while in Arkansas visiting my husband’s family. It is about my mother-in-law, Lillian, who is, right now, in her last days of life. She is gravely ill with gall stones, has stopped eating, and her small, frail body is shutting down, piece by piece. My husband is on his way to Arkansas to say goodbye, but she won’t know he’s there. She hasn’t recognized him for five years. Damn, damn, damn Alzheimer’s disease.
“If you’ll just come with me and see the beauty of Tuesday afternoon.” - The Moody Blues

My mother-in-law is Lillian Bering. She doesn’t know that, though. She doesn’t know she lives in Arkansas, nestled in the hills of the Ozarks in the town that spawned Wal-Mart. She doesn’t know that her home is a room with a bed, a chair and a dresser. She doesn’t know her sons, her daughters, what time it is, what day it is, who is president, that she loved a man named Charles, that she once lived in New Orleans or that she has beautiful thick gray hair.

She knows she likes cranberry juice, but only in the moment she tastes it. She knows she likes gerbera daisies, but only when she sees them. Lil can’t feed herself or use the bathroom, but she knows cold and warm, she feels the sunshine and breeze through her window, she’s able to scratch her nose and cheek when they itch, and she knows when she’s comfortable and when she doesn’t want to be moved. She sits in her chair most days with no stimuli – no television or radio. Just muffled voices beyond her nursing home room door. Her memories disappear as quickly as they are formed, but her eyes express what her weakened voice can’t verbalize well anymore. She has Alzheimer’s, but she’s still alive.

Larry tried to tell himself years ago that he said goodbye to his mother when she was no longer able to recognize him, but he realized on this beautiful Tuesday afternoon that you can’t say final goodbyes to the living.

When we walked in the room, Lil had slid deep into the side of her recliner, her head lying just above the arm rest. My sister-in-law and Larry lifted her upright, straightened her pillow, and covered her with a blue Sam’s Club fleece. She smiled and her eyes brightened when she saw us in her room. Larry sat next to her and held her hand. She gripped it tightly, every once in awhile holding it to her cheek. As I watched her, I thought about the instinctive nature of our tasks as mothers. We can be deeply involved in something – a book, a sermon, work – and yet if our children come near us, we are aware of their presence without being fully conscious of it, and we reach out and touch them and let them know they are always a part of us whether we are fully in their presence or not. Today, Lillian was Larry’s mother, not consciously aware of who he was, but somehow aware, somewhere in her mind, of his being there with her.

Lillian surprised us with a clear, precise recollection of a detail, a completely lucid moment that lasted five seconds at best, but it was five seconds in which our guilt for being healthy as she suffered with Alzheimer’s was sidelined, and she was a part of our collective conscience, a participant in our conversation. When Lillian was a little girl during the Great Depression, her father killed himself. Her mother’s brother, fondly known as simply Uncle, moved in with the family and raised Lillian and her siblings as his own. She has a photo of Uncle in her room and when Larry showed it to her, she said, “He never had a girl.” My sister-in-law, Larry and I looked at each other and smiled. She was right. Uncle had a few girlfriends, but he remained single all his 94 years.

It’s hard for us with working, thinking minds to comprehend having no real awareness of time, people, things, or consciousness in general. And so we try to fill in gaps for our loved ones with Alzheimer’s that probably don’t need to be filled, but we fill them anyway to ease our fear that perhaps another lucid moment might come about and they might, for one split second, realize that there is nothing or no one nearby. No music playing. No television on. Just a bare wall in front of them. It is in that fear and feeling of total helplessness that Larry decided his mother needed flowers, if for no other reason than he’d feel better that she has colors to look at instead of a dresser with little more than a photo of Uncle and a mirror reflecting her hospital bed. We will buy her gerbera daisies before visiting her again tomorrow.

“It was nice to connect with my mom again,” he told me tonight.

“Yes,” I said. “It was a beautiful day.”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Awesome Friend Who Lost 410 Pounds Will Be On TLC on Sunday!

My friend David Smith was interviewed by Matt Lauer yesterday on The Today Show. I met David when we were on Oprah together in November 2007. His 410-pound weight-loss story almost (almost…) made me ruin my makeup before my own stage appearance. He’s a hard act to follow, let me tell you. (Here he's sitting with Shari in the limo on the way to airport.)

David is one of the kindest, gentle people I’ve ever met, and his personal trainer, Chris Powell (in the photo with me) is as nice as he is gorgeous. His story will be chronicled tomorrow night (Sunday, July 12) on TLC. It is called “The 650-Pound Virgin.” Alas, I don’t have cable, so I’m hoping TLC will make this available online.

Tune in if you can, especially if you’re feeling down about your body image and skin issues. David gets it. You don’t lose 400 pounds without some skin issues. I hope you find his story as inspiring as I did.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Have Plan, Will Travel...Even If It Is a Pain

Larry and I went to visit the kids and g-babies in Pittsburgh last Saturday, and as usual I brought along my little cooler of food. While holding Baby Luca, I asked my daughter Cassie if she’d heat up the leftover grilled Boca I’d brought. An hour later, we sat on the deck enjoying the sun, and I ate a serving of barbecue beans. Cassie giggled at me. A little while later, I went back in the house, heated up a corn on the cob and brought it out to the deck. Cassie said, “I love how you have the most random cooler food.”

Ah, that’s the beauty of a well-executed menu. It seems random and laid back, but really it’s carefully – nay, painfully – planned hours, even days in advance.

I have a love/hate relationship with my daily food plan.

I love it because having a plan takes away the guess work, and I know at the end of the day that I’ve eaten enough to satisfy both my nutritional and “comfort” needs. Without a plan, I’m lost. By suppertime, I can’t remember what I had for lunch, let alone breakfast, and would have no clue if I’d eaten enough protein and not too many starchy carbs.

I hate it because it’s time consuming and a pain in the butt when I’m going out of town.

Whether it’s a day in Pittsburgh or a week in Minnesota, planning what I’ll bring along to eat gives me an eye tick. It stresses me out. It takes me less time to shower, get dressed and do my hair and makeup then it takes me to prepare food for a day trip. What will I take along in the car? What will fit in my little cooler? Did I remember to make ice the night before?

While I don’t eat it (or at least often), I understand the appeal of fast food and pre-packaged meals. How much easier it would be to drive through McDs for a crappy salad – even with all its sodium and low-nutritional content – than pack my own salad, dressing, bowl, fork and napkin when I’m going on a picnic. Alas, easier isn’t usually healthier, and because eating healthy is a priority, I get my butt up early and plan (and, yes, b!tch a little).

Because I spend a lot of time driving, I’ve learned to eat some foods you wouldn’t think to eat in the car. You can eat a spinach omelet like a burrito, wrapped in plastic or tin foil. A fruit smoothie is a bit tricky if it’s really thick, but if you let it melt a little (and providing the fruit is blended thoroughly) you can drink it through a straw or drink it from a travel mug.

Some foods aren’t meant to be consumed while driving down the highway, though. Broccoli slaw, for instance. A whole lot of it will end up on your lap if you don’t scoop it up just right and land that fork directly in your mouth the first try. Not that I’d know that firsthand…

Today, I’m going on a hike in the forest. On a pink sticky note next to my computer I wrote, “Bring on hike: water, apple, almonds, Hershey Kiss.” Yes, I plan right down to the Hershey Kiss. (**Patting self on back**)

I know a lot of you plan and pack and tote food with you to work and on the road. What’s your strategy and how to you execute your food plan without succumbing to the fast food monster?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

There Ain't No Way To Hide Your Lyonnaise

Until last Sunday, I thought the word “Lyonnaise” was pronounced “lyin’ eyes,” and every time I hear that Eagle’s song, I remember the Glass House restaurant in Ihlen, Minnesota, population 101. As part of every meal, your table got an appetizer plate to share that included pickled beets, carrot sticks, Club House crackers and pate. I had no idea what pate was made of, but I loved it. (Although I probably would have eaten it even if I did know it was made with chicken livers given the fact I loved pickled pigs feet and sardines.)

They also offered Lyonnaise potatoes as one of their potato choices. Screw the fries. I loved the Lyonnaise. Butter, onions, garlic, sliced potatoes…(See Emeril Lagasse’s Classic Lyonnaise Potatoes recipe if you’d like to try making them sometime.)

Anyway, “Lyin’ Eyes” came on the radio on Sunday and my husband – international man of food – laughed at me when I said I used to love the “lyin’ eyes” potatoes at the Glass House. He said, “Honey, it rhymes with mayonnaise.”


The Glass House also served up some mighty fine baked beans, but now that I don’t fancy bacon anymore, I’ve been searching for a baked bean recipe that is sweet and smoky at the same time without the animal flesh. I’ve had some good ones, but this one tops them all. And it’s super easy, too. I got it out of a magazine a few years ago (Better Homes & Gardens, maybe? Cooking Light?), but only made them the first time on Sunday.

Summer’s Best BBQ Beans
Makes 10 side-dish servings, approximately ½ cup each

Nonstick cooking spray
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
1 red sweet pepper, seeded and chopped (3/4 cup)
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped (2 cups)
3 15-16-oz. cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained (I used what I had on hand: one can of red kidney beans, one can of white kidney beans and one can of pinto beans)
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple in its own juice, undrained
1 T molasses or maple syrup
1 T Worcestershire sauce

Coat large saucepan with cooking spray. Add onion and sweet pepper. Cook and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in tomatoes, beans, tomato sauce, undrained pineapple, molasses/maple syrup and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to boil, reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer for at least another 10 minutes or until desired consistency (I let them go about 30 minutes).

Each serving: 140 calories; 0 g fat; 0 mg chol; 31 g carbo; 8 g fiber; 10 g protein.

FYI: The leftovers are excellent in a wrap.

Another childhood favorite of mine was Kool-Aid. We never had soda in our house, but in the summer we always had Kool-Aid and iced tea. Since I’m more or less an iced tea- and water-only drinker, I was super excited to try Celestial Seasonings Wild Berry Zinger tea iced. I added a little stevia and wow! It’s the closest thing I’ve come to Kool-Aid since, well, the last time I drank actual Kool-Aid. I love it.

I’m done yammering about food now. One last thing before I go. I think I’ve added a new feature to my comments page, but I won’t know if I did the HTML right until someone posts a comment on this entry. It’s an advanced feature through TypePad Connect that allows you to respond to comments more easily, almost like a conversation. I have NO idea if it will work or not. I know just enough about technology to be dangerous.

So if you wouldn’t mind trying it out, leave a comment. Let me know what hoops it makes you jump through, if any, and if you like or not like the new format. Thanks!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Careful, That’s Sharp!

I never realized how much I use the ring finger of my left hand until I lopped off a piece of the tip today, the victim of my latest kitchen accident. I try to remember to curl my fingers around the food I’m slicing, but I get sloppy and in a hurry and before I know it, WHACK! Off comes a body part.

I blame my father. He lost the top of his thumb and a good chunk of his pointer finger in a jointer accident when I was 5 years old. He was making something in his workshop one night and got all “I don’t need a guide for this piece of wood,” then WHACK! Off came his fingers. Mom woke me up the next morning warning me Daddy’s hand was bandaged and to not use him as a jungle gym for a few days.

You’d think that would have taught him a lesson, wouldn’t you? Ha ha ha! If only that were so. Twenty years later, I got a call from my mom:

“Hi, Lynn. Before I tell you what happened, Dad’s fine…”

“Oh good lord, what did he do now?”

“Well, he was sawing a piece of wood and he slipped and cut off the top of his other thumb.”


This was a few years AFTER he sliced his hand open with an axe while chopping fire wood. Here’s how our conversation went after that little incident:

“Dad, you need to go to the hospital for stitches,” I said as I tried to bandage his gaping, bleeding wound.

“Ah,” he said, waving me away. “I’ll just wrap it up real good.”

“Dad, you’re bleeding everywhere.”

“Ah,” he said, waving me away. “It’ll stop.”

Fast forward 15 years.

“Lynnie,” said Dad, rubbing the scar on his hand. “I should’ve gotten stitches.”


What is it with men and their fingers?

One of my late father-in-law’s favorite stories to tell was about the time he cut off his pinkie finger when he was 5 years old. It was the Depression, his family didn’t have much, and the harvest was in full swing. No one was going to stop picking corn to take a little kid to the doctor. So his mother picked up the finger, sewed it back on, wrapped it up tight, and he had a somewhat fully-functional finger until his dying day. It got a little numb and cold in the winter, but otherwise he had no complaints.

My uncle Arthur lost his ring finger when he was stepping down off a ladder. His foot slipped and as he tried to grab a higher rung to stop his fall, his wedding ring got caught on something. As he fell, he left his finger behind. That had to hurt.

At least my kitchen accidents mend. So far anyway. The tip of my right thumb has no feeling anymore, but at least it still looks like a normal thumb.

So in the interest of safety, I turned to the Internet to see if there were any handy how-tos or gadgets to help make my kitchen experience less dangerous.

I found a very strange looking Finger Shield, the Tower Slicer, and ooooohhhh! Pampered Chef makes a finger guard! I love me some PC. (Note to self: email Carr, PC consultant extraordinaire.)

Not only am I dangerous with knives, I’m notorious for shredding the crap out of my knuckles and finger nails when I use a hand grater, too. But this might help: the Microplane Cut Resistant Grating and Kitchen Glove.

(And just for run, see how many typos you can spot on this site: How To Slice Vegetables.)


What I need is a mandoline. (Not to be confused with mandolin, which would be impossible to play with sliced up finger tips.) But which one do I buy? There are so many out there, so many choices, so many (yikes!) price ranges. Do any of you use a mandoline? If not, how do you slice and dice and julienne without cutting yourself? My fingers are crying out for help! Especially the one that types the “s,” “w,” and “2” on my keyboard. Who knew we use our left ring finger so much?

One more thing, could someone please fetch me a Band-Aid. I seem to have bled out of this one. And while you’re at it, could you tell me how many Points there are in blood…

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Skip, Jump and Eat Cauliflower

Allana Kellogg, who writes the blog Veggie Venture, did what no other human being has done: made cauliflower palatable, dare I say undetectable, to my daughter Cassie, a cauliflower hater since birth.

Kellogg posted the recipe Cauliflower Spanish Rice on her site last month and I’ve been a fan of both the recipe and Veggie Venture ever since.

It was my Texas-born husband who introduced me to Spanish rice and its relative, red beans and rice. But I eat rice infrequently these days because the starchy carbs leave me, how do I say this delicately, quite “swollen in the abdomen” and the scale revolts. However, like discovering squash as a substitute for pasta, I can now have “rice” again through the magic of cauliflower. After all, it’s not the rice I love so much, but all the flavors that combine to make the overall rice dish. From this recipe will come all kinds of experiments in my kitchen.

Hands-on time: 25 minutes with occasional attention required throughout
Time to table: 1 hour Makes about 5 cups

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon olive oil (I left this out)
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (I used a red pepper)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
8 ounces canned tomatoes, chopped
Salsa to taste (about a half cup)
Salt and pepper to taste
COOK THE CAULIFLOWER by steaming in a vegetable steamer or boiling in salted water, cooking to the 'al dente' stage where it's cooked through but not soft. Chop fine.
MEANWHILE in a large skillet, heat the olive oil on MEDIUM til shimmery. Add the onion and pepper and cook, stirring often, until golden. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and stir in. When the cauliflower is cooked, stir it in and continue to cook, breaking up the cauliflower and tomatoes with the edge of a spatula while stirring. After cooking awhile, stir in the salsa. Keep cooking, keep tasting, adding more salsa and salt and pepper as needed. The dish is 'done' when the liquid has cooked off, the salsa and seasoning are perfect, and the rest of supper is done too!

NUTRITION ESTIMATE Per Cup: 92Cal; 3g Tot Fat; 0g Sat Fat; 0mg Cholesterol; 257mg Sodium; 15g Carb; 5g Fiber; 7g Sugar; 4g Protein; Weight Watchers 1 Point

Claire loves it, too!

She also loves making Grammy Lynn work a little extra harder on her rehab exercises. I’ve been using the green Theraband for two different shoulder exercises, but Claire insisted on using the green one yesterday and handed me the blue one, which has more resistance. I used it and felt the effects today, which isn’t a bad thing. I just think it’s funny that it took a 21-month-old to remind me that I need to increase resistance once in awhile, lest I become complacent.

(For the record, Claire also insisted I wear that hat. )

I didn’t get a formal cardio workout in before the g-kids arrived yesterday, but keeping up with Claire is a workout all by itself. I think she needs to produce an exercise video: “Chase Away the Pounds with Claire.” She runs and runs and climbs and climbs and expects you to keep up – that would be the cardio portion – and then she throws in “uppie, uppie” and her patented “hold me under my arms and I’ll become limp weight as you jump me up and down” technique – this would be the strength training portion of the video. Do this for at least three hours and I guarantee you’ll lose a pound or two.

Who said workouts had to be formal and dull?

Today, I read this quote by Victor Frankl: “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and therein lies our freedom.” And I realized that that “space” for me yesterday was Claire and Luca and Cassie. My response to the stimulus of all the stress and work this last week is much healthier today because I took the time yesterday to just be. Just be a mom and a grandmother. Just be carefree and let their joy wash over me.

It’s amazing what a little cauliflower and some skipping and jumping will do for our souls. I hope you find some time to skip and jump and just be in July.
Random photos:

Claire (not amused) with her first pigtails. She kept them in for all of 3.25 minutes.

Luca after I cleaned up a massive explosion down under. I think my quote was, "I've got a handful of something" as I picked him out of his carrier.

Luca is starting to smile and coo.

Claire stacking my PB2 jars.