Monthly Archives: June 2014

Dieting Tips for the Lazy in Mid-Life

The internet is lousy with dieting tips, 95% of of it is quack science (I’m talking to you Dr. Oz), the other 5% is useful, but you have to be prepared to tailor it to your own needs. Here is my part of the 5%:

  1. Have a compelling reason. My sisters and I coincidentally found ourselves trying to lose weight at the same time. One had a knee injury and was losing it to help with healing and the other was battling some pounds that slipped on. I had come face to face with yet another unpleasant reality of perimenopause: the meno-pot. I’m no stranger to extra pounds, having watched them creep on gradually over the last 20 years. But we had a gentlewoman’s agreement about it. The pounds were added very slowly and evenly, and I occasionally cut back to make them appear even more slowly. The meno-pot changed all that. One day I realized the pounds had begun to concentrate in my mid-drift, which I’d heard would happen and didn’t believe it. But worse than that, they were concentrating unevenly. Instead of an even ring around my middle, which I could have gotten used to, the ring has two sloping sand dune–like formations. Staring down at them I noticed the dune on the right side sticks out more. What the hell is that all about, I ask you? Clearly all gentlewomanly agreements were off, and this was war.
  2. Forget about those stupid lists. “Top 10 ways to cut calories.” One thing that’s on all of them is “Stop drinking regular soda.” I haven’t had regular soda since the early 90s—who the hell drinks regular soda any more anyway? Other useless tidbits: “Use low cal dressing” and “avoid nuts.” Been there, done that. My advice is to avoid these lists. If you are a professional at knowing what you put in your body, these lists will just piss you off and make you reach for a handful of chocolate chip cookies: butter, eggs, sugar and chocolate. Hold the soda, dumbass.
  3. Be brutal in your calorie count. I was eating healthy (see things I’d given up in #2) but not losing the weight. I knew I needed to get serious about counting calories, even though I’m not a huge fan of counting in general. I had to get ruthless. Know what I found out? I was eating a apple a day as a snack, which can be anywhere from 120 to 150 calories. WTF? The same amount of vegetables has a fraction of the calories. Apple a day, kiss my patooties. I also had to ditch sandwich bread. I’ve been eating whole grain wheat bread for years. Like fruit, it’s good for you, but holy crap the calories! I’m strictly a wrap girl now.
  4. The lazier eater you are, the better. I can eat the same thing week after week without getting tired of it. This helps keep the calorie counts even. No wondering how a new food stacks up calories-wise with a tried-and-true food. Bonus: If I can eat it out of the bag I bought it in, I’m good to go. The second part of the lazy, is don’t try to be  a hero and lose 2 or more pounds a week—that’s too much work. Keep the long view—at 1 pound a week, you’ll get there and you won’t bore your friends to death with your account of everything you can and can’t eat.
  5. If you have perimenopause, you can ignore your day-to-day weight. I have lost a pound a week for the last four weeks, but not in a steady pattern. Depending on my hormones and how much water I’m retaining, I can gain 2 pounds one day, lose it the next, gain 1 pound and keep it for three days, then lose ½ a pound a day over 4 days. A weekly weigh-in would probably be more accurate, but not nearly as much fun. I should think about bringing this game to Vegas—my house would win every time.
  6. Technology can help. I like the Web MD food and fitness planner. You put in how much you want to lose overall per week and then it calculates how much you can eat based on how much exercise you’ve done. I don’t entirely trust it—it counts things like grocery shopping and doing laundry as exercise, and allegedly I burn 600 calories sitting at my desk at work for 6 hours.  Um, OK if you say so. But at the end of the day, it always says I could eat a bit more—I’m down with that.
  7. Get moving, but in a way that makes sense to you and you can sustain. I take a train to work and try to make the most out of walking to and from the train. As a concession to #1, I decided to add the gym once a week. Boy, was I excited to learn that you get all the benefits if you push as fast you can in a shorter amount of time. The pushing part kind of stinks, but I love getting it over with faster!
  8. What goes on during the weekend stays in the weekend. I have a five-day tolerance for eating healthy and low-cal. The other two days, well, I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine.




Divorce 80s Style

I came of age in the 80s. Say what you will, make fun of all the big hair, the shoulder pads, the music. I adore its leather pants, the shiny running shorts, and big blazers. But it was quite another thing to encounter it in the court-required class on kids and divorce. While I’ll concede the idea of the class is OK, the time it was offered was yet one more obstacle the state puts in your way to try to keep you together. It’s offered once a month, on a Friday night and a Sunday morning, times that equally punish everyone and derail all divorce coping strategies—the pity party folks who go home on Friday to watch movies with their dogs, the partiers who try to drink and sex their pain away, and the churchgoers who are turning to their god. Oh, and you pay $80 for the privilege. I will admit to none of those coping strategies, but I had a very intense work week, so I showed up at 7 pm with absolutely nothing in the tank. The two very nice, earnest people started the class and before I know it they played a video clip. As in a VHS video. While I was distracted by wondering how the tape hadn’t disintegrated yet, the video itself proved even more distracting. It featured kids talking about how divorce affected them, and they look like they came out of my high school year book. The padded shoulders, the Flashdance ripped sweatshirts, the big permed hair—there was even a scene where a girl is using a curling iron to create two-inch vertical bangs while talking about her deadbeat dad. I had this weird moment of feeling bad about these kids, sad about being old and divorced, and having a flash back to a Wham video. As I leaned over to my fellow divorcee to comment, I realized she was much younger than me. I slowly panned the room. Twice. They were all younger. Some by a little and some by a lot, but there was no doubt that my 47 years were the front-runner in the age race. The vision of George Michael prancing around in shiny shorts give way to an irritation fed by it being 8 pm on a Friday night after a 50-hour work week. I started to feel indignant. I put 20 years of sweat, tears, and a child’s projectile vomiting into my marriage. What the heck were you people doing here? Did you have your first fight and throw in the towel? Was your spouse not stepping up to help with the kids like you thought? Were you having money problems? Boo hoo! When I was your age, my marriage was like walking 10 miles in the snow and eating bark off the trees for sustenance. But I did it! I didn’t run off to divorce court at the first sign of trouble. I futilely banged my head against that tree in the snow for years, and I’m (twitch) perfectly (twitch) fine! The facilitators began talking again, and I started thinking about a sliding scale for this class—the longer you’ve been married, the less you pay. Heck, I should have gotten the class for free. I was working up a really good righteous anger, but I couldn’t sustain it—I was just too damn tired. That’s when it occurred to me the real purpose of the late time of the class—despite our anger and bitterness we were rendered harmless by our own fatigue. I understood the kids in the 80s video spoke truths that we all needed to hear, whether we’d been married one year or 20. We transitioned to video movie clips and I was blissfully distracted again—a young Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs Kramer. I wonder how he would have looked in shiny shorts?

Photo credit: Chai a Cup of Life

This One’s for You, Pops

This was a big weekend—Saturday was the Boston Gay Pride Parade and Sunday was Father’s Day. I celebrate both equally—cheering, thanking, and supporting my friends for the past 25 years and doing the same for my dad for about the same amount of time. While I understood gay culture and identified with the feeling of alienation from mainstream fairly quickly, it took me a lot longer to understand my dad. I knew he hated his job in a factory and working 55 hours a week to support a family of six. I just didn’t understand how that got translated into being impatient and angry to us kids until much later. The good thing was he made leaving for college easy, and once I was on my own, it was much easier to see him as a person, rather than a dad who yelled. A lot.

Today I feel lucky to still have him. At age 84, he’s still living life as fully as he can. He paints, thinks deeply about the mystery of life, and rails against the injustices of the world by being a frequent contributor to the newspaper. He’s had a banner year for his painting, which he started in earnest after retiring. He’s been in many juried shows, but this year he was in a three-person show in May and in July is having his first solo show. I’m enjoying his success, but that doesn’t mean I can come up with one of those tear-jerker lists of things people learned from their dad. I can’t undo those first 23 years. I definitely learned things, but chances are you won’t find them in a Hallmark card, paper or electronic:

  1. Fold your towel in threes so it fits on the towel rack. There were six of us and the racks were on the short side, so I guess that made sense, but what really burns me is that when I go to my parent’s house now, the towels are folded in two! I’ve tried to yell at him about it, but he just laughs. The discipline in that house definitely has gone downhill.
  2. Reading books is better than watching TV. If I were reading a book on a Saturday, my dad would let me be. However, watching the TV would be the quickest way to get assigned a chore—usually a nasty one like cleaning out the spider and dust infested crawl space. I still mostly prefer reading to watching TV. I also still dislike chores.
  3. “Get the show on the road.” While this could apply to many situations, mostly it was sternly called out if, god forbid, we kids were lingering after dinner and digesting. This was the signal to start cleaning up, and we ignored it at our peril. I could never understand how our dirty dishes were ever going to be Broadway worthy, but maybe Sondheim could look into it.
  4. You can use philosophy to stay out all night without getting in trouble. My dad gave me a great gift when I was a teen. We had a difficult relationship—he blamed us whether we kids deserved it or not, and I hated him for it. However, when I was a teen, he started learning about Eastern philosophy. He was always calm when he talked about it, so I started to listen. It made a lot more sense to me than my Catholic upbringing, and to this day has shaped how I view the world. However, then I still was a teen. When I stayed out all night after senior prom, I was able to distract his gathering storm of major yelling with a moving description of watching the sun come up on the beach, and how I had, in that brief sunrise moment, felt connected to the universe. He was visibly moved, and to tell the truth, so was I.
  5. Do not go gentle into this good night. My father appreciates every day he has and takes nothing for granted. He takes care of himself and exercises. As a person who prefers to sit around and read, (which he encouraged!) it’s taken me longer to really get behind this one. Being middle-aged and understanding that the end of my “night” is not as far away as it once was helps. But I know now I need to do whatever it takes to fold my towels in three, read, and get the show on the road for many years to come.

Happy Father’s Day, Pops.

Image: Self-portrait by my dad, John Deden.

Don’t Blame My Teacher — I’m a Reckless Crochet Rebel

My beloved memere, my French Canadian grandmother, made afghans for all comers, and I was mesmerized by the smooth, quick motion of her hook making loop upon loop over and over until I had a lovely, warm yarn blanket at the end of my bed. I still have one of hers there. She taught me crochet when I was in middle school. I made a groovy granny square clutch purse in red, white, and blue. OK, it was a clutch purse because the shoulder strap I crocheted was too bulky and weird-looking, and I was too impatient to redo it. So, presto! A clutch! I made a bunch of other things with my slow and not-so-smooth loops. I can’t really recall the details about them, but I would guess many of them were misshapen and offered up as “practice.”

I grew up, got busy, and whatever skills I had acquired lay dormant until I took an adult education crochet class in my late 20s. I was lucky enough to be taught by the now fabulous owner of the 10 Hours or Less  knitting and crochet website. At the time he was a then fabulous teacher who taught in addition to his day job.  He was an excellent teacher, clear, funny, and calm. The calm was especially important because some of the things we’d bring in that we’d worked on between classes were seriously scary. Super tight stitches, looped within an inch of their life, drunkenly ragged edges of what was supposed to be a straight afghan, a sweater the size of a football player that was meant for a baby. This was fiber road kill. But he was unruffled. He’d calmly examine the patient, methodically track where things had started to go wrong, and tell us how to make it right. I crocheted an afghan made up of squares. After I mangled the first few, I got them fixed, mastered the squares, and  I did pretty well. I remember doing it while the winter Olympics were on, and to this day when I look at that afghan, it feels like the Olympics are woven into.

After the class, the teacher and I became friends and knowing he could get me out of pretty much any crochet trouble, I went to town. He thought the washing machine cover I made for my sister was part ingenious and part crazy. She lived in a small place and the washing machine was in the living area. When I asked my family if I could make them something, she said, washing machine cover. There were no other takers, and who am I to judge? I used the same squares as I had used for my afghan, but made them a color to match her house. The squares were easy to assemble in pretty much any cubic form. With that success, I started dream bigger, perhaps dangerously so. At the time there weren’t very many sweater crochet patterns, and I wasn’t about to learn how to knit. I’m a one-hook kind of woman. My teacher had previously been a freelance pattern designer, and helped me design and make a sweater. He rescued me any number of times through that one. I especially remember the collar opening was big enough for two heads and there was a lump in one shoulder that made my then husband look like Quasimodo. I called in my teacher. His quick hands unworked the unruly collar in a key place, he flattened the lump, and then stitched it all back to near perfection. He called it “Hiding the dead bodies.” I love that.

The problem was my impatience. I’d see that the piece had started to go wrong, but I didn’t want to stop to undo it. Insanely I’d tell myself that it would even out in the end. Right, like the Quasimodo shoulder. I should have become more cautious and methodical, but with every fix, it only emboldened me to try harder patterns. My teacher could bail me out. I remember making a children’s cardigan sweater that had one front piece edge that was nearly perfect and the other … well, it gave even my teacher pause. Let’s just say, that yarn accident was only remedied with scissors, sewing tape, and vow of silence.

Life got busy, and I stopped crocheting, and my teacher moved away to start his fiber empire. This past winter I got the urge to crochet again, all the prior crochet mishaps now a dim memory. And what easier way to start than to visit my friend’s website? I needed slippers so I found a pattern, called Rolling Ridges. I even found some extra yarn and serendipitously, the winter Olympics were on again! I started in eagerly, my fiber bravado in full swing as the athletes flew off the ski jumps and zigzagged along the half-pipe. However, this was not to be a repeat of the squares afghan. I had trouble right off the bat getting the gauge right. Everyone’s stitches are slightly different sizes, so a pattern will tell you that so many stitches should be so many inches. Then you find the right size hook to match. I tend to be a loose stitcher, so I had to keep trying smaller and smaller hooks. I finally got the gauge right, but the hook was so small, crocheting was nearly impossible. Did I call my friend for help, which he surely would have given? Oh, no. I decided I had been apprenticed long enough, and it was time for me to go it alone. I would go up a hook size and compensate along the way—I mean how much could it matter? Overconfident mistake number one. As I looked more closely at the pattern, I realized there is a lot of counting. A LOT. Between my impatience and my dislike of numbers in general, this did not bode well. Add on that I was trying to watch the Olympics, and we have another fiber tragedy waiting to happen. To be completely transparent, there may have been a glass of wine involved. I’m just saying before you judge me, there were a lot of variables in play, none of which were related to my friend’s pattern. This was a user error.

I will give myself some credit; unlike my previous tactic to crochet on as if I were England in WWII, I did pull apart the slipper sole at least seven times before I got it right. And by “right” I mean it wasn’t hideously large—just mildly so. I jumped into making the top part of the slipper without taking into account how the size of the sole was now off the grid. The rest of the pattern was no longer a close friend to the sole, but merely a stranger. Add in the counting of all those stitches that were supposed to line up with the sole, and you could perhaps even say a hostile stranger. Overconfident mistake number two. Midway through, I started to have flashbacks of the child’s cardigan sweater, but I was now in a fiber fever and couldn’t stand the thought of giving up, or god forbid, starting over. I just wanted to finish the damn things. I did finish them. Exactly how is between me, the slippers, and pair of sewing scissors that you will never, ever find.

The 10 Hours or Less photo of the slippers is up top. That’s how they should look—all snug and cozy on your feet. And they could be that if you follow the pattern. However, if you happen to be a reckless crochet rebel like me, who’s been allowed to flout the rules for too long, your project is bound to look like this below. It’s more a swimming pool for the feet. But you know what? I wear them and just shuffle on the floor. As long as I don’t lift my feet off the ground, they actually work pretty well. Thanks to my excellent teacher, I’m not completely hopeless. And I am hiding one dead body—there’s a mini Quasimodo bump in the back.