A Weighty Subject

Photo Credit: maristpoll.marist.edu
Photo Credit: maristpoll.marist.edu

I have battled my weight (mostly unsuccessfully) for my entire adult life.  It wasn’t always that way – when I was a child and a teenager I was pretty average, even thin at times. I ate what I wanted,  when I wanted and never gave it a second thought.  Ham sandwiches, chocolate cake, cheese….oh do I LOVE cheese. It never occurred to me to moderate my diet.  I didn’t exercise.  My motto was “when I run, I fall”,  so I avoided most strenuous activity.  I was a cheerleader and  I did try a few sports.  I swam on my high school swim team for two seasons and decided that almost drowning in a public forum was not at all attractive (besides – swimming is HARD!!).  I have absolutely no eye/hand coordination, so any sport like basketball, softball or tennis is out for me. It stood to reason that a sedentary person like me would eventually become larger, but I really didn’t expect it.

My first real charge at weight loss was when I was in my early twenties.  My upcoming wedding was motivation to get me started at losing those 25 pounds or so that I had gained in college.  I started attending Weight Watchers meetings with a few of my mother’s friends. (I should note that my mother was always thin to the point of having a hard time GAINING weight.  I will never understand that problem, and honestly I have a hard time being sympathetic, but she assured me for years that it WAS a real problem. I simply cannot understand why I did not inherit the “thin” gene.) I was successful with the program the first time, mostly because I lived alone and did not have a lot to lose.  I was 21 years old when I became a “lifetime member”. The program served the purpose for me at the time, but I really did not change any of my habits.

My subsequent wedding and newlywed years as an inexperienced cook trying to prepare meals for my spouse (meat, potato and a vegetable every night-exactly what I had growing up in the 1970’s) started the road to gaining it all back – and then some.  Those early years were followed by three pregnancies and then rejoining the world of full-time employment. I became a working mom surviving on “fast food” and easy dinners. This led to several additional pounds.

In my early forties I had a few health issues that led my doctors to insinuate that perhaps my weight had something to do with my problems, so I again joined Weight Watchers in 2002, this time doing the online program. It was a bit of a struggle, with a houseful of teenagers and a husband who was naturally thin, but amazingly (and with a lot of hard work) eighteen months later I again met my goal weight and even had my “success story” documented and printed online.  They even flew me to NYC for an “after” photo shoot!

Weight Watchers Photo Shoot Fall 2003Seriously?...a Leather suit?!?
Weight Watchers Photo Shoot Fall 2003
Seriously?…a Leather suit?!?

I really did learn something about nutrition that time and along the way I discovered the joy (no REALLY) of running.  I was running 2.5 miles three to five times a week and loving it! It was a great feeling to actually be able to run this distance – non-stop – and I really loved the feeling of thin thighs. Who knew how great that felt…I can tell you that I never appreciated it when I was a teenager, trust me!

Unfortunately I started to have problems with pain in my back and side – an undiagnosed situation that still plagues me today – and I eventually had to give up running.  Even walking much of a distance is a struggle for me today.  Add to that some dramatic life changes; a change to a more stressful work situation, the loss of my mother, and my children all flying the coop, and here I am today. I am heavier than I was the last time I started.

My continuing health problems, along with my failing self-image have prompted me once again to begin the process, so I am now publicly declaring that two months ago I started the Weight Watchers program yet again.  I have tried a few other things over the years, but this one actually works for me, and I believe in the program.  I am doing it online again, and this time my spouse (yes, middle-age has finally caught up with him as well – Surprise!) is joining me in the process.  To date I have lost 17.5 pounds (he, of course has lost a few more – would someone please tell me why it seems SO much easier for them??)  This is no mean feat considering the fall that we had here on the hill. The loss of my father-in-law, immediately followed by the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays have made it a real challenge to keep it up this time, but I am determined to succeed.

I have set my goal weight a little higher than the past times because middle age and my inability to work out make the old goal seem unattainable at this time.  Who knows, if I can figure out a way to get a work out in – without putting myself flat on my back for several days – I may lower it, but for now it seems like a good goal, though I still have a long ways to go.

I thought that since I now have this forum to vent share my thoughts and feelings, I would post from time to time about my journey.  I hope that writing about it will serve to keep me honest and motivated.  I am hoping that I will continue to be successful, and that my progress will help me with my other issues.  If I survive the holidays and our youngest daughter’s winter break (which means cupboards and fridge full of things that I do not want to eat), I intend to start 2013 with a positive, healthy outlook.

Here’s hoping!

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Have I told you about my Island?

Photo Credit: www.mexicoguru.com
Photo Credit: http://www.mexicoguru.com

Actually if you know me very well, this is a pretty silly question.  OF COURSE I have told you about my island.  Well….it isn’t actually “my” island, but that is how I describe it.  Many of my island friends call it “their” islands, too.  That is how it feels to us.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico is a small island off the coast of Cancun.  It was once mostly a small fishing community, but it has grown in popularity since we made our first visit (much to the chagrin of some of the “old time” visitors to the island, who remember days of unpaved sand streets with less mainland tourist traffic and more travelers).

We discovered the island back in the mid 1990’s, when we went there for a wedding – but that is a story for a different day.  The first year that we went we thought we were going on a once in a lifetime adventure.  The island had other plans for us.

I simply fell in love with the place.  The beauty of the island itself, with its clear aqua blue water and soft, white sand, and the wonderful people who reside there have called me back year after year.  I dream of walking the red brick paved streets almost every night, and I recall the feel of the wind on my face as I walk the malecon on the Caribbean side of the island listening to the surf while I look towards Cuba.

For many years Jim and I would visit the island alone, without our children.  Many times I made the statement that Isla had saved my marriage.  Our time there was a magical time when we could talk for hours and remember why we liked each other in the first place.  This feeling was, in part, due to the fact that we were not constrained by the daily demands of parenting three daughters and working full time.  I do feel that a large part of it was the atmosphere of the island itself, though. The slower pace and the warm, friendly feeling that surrounded us helped us to relax and enjoy each other as we experienced our new surroundings together, a new adventure.

Sunset

When I am on Isla I am definitely my best self.  A friend who has known me since those early days…when I was extremely nervous about everything around me, from the rustic bathroom facilities at some establishments, to the terrible rumors that I heard about eating and drinking certain things in Mexico, to the presence of law enforcement officers with very large guns…has said that I am not the same person I was then.

I agree with her.  Isla Mujeres has given me new eyes to see the things around me.  The island has made me value what I have a little bit more.  It has made me want a little bit less.  It has enriched my life with friends who feel the same way…people that I only see for a few days every year or so.  Thanks to the internet many of us have continued to communicate with each other.  We have all grown older, had many life changes, lost loved ones and gained new ones.

Jim and I have since taken the girls to the island several times.  While they may not share my passion for Isla, they certainly understand it.  They know that I long to spend an extended time there someday, and if I were to disappear someday when the stress of daily life gets too much, they would know exactly where to find me.

We missed our trip to the island last year for a very good reason.  Our granddaughter was born in March, so we used our limited vacation time to go and meet her.  It was a wonderful trip to England, and we were happy to spend time with the new family, but I have to admit that my heart hurt a little to miss my annual pilgrimage.

View from Punta Sur

We will finally return to the island in February on Valentine’s Day – the same day/month that we arrived on our very first trip.  It is a wonderful time to be there and many of the people that we have known for years who consistently visit the island that month will be there. I am so excited that I feel a little bit like a kid at Christmas.  I cannot wait to feel the spray on my face as we cross the bay and to hear our host say “welcome home” when walk into the lobby of the Francis Arlene to stay in room #15, the one that we have lived in during our trips for the past several years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A few good friends will not be with us this year, and that will be sad. We have spent many hours together on the balcony that connects our room, and we will miss that friendly exchange. The nice thing about Isla, however, is that each trip back is a new adventure.  We will rekindle old friendships, make new ones and find ourselves again.

I just can’t wait to be HOME.

 

Home

Dear Fee,

     Right about now you should be sleeping on Christmas Eve.  I am sure that the proverbial “Visions of Sugarplums” are dancing in  your head.   Hopefully you will only get up once (or less) during the night so you won’t catch Santa Father Christmas at his business!

Fee - Christmas Eve

     You and your parents have already been counting down on the Advent calendar that we gave you.  I hope that you will be using it for years to come! By now Mary and Joseph are in place,  just waiting for the baby Jesus to join them.  I think that you have probably listened to the books that Poppa and I recorded for you when you were here in November.  “The Night Before Christmas” and the Christmas Story have always been a part of your Mama’s Christmas Eve tradition and I am happy that we could be a part of it even if we aren’t there.
     I have to say that I am pretty excited for your first Christmas.  Even though I can’t be there to share it with you and your Mama and Daddy, I remember the days when Poppa and I were just starting out our own family Christmases. It was a wonderful time of new beginnings, and new traditions.
     I am pretty new at this Gram thing, but I already decided that Poppa and I would start a new tradition with you.  We are going to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, beginning with Jesus’ birthday tomorrow and ending with Three King’s Day on Epiphany, January 6.  We intend to give you one small gift each day in anticipation of that big event. You will receive your “big gift” on that day. It is my hope that one day I will live in Mexico and you can join me for the festivities there!
     I have had this idea for a while – mostly because of my love of the Latin culture – and wanted Poppa and I to start it for our grandchildren. Mind you, you are probably getting the best of it…by the time you have six cousins the first eleven presents will probably be VERY small, or we will go broke! Enjoy being the first – it is a special honor. it’s really not about the presents anyways, is it? It is more about the story and the anticipation, and the love that Jesus promised us all.
     I think that in your house Christmas will be quite different than it was in your Mama’s house.  For one thing, your Daddy will always have to work on Christmas.  This is probably a very good thing, because it will keep you all focused on the real reason that we celebrate the holiday.  I am afraid that over the years, I have not been very good at “keeping Advent” and remembering the reason for the season.  I hope that your family will always have that focus that we lacked.
     I hope that we get a chance to visit a little tomorrow, but if I don’t talk to you, know that I will be thinking of you.  Have a very Happy Christmas, my sweetheart. My heart is with you even if I am not.
Love and kisses,
Gram

I grew up in Mayberry

Photo credit: http://www.retroweb.com/40acres_tour_pt3.html
Photo credit: http://www.retroweb.com/40acres_tour_pt3.html

That’s the God’s honest truth.  The small town that I grew up in might as well have been Mayberry RFD.  As a matter of fact, many of the people that I grew up with (especially the ones that moved away) actually call it “Mayberry”.  My hometown is a small town on the Northeastern end of a 17 mile lake in Western New York State.  When I was a child there were a couple of factories there, a small school and a relatively busy business district.  You could get anything that you needed there, there was not much need to leave the village limits, and we rarely did.

I was a child of the 60’s; my early childhood was spent in the golden days before the civil unrest of the end of the decade. Our mothers – for the most part – were there to greet us when we came home from school at 3:15 and our fathers were to be feared when they walked in the door at 5:30. Most everyone had jobs that they could walk to and most families were one income, two parents.

There was much about this time (politically and socially) that I do not agree with today, but let me say that it was definitely a time of innocence for me as a 7 year old child.  I was blissfully unaware of things like divorce or poverty. The world outside our own little bubble did not really exist for me.  I had very little exposure to the world as it actually was because our family only owned one black and white TV and my father had control of it in the evening, watching the news (which I found extremely boring) and variety shows like Ed Sullivan or Laugh-In.

My family knew everyone in the small town, from the grocer to the mechanic to the insurance agent down the street.  We lived a block from the school, in the house that my mother grew up in. It was a duplex and the next door neighbor was the proprietor of a ladies dress shop downtown.  She was an older woman who lived alone.  I used to knock on her door and visit with her from time to time.  It was nice knowing that there was someone there – I guess it was comforting.

After school and on weekends all of the neighborhood children moved from back yard to back yard to play and our mothers each had their own special way of calling us home to dinner.  I believe my mother used a large cow bell at one point, but my memory is slightly fuzzy, so this may be an exaggeration.  We spent most of our time outdoors; I still remember my mother kicking me out of the house and telling me to “Go get some fresh air!”

We were sent to the store with a handwritten note to buy a pack of cigarettes for our parents, along with a carton of milk or a loaf of bread. We had Coca Colas at the Sweet Shop with our grandparents on Sunday and for an extra special treat we went to the local “Dog and Suds” for a dinner out (actually delivered to our car on a tray that hooked to the window) of gourmet hot dogs, fries and root beers.

We walked to school, going cross lots through the morning dew, or following the sidewalk plows in the winter.  We would wear sandwich bags inside our boots to keep our feet dry when it snowed, since most of us were wearing hand-me-down winter boots. The school was small, so everyone knew each other – the younger kids looked up to the older ones in awe and fear.  We would pray for specific teachers and be sad when we got one of the “mean” ones – we relied on our older siblings (or in my case my friends older siblings) to give us the inside information on which one was good or bad.

Summers were spent at the lakeside.  The bus would pick us up on the corner to take us to the park for swimming lessons and arts and crafts.  We would eat soggy bologna sandwiches that our mothers had packed for us in the morning for lunch, or if we were lucky and had a quarter or two we could order French fries or a frozen Milkshake candy bar for a special treat.  I still remember the smell of French fries mixed with the damp smell of the towels we sat on while we ate them.

The holidays were a special time when we all looked forward to the annual Christmas drawing.  Each of the merchants would donate an item or two, which would be displayed in one of the larger shops windows for the period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Every time anyone made a purchase in any of the shops they would enter their name and address on a small slip of paper and drop it into a container at the register.

The week before Christmas, the big event would be held outside on the main street downtown.  The entire community would come out – everyone bundled up against the cold – and wait as each item was given away one at a time.  There were usually dozens of gifts given away.  One year I won a die cast piggy bank made by the local plastics factory. Santa Claus would appear at the end of the evening, handing out oranges and candy canes to all of the children who were there.

In the wake of the events of the past weeks I think about the world that our children grow up in today and I can’t help but be nostalgic for those simple times. Part of me wishes that my own children and grandchildren could grow up in that world.   Don’t get me wrong – my childhood was far from picture perfect, but on days like today I choose to remember it that way.

I cannot imagine my adult life without the advances that were made in the past few decades in terms of women’s and minority rights and modern conveniences. I would never have become the person that I am today with the wealth of opportunity that I have now. My ability to travel and experience other cultures and the fact that my children have been exposed to a world much larger than that small town are blessing that I have been very fortunate to have.

Perhaps it was just my youth and inexperience that make those days seem golden. Maybe most seven year olds look at the world; however changed it is from the years of my childhood, with the same sense of comfort and security. I wonder what my own children’s recollections of their early years will be.  I can only hope that for all of our advances and improvements they can still keep that feeling that I recall. As I sit here with my memories I am so very thankful to have had those times.

Love them

Today my youngest is on her way home from a three month stint in York, England. My middle daughter was home last weekend for a quick “vacation” from her life in Pittsburgh. My oldest and her husband and my granddaughter are preparing for their first real family Christmas in Cambridge, England, where they have lived for the past five years.

Who knew all those years ago when we were so busy preparing for the holiday while chasing three very busy cherubs around the place that they would be spread so far and wide? While it is a bit sad to have them all so far away at any given time, I have to say that we are just as close as we would be if they lived two doors away.

I am so proud of my children and their sense of independence and adventure.  I only wish that when I was their age I had half of the curiosity about the rest of the world, or their courage to go out and try new things in new places. All three are strong, beautiful women today. I have no doubt that they will all experience wonderful things in their lives, and I will continue to encourage them to get out there and do just that.

In light of the events these past few weeks in Oregon and especially in Newtown, Connecticut, it has been only natural to want to hold our families close.  We never know just how much time we will have together. That makes every moment precious.

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It is slightly terrifying as a parent when you realize that you can’t keep them safe from every danger that will cross their paths.  As a self-admitted controlling mother, I am always reminding them to “text me when you get there” and keep in touch.  My children almost always oblige my demands cheerfully…I hope that it is because they know that I will always love and protect them to the best of my ability, no matter where they are.

It is simply all we can do as parents. Love them, support them, encourage them. It’s really all they ask

Decking the Halls

Since the kids have gone, I don’t get as excited about decorating for Christmas.  It seems like there is nobody here to see it, so why bother?

When they were growing up we went as far as having two trees some years – one for their accumulation of ornaments and another “formal” tree in the living room with glass balls and silver beads. It was a family event decorating the trees, usually done with a bit of coaxing – but we did it together, along with Christmas music and it really got me in the mood to do the rest of the house.

I still have a glass ball that was made for me by my first grade teacher in 1967.  It has been our tradition to place it on the tree first, front and center – the place of honor. It is amazing that I have been able to save it all of these years and I am quite proud of it.

First Grade Ornament

As I said in a previous post, this year we have been having a bit of trouble starting the decorating process. This weekend, however, our middle daughter and her boyfriend had decided to come home for a visit,  so that was incentive to make the house look a bit more Christmasy before they arrived.

It was a pretty busy week, so Jim and I worked on the tree a little bit each night. He did the lights and beads and I helped with the ornaments. It was more of a chore to get it done – no Christmas music or cocoa to be had this time – but we finished it by Thursday.  It looked quite pretty in the living room and we actually enjoyed looking at it as it warmed the corner by the sofa.

The kids arrived home and we immediately went out for a bite to eat and a couple of drinks.  Imagine our horror when our daughter came out of the bathroom when we got back home and exclaimed “Guys you had better come look at this!”

Disaster

We really have no idea how it happened. Max (our yellow lab – and the culprit of most of the mayhem here on the hill) was in the kennel, so we can’t blame him. Morley, our chocolate, just isn’t the mischievous type.  I suppose it could have been a cat, but they are getting along in age and really haven’t shown much interest in the tree all week.  I guess we will never know. I am happy to report that my ornament survived the fall completely unscathed.  Luckily the kids were here to help with the clean up and we all laughed at the mess – what else could we do?

It looks like today’s festivities will now include purchasing (and decorating) another tree.  At least we will have some help this time!