Many happy returns

carrot bdayToday is my 63rd birthday. The week leading up to it has coincidentally not been a good one. Unfortunately, having a rough week means I ate constantly and skipped my exercise class a couple of times. This completed the gain-back of the 20 pounds I lost two years ago. Sigh…

But I decline to remain discouraged. A birthday is a great time to re-assess, re-group, and get a fresh start.

In reviewing what I have been doing since I started this blog, I realize that I have been dancing around the central issue like the elephant in the room dancing around a maypole.

I just don’t want to give up eating on the couch; with acrostics, with books, with Netflix.

So I’ve been trying to change all the peripheral habits. And having some success. More weeks where I eat lots of fruits and veggies, more mornings where I prepare ice water for the day to have handy, and, till this week, the occasional meal at the table.

But what I’m realizing is that the core of the issue is the couch eating. The mindless eating. The eating for comfort, the addictive eating.

So, “just for today”, as those wonderful 12-step people say, I am going to do the two most important things:

  • Eat only at the table
  • Include fruits/vegetables with every meal or snack

And I’ll keep working on the peripheral things which make it easier to do those two things. I’ll keep prepped fruits/veggies in the fridge, plan what’s for dinner, fill my thermos.

So far my birthday has been great. I went to exercise class, went out to lunch with Ed, (at a table!) and received a sung “Happy Birthday” message from my daughter.

Who could ask for anything more?

Who the heck is Harro?

Play "Hearts and Flowers" on the world's smallest violin
Play me “Hearts and Flowers” on the world’s smallest violin

Last night I was going through a box of memorabilia and came across a journal of mine from 1982. Gingerly, I took a peek inside. Ick, ouch, ugh, wince, oh dear. There, for all the world to see (at least until I can find the matches), was my younger self, going on and on about a young swain named “Harro”, who, I can see clearly from my current perspective, just wasn’t that into me. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m glad I didn’t see you again – it wouldn’t have been worth the pain – it would have been too great a reminder that I couldn’t have you. Yet my heart thumps even now at the thought that perhaps you left me a note, or a flower, or somehow showed that you cared…”

Ok, this might not be too bad if I’d been sixteen, and/or if Harro had been the love of my life. But I was 30, and, honest to God, I have no idea who this person is.

In addition to feeling acutely embarrassed, I do have some compassion for this younger self. I spent many years thinking about almost nothing but romance. The happy childhood I recall was actually a bit short on affection, and devoid of any role-models for lasting relationships. Clearly I was working on that.

I also have huge gratitude. At 40 I found Ed, now my husband. I had worked out enough youthful angst to begin building a marriage, and Ed was (and is) kind, steady, and calm. Not to mention handsome, smart, funny, and a great dancer. Twenty two years later, I give thanks every day for him, and for having gained enough wisdom to appreciate him.

There is another struggle mentioned in the journal with which I have had less success. Here is another excerpt:

“I’ve been good about food for four whole days now. It feels great, except when I have cravings to knosh (sic). I notice how much it happens when I’m bored, lonely, and when I’m in transition between one activity and another”.

I have to say, that except for spelling “nosh” correctly, I could have written that sentence last night. Well, and except that I haven’t been “good” for “four whole days”, or even “four whole hours”.

Finding that excerpt gives me pause. All these years of struggling about food, and I’m pretty much right where I started. Since that time I have learned a lot about nutrition, become (mostly) vegan, and managed to keep within twenty pounds of a comfortable weight. Yet the preoccupation with food and the desire for (and over-indulgence in) sugar and chocolate persist.

I could despair about this, or lash myself for lack of progress. Or, having learned how much is driven by genetics, dopamine, and even gut bacteria, I could absolve myself of all responsibility and just give up.

But I think I’ll do something else. Being a lot older and little wiser now, I think I’ll be kind to myself, maintain hope, celebrate small victories, and enjoy the journey.

And Harro, whoever and wherever you may be, I hope you are doing well.

Anyone need a bucket?

No, that's not us. But it's our inner, secret selves.
No, that’s not us. But it’s our inner, secret selves.

My husband Ed and I enjoy Argentine Tango dancing. Recently a fellow dancer asked if dancing in Buenos Aires is on our “bucket list”.

This got me thinking about the aphorism: “no one ever says on their deathbed, I wish I had spent more time at the office”. The saying is supposed to shake us out of our apathy, help us overcome our fear of change, and energize us to dream big and reinvent ourselves.

Well, I can say unequivocally that I have gone for the gusto, and the regret that I “haven’t really lived” is not in my future.

I grew up in Mexico City, lived for 19 wonderful years at Twin Oaks Community, and spent 1990 in crime-ridden Philadelphia, where, among other activities, I collected a wide variety of cute little crack vials from the sidewalk around my house.

I have hitch-hiked across the country twice (once with a 2-week old puppy in tow), camped along the Appalachian Trail, and hung out in San Francisco during the Summer of Love.

My work has been deeply satisfying. I happily dropped out of high-school, and still ended up as a rural family physician. I switched careers to go into animal rescue,  and opened the Cat’s Cradle Adoption Center  on a budget of exactly zero dollars.

I have tried to make a difference in the world, providing much free medical care, starting a battered-women’s support group, founding a spay/neuter organization, and fostering lots and lots of animals.

And through it all, whenever possible, I have danced – folk-dance, ball-room dance, swing-dance, and now the subtle and mysterious Argentine Tango.

So I’ve lived a bucket-full of adventure. What I hope to do now are the slow and steady things. The things that people who did their duty rather than following their dreams have perhaps already accomplished:

  • Be a parent. I was unprepared for motherhood, and lousy at it. My daughter is a lovely adult now, and has done more than her share of the work to create the close relationship we enjoy. It is my desire to continue to nurture this relationship. Forever.
  • Be content. Settle in. Enjoy the moment. Even perhaps (gasp!) do a little meditating.
  • Be nice. Sure, to the grocery clerk – that’s easy. But also to those who disagree with me, to my neighbor who hates me, and to my long-suffering husband, even when I’m cranky.

Will I say on my deathbed that I wish I had kept my house cleaner?

Probably.

Where we goin’, and what are we doing in this handbasket?*

This lovely pastel by Ylli Haruni can be purchased at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/cat-in-the-basket-ylli-haruni.html. I didn't pay to use the image, so the least I can do it plug it.
This lovely pastel by Ylli Haruni can be purchased at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/cat-in-the-basket-ylli-haruni.html. I didn’t pay to use the image, so the least I can do it plug it.

I was doing pretty well, and then I made the fatal mistake.  A couple of days ago, out of nowhere, I weighed myself. And discovered that these past two months of blogging and forming new habits has led to a two-pound weight gain.

And it all went straight to hell.

I tried to shake it off, pretending to myself that it doesn’t really matter, I look fine, I’m in it for the long haul, yadda yadda. “Coincidentally”, I went to Costco that afternoon and bought, yes, the dreaded XXL Peanut M&M’s. And a giant box of chocolate chip cookies, nicely done up in sub-packs of six for “portion control”. And one of those big square boxes of chocolate-covered raisins. And a big pack of rice-cake rolls. And a big box of those cranberry-“thin” breakfast wafers.

I’ve mainly been hitting the chocolate covered raisins so far. Raisins make my stomach hurt if I eat too many, so I suck off the chocolate and leave raisin skeletons.

I was lying in bed last night, my stomach hurting, feeling dispirited and wired on theobromine, and decided, “once and for all” (where have I heard that before?), that I just need to suck it up and STOP eating on the couch. After a couple of antacids, I was able to drift off firmly holding to this resolve.

Which lasted until exactly one minute after lunch today, when I licked off a new batch of raisins. (Got that acrostic licked too!)

This is so frustrating and discouraging.

But I want to do two things: 1. Hold Fast to my 52 weeks of trying to improve my eating habits, and 2. Avoid “all or nothing” mentality.

So, I am counting on you, my vast audience of supporters.

This week’s habit goals:

  •  Continue to eat breakfast at the table.
  •  Eat lunch at the table. 
  • Immediately after lunch, meditate for 15 minutes. (THEN I can lie on the couch and get to work on the XXL Peanut M&M’s. The raisins are about gone.)

Are ya with me? Send me your woes, your triumphs, your deep thoughts, the dumb joke you heard at the office.

Namaste (Is that something to eat?)

*This is apparently an old joke, but my daughter used it in context recently and I thought it was hilarious.

21 Days and waddya get? Three weeks older.

Flylady.net is a real person. I find her ideas and her inner light lovely. Check out her site if you need help with housekeeping.
Flylady is a real person. I find her ideas and her inner light lovely. Check out her site if you need help with housekeeping. Flylady.net

My friend Ros sent me an article called: Habit Formation: The 21-Day Myth. I found it simultaneously repellent and enlightening.

Repellent because it’s macho and corporate, using words like “successful”, “fight”, and “win”. It uses Michael Jordan and the Williams sisters as examples of “success”, rather than, say, M. L. King and Georgia O’Keefe. Reading the piece, I get the definite impression that these folks are “swimming with the sharks”.

Enlightening, though, because it clarifies that “21 days” do not, after all, make a habit. Aha! I wondered about this! I have done plenty of things for 21 days and still not continued them as habits.

The article uses a three-phase model of good habit formation:

  • Honeymoon
  • Fight-thru
  • Second-nature.

Seems obvious once I read it. Nice to see it clarified.

The best wisdom nugget comes from this addition: The “Second-nature” phase, (touted by some to happen automatically after 21 days), can be disrupted, and we need to get back into “Fight-thru” mode.

Now this makes sense. Too often I have braved my 21 days, but fallen all the way back to squat. If I’m lucky, there’s a new Honeymoon, and sometimes another “Fight-thru”, but more often than not I just forget about it after a few days.

So I think I’ll incorporate this model into my year of building better habits, but reword it into a “kinder gentler” approach.

Instead of “success”, how about “fruition”; “gratification”; “growth”? Instead of “fight-thru”, how about “Hold Fast”?

Let’s see…

To form and keep better habits, I need to Hold Fast. When a new habit seems to have become Second Nature, but then gets interrupted, I’ll Hold Fast again. This will increase my joy and contentment.

Hoo boy, it’s hard to leave “corporate-speak” without falling into “Birkenstock-speak”.

How about…

To get my act together before I kick the bucket, I need to stick with the habits I’m trying to form, so I can quit feeling whiny a lot of the time. When I get distracted and/or lazy, I need to suck it up and keep on keeping on.

That’s a little closer.

Feel free to send me your version.

This week’s new habit goal:

My Second-Nature light housekeeping habits are slipping. I’ll revisit FlyLady.net and Hold Fast, and get back that cozy feeling a clean home gives me.

Now What? — Redux

NowWhatReduxImageHey – not you people out there juggling school and jobs and kids – I mean you people like me –retired, with a hobby or two but no big obligations. Do you ever have a day where you look up after your morning walk, lunch, and a nap, and say to yourself: “Now what?” I sure do. In fact this blog is named after that feeling.

Don’t get me wrong. I like being retired. I have had enough of fulfilling and not so fulfilling work, of dragging myself out of bed on Monday mornings, of being told to “work smarter, not harder”. But I am still figuring out the rhythm of my days.

Today I got a nice reminder of a technique for figuring out what to do next.

I got up early because I had a garden helper coming at 7:30 to help me re-stake tomatoes. That went well, and then I went for a lovely walk in the woods with a friend of 45 years (Hi Gerri!). I was pretty tired after all that, and took a rare after-lunch nap.

I woke up around 3:30 recalling that I had intended to clean up the kitchen and make something with the 10 pounds of tomatoes we had picked this morning. But I felt logy and unmotivated. An incipient headache prevented me from spacing out on the computer. “Now what?” I wondered uncomfortably.

Wandering aimlessly around the house, I realized I really did need to empty the compost, so I grabbed the bucket and headed out to the pile.

And came back an hour later. Emptying the bucket had led to meandering over to check on the pole beans, which led to finding an over-ripe cantaloupe that had to be composted, to pulling up the dead squash vines, to weeding some morning-glories out of the garbanzos…you get the picture. It was cool and pleasant outside, and I felt refreshed and awake.

Back indoors, washing out the compost bucket led to cleaning off the kitchen counters, putting the extra tomatillos in a bag to be sorted (soon?!!), and setting up a toaster-oven-load of okra to roast for supper.

The only down side to this spontaneous burst of activity is that I didn’t put on my bug repellant, and received a few mosquito bites. A small price to pay for satisfaction and contentment.

So my advice to you if you are wondering what to do next is: “How the heck should I know?” But my advice to ME if I don’t know what to do next is: “Wander out into the garden and see if anything happens.”

This week’s new habit to adopt:

              Bring only small quantities of junk food into the house at a time.

P.S.  A big thank you to those of you who, on and off the blog, support and/or join my efforts at self-improvement.

Couch Panda Presses On

Where's my salt-shaker?
Where’s my salt-shaker?

When I started this blog a few weeks back, I had high hopes. I was going to change one habit each week for 52 weeks until my overeating compulsion was cured.

To my dismay, I’m barely hanging on to the minor changes I have set so far. And the BIG change, the change I am trying to ignore because it’s just too hard, looms over me, miasma-style.

The BIG change is eating AT THE TABLE.

My big comfort, both physical and emotional, is eating supine on the couch, while doing something else (reading, doing crossword puzzles, watching Netflix). It’s my go-to behavior, and always carries with it a huge sigh of anticipatory contentment. Its ill effects (weight-gain, loss of physical conditioning, chronic neck pain, esophageal reflux), don’t hold a candle to that first bite taken with kitchen towel around my neck, shoes kicked off, salt-shaker at the ready, and puzzle-book in hand.

Oh, what to do, what to do? Talk about first-world problems. If only thinking about people who don’t have couches, salt-shakers, kitchen towels, or puzzle books, (let alone food) were sufficient to change my behavior.

Given my lack of progress, I have had a hard time making myself put out another perky blog-post.

But I’ve decided not to dessert. [sic]

I’m going to try to stick out the 52 weeks, and continue to make the changes as I can.

So here’s a report on how the goals are going so far:

  1. Ensure availability of prepped fruits/veggies at all times: 85% success
  2. Include fruit/veg with every meal or snack: 75% success
  3. Prepare thermoses of water with breakfast: 60% success and improving
  4. Eat breakfast at the table: 10% success and going nowhere

And for next week:

Suck it up and eat breakfast at the table. If I’m on the run, a portable smoothie is ok.

Onward and…onward!

Carrot Conceit

Here is a picture of some carrots that came out of my garden this morning. IMG_4374A woman showing these would say: “Here are some carrots I grew this year. Well, I had a lot of help, of course. They’re kind of crooked, because I didn’t get the soil prepared as well as I had hoped. I accidentally pulled out a couple that are too small, because I didn’t thin them soon enough. I think they’ve probably gotten a bit tough and bitter because I picked them too late in the season. And obviously, they need washing!”

A man would say: “Hey, lookit these great carrots I grew!”

Fellow blogger (I shall call her Marcie) just posted a beautiful braid she made from home-grown garlic. The title of her blog-post is: “Clearly there is room for improvement.” I rest my case. (To see her braid, go here): https://thevalliereblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/clearly-there-is-room-for-improvement/

I am far from a shrinking violet, and toot my own horn plenty. Yet I, too, often emphasize my failings when I blog. (Actually I find myself charming and funny when I do this.)

But not today! Today I am going to set aside self-put-downs, and share with you my utter delight in my garden this year. It’s the best garden I’ve ever grown, and I am filled with joy every time I step out my door. I’m going to make you look at the pictures as if they were my grandchildren, and I want to hear some “Awwwws”!

Enormous tomatillo, tomato and pepper patch this year!
Enormous tomatillo, tomato and pepper patch this year!

 Keyhole sustainable garden. This is its first year, converted from a square garden with compacted soil.

Keyhole sustainable garden. This is its first year, converted from a square garden with compacted soil.

First attempt at growing artichokes (from seed! in Virginia!)
First attempt at growing artichokes (from seed! in Virginia!)
Cantaloupe sprawling on the right, cover-crop buckwheat on the left, and second planting of pole beans in the middle
Cantaloupe sprawling on the right, cover-crop buckwheat on the left, and second planting of pole beans in the middle.
This nearly-ready beauty is a volunteer!
This nearly-ready beauty is a volunteer! (Note carrot leaves just behind.)
I live in a cozy mixed neighborhood. This is what folks walking down the sidewalk past my house see.
I live in a cozy mixed neighborhood. This is what folks see while walking down the sidewalk past my house.
View into the back garden from the side gate. Hydrangeas held up by a repurposed crib I found on the sidewalk.
View into the back yard from the side gate. Hydrangeas held up by a repurposed crib I found on the sidewalk.
Carrot Selfie!
Carrot Selfie! Note red carrot, which matches my magenta T-shirt!

What’s the difference?

Cucumbers, growing on an old CD rack, are dying. Queen Anne's lace is a weed but it feeds the pollinators.
Cucumbers, growing on an old CD rack, are dying. Queen Anne’s lace is a weed but it feeds the pollinators.

Blogger simplelivingover50.com (I shall call him Tom) is a very different person from me. He’s into power work-outs, measuring his biceps, and eating meat. I suspect he has a secret yen to drag his woman into his cave by the hair to ravish her (only with her consent, of course — Tom is a nice guy.) I want to be lithe and aerobically fit so I can hike, garden and dance. He weighs himself daily. I weigh myself seldom, at random.

Tom’s garden pictures show wide boards creating perfectly rectangular raised beds, with a neat two-inch border around them where the carefully manicured lawn dares not tread. My garden looks like a mash-up of an abandoned tomato patch, some hummocks of compost, and a weedy lawn. Tom is Mr Paleo; I’m Ms Vegan.

My husband Ed and I just returned from a visit to his mom in Iowa. My mother-in-law and I are also quite different.  When you look up “mid-westerner” in the dictionary, you’ll find her picture. Mine is likely in the Brattleboro, Vermont section.

As I ponder my differences with these two people, I realize that we have one very important thing in common: we all have food issues. All three of us are addicted to simple carbohydrates, and we all sometimes eat in secret.

Tom had an event in his car (http://simplelivingover50.com/2015/06/23/the-tale-of-the-scone/) that I completely related to. At my mother-in-law’s house, I walked into the kitchen one evening to find her standing up with her back to me, eating a piece of cake.

At home I don’t have to eat in secret. My husband never makes snarky remarks or nags. If he has any judgmental feelings, he has managed to keep them to himself for 22 years. But when I am in someone else’s home, I maintain a secret stash of goodies to eat in my room after the household has gone to bed.

I feel an affinity with these two folks. We all want to eat better, we all love treats, we all struggle.

But in addition, I think we have a more profound thing in common.

My mother-in-law talks about herself a lot. Tom and I blog, which is a way of talking about ourselves a lot. Each of us wants to be heard, to be understood, to be accepted.

And oh yeah…to be thinner.

Perhaps you do too. I’d love to read your comments. Join me!

Goal for next week:

The “eat breakfast at the table” habit needs more glue, so I am going to make it this week’s goal as well. And I’m reinforcing previous commitments in case I start forgetting:

  • Ensure the availability of prepped fruits/veggies at all times
  • Include fruit/vegetable with every meal or snack
  • Prepare two thermoses of water/tea daily with breakfast
  • Eat breakfast at the table

Ac-cen-tuate the positive*

Positive reinforcement works!

Last week I set a goal of listing (and posting) habits I have improved. Now why would I do that? Why don’t I concentrate on what I still need to change?

Well, of course there is the positive reinforcement aspect.

When I was 14, my mom dragged me to a farm in rural Virginia, where she and six other seekers planned to build Walden Two, the utopian society imagined by B.F. Skinner. Reading Skinner, I learned that positive reinforcement is a much more powerful tool for behavior change than punishment. I bought in. So as I work to continue improving, I want to pause for a little self-back-patting.

But there is also another reason to list these newly acquired habits. I need to remind myself that change is possible. Changes seem to come so slowly, after so many tries, that it’s easy to feel as though I’ll never improve. Stopping to reflect on achievements, even small ones, helps me keep striving to improve.

So, here’s my brag list. These are things I used to do less than 50% of the time, and now do over 90% of the time. These are small virtues. A large percentage of the population just does these things automatically. I can only say that I envy and admire you. In that order.

  • Flossing my teeth daily, even under the bridges
  • Making the bed first thing in the morning
  • Maintaining a sparkling toilet
  • Keeping the contents of my purse organized in pouches
  • Keeping my keys in the same place
  • Replacing my glasses (I use three different kinds) in their cases so I can find them
  • Waiting for my husband to finish fixing his cereal without nudging him out of the way to get at the spoon drawer
  • Getting some daily exercise
  • Keeping the living room within 10 minutes of “good-enough” company ready
  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Checking the calendar night and morning
  • Re-reading my emails before hitting “send”

OK, that’s my list. I would love to hear yours.

And for next week:

Eat breakfast at the table

*Here’s the incomparable Aretha singing “Accentuate the Positive”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w3AtKlY9oY