Friday, May 31, 2013

Beautiful Face...

My whole life I've heard "You have such a beautiful face." That's nice. Well... It's actually a sideways way of saying "If you weren't overweight I would just say 'You're beautiful'..." 

My husband and I are in the process of losing a good chunk of chunk. I'm very lucky to have someone that understands what I'm going through and can relate to how hard it can be. Recently I was looking at pictures of us in grade school and I was pretty skinny. Very tall and (through my adult eyes) proportionately, athletically built. I pointed to one picture of me wearing a pair of uniform shorts and remembered exactly how I felt in them - all leg (the fashion in the 70's included what I consider short shorts) and very different from the other girls I knew as I was developing a small waist, filled out hips, and a very full bra - and told A that I remember being REALLY self conscious then. Even back then, at height/weight proportionally average, I didn't like how I looked. I realized as I said that to him that for 30+ years, I have not been happy with my body. That's too long to dislike the one true constant in your life!

I actually think that around the time that picture was taken is about when I began to struggle with body image. I remember being told by trusted people - including family, teachers, coaches, friends and parents of friends - that I was "huge" and "fat" and all manner of other comments about my size. 

By 8th grade I was almost my full height of 5'10" and not what I'd call "petite" in terms of bone structure. My hands were big. My feet were big (size 9 by age 13 or so). I was a "big girl" (another euphemism for "fat" depending on who said it and why). My senior year in high school, despite having run, swam, and worked out all summer long, I was "welcomed" by a new soccer coach with some pretty unkind comments about my weight. It didn't matter to him that I'd been the starting varsity goalie since my freshman year and could run longer and further (maybe not faster) than many of the skinny girls on the team. 

Looking back I realize that if I were in a bigger grade school, I probably wouldn't have been as tall or taller than most of the boys in school much less towering over the girls. Maybe I wouldn't have felt so freakishly large at that age which then carried over into high school. 

It certainly didn't help to have people that I cared about make comments or jokes about my size and weight either. I can still remember one cutting remark that stung for years - I had just bought new jeans that I rather liked. Money was tight and getting new jeans was a big deal for me. The ink was barely dry on the receipt when a comment was slung at me that only fat people wear the same size waist as their inseam. At that time, I wore 32"x32" and felt again, freakishly out of proportion. (I'd be THRILLED to be a 32" waist again!)

For years different people tried to "help me lose weight" by commenting directly and indirectly about my size and assumptions they made about my lifestyle. That just made me more self-conscious about my weight and particularly what I was eating in front of people - especially those people who always seemed to be looking when I took a bite of anything. I remember visiting my grandparents and overhearing my grandfather tell my mom that she needed to "watch that one because she eats a lot of Baby Ruth's". (I hadn't once eaten a candy bar while visiting them and to this day won't eat a Baby Ruth.) I didn't feel accepted for who I really was - only judged by what I looked like. As stubborn as I am, I refused to give in to their perception of who I should be or would be or could be if only my ass were smaller. 

Some efforts in helping me lose weight were done in kind, caring ways - helpful suggestions (made in private), role modeling through their own struggle, visits to a nutritionist, asking me to be an exercise partner etc. Some were just mean-spirited. When I lived in California, I had put on some more weight (but really was only about 20lbs over my suggested weight range for my height and body type despite being super active and fit) and suddenly I started getting weight loss brochures mailed to me anonymously every other week or so. Yeah. That helped. (I finally figured out who that was - she was a holier-than-thou skinny bitch "friend" who thought anyone that even approaches ten pounds below their ideal weight is a tub of lard. She spent years on phen-fen even though she was rail skinny.)

Over the years I developed enough confidence in myself in other ways that I stopped paying attention to the scale, the mirror etc. But then one day I opened my eyes and realized that I wasn't living the life I wanted and THAT was the reason that I needed to tackle my weight issue. 

I tried a variety of approaches - work out like mad but not change my eating, eat like a bird and work out moderately, veggies only, meat only, low-carb, no sugar etc. I had varying results but always gained the weight back plus some when I "quit" the diet. I never talked to anyone about it because it felt like a really personal struggle and I'd been judged enough - I didn't need more disappointed looks if I didn't succeed. 

About three years ago after losing control of my body for a while due to infertility, a blood clot, and a bad back, I woke up one morning and said "Enough is enough!" It was a few weeks before Christmas and I decided not to try to lose weight before the holidays but just be more conscious of what I was eating. By the time I really started my weight loss plan in the second week of January, I had lost six pounds with virtually no effort! I could DO it this time - I was SURE of it!

Over the next four months I lost 40lbs fairly easily through diet and exercise. Then I lost 20lbs more over the next 4-5 months very very slowly. I couldn't quite get the right mixture of calories to exercise to steadily lose weight and after almost a year of calorie counting I decided to give myself a break and stop focusing on it. I was still exercising thereby keeping that lost weight off until an old hip injury became so aggravated that I needed surgery. That threw me all off! After the surgery I couldn't exercise for months and even after I could start again, I couldn't do the things I had done before. My weight started to creep back up. 

Meanwhile my husband's starts and stops at weight loss and management had frustrated him beyond words. He had all but given up and I was scared for his life. Having lost my brother in-law to a heart attack at the age of 40, that reality is never far from my mind. 

About nine months ago A started a program that initially seemed to work well for him but then stalled. It was supposed to be medically guided but really they just wanted to charge him a ton of money every other week for crap food and then told him to snack on peppermint patties when he had cravings... Yeah. Helpful. 

In January of this year my friend posted a picture of herself on Facebook and she looked incredible! She's always been beautiful but she seemed to have dealt with her excess weight overnight. I had just seen her six months or so before and we had talked about our struggles with weight issues - we've known each other since high school and are built similarly in that we are both heavier in the hips and thighs and smaller up top. Seeing her success, I asked her for information. 

She had successfully lost 47lbs in four months doing the Ideal Protein diet and was just beginning the maintenance phase. I was impressed and started immediately. I lost nine pounds the first week and have steadily lost 2-4 pounds each week since then. Seeing my success, A started the program two weeks later and lost 13 pounds the first week and (when he gets enough sleep) loses 5-7 pounds regularly. In 3.5 months I've lost 48lbs and A has lost 68lbs in 3 months. 

We feel great, have more energy and are doing things we haven't done in a while and loving it. So far so good but we both still have a ways to go. 

But as I look down the road to "getting off the diet" I know that I have to continue to address those feelings that I've had my whole life regarding weight and food and guilt etc. I realize that I've actually had a good model for how to deal with some of it for many years - my mom. 

Mom is a recovering alcoholic (it's funny to saying recoverING instead of recoverED because it's been about 25 years since she last drank) and one of her greatest tools is to talk about it. She talks about if/when she wants to drink or would have turned to drinking in the past and she talks about her sobriety. It's occasionally embarrassing for her kids/grand kids but it's part of her journey. 

And Mom models self-forgiveness, one day at a time, moving forward, and counting daily blessings. All great tools to  staying food-sober in a world of temptations. 

So A and I have peeled back the curtain on our weight struggles and invited everyone that loves us or cares about us in. We aren't looking for validation or assurances but knowing that others are rooting for you and willing to support you no matter what you are struggling with makes you stronger. As we make the transition back eating off the diet, that support will be really helpful. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I like to ride my bicycle. I like to ride my bike!

When I was a kid, whenever we rode our bikes on Cape Cod or in Maine, my dad would sing the Queen song (with modifications) "I like to ride my tricycle. I like to ride my trike. I like to ride my tricycle anywhere I like." I had no idea how cutting edge his musical repertoire was at the time...

A few days ago my new super health-conscious doctor (unlike our old primary care physician who a) Tried to throw antibiotics at everything and b) was more interested in serving his meth clinic clients than actually proactively discussing our health with us) told me that he wanted me to get more aerobic exercise (which has been a challenge due to the ole hip injury). I said "I've been thinking about getting a bike." And he said "Do it!" And as I was going over my paperwork on the way out, I saw that in the prescription notes he had written: "Get a bike!" How can you argue with with that?

So today I managed to get into the bike shop and after waiting around for "the guy" for quite a while, I figured out quickly why he's "the guy"... He knows his stuff and he knows his inventory. He listened to my quick (vague) self-description: "I'm not a mountain biker but I'll never be a road cyclist. I'm tall and hate to hunch over. I don't want my butt to hurt." He asked if I wanted new or used and I said I wanted the right bike at the right price. Somehow with all of that... ahem... clarity... He said "I've got the right bike for you." 

Off he went to the nearby warehouse and back he came with the perfect bike for me! It's a hybrid bike that I can ride on the road and on trails (not crazy mountain trails...). It's a big enough frame that I don't have to hunch over. He took the wedgie-maker seat off and put on a squishy seat.  It's got 21 speeds so I can push it hard or not. And it's used and under the budget I had in mind! After a ten minute test ride (where I even dropped the chain by stupidly cross-shifting but was able to fix it quickly) I was sold!

So... Tomorrow we will go pick it up and after A dusts off his bike and we pick up a couple of new helmets, tomorrow afternoon we will go for a ride. I can't wait!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Half-assed Gardener...

My mom is the real gardener in the family followed closely by two of my sisters. I've faked it for years - some years I'm more convincing than others but the reality is that I'm dependent on the plastic inserts, the Internet, or the dozens of gardening books on my shelf in order to potentially keep things alive. 

When we moved into this house, the gardens were pretty established and I did my best to maintain them. With everything else going on in life, they got more than a little unruly at times and one of them became infested with a weed that was SO invasive that after trying EVERYTHING I could find (vinegar, vinegar/salt/dish soap, weeding, black cloth, newspaper, digging below the roots etc) I finally had to resort to the one thing I absolutely HATE... Round-up. I had to though. It had gone from one little garden three years ago to taking over that entire garden plus two more large beds and the entire compost pile (I didn't spray the compost pile with Round-up). None of the local "real gardeners" know what it is or where it came from so I was on my own. 

I digress. 

This year is different. The large projects that have been distracting me for the past few years are done. I feel hopeful about the completion of our back yard. I'm ready to be a gardener again!

I am of the mind that if something doesn't appeal to you and it's in the way, pull it out. You can try to relocate it if there is a better place but anything in the wrong place needs to go. I put this philosophy into action two years ago when I (gasp!) cut down the wisteria that covered the pergola on the back side of the living room. When it bloomed, it was gorgeous but most of the year it was a dark shadow in the living room and often wound its tendrils under the shingles on the roof. It had to go so I cut it back to the massive roots. It still comes up but I cut it back. I'm hoping to build a bower somewhere and relocate the new growth to the bower where shade and shingles aren't an issue. 

I also have been studying about plants that are good for repelling mosquitoes and ants. I have planted several of these plants in a new large perennial bed next to the patio. I have
also begun playing with container gardening and have thyme, basil, lemon grass, lemon balm, and lavender in containers that I can move around the patio for the best sun exposure. I may even add a pepper plant or two to some containers to see how I fare with that method. My goal for the summer/fall/winter is to build a vertical herb garden on the new fence that gets plenty of sun, is pleasing to look at, and doesn't take up a lot of ground space. 

Maybe next year I will get back to full-on veggie gardening but for now, I've figured out how to adjust my sights and not be overwhelmed and feel like I HAVE to be in the garden. 

I'm finally having fun with gardening again!

By the way... Except for two hanging baskets, my entire $100 budget for new plants has been spent on perennials. I buy them from local gardeners thinning their gardens or wait till they go on sale at my local greenhouse. I just can't understand spending hundreds of dollars on annuals!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Until We Meet Again...

There are times that my life on Cape Cod feels very disconnected from the dear friends that I have made from all over the country. And then there are times when a weekend is so packed with those dear friends that it carries me through the next bout of loneliness until we meet again.  

This weekend was a rare treat. My dear friend and her wonderful husband and darling girls came for a visit from Maine. We had the joy of the four of them for Friday night and Saturday. Together we put flags on the graves of veterans at the National
Cemetery in Bourne followed by a trip to my friend's farm in Harwich to play with the chickens, goats and horses. Then we had the girls (4 & 7) to ourselves so Mama and Daddy could celebrate his birthday with a getaway in Boston. Staying with us alone was a first for the girls but we had a grand time! We painted flower pots, played with the dogs, ate ice cream, read oodles of silly Shel Silverstein poems, and snuggled in the big bed with the two dogs all night (A had to work overnight so it was just us girls). The next day we dropped them off
with their parents and continued into the city to meet more of our great friends from New Hampshire and Maine and all of their delightful kids at the Red Sox game. 

My other dear college friend's oldest son (17) was receiving a scholarship from the Red Sox Foundation which was being awarded at the game. Several of us bought tickets and as a surprise we had t-shirts made to show our support. Not only did we have the joy of celebrating his achievement, we also were treated to an amazing game where the Red Sox came from behind in the 9th inning and won with a bases loaded walk-off home run! It was fantastic!

We all enjoyed a meal together afterward and travelled home with big grins on our faces from the joy our friendships bring us.

The last day of our Memorial Day weekend was quiet with A and I both home. After the usual trip to Home Depot (to buy the LAST five gallons of stain for the fence) we built our first fire in our new fire pit and settled in beside it to eat dinner. As we were sitting there enjoying the peace, we heard the soft sound of "Taps" being played in the distance at sunset. We don't know where it came from but it was a lovely way to end a day of remembrance for those who gave all for this great country we call home.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Countdown in Motion...

We set the date of Memorial Day to have all of our (major) outdoor projects done. To solidify the date, I scheduled a patio-warming party for the following weekend. (Nothing like the arrival of guests to keep your nose to the grindstone! :-)) Three weeks ago we sat in front of the project board (yes... We have a dry erase board on the inside of our basement stair door that lists all of the things that need doing around here) and listed everything that we need to do and prioritized it. It was a daunting list! 

A week ago I began to think that we were not going to make it and we would either have to stick to our "no projects after Memorial Day" and suffer through the summer with unfinished things staring us in the face (something I'm not sure I could handle) or spill over into the summer doing projects. Either way was going to be a disappointment. 

So, while A was at work, I put on my tool belt and tackled what I could! 

I'm still not entirely confident with construction projects but I figured that I could handle building one of the sets of stairs from the patio to the living room since we had bought the perfect height pre-cut  stair stringers. (Honestly... calculating the rise and run to cut these things myself would have taken days and several board feet of wasted lumber before I got it right - pre-cut is the way to go!) I had built a set of exterior stairs on our VT house but in truth had not done an excellent job of footing them. The house was being sold and I rushed it so instead of pouring a concrete footing or slab, I used large flat rocks. I have no idea if they settled or not as the house sold within a few weeks of building them. 

This time I had the patio as the footing so I knew that wasn't an issue. But the patio has a rise and run of its own for drainage so I was hoping my stairs wouldn't end up sloping away. They didn't. Any appearance that they do is actually an optical illusion (thank goodness!). 

Once I rounded up all of the necessary tools, screws etc, it didn't take long to at last have three 47" wide steps leading down from the living room to the patio!

I also tackled customizing our gate. Several months ago we built a gate on the other side of the house with waves at the top and marbles drilled into it. I wanted a matching wave gate for the side entry onto the patio so I headed to the workshop again and dug out the handheld jig saw and the power sander. I had already assembled the gate the week before under the helpful eye of my husband (to guide me) so it was just a matter of drawing the pattern on the top edge of the gate, cutting it and re-staining it. Voila! Done!

I also stained the living room door before getting started on preparing the 19 panels of stockade for installation. 

We had the bright idea that setting all of the panels flat on the yard would make it "easy" to just roll on the stain. Seven hours, six gallons of stain, four roller pads, one fiberglass sliver and two aching shoulders, and 19 front side only panels later, I was done. It was grueling! We only did the front side as they face the neighbor's yard and he's got three huge mastiffs that I don't need to help me while staining a fence so we did it pre-installation. 

A and I both took Monday off so we could build the fence in one shot. With our two dogs and their three dogs, containment was an issue. We rented a power post hole digger ($55/day) which is worth it at twice the price! We got going early as I was supposed to leave for a meeting at 1pm but thankfully that was cancelled and we pushed through with the help of our neighbor and got it all done by about 2:30pm. Phew! Now we just need to stain our side of it... 

I had also taken Tuesday off thinking we might need two days to complete the fence. A had to work so I spent the day cleaning up the debris of the old fence. One trip to the transfer station with the pressure treated wood, dozens of trips to the burn pile with everything burnable, organizing of reusable lumber (I have plans to build a potting table, an outdoor bar/serving table, and some shelves with the salvageable old fence material), and general tidying of the yard is how I spent the day... Then A came home and built the second set of stairs from the patio to the new French doors leading into the kitchen while I cooked dinner and melted into a chair watching him. (I was exhausted!)

These were the major construction projects needing to get done and with them complete, I can now see the possibility of completing almost everything by our target date. Of course we made an overly ambitious list so there are smaller things on there that we'd LIKE to do now but are really more realistic for the fall... But that's okay.

And now it's been raining for days so we haven't even sat out and enjoyed the patio! We scarfed down quick dinners out there mostly because we were too dirty to be inside but the evening of dinner by the fire pit is yet to come. Soon!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Finally done...

The "Great Patio Debacle" is done! Yep, done. And it only took just over a year to do! Well, it was a year filled with unpredictable schedules, hip surgery, travel, distractions, weird weather and a fair amount of project weariness (something I think any Do-It-Yourselfer homeowner could convince a doctor to register as a real diagnosis). And although it's almost exactly one year past  it's original planned completion date, we are thrilled that it's finally done. 

Recently I sent some photos to my mom who replied by asking what the composition was. I didn't know what she was asking but a portion of my response is below which sums up the past year with this flipping project. 

"I'm not sure what you mean by "composition" - do you mean how we built the patio? Blood, sweat, tears, cursing, reconfiguring, digging, cajoling, rental of heavy equipment, favors from friends, patience, impatience, did I mention cursing??? It was a major component. The project was brutal and we will never EVER build another one! Of course... It's 600 square feet... A tad ridiculously large to build ourselves but we are excited to have the space!"

Of course last week when we had our house appraised (and it actually came in for more than we paid for it - yahoo!!!) the appraiser photographed the new patio but said he might have to take more pictures once the steps from the patio up to the French doors are in. Oh. Steps. Right. We haven't had steps on that side of the house for so long that we'd kind of forgotten how important they are. 

So, minus the steps and plus the fire pit (the steps will go quickly once we decide exactly what we want), the patio is done.
Top view before mortar

Base view before top edge added


Now we just have to host a shindig to scuff the excess mortar off the patio tiles. Nobody will even notice it while bellying up to the pit to toast a marshmallow or two!


Monday, May 6, 2013

Can't Protect Your Kids From Life... Or Death

If it were up to me, kids would no longer fall into the "kid" category by the time they have to deal with their first human death up close and personal - they would be adults with some life experience and perspective. Animal deaths are hard enough and, in my opinion, plenty hard enough to learn some of life's unfair lessons.

This week we recognized the tenth anniversary of my brother in-law's extremely untimely passing. He was 40 years old when he died of a major heart attack in his home at night while my sister and his two youngest sons slept upstairs. His six year old found him in the morning and knew immediately that something was very wrong. Ten years later both boys have grown into amazing, strong, well-rounded young men but I can't help but wonder how the loss of their father has changed them and the lives of their older half brothers. It certainly changed the course of the younger boys' lives - they moved to CT from CA months after their dad's passing and life is completely different for them but knowing how they've been shaped mentally and emotionally is considerably more difficult.

On the same day that we marked ten years since Tom's death, my stepson faced tragedy with his own friend whose name happens to be Tom. Tom's mother suffered a massive brain bleed and was pronounced brain dead after a thorough work up at the hospital in Boston. My step-son, Tom's best friend, was asked to drive Tom and his mom's boyfriend from Cape Cod to Boston as they were understandably too upset to drive. Since his mother had not re-married and Tom is 19, he was designated as the next of kin and had to make the ultimate decision to terminate life support, donate organs, make funeral arrangements etc. What a horrendous position for a child to be in especially when grieving the loss of his mother!

As parents, we are proud of J for standing by his friend through this difficult time without even considering bailing on him. At 19, it's hard to know what to say to a friend that has suffered such loss and even harder to go through it by his side. As parents, we also know that J grew up in some significant ways in the past few days... Ways you don't necessarily want to rush on your child no matter what.