Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Getting A Little Older

I’m looking for the wise way, the third way, although mere cleverness is often enough. Now I’m learning by Braille, feeling my way through. I am coming into my kitty, napping, and knitting years with a tenderized heart. My edges have softened; I've lost boundary or two. Not everything that shows up or slows down is expected or intended.

I've left my hurry behind.

I've forgotten half of what I knew; now I'm not at all sure it was the right half. Body parts slide south at an alarming rate. The bright, shinny penny is just that—a penny. I'm more likely to be grumpy and less likely to be quiet about it. Things have to be simpler or I don't care.

Or I don’t get it.

What really matters to me—really matters. I'm still interested in politics. That requires some yelling at the television. I think my last blast was somewhere in the vicinity of “you slimy bastard.” Or “you egregious fruitcake.” Maybe there was a “You poopy-faced, doo-doo head.” That too. I don't know if the politicos are emotionally defective or if they are plainly nuts. Or I am.

I sort it out, but it doesn't stay sorted.

I'd always thought our last decades would be easier.

But I was wrong and how. I make things complicated; I interfere a little bit, I wing it instead of working on it. My needs are entirely different than the ones I had planned on. I stand mute with surprise, waiting for the chaos and the confusion to clear—and they don’t—always or entirely. I have my aging body and my usual mind, but I’m taking them places that require deep tissue adjustment.

It's a little bit past midnight. This would be terrifying, except that it is also
remarkably, resoundingly sweet. Go figure. 

There are no maps to safety.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Confessions of a Dismal Dieter

If God or your Mama didn't make it, leave it alone.

Controlling your weight is a good thing.  Losing a few pounds now and then is a joy. Getting back into your skinny jeans? True love.  But dieting, our national pastime, is big trouble.  Our hearts aren't the only thing that are heavy.

Here's why we worry about food  and diets.  In many instances, the research is incomplete or non-existent. We don't know what happens to us when we are on those untested regimes. You can trust programs like Weight Watchers, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, or Dr. Oz. But some diets are dangerous, difficult, or of dubious result.

So I've dieted, off and on, for 44 years, dieted my weight up to 210 pounds.  So you can see that I was dismal at it.  Since I've stopped dieting, I've lost about half of the weight I needed to lose. It took me two-and-a-half years.   I'm lighter than I've been in 20 years.  Go figure.

The goal was to learn how to eat in a reasonable, sustainable way that enhances health and life over a long period of time.

But here is the part I had to learn: we're hard-wired with spiritual, social, and familial needs and expectations that, sometimes, are satisfied only with food. Really good food.  Which is why it is so hard to lose weight. Most diets don't come close to addressing those ramifications, and our diets fail us when those needs aren't met.

It turns out that dieting is one way to be cruel to ourselves.  Starving ourselves is acceptable in our society—still mean, though.   

Just wanted the Brothers and Sisters to know.  

So, not everything out there is safe or sane: 

1.  Beware of faux foods. Sometimes the food industry produces foods that are chemical stand-ins for the real thing; fake foods. Often they are created and sold on the cheap.  Way cheap.  Those are awful.  They have a metallic or a citrus tang; or they might taste like cardboard.  They might be cardboard. Yogurt cups under 100 calories might not be yogurt at all. Orange drinks that aren't made from oranges; blueberry bits that are not blueberries; chicken nuggets without chicken. 
If you eat faux foods, you are not getting the nutritional profile you want and need. They can be calorie-laden or calorie-free, but they are questionable. We don't know what they might be doing to us. Eat real food. “Food is an important part of a balanced diet,” says Fran Lebowitz.  

2. Beware of foods that strip out all the calories.  A calorie won't hurt you.  It's the basic measurement of energy in food; we all require them, lots of them, actually. It's better to focus on getting the foods you need for high performance and then move or exercise more. 
Here's the nasty little secret: you gain back all the weight you lost, and a little more besides, if you lose weight on too few calories. When the body wants to eat, it wants to eat, especially after a period of starvation. There is little you can do about that. You think that you can, but you can't.  You will eat and eat all the wrong foods in the wrong amounts at the wrong times.  That's not as fun as you might think. 
What we need is a healthy, safe and sane approach. Michael Pollan believes, “High-quality food is better for your health.” Even if there are some calories attached to that. 

3. Beware of diets that leave out whole food groups.  If you leave out the sugar, you also leave out chocolate-more's the pity.  If you leave out all the carbs, entirely, you might not sleep—ever.  Or think.   Then there are the headaches. Moreover, your brain, which functions on carbohydrates, isn't being fed. You not only feel foggy, forgetful, and a little stupid, you are foggy, forgetful, and a little stupid. If you leave out meat, you leave out B vitamins, water-soluble vitamins that help with cell metabolism. You can see how that might be trouble. Food allergies are real, and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease have their antecedents in food.  And then there are moral questions asked by vegetarians. 
But here is the clincher, if you leave out a food group you have to find foods that replace the nourishment that you require. Some of those replacement “health” foods are dubious, both in taste and in nutritional content.  Turkey bacon?  Some people like it; I do not.  Calvin Trillin was not a fan of that strategy. “Health food makes me sick,” he said.
If you are worried about gluten, make sure you really do have an unhealthy reaction to it. Otherwise, you'll never get to eat a wonderful piece of bread again-food that has such deep, rich spiritual and cultural attachments.  Eat a gluten free diet for a couple of weeks, if you are worried, and see how you feel.  It might not make much of a difference. Only a few recent studies indicate gluten sensitivity might exist, but many physicians don't yet accept that it's real, and, further, there's no accepted medical test for it.  Of course, celiac disease is real and serious, and you need your doctor's help with that.

4. Beware of punitive attitudes toward sugar.  There are people who shouldn't have much sugar. True enough.  But white carbs are the terrorists of the moment. (It was cholesterol in the 1980s and that was a fizzle.)  And honestly, too much sugar impairs your health.  If you get up in the morning, drizzle a cup of syrup over your pancakes, have a sweet roll mid-morning, drink a high octane Coke at lunch, a candy bar for late afternoon break, and then a big dessert after dinner; you are over-doing the sugar, which might qualify as an addiction. 
But if you limit your sugar consumption to Christmas or Valentine's, for instance, maybe sprinkle in a couple birthdays, and then you have a gloriously festive treat on those days, chances are you won't be over-doing it.  You are putting a serious perimeter around the sugar, yet you are honoring and relishing the great cooks and the wondrous foods that make up our celebrations.   That makes enormous sense. 
Our matriarchs, and sometime patriarchs, bake desserts that are splendid, purely splendid; handmade treats that use ingredients we adore-that we recognize, that we know their histories and their neighborhoods. Butter.  (No longer the bad guy in the food world.)
No-sugar advocates lump the stuff you get at a cut-rate bakery in with your mama's apple pie or an exquisite piece of wedding cake.  Not the same; and not fair.  One feeds you; and one does not. Save your sweet calories for those truly magnificent gifts. Watch the portion size. “Never eat more than you can lift,” Miss Piggy advises. You'll be all right.

5. Beware of your hungers.  Our hungers are mysterious.  Oh, we're clear about cherries and mom's pot roast, but sometimes we're hungry late at night and we don't know what we are hungry for.  We're pretty sure, however, that it isn't in our fridge.  And it might not be. 
We have genuine hungers. We know what to do about that. ”Unlike curing cancer or heart disease, we already know how to beat hunger: food,” mused Mario Batali
But we also might be hungry for community, family, faith, friendship and romance, which all count here; we might be hungry for achievement that really matters to us; or we might be worried, distracted, aroused, or angry. We tend to soothe those feelings with high-caloric treats, setting us up for a weight gain and the problems that go with that.  
“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” the Psalms sing. That helps with every hunger more than you can imagine. We get shaky and needy, particularly if we haven't connected with God for a while. We all have adamant needs for the Numinous, for the Holy One, for Love.
We can figure out what we're hungry for, sometimes, by journaling, prayer, or by talking to good friends; but those issues might be trickier or deeper, hidden in the folds of some very bad business-perhaps addictions or abuse, bad bum luck, or wretched attitudes. Then we'll need a counselor to help with understanding, a pastor to help with forgiveness, and a dietician to help us sort it out, so that it stays sorted. 

Here's the Best I Can Do:  I eat high quality breakfasts and lunches with lots of veggies and fruits, whole grains, some protein. Snacks are usually yogurt or nut bars.  Then I enjoy a delicious, familiar, family dinner, with a serving of potato, rice, corn, or pasta, coming from within my own tradition.  That lovely food feeds all kinds of hungers. This is where foods begins to sooth and sustain people in healthy ways. Of course, fresh is best.  Of course, eating lightly is one of the ways we can very quickly and very dramatically feel better in a lot of instances.

An example, Hispanic families without grandma's tortillas are lost indeed. A family from the South requires grits, sometimes with collard greens and ham hocks.  My grandparents were Anabaptists, Church of the Brethren, cousins of the Amish or Mennonites. So, I require mashed potatoes, farm food of the most rustic sort. I try not to over-do the portions, or eat eleven of them. 
I cut the fats down; instead of a quarter cup of bacon drippings or butter in a recipe, I'll use a tablespoon.  The food still tastes wonderful, with the same yummy-nummy goodness, but it is lighter. I leave the fats in cakes and cookies, but I share them with as many people as I can find.  Turns out to be the same dynamic: I wind up eating not-so-very-much. 

Three years ago, I quit dieting.  And began these healthy practices, which included walks every day. I've lost 40 pounds.

What we really want to be is vital and strong, enjoy a reasonable weight, have a healthy relationship with food.  Trainer/coach, Reid Merrill, calls that his happy spot.  We want food that sustains the day, which comforts us, invigorates us, and delights us. We want to go for a walk. We want a home where people gather together and share wonderful food. Julia Child wrote, “Life itself is the proper binge.” 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kids and Cameras

So, I have an expensive camera, a gift of a good friend, who wanted a newer, smaller, smarter one.  I got the older, bigger, dumber variety.  Although now it's closing in on fifteen years old.  So I missed the precious,  precocious, all too delicate stages.

Last summer, on a fluke, on the way out the door to Vacation Bible School, I picked it up, thinking I could get some great photos of the kids for their parents.  Did that.   But here's what happened:  one of the kids, Cole,  asked me if he could shoot a few pictures.  I said sure, told him how to wait for a few seconds for the camera to focus, and off he went.   That started it.  All of the kids wanted a crack at the camera.  

The first thing that was clear to me was this:  the kids knew WAY more about how to use the camera, they were careful with it, they got great photos. always wore the strap about their neck, which supported the camera.  They took  really fun photos.  Probably because nobody posed for a dang-gone one of them.  So they were natural and graceful, beautiful.  

So I did it again this year, and last Saturday night night, there was another little guy, Mordecai, who was a little bit bored.  Handed him the camera.  He took over 250 photos, in about 20 minutes.

Very fun.  So, this is a photo of Mr. M.  I took it.  I told him to make a funny face.  He's such a sweet kid, this was as adventurous as he got.  That little look takes the heart.

This experience with kids and camera taught me a lot;  about the natural perfection of life, about spontaneous loveliness, about the great good of images, about letting the kids lead you.  Not every lesson is harsh, or takes a long time to learn,  or you have to do it the hard way.  Some things you learn for the purest pleasure of the thing. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Weird Animals

So, here was my mantra:  two little boys, six little girls, three older girls, another adult.  I said it every fifteen minutes,  for three hours a day, over four days.  My job?  Don't lose anybody. 

I was a team leader along with a dozen other adults. Every team had about 12-13 people. Last year we had about five kids, which is entirely manageable for one adult. I couldn't do it with twelve kids, so it was a good thing Lea was helping me. We had a special-needs sweet little girl and her nanny came with her—so two adults. Our other two older kids were more like leaders, huge amount of help with the little kids. We came through it fine. But I was one busy leader.  (Suzie W,  I do not know how you do it.  You have my total regard.)

Little kids have a lot of needs.  One of our little boys was terrified to the point of silence, the first part of the week.  First of the week, he needed to sit beside me the whole time.  It just wasn't safe anyplace else.  He needed massive assurance, mainly that we weren't going to leave him someplace or put him at risk of being bullied.  Somewhere in there, he figured out he could sit on my lap and so he did, for a couple of days.  By the end of the week, he was able to make friends and play with the other kids.  

Then our other little guy just needed love and attention and somebody to talk to, somebody to love.

The kids needed help with their snacks, with their crafts. They couldn't go get a drink of water or go to the bathroom without me, that was due to the fact that we have homeless people in our building sometimes. We didn't know everybody.

It was easy for a child to wander off.  That happened with another group.  The original leader snapped to the fact that one of our boys wasn't where he was supposed to be.  Twenty minutes of pure panic and a big search later.  They found him—with another group.  He just found someplace safe and stayed put.  

So, these photos.  I brought my old Pentax in with me on automatic settings and turned the camera over to the kids.  They took all these photos.  Good, huh?

So, weird animals. That was our theme, and here's how it worked out. Everybody is a little weird in their own special way. Everybody needs love and acceptance, some fun, some music, a snack, and an adult to watch over them, somebody that thinks the kids are God's prize. The kids were utterly at home with that message.