Monday, March 31, 2014

Good news at last!

I had a busy morning, medically speaking.  I had two doctor's appointments -- one with my GP and one with a gastroenterologist whom I'd seen in October because my liver enzymes were elevated.  I have a sinus infection (which is NOT the good news) and was prescribed antibiotics (which WILL be good news in a couple of days).  But the real, here-and-now good news is that I asked my GP how my weight this time compared to my weight last time I saw her -- I've lost 20 pounds!  Shocking, I know.  But hooray for me!  The gastroenterologist also had good news -- my liver enzymes, while still higher than they should be, have come down significantly.  They still have a way to go before they are in the normal range, but he said that he was proud of me and that he is not worried about the numbers.

And, something I just kind of realized over the last week -- I've gone down a pants size (hooray, except that I bought a pair of pants last week in the larger size and now have to constantly hitch them up) and I realized when I was at Great Wolf that my bathing suit from last year is now a little roomy on me.  

Hooray!  Calloo Callay!  

We have to take these little victories as they come.  Onward!

On a completely different note -- last week, on a cold and rainy day, I was led through the rabbit-hole of the internet to a YouTube video of a 1933 movie called The Story of Temple Drake.  I watched the whole thing, in eight parts, and it was really very interesting. And I was SURE that this story was familiar to me.  Imagine my surprise when a little further research revealed that this film is based on William Faulkner's novel, Sanctuary.  The movie is a pot-boiler but, then again, so is the novel, which I promptly checked out of the library.  I haven't read Faulkner in 20-odd years.  I just love the first paragraph:

From beyond the screen of bushes which surrounded the stream, Popeye watched the man drinking.  A faint path led from the road to the spring.  Popeye watched the man -- a tall, thin man, hatless, in worn gray flannel trousers and carrying a tweed coat over his arm -- emerge from the path and kneel to drink from the spring.

Who is Popeye?  What's he doing in the woods?  Who is the man.  Why is he hatless?  Where is he going?  

Love it, love it, love it, especially on the heels of Faulkner's fantastic introduction, in which he says, 

This book was written three years ago.  To me, it is a cheap idea, because it was deliberately conceived to make money.  I had been writing books for about five years, which got published and not bought.  But that was all right.  I was young then and hard-bellied.  I had never lived among nor known people who wrote novels and stories and I suppose I did not know people got money for them.  I was not very much annoyed when publishers refused the mss. now and then.  Because I was hard-gutted then.  I could do a lot of things that could earn what little money I needed, thanks to my father's unfailing kindness which supplied me with bread at need despite the outrage to his principles at having been of a bum progenitive.  

Oh my gosh, I love it so much:  "of a bum progentive."  Faulkner protests a bit too much, I think -- the Introduction seems to me to be a way that he can disavow the unsavory subject matter and still tell a good story.  I'm in the early pages yet -- I can't remember if I read this during my class with Dr. Bradford on Faulkner.  But I'm reading it now.  Hooray, again!

Some successes, some failures...

So, the successes --

  • At the beginning of the week last week, I weighed in at the lowest weight I've seen in a long time.  That was good.  
  • We went with the Chickadees to the really fun, really kid-centric Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA.  
  • We were upgraded to a Majestic Bear Suite™ (FOR FREE -- so exciting, I never get anything for free!) and, after the Chickadees were safely asleep in the master bedroom with a closed door between them and us, my husband and I looked at each other and asserted that we could definitely learn to live that way.  No more lying still as statues in a dark, unfamiliar hotel room, willing the children to even out their breathing to the rhythmic "I Am Asleep" mode that every parent so longs for at the end of a stressful day of driving.  It was GLORIOUS.  
  • This is our third time at Great Wolf Lodge, and it's a lot of fun.  But it's a lot more fun when you can actually participate in the fun things.  This is part of message I sent to my yoga instructor earlier today explaining why I wouldn't be at yoga for the second week in a row:
Last week I was speeding down a water slide, this week I'm taking Chickadee #2 to the doctor. So from the sublime to the mundane in one easy week. I also wanted to tell you how absolutely grateful I am to you and to yoga. My experience of Great Wolf this time was so different than the previous times that I went it can't even be compared.  I had so much more flexibility  and mobility, it was wonderful. I was actually able to play with my children and do some really fun things, so thank you very much.
And the failures --

  • Instead of dinner one night, I had a cup of coffee and a piece of coconut cream pie from Silver Diner (this was on our way to Williamsburg -- it was snowing and I was stressed out to the nth degree, but still -- ridiculous).
  • I still haven't gotten my husband to adjust the bolt on the bike I bought so I haven't been able to ride it.  I'll have to make that job number one now that IT'S STOPPED SNOWING (we had snow last night, on March 30th).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lunch with Friends

Fried fish. Yum.  But I had the salad instead of the fries.  happy day.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


After Easter and Christmas, Ash Wednesday is my favorite religious holiday.  There is just something so beautiful about all the people who come and allow themselves to be publicly signed as sinners in need of God's abundant grace.  The solemn procession of quiet souls proclaims their need for God's healing; together they are embarking on journey of grace.  I watch the faces, the downcast eyes, the clasped hands, and I wonder what they are seeking.  I wonder why they bother to come at all, because aren't we told repeatedly that there are no real sins -- just 'misunderstandings' and 'not living up to our potential' and 'unrealistic expectations'.  

Today, I had a great opportunity to observe the flow of penitents as I was seated behind the altar rail after having proclaimed the second reading at mass.  It's from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians.  It says, in part, that now is a very acceptable time [to turn to the Lord].  Now is the day of salvation.  Fr. Michael's sermon really touched me.  He was teaching about the meaning of Lent as a time of preparation, a time to turn to the Lord and give him your burdens, especially your burdens of grudges and anger and sinfulness.  He said we should think of Lent as spring training for the soul, but the habits we practice should be carried forth throughout the year  -- we need to persevere in holiness, not just try it on for six weeks or so.

That really hit home for me -- both my reading and Fr. Michael's sermon.  Not an hour earlier, I'd sent this slightly duplicitous email to my nutritionist's office: 

I need to cancel this appointment for now.  Something has come up for work.  I will call to reschedule.

Followed by the second slightly duplicitous email:

Thank you so much!  Sorry about that -- just need to take care of something sooner rather than later.  :-)

It's slightly duplicitous in that, yes, I do have tasks I need to take care of for work, but this is not the overwhelming reason I cancelled.

I cancelled because I wanted to give up.  I cancelled because I'm frustrated.  I cancelled because I'm ashamed.  I'm treading water.  I'm not losing weight.  I don't feel well.  And in this great ball of goo and angry feelings, I just couldn't face my lovely nutritionist, whose good opinion I want and who is so SURE that, if I do all the things I'm supposed to do, I'll get healthy, lose weight, be happier with myself.  

My experience over the past several years with this weight loss thing is not one of success, it's one of failure.  It's one of sadness, frustration, and excuses.  It's one of half-hearted mad schemes and the decision to not decide.  It's one of hopes dashed and self-hatred. It's one of joining the gym and feeling really good, and then just stopping because life is just too complicated for one reason or another.  It's one of following Weight Watchers, Made to Crave, Curves Complete, Medifast, but always with the underlying, a priori belief that this is not going to 'work', that I can't 'do it right'.  It's one of fear and a semi-acknowledged dread that, no matter what, this is the body I'm burdened with, this is what it's going to be like forever.  And, given my natural proclivities, I then seem to "check out" of my body altogether.   I stop paying attention to basic things like hydration, like exercise, like sleep, like diet, and I live in my head, where it's much more pleasant and where I actually like what I experience.  I'm happy with the thoughts I think; I'm happy with the feelings I have for other people; I'm happy with my imagination.  And then I get resentful when reality crashes in and I start the cycle again.

And into all this bad feeling, comes the Lord, telling me that NOW is an acceptable time.  NOW is the day of salvation.  In other words, get off your ass.  What the hell are you waiting for?  Are you like the Pharisees who won't believe in what I'm saying until they see me coming on a cloud?  Are you waiting for the Second Coming to perfect you?  Remember, God helps those who help themselves.

And into all this bad feeling, comes Fr. Michael, telling me to persevere.  I'm a great attempter.  I try hard, but I don't have staying power.  Fr. Michael is telling me that this is not good enough.  Bodily discipline is like spiritual discipline.  No amount of imagination is going to remove the necessity of actually DOING the right things and making the right choices.  

Recently, on another matter entirely, I had a breakthrough realization.  For years, I'd been trying to fit my behavior in a particular area into the expectations of someone else.  For years, I'd have strong starts, fallings away and half-executed tasks, then fits of guilt, followed by renewed attempts at following the path laid down by someone else. All it left me feeling was inadequate, and angry, and like a failure.  So, I would avoid, avoid, avoid.  Through a lot of work, this other person and I developed a new modus operandi where both of us were able to do what we needed to do and get what we needed out of the situation.  And it's so much better, and it's working for both of us.

I see so clearly that THIS is exactly the issue I'm having with weight loss.  It's the same pattern. The same feelings of inadequacy and anger and the same behaviors of avoidance and resentment.  But I don't know what to do to get in touch with the new modus operandi in this case.  I need something that works FOR ME, not for anyone else. I need something that honors my ways of doing things, as idiosyncratic as they are.  

I know that, whatever this way of doing things turns into, it will start with love, because that is what motivates me.  

For example, I LOVE going to yoga.  I LOVE feeling strong.  I LOVE the improvement I've seen over the past year in almost every aspect of the pain I feel and the flexibility and strength that I have.  

For example, I LOVE planning meals for my family.  It's an expression of love and creativity.  I love cooking and sitting down to dinner with them.  So I need to make sure that my cooking can be done in an optimal way, not just shoved in between helping with homework and doing the supper dishes.  

So, this is where I am right now.  It's not good, but there is a lot of 'head work' and 'heart work' going on right now.  The forty days of Lent are upon us.  

Please note that I've forsworn Facebook during Lent, which is normally the way I signal that I have a new post up.  Be sure to check back directly here, rather than FB, between now and Easter to see if I've made any progress in figuring this all out :-).  And please do leave me comments.  Many prayers for a spiritually-enriched Lenten practice and a blessed Easter to everyone.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Showing My Disney Side

I have LOTS to catch up on, but I'll start with the fun stuff first...

Yesterday, I hosted my Disney Side @ Home party. We had a blast.  I used the table coverings, mobiles,and balloons provided in the kit Disney sent to decorate.  And not having to worry about remembering plates, cups, and napkins was really a good thing.  (I usually forget at least one of those plus something else -- yesterday, it was just the ice that I forgot!)

Chickadee #1 had a great time helping me create scrolls which outlined our menu and our activities:

We had a great time using the cookie cutters in the party kit to make Jello Jigglers and gluten free chocolate chip cookie bars (thanks, Betty Crocker, for the mix).

My mom suggested that the perfect '70s party food was pigs in a blanket, so I made a heap of those, which were a big hit with the younger crowd.

Once everyone had arrived, we started right in on our activities.  While I'm not a huge fan of the more conventional, princess-colored side of Disney, I recognize that there is something that Disney does better than anyone else in the current entertainment culture:  understanding narrative and telling good stories.  Walt Disney really celebrated imagination and ingenuity as well, so those are the elements that I wanted to emphasize in my Disney Side party.

Disney Loves Good Stories:  
From the Hamlet-like elements in The Lion King to the magic of Peter Pan or the wonderful delicacy of Bambi, Disney recognizes what moves a story forward.  The rides at Walt Disney World are another great example of this.  When we went with the Chickadees a few years ago, #1 and I waited in line for a long time at Kali River Rapids. It was hard for a six year old to wait.  But the way the Imagineers had staged the waiting area made it fun. There so much to see and talk about, and as you walked along, you began to imagine ever more strongly that you were somewhere in the Himalayas, getting ready for an adventure.

In homage to this storytelling genius,  I decided to choose a really important, really good, and very visual story -- Dante Alighere's The Divine Comedy. My version for kids is here.

Afterwards, I unfurled a roll of paper that I'd marked into blocks and worked with the kids to figure out what happened in the story sequentially.  I labeled each block and then the kids started to draw the scene.  It was amazing how much detail even the little kids remembered.  And I got to indulge my literature loving self and make kids listen to a classic story, all at the same time.  A win-win situation.

Disney Builds Cool Stuff:

That soon descended into chaos, so we moved on to the next activity.  I'd had the chickadees separate into categories all our building toys -- Legos, Tinkertoys, and GoldieBlox components.  I explained to the kids what Disney Imagineers do and asked them to build a prototype ride that you might find at Walt Disney World.  Then I let them have at it -- some of the contraptions owed more to Rube Goldberg than Walt Disney, but the kids had a blast.

And then we ate creatively presented food*:

Finally, we repaired upstairs for some yummy refreshments.

I'd have to say that, hands down, the favorite item was made of Jello.

*This is supposed to be a fish with bubbles swimming through a bunch of coral.  Supposed to be.

All in all, it was a really fun and exciting day for everyone.  Thanks to Disney for providing such a great opportunity and all the great "party-in-a-box" items.  Everyone loved their prints and their photo cards, too, which I gave away as people were leaving.

This picture is too cute not to include.

But, for my family, perhaps the most loved part of a day filled with loved activities and friends came after everyone had left and we had cleaned up and had dinner.  One of my favorite things as a child was "The Wonderful World of Walt Disney," a Sunday fixture in our home.  I loved the way each program was introduced by Walt Disney himself, from his extremely 60s office.  I had rented from Amazon Prime The Best of Walt Disney's True Life Adventures with the idea that the crowd could watch part of it if things got boring.  Of course, we ran out of time, so our little family repaired downstairs and watched it.  The best part?  Chickadee #1 entranced, laughing at all the right parts, flinching when called for, completely engrossed.

And Chickadee #2, turning to us and saying, "Mommy and Daddy.  I LOVE our family.  This is what all decent families should do -- spend time together."

Joy, oh joy.

NOTE:  I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebration.  Nevertheless, all the opinions expressed here are my own.

Divine Comedy for Kids

One of the first steps in making any movie is to create a storyboard.  Do you know what that is?  No?  It’s a way that Disney storytellers figure out how to tell their story.  It’s kind of like an outline made with pictures – a map of the story. 

So, in this activity, we are going to make a storyboard. The first step is to know the story you want to tell.  For Disney storytellers, they use a lot of different sources for their stories. For example, Mulan is based on a Chinese legend.  Cinderella is based on a story called Cendrillon. Pocohontas is loosely based on real people from history.

Do you want to know the story you guys are going to base your storyboard on? 

It’s a very famous story that was written as a poem.  It is called The Divine Comedy and it was written in the Middle Ages by a man named Dante Aligheri.

In the story, Dante tells about a dream he had about what happens after we die.  You guys all know that God wants us to be good so that we can be with him forever in heaven, right?  Well, Dante tells the story of what happens to people who are super bad on purpose, people who tried hard to be good but didn’t always succeed 100%, and people who were so good in this life that they went straight to heaven. 

It’s important to remember that this story is just made up – it talks about real places like heaven, hell, and purgatory, but no one really knows what those places are like.  So this is just story, not like a newspaper account.  

So, are you ready to hear?  As I’m telling you this story, I want to you use your imaginations to figure out what the different scenes might look like and try to remember what you imagine for later… Okay?

A long time ago, a man named Dante fell asleep and had a wonderful but mysterious dream.  Dante was very sad because he had been sent away from his home as a punishment for not supporting the king.  He was very lonely and poor and he missed his family.  He also really missed a girl that he used to love.  Her name was Beatrice and she had died at a young age.  Dante thought about her a lot and missed her very much. 

In his dream, Dante was walking in a dark and scary forest. There was no path for him to follow.  Finally, after struggling and pushing his way through thorns and tripping over roots and stones, Dante finally came to the edge of the forest. He was at the bottom of a high mountain and the sun was shining down.  He wanted to climb to the top very badly so he started to climb. 
But, uh oh, guess what?  He had not climbed very far when he saw a beautiful leopard.  No matter which way he turned, the leopard was there, preventing him from climbing up any higher.  Once again he tried.  This time, a scary lion was blocking his path and stopping him from going forward.  Next, he saw a thin grey mother wolf  right behind the lion. Together, the animals forced Dante back to the edge of the woods.  He was very sad.  he didn’t think he’d ever reach the sunlight.

All of a sudden, Dante saw a man walking toward him.  He said his name was Virgil, a famous poet from ancient Rome.  Dante was very happy because he had read and loved Virgil’s poetry so he was not afraid.  Virgil would be his guide out of the dark woods on a path that led through Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory), and finally to Paradiso (heaven).

Dante followed Virgil to a huge gate, the gate of hell.  It had words written at the top, “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.”  Dante was afraid and didn’t want to go through, but Virgil told him that, no matter what he saw, nothing there could hurt him and that he just had to trust in God  So, Dante had courage and followed Virgil.  He saw many sad things there, people who had done things which told God that they didn’t want to be with him – things like hurting other people or themselves, being greedy or violent, or being liars or traitors to their country.  The worst was at the very center of hell, which Dante described as being covered in ice. Here were the two most terrible traitors – Judas who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and Lucifer, who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven.  Dante saw that they were covered in ice because they were so far away from God’s love.  And boy, was he happy to get out of there!

Next, Virgil took Dante to the bottom of a very tall mountain.  The mountain spiraled up and up, wide at the bottom, narrow at the top.  Dante saw a large group of people walking around the mountain from one level to another.  The mountain was the mount of Purgatory, where the souls who had tried very hard in their lives to follow God’s laws and to love him, one another, and themselves were journeying closer and closer to God.  Remember that the gates of hell had the words “Abandon hope, all you who enter here”?  Well, in Purgatory, it was the exact opposite.  Purgatory was all about hope – because everyone was getting closer and closer to God.  As they moved through Purgatory, they would be cleansed of everything that was not good or beautiful, everything that was not like God.    

In all the spirits of people moving up the mountain, Dante recognized kings, noblemen, artists, and poor people. The thing they all had in common was that, as they made their way up the mountain, they were cleansed of all the sins like pride, or jealousy, or rage, or greed.  The two friends made their way up and up and up to the very top of Mount Purgatory.

Finally, they came to the very edge of Paradiso, or heaven.  Here, Dante met his beloved lady, Beatrice, and she was so beautiful and good that he cried with happiness.  But his tears soon changed because he remembered that, after she had died, he had not always been a good person.  As he remembered the bad things he had done, he was ashamed.  Beatrice told him to go and wash himself in the waters of the river Lethe.  He had already been cleansed of these bad things in Purgatory, the river would make him forget about his sins like God forgets ours when we repent.  Then he washed in the river Eunce and could only remember the good things he had done on earth.  Now Dante was ready to enter Paradiso.

Paradiso was really hard for Dante to describe – it was so beautiful and wonderful that human words are not really enough to talk about it.  But, the important thing to remember is that everything pointed toward God.  Everyone who was there was totally focused on God and his wonderful beauty and goodness.  That’s all they could think about, so that even when Dante was talking to them, they were kind of looking past him, looking towards God who is the center of everything.  Dante, with Beatrice leading him now, moved closer and closer to God, until finally he reached the very center of Paradiso. 

And here, it got really hard for Dante to describe what he saw because it was so wonderful.  So, he used a metaphor (or a comparison) to try to tell what he had seen.  He said that he saw three different colored circles deep in the center of a beautiful light.  Beams of different colored light shined out from them just like light shines through a prism.  And that light was God.  It was love, the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.

The End.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Doldrums... Frustration... Sadness...

It's a quarter to one in the morning, and I would love to vomit.  THIS is what comes of my placing myself and my needs on the back burner this entire day.  Today was CRAZY!  The whole week has been very difficult for a number of reasons, but today was a bit wired.

I took the chickadees to school and came home to start working.  On the way into the house, I did my civic duty and reported a water main break on my street.  I worked for about an hour and a half, listening to a HUGE thunderstorm with freezing rain (weird), then my husband asked me to take him to the metro (he was going in late).  I dropped him off, then went to the bank to deposit some Girl Scout cookie money.  Then I realized that I would be late for lunch duty and fit a 20 minute drive into ten minutes.  I got through that, then met some friends from church for lunch.  Then I went home to figure out my kids' library fines and emailed the Maryland Department of Transportation on behalf of the civic association to try to figure out when work is going to start on a big road project adjacent to our neighborhood.  Then I had to do pick up.  Then I had to take the chickadees and one of their schoolmates whom I drive home three days a week with me as I went to my doctor's office to pick up an order for a mammogram which I had scheduled for tomorrow.  Then I struggled my way through a traffic jam in the heart of Wheaton, where three lanes became one due to more apartment house construction.  Then I dropped off the schoolmate.  Then we went to Target to pick up dish washing detergent and to return a defective light bulb.  Then we rushed home to make dinner.  I served the kids and ate a serving of broccoli and a turkey meatball and a tablespoon of gnocchi.  Then back into the office for 3.5 hours more of work.

I came up for air after midnight, emerging into a dark and cold house, only to find that no one had done anything to clean up after dinner.  Dinner dishes were still on the table, pots and pans still on the stove.  So then I cleaned the kitchen and dining room.

By this point, I was so hungry and tired that I was nauseated.  So, instead of drinking a glass of water and having a handful of nuts, I ate a cup and a half of cereal -- 480 calories of crap.  So now you know why I never lose any weight.  There are too many days like this.

And I still feel sick.  I'm going to bed.