Saturday, December 31, 2011

As 2011 fades

2011 is fading fast, and I am waiting for 2012 to begin.  This past year had its ups and downs, its betrayals and disappointments, its tragedies and pain, but it also had its joys.  I prefer to think about the good things and leave the bad things behind.  My mantra for 2011 was, "forward, not backward" and it is still my mantra as we enter 2012.  However, I can't help thinking about the past on New Years Eve, about  people and places that are long gone.  Memory Eternal!  My face is turned resolutely to the future, though.   Although I don't have a clue what the future holds for me, I am straining to hear that still, small voice. In the meantime, I am preparing for a large change by decluttering in every possible way, exercising my frugal muscles even more, working on my iconography and other creative pursuits, and becoming more healthy.  This little laundry list is actually a list of my resolutions, I guess.

I am a bit lonely.  I guess that's to be expected since I live alone and don't date.  Perhaps I should change that...  Perhaps not.

Welcome, 2012.  Welcome.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Still Storming

Quick update on my previous post, The Perfect Storm.

I am still with Weight Watchers and doing well.  The loss of weight is slow, but very steady.  I am now at the 9 week mark, and have lost 10% of what I want to lose - that is a victory, for sure.  The biggest victory, though, is that I am still tracking my food and counting points.  Whenever I've tried Weight Watchers in the past 20 years, by the third meeting, I would dread the meetings and quit.  There is something about the meetings that I find off-putting. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but one thing I know is that I never participate in the conversations about what to eat, because no one seems to eat real food.  The conversations center around the latest non-food Weight Watcher snacks and how delicious the chemicals are.  Yuck.  Anyway, I have found my niche with the on-line program. No meetings for me - just the online tools and a weigh in every Saturday morning, which is when the local meeting weighs in.

I notice that my daughter and my beautiful big cousin Roseanne are keeping up with my weight loss and have become my cheerleaders.  I love you both so much!  And, I thank you for your support.  I think they are more excited than I am, and very proud!

What is different?  Well, I am keeping track of everything that goes in my mouth.  Once I did that for a few days, I understood that I was snacking a lot - grazing, really - and on things that were high in salt and fat.  I've replaced that with raw baby carrots (love the crunch and faint sweetness), microwaved plain popcorn dressed with a tsp or two of olive oil and spices of my choice (thank you, Presto microwave Power Pop! 1/4 C popcorn plus 2 tsp of olive oil = 8 points), and lots of fruit.  I nosh all morning until lunch time, when I have a main dish, sandwich or soup for 5 - 9 points, plus salad or veggies or fruit.  I love grapefruit and have always peeled them and eaten them out of hand; a grapefruit at lunch or in the afternoon has been really great for filling me up until dinner time.   For dinner, I cook whatever I want and calculate the points.  Then I play with the portions until I get the point value I want.  I do try to cut down on oil or butter a bit, but I don't really do a lot of substitutions because I don't want to have to buy a lot of fat free or low calorie foods that don't taste as good.  I'd rather have a smaller portion but full flavor.  Leftovers become lunch, and I divide my dinners into portions right away, so I'm not tempted to unconsciously eat more.  The other thing I'm doing which has been a help is that I write point values on different foods when I unpack my grocery shopping.  For example, I really wanted waffles, but was too lazy to make them, so I bought a small box of 10 whole wheat waffles.  I used the nutrition info on the box to calculate the points, and then I wrote it right on the box so every time I reach for two little waffles, I know they are 5 points.

What do I still need to do?  Well, I don't get any exercise other than walking to Fresh Market once a week. I need to add in some joint-friendly exercise, but that just isn't going to happen right now.  I have a yoga video for people who are stiff and sore, and I'll start that soon.  Not right now, but soon.  Perhaps that will be my New Year resolution.  I am not getting two servings of calcium every day, even though I love plain yogurt and have some in the fridge.  I'm not sure what's up with that, but I need to do better with that.  I'm not weighing and measuring everything that I eat, and to be successful in the long term, every WW article I've read says that you really have to be very careful about portion sizes and not rely on eyeballing everything. I think I should designate one day a week to religiously measure and weigh everything, just to keep my portions true.  But not this week.  Or next.  LOL!

I am 56 years old.  I live alone with my cats and dog.  My only child is married and has her own life four hours away from me. I come from a very long-lived gene pool, and if I live healthily, I believe I may live to my late 80s or even into my 90s.  I have 30+ more years to live, and I wonder what I should do with those years?   I need and want to get healthy in all parts of my life, including, but not limited to my weight, so that I can freely pursue the rest of my life, whatever it turns out to be. I think it will take me about two years to lose the weight and grow a strong, healthy body.  At the end of those two years, hopefully my finances will be in order, my home will be completed and ready for sale or rent, and I can move forward into the next phase of my life.  

I have no idea what the next phase will turn out to be - I have some ideas that keep gnawing at me, but God only knows what lies in store for me.  In the meantime, I will keep chugging along, preparing for a big change, so that if it comes, I'll be ready.

And that, friends, is the update on my life!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Perfect Storm

I'm not a superstitious person, but I do believe that life doesn't end just because a body dies.

Back at the beginning of October, my coworkers decided that we would all wear pink to support Breast Cancer Awareness, and we took a couple of group pictures.  We had a lot of fun with the pictures, and one of them showed us in our Charlie's Angels poses.  There was a lot of laughter and good natured ribbing.  Later that day, the pictures were emailed to all of us, and I enjoyed looking at them.  I thought to myself, "Who is that big job in the middle?"  And then, to my great chagrin, I realized that the unknown big job was ME.  Nah, it couldn't be.... but it was.  I guess I look at my face to wash it and never get past my shoulders.  I knew I was big, but I truly didn't realize how big I was.  That was Friday.

On Saturday morning, I was still pondering my thunder thighs and belly and decided to weigh myself, something I hadn't done in a very, very long time.  I nearly fainted when I saw a horrifying number that I have never seen before.  How depressing, but also how liberating, because I understood why my back hurts and my knees hurt and my ankles hurt and my feet hurt.  OF COURSE, my joints would hurt at that weight!!!  I felt the immediate need for pretzels dipped in chocolate. 

On Sunday, dear daughter telephoned me.  She is an old, sensitive soul - not really fey, but definitely very sensitive.  She told me about the dream that she had the night prior.  "Mom, Grandma (my mother) came to me in a dream.  We were sitting in the old house (where I'm living now) chatting about nothing important, but I had such a warm feeling being with Grandma again.  At some point, I said to her, 'This isn't real, is it, Gram?  This is a dream, right?' and she replied 'Yes, it's a dream.'  Then she pointed her finger at me and said, 'You tell your mother that enough is enough.  She cannot do this on her own.  She needs help.  Enough is enough.  Promise me that you will tell your mother.'  So, Mom, obviously you are crazy and you need a shrink. I want you to pay attention to what Gram said and see someone because you really need help. Gram said so." 

I kind of laughed, because it was funny, but also, what a kick in the gut!  I believe that my mother and my daughter are able, from time to time, pierce that veil that separates the living and the dead.  It has happened in the past, and I believe that it happened last month. However, I believe that my mother, who was always very concerned about my weight affecting my health and longevity, was not talking about my emotional health, but my physical health.  And if your mother tells you something like that from beyond the grave, then surely it is so, right?

I pondered all the failed diets and exercise schedules in my past.  Yes, some worked more or less, but eventually, life would intervene, a catastrophic problem would enter my life, and all my energies would be focused on dealing with life and all its tragedy and joy.  I deal with these stressors by eating.  I don't eat a lot of food-like substances, processed foods or junk food, but I do eat large amounts.  I love salty/crunchy and sweet/creamy foods.  Oh, and cheese.  Oh yeah., cheese.  

Anyway, Mom, I love you and miss you so much, and I got the message.  Its true, I cannot become healthy alone.  I need help.  I need prayer.  I need for my family and friends to pray for me, and I need to pray for myself.  God made me a body to house that little spark of Him, and I have not loved the beauty of His house, have I?  I've neglected and trashed it.  I need forgiveness for that, as well as the strength to rebuild this body, this house, so that it once more can become what God intended it to be.  

And all of these things happening one on top of another created a health crisis of sorts - a perfect storm.

That was last month.   Four weeks later, I'm nearly 10 lbs lighter and my joints don't hurt quite as much.  Thanks for the wake up call, Mom.  Thank you Weight Watchers. And thank you, my beautiful cousin Roseanne for endlessly praying for me. I love you so much. Pretty soon, I'll have a date with the beginning stretching/yoga dvd.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Henry Van Dyke on Death

Here is a beautiful poem on death:

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails
to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea
and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says:
"There, she is gone!"
"Gone where?"
Gone from my sight.
That is all. She is
just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear the load
of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me,
not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says:
"There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
"Here she comes!"
And that is dying.

Henry Van Dyke

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beauty and Music

This, from Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog, absolutely takes my breath away:

There is a theology of beauty, which harkens back to the language of the Old Testament when Moses desires to see God “face to face.” Such a vision is not granted to Moses, but many other visions which foreshadowed the vision of St. Paul are indeed given to Moses-the-God-seer. This is not the language of abstract religious thought but the language of the whole of art and its inner desire. We long for beauty, regardless of how poorly we often define it. True beauty takes our breath away and confounds our ability to describe it.

Much the same can be said of music. “God has made man to be the singer of His radiance,” St. Gregory the Theologian has said (PG, 38, 1327). We sing and we love to sing because at its very heart, we are singers of the radiance of God. It is certainly true that we sing many things that resemble in no way the radiance of God – and yet the drive towards song has its roots in God’s radiance. Perhaps the most essential writing in all of Scripture is the book of Psalms. At best, we moderns read it like poetry, though it was always meant to be sung. God, rendered as prose, is perhaps the deepest misrepresentation of all.

This itself is the problem found in many modern expressions of Christianity – they are prosaic. This is not to say that they are without music – though they are often without good music (let the arguments begin…). Liturgical expression (particularly of the ever-changing make-it-up-as-you-go-variety) fails to rise to the level of mystery. Sacraments, even where underpinned with relatively sound doctrine, still collapse into the prosaic life of modernity. In very few cases would emissaries from a strange land return from modern Christian worship and declare, “We knew not whether we were on earth or in heaven. But of a truth we know that God is with them” (the report of St. Vladimir’s emissaries to Constantinople in the 10th century).

Far more to the point is the prosaic character of Christian lives. Beauty and poetic wonder are not only missing in our relationship with God – they are missing from our lives. My experience is that Byzantine worship is no guarantee of beauty within its participants. However, it does not underwrite the banality of modern culture.

Several years back I was speaking with a small Russian choir, touring the United States from St. Petersburg. They were all Church singers, but also singers from various opera companies in St. Petersburg as well. Needless to say they were an exceedingly talented group. One of the hymns they had sung that night was a particularly difficult and moving piece by the Russian composer, Chesnokov. In the course of the conversation I noted the great beauty with which it was written and with which it had been sung that night. One of the choral members told that that it required careful spiritual preparation (“that all needed to be without anger and at peace with one another”) before this hymn could be properly sung.

Of course, this is not only true of the exquisite music of Chesnokov or other stellar writers – it is also true of a small four-member choir offering the most simple tunes of Obikhod chant on a Sunday morning. Four average voices will never sound like the trained voices of the Russian opera – but they can find beauty – first within and then as an offering of song. In that offering, other lives are transformed and lifted to realm of beauty that is Christ among us.

I do not wish to be foolish or dishonest: beauty, transcendant beauty is and transforming beauty is not the peculiar property of Orthodox Christianity.. God is indeed everywhere present and filling all things. And he desires that all participate in His life (which is also a participation in Beauty). I do not offer this as an observation of ecumenism – merely as a resurrection that God is free and “does whatsover He pleases.”

I do, however, offer this in order to encourage Christians to consider such things as Beauty and music – and many other aspects of our lives when considering devotion to God and the presentation of the Gospel. The world in which we live (much of it, anyway) is hungry less for a careful presentation of the Christian doctrine of the atonement than for an encounter with the true and living God.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Character, by Albert N. Parlin

The founder of my junior high, Albert Norton Parlin, wrote a brief treatise on the subject of character, and every student had to memorize it. Recently, the Parlin School became a grammar school for that section of the city, but in my day, every single public school student eventually attended the only junior high in town, the Parlin School. Thus, there are generations and generations of people in Everett who learned this little essay, and I still know it by heart. In fact, it is engraved on the three-story wall of the school that faces the main street in my hometown.
I would have all young persons taught to respect themselves, their citizenship, the rights of others and all sacred things; to be healthy, industrious, persevering, provident, courteous, just and honest, neat in person and in habit, clean in thought and in speech, modest in manner, cheerful in spirit and Masters of themselves; faithful to every trust, loyal to every duty, magnanimous in judgment, generous in service and sympathetic toward the needy and unfortunate:  
 for these are the most important things in life and this is not only the way of wisdom, happiness and true success, but the way to make the most of themselves and to be of the greatest service to the world.
I've been thinking a lot about what constitutes character recently, about what a person of character looks like and how a person of character acts, and how does one develop character over time,and there is no way that I could ponder these things and not give a nod to Character, by Albert N. Parlin.