Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Thoughts on the Eve of a New Year

glasses

Another year has passed. Of course, seasons and years are artificial constructs – they don’t truly exist, except in our minds. Still, they provide a way for us to divide the expanse of time into digestible chunks. At the end of this chunk we call 2015, I find myself reflecting back on a year of heartbreak and breakthrough.

The breakthrough began when I finally went to counseling. Yes. Me. I know I’ve ranted (for decades) about the voodoo that is psychology and huffed self-importantly as I denigrated the soft social ‘sciences’ (usually including the air quotes.) Dubious or not, I finally tired of repeating certain life patterns and found a competent counselor.

07atiyeh 48webOn my first visit, I did my best not to roll my eyes when she wanted to start with my childhood. Hello. I’m almost 60. How relevant could my childhood be? I’m WAY past blaming Mommy for my choices. Then I found myself blubbering like a baby as we discovered that my deep-seated abandonment complex came not from my husband’s suicide in 2002, not from my mother’s remarriage in 1961 (she spent two whole days alone with my step-dad before fetching me to share the rest of their honeymoon) but from my bio-dad’s abrupt departure when I was a toddler. It turns out, understanding origins really can help.

cherie bio pic 2016I learned that there isn’t a bad Cherie and a good Cherie. That the good Cherie isn’t the ‘real’ Cherie, but that I come as an entire package and until I learn to embrace my whole self, I can’t be happy. So I let bad Cherie out of the dungeon. I felt sorry for those around me, because bad Cherie – ahem, because I – can be snippy and abrupt, quick to let others know when they’ve tread on my toes, and impatient with rudeness and incompetence.

Imagine my surprise when a friend told me I’m actually easier to be around. “You’re more light-hearted,” he said. “You seem calmer, even in the midst of small crises.” He’s right. I do feel calmer. I’m glad to know my outside matches my inside.

My self-improvement crusade included losing fifteen pounds (ten to go), having a regular yoga practice, daily prayer/meditation, and regularly indulging hobbies, including playing my piano, guitars, and ukulele. I haven’t opened my clarinet case yet, and I’m sure my neighbors are grateful. I’m clearer on my life and on my goals. And at the very end of the year, I met someone. More on that (I hope) in posts to come.

My heartbreak is for our nation. Police treatment of people of color in our country has been beyond shameful – it looks a lot like deliberate genocide. The response of our court system to the police murders is even more horrifying. It appears they’ve totally misinterpreted the statement, “Justice is blind.”

grandkidsI fear for my grandchildren, who could be shot dead on a playground for playing with toys that white children may use with impunity. I fear for my son-in-law – a teacher, a tri-athlete – who runs daily. My daughter said she worries every time he goes out. She should. Apparently, no judge would prosecute the police officer who killed him for the crime of jogging while black, which means it’s open season on people of color.

grandma and gidu scanThe Syrian refugee crisis hits just as close to home, because my grandparents emigrated from Syria in the early years of last century. The rhetoric of some in our country toward the refugees scares me. Their concerns have nothing to do with national security, it’s merely an excuse to hate and to attack anyone who looks different from the white ‘norm’. I am outraged at those who dare use the name Christian while spouting such ignorance and hatred. I am frustrated because I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t know what to do about ANY of it. The injustice. The bigotry. The deliberate choice to hate. What I do know is that I cannot respond with hatred. In the midst of it all, I am called to love. To embrace those who are hurting. To embrace those who do the hurting. To embrace myself. All of myself – the hurting and the hurter, because I am both. Our country is both. Hating will not lead to healing. We can only love ourselves into wholeness.

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It was about Loving Myself

artist: Agnes CecileIt’s been two months since I last posted.

Why? OK, I’ll admit it: I was a coward. I didn’t want to write until I knew if what I was doing was going to yield results.

Remember my last post, where I talked about my relationship with food? How it was becoming a stand-in for everything? Well, after that realization, I decided that food and I needed to break up for a while.

Bur how exactly does one DO that? It’s not like a difficult interpersonal relationship. Or alcohol. Or gambling. Difficult as ‘walking away’ from those things can be, they aren’t ultimately life-threatening (usually.) Food is different. It’s like breathing. How could I sever a relationship with something that is necessary for my continued existence?

The solution came from a client (I have the most amazing clients!) I met Tandi about five years ago, and I’ve photographed her at least annually ever since. She’s petite, spirited, and beautiful inside and out. When she visited me this February, she mentioned in passing that she used to be heavy.

“What?” I exclaimed. “No way. You’ve been thin since I’ve known you.”

“Don’t you remember?” she replied. “I first came to you to celebrate my weight loss.” Then she showed me *before* photos. She was right. She’d lost a lot of weight. And she’s kept it off.

“What’s your secret?” I asked. She told me. “OK, I’m in,” I said.

I started what I dubbed My New Life on March 4.

The food I ate was plain. Very nourishing, but unexciting. And there was no satisfaction to be found in preparation, either, because I merely opened a packet and reconstituted it with water. Unappealing as this sounds, it was exactly what I needed. You see, it allowed me to disconnect eating and pleasure, so that food became sustenance, not fulfillment.

I didn’t *just* go on a diet. I started seeing a counselor and dealt with some long standing emotional questions. I immersed myself in Lenten spiritual activities. I reprogrammed my brain: instead of relying on food, I found joy and fulfillment through writing, photographing, sewing, playing and listening to music. In walking and yoga. In meditation and prayer. I even learned to crochet.

As I attended to my entire person – body, mind and soul – the weight came off. As of today, I’ve lost fourteen pounds.

Turns out, it wasn’t about weight loss. It was about attending to my needs. About listening to my body. To my heart. To my soul. It was about loving myself.

It still is.

PS: Tandi is an excellent health coach. Find her on Facebook: Tandi Graff

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Family Matters

mikecorinnaIt’s been two months since I last posted. My brother has had a miraculous recovery from his stroke. He’s not *there* yet, still attending both PT and OT, but he’s back to work (for me!) and feeling good. He has lost 50 pounds in these two months, with a goal for another 50 by years’ end. That’s a dramatic loss, but he’s doing it in a healthy and measured way, and it’s his best defense against future stroke events.

My sister-in-law, Corinna, also jumped on the health bandwagon – and she’s also lost 50 pounds. It’s been so much fun to watch her explore new foods – discovering that cherries and other fruits are DELICIOUS. That salads can be a fun and filling dinner. In fact, I ate much better when I stayed with them – maybe I should move back!

The month I stayed with them allowed us to reconnect and deepen our relationship.  It was the silver lining in the stroke storm-cloud. Why did we allow geographic separation – and only 60 miles – to cause such emotional distance? As far as I’m concerned, this is the person  for whom the song “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” was written. I would walk any road for my baby brother – no matter how long. I’m sorry it took such a traumatic event to bring us back together.

I am determined not to let it happen again.

 

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Bad Cholesterol!

Cholesterol-300x300

The effects of high LDL cholesterol

No medical insurance = no medical care. I hadn’t had a medical exam in five years, but thanks to Bryan’s military service we finally have an affordable option (I think everyone should have the same option, but that’s a rant for another blog post)  so I visited my doctor for a complete check-up.

Most things look great. But my bad cholesterol is too high. My doctor says, “Lose 20 pounds. Avoid animal fat.” And, she wants to put me on a cholesterol blocker.

I don’t trust western medicine. It seems that one pill leads to another and yet another as the side effects pile up. I did some research. The most commonly prescribed drugs are statins, which are very effective at lowering bad cholesterol. They also create a life-long dependency, and they come with side effects such as liver damage, muscle breakdown, diabetes, and neurological side effects such as memory loss and confusion.

No, thank you. What are my other options?

Naturopathic medicine is out. Their supposed efficacy isn’t borne out in objective studies. Acupuncture, on the other hand, has gained respect in the medical community, as clinical testing shows positive results for many ailments. But it doesn’t seem like acupuncture could have any effect on cholesterol. Or could it?

I did a little internet research. Acupuncturists claim that their practice can lower LDL levels, and they refer to several independent studies. It seems that acupuncture has positive effects on the liver, which is responsible for processing (manufacturing?) HDL and LDL. In addition, acupuncture assists with weight loss and stress management, which are two major contributors to high cholesterol.

That’s worth pursuing. I’m going to find an acupuncturist, and I’ll report my experience.

In addition, it’s time for a few diet changes. As you know, I already cook from scratch and avoid fast food. But I love me some butter, cheese, and animal fat (a nice, juicy steak. yum!) These are now OFF my food list entirely.

I created a list of foods to eat regularly. Many are already part of my diet, and some I need to eat more often. They include:

  • fruits, especially apples and oranges
  • vegetables
  • oatmeal and other whole grains
  • beans, including soybean products
  • garlic & onions
  • avocados
  • salmon and other sea fish (shellfish is a NO-NO)
  • seeds & nuts, especially walnuts
  • green tea
  • omega-3 rich foods (I eat enriched eggs. Yes, eggs are OK. One a day.)
  • shitake & oyster mushrooms
  • red yeast rice
  • hawthorne berry tea

Acupuncture sites and the Mayo Clinic emphasized that weight loss, exercise and stress reduction are hugely important. I already know all of this. Why is it so hard to implement? That’s the million-dollar question. To find the answer, I’m going to keep an ‘attitude’ journal. I’m not going to beat myself up for under-exercising and over-eating. But I am going to make myself write about it. If I choose to sit instead of dance, I’m going to write down why. If I choose to eat a bowlful of sunflower seeds (rather than a handful) I’m going to write down why. Let’s see what emerges. If I’m brave enough, I might even share what I find.

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Kombucha? Again?

kombuchaI’m back to square one with the great Weight Loss journey. Well, that’s not quite true – I’m 10 pounds lighter than when I started, but I’ve regained 7 from my lowest point.

So. Starting again. Measuring and recording every bite of food. Making a new batch of kombucha. Exercising. Meditating.

Plus a new idea: I’m wearing my jeans, because their *tightness* will remind me to eat less. I tend to wear leggings, yoga pants, jammie pants, and other clothing with very forgiving material. Wearing clothes with less stretch has been reputed to help with weight loss, and I’m willing to give it a try.

I’ve mentioned kombucha over and over, and I thought I’d talk a bit more about it. Technically, kombucha is a fermented tea. It’s been around for centuries, originating in China, then spreading to Russia and beyond.

It’s made from sweetened tea (black, green or other) fermented with a bacteria/yeast culture. There are few scientific studies regarding its efficacy, but it’s rich in probiotics, antioxidants, glucaric acids and glucosamine. That means it can reasonably be assumed to balance gut PH, have detoxifying effects, boost the immune system and be good for joints.

From personal experience, I can say that it results in a drastically reduced appetite and greatly increased energy. Perhaps it’s a placebo effect. That’s OK. The placebo effect is a ‘thing’, and it shows how much health can be influenced by thought.

Kombucha is fairly safe to make at home because the high acidity keeps bad germs away. If the acidity is weak, mold can grow (as happened to me) and then it’s time to ditch the whole thing and start fresh. I got my new starter from the local health food store. Brewing supply stores often carry it, too. You can also get it from Amazon:  kombucha starter kit

Some websites warn against drinking it because illness can result if it’s not prepared properly. I think that’s a little excessive. Botulism can result if vegetables are canned improperly, but I see no medical sites warning us away from eating veges.

The point is that I need to do it properly. It’s easy – I keep my prep space spanky clean. I think my kombucha molded because I skimped on the sugar, so I will follow the recipe exactly from now on. And I will enjoy the benefits!

 

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Work in Progress

orangeMy kombucha molded. I can’t help feeling it’s symbolic of my whole ‘healthy me’ kick. True confession time: I’ve fallen off the bandwagon. I’m afraid to get on the scale, because I know I’ve gained weight. I’m not exercising – well, unless 10 minutes every week or two counts. My focus has been on other things, which is fine, but I really need to be able to focus on those other things without losing the vision for my physical, emotional and spiritual self. Bottom line, I’m disappointed in me. I know I can do better.

Deep breath. Now I’m going to reframe everything I just said. Here goes.

When I moved from my house a year-and-a-half ago, I sorted through the boxes in my basement. (You know the boxes I’m talking about. THOSE boxes. The stacks and stacks and STACKS of boxes that accumulate over a lifetime. The ‘I’ll get to this later’ boxes. The ‘oh, I can’t bear to get rid of it though I don’t know what I’ll ever do with it’ boxes. The ‘I don’t want to deal with it, and out of sight is out of mind’ boxes. Yeah, those.) I reviewed, reorganized, and let loose the myriad items that no longer served me.

Fast forward to the past few weeks, where I’ve been sorting boxes that have accumulated in the basement of my life. This time, I’ve reassessed what I do and why. I’ve reorganized my time. I’ve given myself permission to quit focusing on that which I felt I ‘had’ to do or was ‘supposed’ to do. As a result, my life is larger. My vision is clearer. And I’ve acted on that vision.

I’m becoming more realistic about my health goals. Bryan and I were watching Orange is the New Black last night. I looked at the leading actress, Taylor Schilling, who happened to be naked at the time, and said, “Wow. Look at that flat tummy and firm everything.” And Bryan responded, “Yes, and it’s a full-time profession to look like that. She has to spend at least four hours in the gym every day to maintain it.”

Right. (And by the way, I’m married to the best man EVER. I’m just sayin’.)

I don’t have that time. Wait. That’s not true. I absolutely do have that time. I have exactly the same amount of hours available to me every day as she does (Twenty-four, last I checked.) It’s just that, for me, spending hours in a gym doesn’t interest me. And that means I need to readjust my ideas. Quit making ‘flat tummy, firm everything’ my goal. I can’t reach that goal, because I don’t really want it, not enough to discipline myself to do it. That means it’s really not that important. To continue the analogy, I can get rid of the contents of that particular box.

What IS that important to me is writing and photographing, using my images and my words to enrich the world. What IS that important is speaking to individuals and to groups, encouraging them until I see the SPARK that tells me their fire is lit. What IS that important is being a conduit of the Divine into the world through word, sacrament, and image.

Wait. This isn’t new. I’ve already sorted this stuff. Where is that box? Oh. It’s here, under my nose, where it’s been all along.  In it is my candidacy for the Episcopal priesthood. So I’ve re-engaged the process. There is ongoing discernment needed (by me and by others) and that takes a lot of ROOM to unfold. I’m glad I’ve created the space. I did it partly by refocusing my business vision, which meant engaging others to pick up the pieces I needed to let loose.

That’s not easy for me. I am a CONTROL FREAK extraordinaire. What if they don’t do it *right*?

The answer came as I was driving home from church. “It is better for things to be done in a messy, sloppy, joyful way than to have flawless results and a miserable, rigid attitude. Besides, how are you doing at getting it all done?”

Fair enough.

So. The past two years have been about clearing my external space. The last two months have been about clearing my internal space. I’d love to think I’m done and ready to move forward without further delay. But we all know how that works. We are ever and always a work in progress. So, I don’t need to worry about ‘doing better’. I just need to keep on doing.

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In Search of Peggy Porschen’s Marshmallow Puff Recipe

marshmallow puffsEvery morning, as my eyes first open, I reach out and grab my tablet, that I might review what important events have transpired whilst I slumbered.

A cup of coffee usually appears concurrent with the tablet. Have I mentioned just how much I love my husband? Not only does he bring me coffee in bed each morning, but he doesn’t even TRY to converse with me until the first cup has disappeared.

I begin by viewing the most vital pages: Facebook. Twitter. Path. Instagram. Tumblr. A couple of online comics that I follow. Pinterest.

Pinterest was my downfall this morning. As I scrolled through, virtuously repinning autumn-themed quinoa recipes, my eyes stopped – dead – on a beautiful pastel photo. The caption: Peggy Porschen’s Marshmallow Puff Recipe.

Squirrel!  Marshmallows, homemade or not, do not belong in my diet regimen, which I renewed just this week. You see, I kind of ditched diet and exercise – and writing – during the past month, due to moving…and moving…and moving. When I had time to think about that, which was rarely, I wondered if I should be discouraged about my inability to maintain an optimal health regimen during my hyper-busy times, which is probably when I need it most.

After a few microseconds of deep reflection, I always came to the same conclusion: fuck it. It made me tired just to consider worrying about…whatever it was I was worrying about. What was I worrying about?

On a TOTALLY unrelated topic, have I mentioned I’ll be 56 in less than a week? Ah, demon menopause, you robber of thoughts.

However, an upside of menopause is what I call the fuck-it effect. “What was I thinking? Fuck it. Glass of wine, please.” Not only can I now say ‘fuck it’ (because I no longer have young children for whom to model non-profane speech) but I can mean it.

Marshmallow Puffs. I looked at them. Pretty, perfect pastel mounds of deliciousness, one floating daintily in the coffee.

Diet be damned. I clicked on the link. And came to a page that was NOT marshmallow puffs. Why do people have difficulty understanding that when they see something they like on a blog, they have to click on the particular post if they wish to link to it? Otherwise, future clickers are treated to the latest blog post, not the pertinent one. This is serious. World peace may be threatened, Deep breath. OK then. Plan B: google Peggy Porschen Marshmallow Puff Recipe, and find the original link.

I started down the results list. One link took me to the same adorable image, with a ‘click here for recipe’ button that looped you back to the current page. No recipe. Just the photo. I clicked it several times, because I hadn’t finished that first cup of coffee, and therefore thought that perhaps I COULD yield a different result if I clicked smartly enough.

Finally, I clicked another link. Expired. Panic began to set in. I NEEDED that marshmallow recipe!

I finally found it on a UK website. All measurements in metric. Moment of truth. Did I really want the marshmallows badly enough to do the conversions?

Fuck it. Turns out, what I really want is a tablespoon of sunflower seeds and another cup of coffee.

PS: So it turns out Peggy Porschen is a thing. Her boutique baking books (nice alliteration, huh?) are quite popular. Here’s one: Boutique Baking: Delectable Cakes, Cookies and Teatime Treats

PPS: The recipe is here: Peggy Porschen’s Marshmallow Puffs .You’ll have to do your own conversions. I’m busy slurping quinoa squash soup.

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Be Boring, Part Two

eggLast post, I talked about the importance of creating a set pattern of meals and snacks. Today, I want to share my current routine.

Cherie’s Diet Routine

1) Pre-breakfast snack: 2-3 bites of active culture, fat-free yogurt. This feeds my gut flora, and starts my digestion off right!

Coffee. Lots of coffee. With a little skim milk. Don’t talk to me about health benefits vs. health costs. I need my coffee.

2) Breakfast: an egg and half a banana. My tummy can be touchy in the morning, and an egg always goes down easy. Bananas are potassium rich, which is good for the heart, skeletal and muscle systems. Potatoes, beans, dried fruit, tomatoes and yogurt are also great sources of potassium.

3) Mid-morning snack: 1 tablespoon unsalted sunflower seeds, 1 tablespoon raw cashews (or almonds), 2 dried figs.

4) Lunch: 2 oz of protein (OK, I do have some variety here), seasonal fresh fruit, a cup of cooked veges. Sometimes I add a slice of whole grain bread (i.e, a sandwich.)

5) Mid-afternoon snack: salad greens with lemon juice, 1 tablespoon nuts/seeds, 1 tablespoon dried fruit.

6) Dinner – ADVENTURE! Now I’m feeling like a bit of variety. Quinoa or fish? Steak or lamb? Or perhaps grilled zucchini topped with pepper-jack cheese? A baked potato with broccoli? I love me some variety now!

&) Evening snack: a small glass of wine. I try not to eat anything after 7 pm, because it’s healthy to go to bed a little hungry.

This routine works for several reasons:

  •  I love nuts and dried fruit. A lot. They are good for me, and it feels like a treat every time I ‘get’ to have some.
  • Because I change my fresh fruits seasonally,I’m always excited about them.
  •  I happen to like my vegetables well-cooked (I drink the water they’re steamed in, so I retain the vitamins) so that’s how I eat them. I don’t have to eat them raw, no matter how many others do – it’s OK to have preferences! Even those with picky tastebuds can find ways to succeed. We all know what a healthy diet looks like (and if you don’t, here’s a book that makes it easy to understand: Nutrition Made Simple)
  •  I’m busy, and it’s easy. I don’t have to spend much time on preparation. I don’t have to think. I can fall into it, rather than fight uphill.

I’ve found that my regimen changes naturally. I was on an almond kick for the longest time. Now, it’s cashews. Come autumn, it will likely become filberts or walnuts. You notice, I don’t really have to *think* about it. Same with dried fruit. If Trader Joe’s doesn’t have figs, I substitute prunes. Or dates. Or raisins. My routine continues unchanged – a tablespoon of what’s in my cupboard.

The important thing is to be sure it really IS there, otherwise my need for crunch may lead me to potato chips, my craving for sweet to candy or donuts. I do live in the land of Voodoo Donuts, after all!

So, be boring. You have my permission. (Picture me waving my hand in divine dispensation.) Make a diet routine – one that you LIKE. It’s oh-so-much-easier to stick with a healthy lifestyle if you do!

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Be Boring, Part One

green and red healthy foodThere are so many healthy food options! If you’re like me, it can be overwhelming to coordinate three meals plus three snacks (or so) every day. Pretty soon, it’s too much work, and we give up.

A while back, I read a bit of advice that really helped:

“Eat the same breakfast and lunch every day. Choose the same snacks. Vary only your dinner.”

On the surface, that seems like a recipe (pun intended) for failure. If we get bored with our food, we’re unlikely to stick with a diet, right?

Turns out, that’s not the case. We humans are creatures of habit – including what we eat. And in our busy lives, what we really want is NOT HAVE TO THINK about it! That’s why diet plans that provide all the food – often at exorbitant prices – are so popular.

But we can don’t have to turn control of our diet over to a corporation. We can do it for ourselves by making it easy!

Here’s how:

Step One. Find your ‘golden foods’ – those things that delight you AND are good for you. Make a list. What do you like to eat? Are you an oatmeal and fruit fan? Eat it. Every morning. It’s good for you.

Step Two. Pay attention to your nutritional needs (and weight-loss goals) and choose foods accordingly. Oatmeal is a good breakfast. It’s not a good breakfast, snack AND lunch item. Nutritionally, you need variety. Add protein, vegetable, more fruit, another complex carbo, and a little fat into the mix.

How about half a nut butter sandwich (doesn’t HAVE to be peanut butter)? Or tuna mixed with yogurt and apple (and a little horseradish mustard for zing)? Look for variety. Find yummy, healthy, EASY foods – then stick to them.

Step Three. Write it out. Post it on your fridge, your computer, wherever you’ll see it at a glance. Add your *new* staples to the shopping list. Make sure these foods are always available in your kitchen.

Voila! Done.

Now you have a diet routine. And routine is GOOD!

In my next post, I’ll finish up this discussion and share my current food regimen.

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It’s a Gut Feeling

gutWe feel less satisfied when we regularly eat a high-fat diet.  It means that over time, we have to eat more and MORE to get our endorphin high.  It’s been thought that our tastebuds were responsible, that these were the organs that developed a ‘tolerance’.

But recent research indicates this is not the case. Turns out, it’s a gut feeling. Yep, it’s our stomach that decides when we’re satiated.  And when we routinely eat high-fat foods, it becomes desensitized, requiring ever-greater quantities before it will release the ‘all full and happy’ hormone.

The good news is, this research also showed that if we STOP eating a high fat diet, our gut will reset itself. We’ll return to a normal dopamine response, which leads to ingestion of fewer calories, which leads to weight loss. Woo-hoo!

Here’s the article: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/37068/title/Why-One-Cream-Cake-Leads-to-Another/

 

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