Saturday, December 27, 2008

Two Days After Christmas

I don't think I've ever had a Christmas that was such a mix of nice and just a pile of things that made me feel irritated and resentful and frustrated.

On the nice side... everything got done. Christmas Day was pretty relaxed. My son spent Christmas Eve with his father, and I have to admit that it was actually kind of pleasant to be able to lounge around Christmas morning and not have someone pushing to open presents now now now now. And when he came home, he was delightful... his best self, not so much his surly uncommunicative teenage self. It was nice to see my father, who is not as unwell as my sister thinks. Or at least I don't think so. And Michael actually enjoyed having my father here, which is a rarity. And my big silly present for Michael was very successful and funny. Lots of nice stuff like that.

On the dark side...

1. Physical things large and small continue to plague Michael. Same story. Doesn't get easier.

2. This is, I think, me being stupid and petty and falls into the category of Things Better Let Go. I sent both of my sisters a very special sentimental thing, because I knew they would be missing my mother this Christmas. My sister said, "you always think of the special things." Yeah, I do. Because I
think about other people. But who thinks about me? Most of the time, I am pretty ok with this. It is never a good idea to give anything... gifts, love, time, whatever... expecting something specific in return. Or expecting it in the form that you want it. I really do believe that what goes around comes around, that when you pay it forward, you get it back, one way or another. But the small and sad bit of me would like some of that back now. In a form I could recognize.

Just let it go.

3. Food issues (you knew we'd get there, right?)

We didn't have such a bad Christmas, food-wise, not really. But I have to say, most of it I really could have skipped, and it just makes be wonder when I will learn the following lessons...
  • I really can't have bread in the house. If there's one food that I will just eat beyond all sense, it's good bread. It is better not to have it around at all.
  • Things that I have always thought of as treats are no longer things that I like particularly. We had two indulgence things for Christmas dinner... Yorkshire pudding with the roast beef, and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Both of these things have always ranked high on the favorite foods list for me. My mother used to make Yorkshire pudding only on Christmas (it's a popover-type of thing, if you haven't had it, sort of like a roll with an different and delicious kind of consistency). And when I first traveled to England, I discovered Sticky Toffee Pudding, an insanely delicious dessert if you like caramel-type things, a date cake covered with a toffee sauce, hot, served with cream or custard or ice cream. Not good things, either one of them, from a calorie or carb or just sensible food point of view. We had both. I enjoyed neither. I fed most of both to the dog. (He enjoyed them.) If you eat in a particular way for long enough, your tastes really do change. But it takes a lot longer for your brain to catch up.
  • Eating this way makes me feel like death. It is not worth it. It is not so much about weight and fitness as it is wanting to just feel better.
All in all, I think that this has to be the year that I put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I will finish this year at about the same weight I started. This is not exactly what I'd call a success story, although certainly it could be worse. And I've put in a great deal of time learning to eat (and cook) in a different way. This coming year needs to be the time when I put all the rest of the pieces together and actually get fit again.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mostly Happy Updates...

Somehow the last week or so has gone by in a mad blur. No idea how exactly. But the grades are done, and the tree is up if not completely decorated, and some small parts of the house are sort of clean-ish. I'd be happier if it was about a week until Christmas rather than a couple of days, but that's always the way...

I'd be a LOT happier if the frigid weather + loads of snow + daytime sunshine wasn't causing huge ice dams on my roof. Which in turn drips inside the house by some magical and horrible process, soaking the bedroom carpet, soaking the mudroom, making me really irritated especially since this happened two years ago, so, yeah, I should have done something about it. Hopefully it will warm up later in the week, get rid of the snow, and we'll have a change to do something preventative.

But the great news is that Michael is actually feeling better. I have no idea why, but he's been almost his old self the last couple of days. Which makes me mega-happy... and his weight has gone down 30+ over the last 10 days as the edema in his stomach and legs has reduced (which kind of makes me jealous). He's now at his lowest weight ever. (Well, not EVER, as he keeps reminding me, but in this weight cycle. We'll start posting weight again in the new year.)

My father comes in tomorrow night... it will be a sad Christmas for all of us, with Mom gone, but we're trying. So now I just have to wrap everything plus finish putting together the most complicated practical joke Christmas present that I've ever given anyone... impossible even to explain... and hope that nothing goes awry. Fortunately, my father won't even notice if the house is filthy....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sort of Better News....

On the brighter side... it seems like Michael is feeling a bit better. He's still not doing much, but that's partly because his knees are still unbelievably painful from the Sleep Study Experience From Hell. (I am thinking that he should probably have x-rays, actually, although it's unlikely that there's anything big going on... we see the doctor next week, so we can find out then.) But he seems better. More alert. More himself. A little happier, although impatient as anything and easily discouraged.

One of the worst bits for him is that during all of this, he acquired a huge amount of edema... fluid gain in the abdomen and legs. He's lost so much weight in general that he has a tremendous amount of loose skin on his abdomen, and when all this started, zoom.... it all filled up with fluid. He gained about 30 lbs. in about 2 weeks (while eating almost nothing, I should add). And every doctor has looked at it and gone, hmmmmm, but no one has seemed particularly interested or bothered. But for him, this is a Huge Big Deal. I mean, think about it... overnight you get 30 lbs. just hanging off the bottom of your stomach. Makes it hard and painful to move, and if you're a guy, makes it pretty hard to pee, too, which is probably too much information. But it's this huge catch-22... you have to get rid of the fluid somehow, and that's basically how you have to do it.... but it's a little tricky. And painful and irritating to your skin.

Anyway, 10 of those surplus pounds disappeared in 2 days, and another 2 today! So this is a really good sign. Of course, I've been feeding him all sorts of herbal diuretics and so forth, which is helping, but one way or the other, just seeing that go down is lifting spirits. And his heart rate has been ok, if still a bit high.

So here's hoping that when we see the doctor next week, his iron levels are still up, and maybe he'll actually agree to try the other heart medication.... and things will keep looking up. If the edema keeps going down, he can do some lower-body exercise, which will further help it decrease... so, fingers crossed!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Here Today, Legume Tomorrow....

I just can't talk about any more of the dismal stuff for a while (although I think it's getting better), so for a change, let's have a recipe... and this is a great one.

The basis and inspiration for this recipe is from Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way, which is a fantastic cookbook for simple dishes, every one delicious. I've made this for years, and evolved it into a more-or-less low carb dish. But the beauty of it (see below) is that really you can modify the carbs, modify the fat, and still have something that's both easy to put together, quick, nutritious, and just great comfort food. (His recipe is Chickpea Ragout, p. 91, and it's a side dish. Mine is a one-dish meal.)

This is a very forgiving recipe, and thus the proportions are all pretty vague.

Chicken-Chorizo Autumn Stew

  • 1 package boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6 thighs. Don't use breast because it will dry out.)
  • about 4 inches spicy chorizo (the Spanish style... a hard, pepperoni-like sausage, not the Mexican kind. I prefer the hot kind, which adds a kick, but you can use the regular kind if you prefer)
  • olive oil
  • 1 red onion, roughly diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (discard any tough stems or dice small)
  • 1 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes (I like the fire-roasted ones.)
  • 1 legume choice... see note below... a can of chickpeas or a package of lima beans or butter beans, etc.
  • choice of optional vegetables: fresh mushrooms, zucchini, fennel, etc.
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • about 1 cup chicken stock
  • finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, if desired
Finely dice the chorizo and cube the chicken thighs. Heat the oil in a (preferably nonstick) large skillet (with a lid!), and sauté the chorizo, onion, garlic, and chicken over high heat until lightly browned. Add all of the rest of the ingredients except the salt and pepper and the parsley, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about 1/2 hour. Season to taste, and sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired.

The prep time is very quick, and then you can pretty much ignore it while you relax and have a glass of wine.

This is a hearty and delicious fall/winter meal. Serves 4-6, depending on portion size and how many vegetables you use. As listed above, with chickpeas and mushrooms, 4 very generous servings.

A note on legumes: the carb content of this dish is almost entirely determined by the choice of legume. You could leave out the legume entirely, and it would be lower carb, but I think that they really add something... so I've tried to just cut the proportion way back. I make this usually with chickpeas, but lima beans are really good, and an alternative might be just a few green peas. (Suggestions welcome!)

A note for the low-fat crowd: We don't pay much attention to fat proportions these days, but I first made this dish when I counted calories, not carbs. If you go very easy on the oil and use about half the chorizo, diced very small, this is a pretty low fat dish as well.

Oh, and if you like your food very spicy-hot, a dash of chili oil is excellent in this (I add this to my bowl, at the end, so that the rest of my family doesn't gasp and run for the water!).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Adding Insult to Injury....

First, a thank you to everyone who commented on my last post... I am having a hard time not feeling unbelievably isolated, so it really helps.

Anyway, in today's update on what's becoming World's Most Dismal Blog... Michael went for this sleep study on Wednesday night. I had called ahead and talked to the scheduler for quite some time about whether he would be ok there... and I'd really thought that this would probably be all right. Which goes to show you just how incredibly wrong you can be. First, the rooms were not set up to be comfortable for anyone, much less someone with mobility issues. No comfortable chair. Nothing you could grab onto. A bed with no headboard and a flimsy frame. And, ok, I know that the idea here is that you go and SLEEP, not that you are in a hotel room, but... first you have to hang around for about two hours before you can sleep, and so it's kind of necessary to be at least a little comfortable. Then, after he was all hooked up and went to bed, the technician came in about every ten minutes because he couldn't get the electrodes working properly. This was pretty much like the hospital experience with the beeping monitor... how can you do a sleep study if the subject doesn't actually get to sleep?

By about 1 or so, he was annoyed as hell, and needed the bathroom, so he sat up and called the technician to unhook him... and then I'm not sure what really happened. I suspect that the frame of the flimsy mattress gave way, but I never saw this, so I have no idea. Next thing he knows, he's on the floor... and he can't get up. It's been a long time since it's been easy for him to get up off the floor, but it's always been possible. However, he's been so incredibly weak lately PLUS he has this 30+ pounds of abdominal edema that's making it hard to move PLUS there was nothing stable to balance on... Anyway, he couldn't get up. He asks the tech people to call the paramedics. They are too concerned about their electrodes to do this. They spend half an hour taking things off him, while he sits on his knees before they will call an ambulance. Eventually the ambulance shows up, can't get him up (I suspect that he had no feeling in his legs at all at this point) and take him to the emergency room... back where we were a few days ago. Eventually he phones me... it's now about 4 a.m.... and I come pick him up.

His knees are beyond painful. And he's shaken up to hell. And angry and discouraged. It's hard to blame him.

And I am trying to figure out what I need to do to take care of both of us. I know that things will get better. But it is a little difficult not to get unbelievably discouraged, especially since he is so clearly miserable. I know that I have to try to take care of myself... but how do you do that when the person you love is so unhappy and so uncomfortable?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Free At Last

Yay, as of 7:30 last night, we have been sprung from the hospital. There is just nothing like 4 days in the hospital to make you appreciate the joys of being home. On top of everything else, by the end, we were so seriously sleep-deprived that it was like some bizarre form of torture... more about that later.

And the end result of all of it... kind of nothing, weirdly enough. Why is Michael severely anemic? No idea. Nothing showed up on any test (no matter how invasive!). Why has he has this whole collection of weird symptoms? No idea. What are we doing next? Well, not much idea about that, either.

He goes for a sleep study on Wednesday night, poor baby... I really wanted to reschedule this, but the doctor convinced us (probably correctly) that it's best to do a sleep study when you're really tired anyway. The last night of hell in the hospital, they hooked him to a CPAP machine (keeps your airways open if you have sleep apnea) but also to a monitor with an alarm that goes off if your oxygen levels drop. Well, every time he really fell asleep, his oxygen levels dropped... and so the alarm kept going off about every 15 minutes, all night. Finally at 5 a.m., we insisted that they take it away and got a whole two hours of sleep before some relentlessly perky nurse woke us up a 7 for absolutely no reason that I could tell (not checking vital signs or anything else, just randomly came in to wake us up?). I have rarely so completely just wanted to swat someone. Anyway, so possibly the sleep study will correctly diagnose his degree of sleep apnea and resolve this, and that might help the heart rate issues.

And we're going to try to get life back together. And get him well. More about that later.

Hey.... if you're following along with this, and you want to do a good deed today, leave me a comment. Just a "I hear you." This has been a very long and grueling thing, this whole autumn and the steady progression of these physical things getting worse for Michael, and I feel pretty alone with all this. So... it would make me feel a little better to know that you were out there.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Update and Confessions and a Hospital Food Rant...

So, Friday morning the doctor phones, and he says (to Michael), I want you to go to the emergency room NOW and check in to the hospital, because with these blood tests plus breathing problems, I'm worried that you're getting blood clots. So we do. And that's where we've been ever since. It's been a wild ride.

And what's happened, really? Not, in a way, very much. There have been a lot of tests. They have all come back negative. Michael's heart rate has been really high, and they've been trying to get it down. They gave him three units of blood to try to deal with the anemia. And he has been sleep-deprived, and uncomfortable as hell, and earlier today, he was hell-bent on checking himself out. Which, to make a really long story short, he didn't do... but in the process, he managed to really make everyone furious with him, some of which is fair, and some of which is not. I went home and slept for a few hours last night, but tonight, I'm staying with him... I think that will make it easier... and so I'm expecting a rocky night.

The trouble is, he's a terrible patient. Just the worst. He hates sitting and waiting. He hates being hooked to monitors. He hates taking medication. And it's not like any of us are crazy about it, of course... but some people have a little more grin-and-bear-it tolerance. Plus he takes it all personally. Really personally, in a way that I can't relate to at all. I mostly figure that hospital staff are trying hard to do their jobs, jobs that are really not easy, and that basically it's mostly not about me. The peak of it all... well, peak number 1... was them trying to give him a new heart medication without discussion about it beforehand. I think that it if it had been the other way around... if the very nice doctor had explained it first... it might have all played out differently. But as it was, he was through the ceiling furious, refused to take it... and everything went downhill from there. He insisted on leaving. The doctor said no. He said yes. And this went on and on, with and without other people.

Eventually, the physician's assistant came in and told him his options, and said some things that actually made sense, and went off to check him out with or without the doctor's consent.... or, rather, to see if he could get the doctor's consent. And then we waited. Which gave Michael time to cool off. And when the PA came back, with all the discharge paperwork done, Michael was ready to change his mind and stay. So I went out and talked to the PA... who, unbelievably, was rude as hell, made it clear that he'd gone to all this effort, and that he was not happy, and that he wasn't going to do anything to faciliate rescheduling any of the things that had been cancelled. And was just totally obnoxious about it. Kept saying, "I'm not willing to do any of these things because he keeps changing his mind. I have done everything that I can do." I said, "You have not done everything that you CAN do; you have done everything that you are WILLING to do." And he said I was wrong, and reiterated the same thing again.

I am a pretty reasonable person. I understand that patient noncompliance is really a problem. I understand that this kind of thing creates tons of problems for all of the staff. I really do. I am not unsympathetic about this at all. But Michael only changed his mind because of what this guy said... and then he is an absolute total jerk about the whole thing. I am angry. Still. And hopefully I will stay angry for long enough to write the letter of complaint that I fully intend to write.

Anyway. Here we are, as I said. Still on one heart med. With three units of blood that appear to have done no real good. And hopefully scheduled for a colonoscopy on Monday, oh joy. At least, that's the notion behind staying here, to get that done rather than waiting until January as scheduled.

So here is my confession: last night, I was both so hungry and so upset that I stopped on the way home and bought a loaf of forbidden wheat bread plus some cheese and some chocolate, and ate most of it. No, clearly I'm not done with emotional eating. You think you've gotten past that particular bad habit... and things get bad enough, and it all comes right back to bite you.

And here is my hospital food rant. The food here is atrocious... but that's not the issue. When we were in the emergency room, I asked the doctor if I could go out and get us some food. She said, sure, but it has to be diabetic-appropriate. Then the nurse offered us the box lunch from the hospital cafeteria. Contents... two slices of turkey on a HUGE white roll. A container of peaches in syrup. A container of apple juice. And a sugar cookie. WHAT exactly in this meal is diabetic-appropriate? (Answer: the turkey, which was also salty as hell.) Every single meal in this hospital has been just like that. French toast. Turkey and gravy on white bread. Mounds of stuffing. Pudding. Sweetened juice. Absolutely unreal. At least now he's on clear liquids, in preparation for the scoping, so food ceases to be an issue, for him anyway.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Some years, it's harder to give thanks than others.

I'm having a hard time.

It's the first Thanksgiving since my mother died. A little over four months, and it's as raw as ever. My father is really not well. I am absolutely swamped with work, and I see no end in sight. And worst of all, Michael is only getting sicker, and no one seems to really know what the problem is. His anemia continues to be severe, his blood tests show all sorts of unexplained things, his breathing is so bad that we now have an oxygen concentrator, his heart rate is about twice normal... in a good moment... and he's exhausted and confused a lot of the time. Right now, he's gone back to bed, to sleep. Hooked to the oxygen, in a way that's all too reminiscent of the last few days of my mother's life. It's not the same situation, I know. But it's hard not to be scared to death. And it's hard not to feel desperately alone. Which, let's face it, I am.

I only make things worse by being frightened. I only make things worse by not taking care of myself because it's so hard to take care of me and him. And my son gets the short end of the stick, as always... he's at his father's today; I sent him there because I knew it would be a grim holiday here.

So. And now what? How do I put the pieces together? How do I see the good in all of this? How do I see the way through this and to the next thing?

I don't have the answer yet. But I will, somehow. And right now, I have a turkey to cook. Plus under all of this, there are things to be thankful for. I just have to find them. .

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Food Diaries

I have to say that almost at the top of my list of things that I don't want to do is start keeping a food diary again.

I did, for a very long time. I did it obsessively for a year and a half right after Michael and I got married, before we were eating low carb. I have to say that one of the extreme pleasures of low carb for me was that I felt like I could stop keeping a food diary, after I got the hang of it. And it just made everything better, in two ways.

First, it always takes me a lot of time. I eat almost no prepared foods, so all the components of every recipe have to go in there somewhere, and it can take ages if its something complicated. I can get around that with recipes that I prepare often... but that's not a lot of things. So it forces me to spend a lot of time and get obsessive about measuring and, all in all, put a lot of much-needed brain cells into an activity that doesn't thrill me. And I hate all the software, too, to varying degrees.

Secondly... although I suppose that it doesn't really have to be this way... it causes a lot of marital friction, or at least it did when it was "our" food diary and not "my" food diary, because I had to keep careful track of what Michael ate, and I am not that great about keeping my mouth shut about things that I think he shouldn't eat. Which is a whole different post, I think, the different ways that people relate to food. And I don't want to go down that road again; we have entirely enough stress going on already.

But let's face it. I am not losing weight at any great speed. Or, really, at all. Just bouncing the same few pounds back and forth. And I'll regain them next week when I go to NYC with my student team, if I'm not VERY careful anyway. I'm feeling fitter since I've been doing the Wii (more about that some time in the future), even though it's been kind of intermittent, and I've been eating a better balance of food lately. And everyone who's commented is right, and I do eat too much salt, and so on... and I know that I'm stressed, etc.... but at the end of the day, I need to do something to change the current pattern. And much though I hate this idea, I think that I'm going to have to go back to a food diary, at least for a while, and make sure that my carbs AND calories are where they should be. I think that my carbs are ok, but that really, I just eat too much to actually lose weight.

And so I'm just going to have to go back to doing this, at least for a while.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Get Back on the Stupid Horse

It's just a world of weight-loss angst out there. It seems like almost no one is doing well with their weight loss goals at the moment. And this time of year... in the Northeast anyway, you just want to curl up by the fire, hibernate, and add on a few layers of fat to get through the cold winter. (Ok, reality check...: we still don't have a fireplace, and it was 78 degrees in upstate NY yesterday, but this time of year makes me feel that way anyhow.)

I''m not losing weight, and I feel really lousy. Michael is not losing weight, not eating properly, and feeling really lousy. The theme here... general misery.

I don't think that this is the same problem. We used to eat pretty much all the same things all the time (yeah, Nina, get a clue... if you eat pretty much the same thing as someone who weighs nearly twice as much as you do, you are not going to lose weight). Over the last few months, we've pretty much given that up, for a whole variety of reasons but mostly because Michael's been feeling so lousy that the foods that he can tolerate are a small (and variable) subset of things that I'm willing to eat, plus some more carby things that I'm really not willing to eat much of.

My problem, on the whole is that, let's face it, I am eating too much, and I am eating too much fat, and I am occasionally just mindlessly eating things that I have no business eating. Let's take yesterday's botched eating attempts...
1. started the morning with smoked salmon and cream cheese on multigrain, high fiber crackers. These crackers are not the worst thing in the universe, but that's about 16 carbs right there, and usually I skip them. But this particular salmon was not the best, and it's really better on a cracker, so that was my "reason"... and it "needed to be eaten." Sigh. Nothing "needs to be eaten."
2. Came home for lunch. Had some cottage cheese and leftover steak that I'd made last night. This would have been kind of ok, but I ate about twice as much as I needed to. Why? No idea. The one clear idea was that I needed to have some proper lunch before I went to my student meeting... and that didn't work out at all because...
3. Went to student lunch meeting. Ate two revolting slices of pizza, quickly and like there was no tomorrow. I have no idea why I ate this. I am usually pretty good at skipping this kind of thing, but it was like a reversion to some earlier, more compulsive time.
4. Came home. Ate the rest of the leftover steak "because I won't be back for a few hours and I might be hungry."
5. Went and gave a two-hour exam (would I have starved in two hours? Very likely not.). Came back and had dinner about an hour later... pork roast and salad. Ate most of the crackly skin off the outside, which I have to say was really yummy, but nothing but a ton of fat.
6. All of the above doesn't include the cream in my coffee, and the other bits of cheese or whatever that I probably picked up as I was cooking. And a few sugar-free chocolates.

I am actually quite embarrassed to write that all down. I was not eating like this a few months ago.

I need to do some major rethinking about what and how, and probably most importantly, WHY I'm eating like this. I am eating too much fat... and, yes, you can of course eat far too much fat and far too much food, even if it's a low carb diet (actually, I did ok on carbs yesterday). There's just some point where you're eating too many calories for weight loss, and where you're providing your body with far too much easily accessible fat to make it burn the stored fat. I need to completely retool what I'm eating, because I am simply Not Getting Anywhere, and I feel just awful. Not surprising really.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Too Many Carbs, Too Many Calories?

I am not losing weight. Actually, I'm gaining weight. I am about 3 lbs. higher than I started the week. And I can't for the life of me figure out why or if I should be doing anything other than noticing that it's weird and moving on. The strange thing is that this weight gain has coincided with the last three days, which have been different only in that I've been doing the Wii Fit program.

I have a feeling that I should just be ignoring this and letting it sort itself out, but really... I mean, I've been paying NO attention to what I've been eating for months. And eating far too much, though still low carb. And my weight pretty much hasn't changed. I start getting my head together to really pay attention to this again, and what happens? Not only can't I lose weight, but I'm gaining. Arrrgh. I am just really annoyed.

Yesterday I ate... cottage cheese and some cold fish for breakfast, eggs and smoked salmon for lunch, a Starbucks latte, swordfish and broccoli and a few carrots for dinner. 2 glasses of wine. Tea with milk. Oh, and some Jarlesburg cheese that I was nibbling on, and 2 Russell Stover sugar-free chocolates. Carb sources... the carrots, the milk, mainly.

I just don't know. My short term plan? Nothing in particular, I guess. My important student competition is Monday, and there is just too much to do to spend a lot of time focusing on this, unfortunately. Keep up the Wii, and try to not get totally stressed by this because I have way too much other stuff to be stressed about at the moment. But I am really puzzled and annoyed.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


So, I need to get more exercise. Lots and lots and lots. And I'm really having a problem with this. One part is a time thing... this is my seriously insanely busy part of the year... but that's a short-term issue. The biggest problem is that the kind of exercise that works best for me is a little difficult for me to be doing right now. I just don't exercise well at home. I know, if I were a better person, I would buy a treadmill or something, and I would do the billion exercise DVDs that I own. But I'm not. A treadmill would become an expensive clothes rack, and the DVDs are just getting dusty. I am terrible at self-motivated exercise. Put me in the gym, and I'm happy as a clam, because I'm there to work out, and I don't get distracted. Put me on a racquetball court, and I'm really, really happy. Leave me at home with a DVD, and I'll sit on the couch curled up with a book. I know, no self discipline. I should be able to do something that bores me out of my skull and makes me miserable for a lousy half hour a day, right?

I can't go to the gym right now, and I'm having a hard time fitting in racquetball. And it sounds like an excuse, but it's all about Michael. He can't do these things, not yet. And every time I leave the house, it's a slap in the face for him... it reminds him that he still can't drive, that he still can't walk really, that he is stuck in the house and I am flitting around like a butterfly (ha!). He doesn't say this, but I see it very clearly. And so he says, go to the gym, but I can't. Not yet. Not until he can come with me. Work is not negotiable, but this kind of thing is.

So I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. Can't do the exercise I want, too... lazy or unmotivated or intolerant of boredom or whatever... to just DO the things that I could do at home. So this week, in a "let's do something even if it's stupid" move, I bought a Wii Fit balance board. We had a Wii anyway (also gathering dust, I might add), so it wasn't a huge investment. And I've done this the last couple of days, and I have to report that this thing is really kind of fun.

So, here is a report based only on a couple of days of use.

1. This is the big one for me. It's interactive. Every exercise requires some kind of paying attention... focusing on where your balance is, that kind of thing. So you have to pay attention, and there's something that gives you some kind of feedback on whether you're doing well or not. Those DVD fitness instructors never notice if you sit down and drink tea instead of following along! I really like this part, and I suspect that this is what might make this work for me.
2. There are "rewards." Do a certain amount of whatever, and you unlock new games/exercises. I like rewards.
3. If you are way out of shape, like me, even the fairly simple exercises really are a workout of sorts. I am sore. A little anyway.
4. There are a variety of things to do, and some of them are pretty fun. The basic step thing is fun. The balance games would probably be fun if I had any sense of balance. And there are four different areas... balance games, yoga, strength training, and aerobics. Some of these would clearly not be very challenging if you were already in great shape, but just about everyone needs to work on balance.

1. What I said above about difficulty level. But I'm a long way from there.
2. Response time is pretty good, but there are a lot of screens you have to flip through. Makes it take about 25 minutes to do 14 minutes of actual workout time. Haven't found a good way to streamline this yet, if there is one.
3. I get the impression from other reviewers that there isn't really a great workout disc for the Wii Fit yet. Like all startup Wii programs (like Wii Sports, for example), there's a lot of good stuff here but some clear limits. As far a I know, the only other disc for this is by Jillian Michaels, and it does not seem to be getting good reviews, in part due to poor response time.

All in all... definitely worth it at the moment. Let's see where I'm at with it in a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Discouraging days

Sometimes I try to think about what the theme of this blog is, and I mostly think it's about trying like hell to get yourself healthy again all odds and in the face of a lot of really discouraging life stuff. It is hard, like my little Sisyphus gif to the left, not to let yourself get worn down by this stuff. Really hard. And the trouble is that health is not about one huge burst of effort; it's about day to day to day to day small incremental choices. It takes a lot of effort to make the right choices again and again, especially when it's hard to see that they're getting you anywhere. Sometimes you just want to quit and go get a pizza. Sometimes you do quit and go get a pizza. But the trouble is that you just have to get back on the horse, every time, because at the end of the day, there aren't any other choices.

It has just been hard here lately. I don't say this in the rest of my life because... well, I don't know. Because there's no one to say it to, I guess. Because I don't feel comfortable saying, I can't shake this ocean of sadness. Because I don't feel comfortable saying, life, at the moment, is hard.

Michael is losing weight, which in the grand scheme of things is great, but it's slow (although actually pretty fast by any reasonable standard). But it hasn't made much of a difference to his physical problems, not yet. And he is so discouraged because he's really no closer to being able to walk without terrible pain and feeling unstable all the time. This has only been aggravated by the rounds of doctors that we've been seeing lately... the regular guy (conclusion: Michael's iron count is really low, take some iron, see some more doctors), the lung guy (conclusion: everything is ok; it's just hard to breathe when you're fat), and the two doctors we see on Friday. He's tired of being poked, and the walking and getting up and down and up and down doesn't help his knee. He's just so low, and it kills me to see him like this... plus it doesn't help how I feel, either. I really realized this last week when he started taking iron and suddenly, wow, he was a little like his old self again. And I felt light; I felt like maybe I could cope with everything.

This week hasn't been like that.

There's no conclusion here, nothing upbeat at the end. This all will pass. I hope.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekly Stats, October 20

Michael: 443.2, -4.0, total loss since January: 99.7 lbs., total overall loss 170.3 lbs.
Nina: 280.0, -0.7, total loss since January, 22.2 lbs.

Progress toward 5% of body weight goal: Nina, 29% of the way to goal; Michael, 11% toward goal.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

All the Wrong Messages... the Electrolux Ads

Have you seen the series of annoying Electrolux ads with Kelly Ripa? These have been high on my annoy list for some time, but the latest one, which is for a washer and dryer, has just maxed it out for me. It just seems to me that every message in this all wrong.

First of all, Kelly Ripa is frighteningly thin. Some people wear thin well, but she just isn't one of them. Back when she was a young actress on All My Children, she was very pretty, and not at all stick thin, so there's nothing that would convince me that there isn't an eating problem involved here somewhere. She looks all wrong, and it gives the ads an air of the surreal. And in today's society, if you're too fat, that's bad, but if you're too thin, you get TV commercials and the cover of fitness magazines. When are we going to learn that "fit" means "healthy", and that too far on either side is unhealthy?

Secondly, the whole "message" of these ads is that these appliances reduce your work time to zero so that you can skip around like a magic elf. I'm sure that I'm being silly here and taking this all far too seriously, but you know, even with the most fabulous washer/dryer in the universe (and I have to say that those Electrolux front-loaders look pretty nice...), laundry is still work. Not work like in it was in 1900, but still work. So is loading the dishwasher, emptying it, cleaning the kitchen, and so on (not that I think that Kelly Ripa actually does any of these things, so maybe she does skip around like a magic elf).

Thirdly, and this is the one that really put me over the edge on this particular commercial, the thing that these appliances apparently free up you time for is making massive chocolate chip cookies for your kids, so they can eat them while glued to the TV (hard to tell but that's what it looks like to me). Fine message. The way to be a good mom is to feed your kids huge lumps of sugar and park them in front of the television.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Weekly Stats, October 13

Michael: 447.2, +1.5, total loss since January: 95.7 lbs., total overall loss 166.3 lbs.
Nina: 280.7, -3.5, total loss since January, 21.5 lbs.

Progress toward 5% of body weight goal: Nina, 25% of the way to goal; Michael, -7% toward goal.

A weird week, all in all, partly because I was gone for a couple of days at a conference, and everything tends to kind of go to hell if I'm not here. So not perhaps as good a week as it might have been, although it's refreshing that my weight is down for a change. (Hey, at this rate, I might beat Michael in the 5% challenge, and since he has been Incredibly Smug, that would give me a certain amount of satisfaction.)

This week I just have to fly down to NYC tomorrow, back in the evening, and it's going to be a long day and very likely not a good food day, but I'll try. And then we get back to what passes for normal around here.

Mostly I've been thinking about all of the things that I do that are not exactly helpful toward losing weight. Which is a whole different post, maybe after I've had about ten more cups of tea....

Monday, October 6, 2008

Weekly Stats, October 6

This is kind of a restart point for us, so rather than posting weekly change (since I haven't in a couple of weeks anyway), this is just where we're at. Notice that Michael is still doing impressively well (I am so proud of him!), and basically I'm not. Oh well....

: 446.2, total loss since January: 97.2 lbs., total overall loss 167.8 lbs.
Nina: 284.2, total loss since January, 18 lbs.

So today we are starting our 5% challenge.
For me... 5% = 14.2 lbs, or 270
For Michael... 5% = 22.3 or 423.9

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The 5% Solution

Yes, I haven't exactly been posting lately. Or weighing myself, or much of anything else, although I've managed to stary pretty religiously low-carb no matter what else has been going on. And what's been going on has mostly been stress and exhaustion... Michael's been sick, partly a cold of some sort, partly a worsening of the breathing problems that he's had for a while. And we have been extremely tired and stressed and unhappy with each other and the world. It's not been a good few weeks at all.

But at some point, you just have to start over again. I say that like I've been doing something bad, which I really haven't although certainly the volume of food I've been eating is too much and the amount of exercise I've been getting is too little, and it's all been compounded by something I did to my neck/upper back on the last Baltimore trip, which has meant that it's extremely painful to lie down, and thus hard to sleep, which absolutely Does Not Help. But I haven't much been focusing on my weight, or health, or anything else... not for a long time, really. This last six months has been all about my mother and about Michael and about everything that's wrong. Is it any surprise that I get up every morning with some Dorothy Parker-like "what fresh hell is this?" sort of feeling?

It's time to refocus.

It's time to think about taking care of me a little.

It's time to think about getting things done rather than obsessing about how little I want to do them.

So we decided, by way of incentive, that starting Monday, that traditional diet restart day, we are challenging each other to lose 5% of our body weight. This started out as Michael saying that he could lose 30 lbs. faster than I could... which I didn't argue! I mean, besides the fact that I haven't exactly been losing a lot of weight anyway, 30 lbs. on him is a lot lower weight % than it is on me. And then we said, ok, he would lose 30 lbs. and I would lose 15. And that seemed ok, but the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense to me to think of this as a body weight percentage... that's fair; that's even for everyone. So we're weighing in tomorrow, and then figuring out what 5% is. And we'll see what happens. I'm not sure what Fabulous Prizes the winner gets, other than bragging rights, but I'm positive that Michael thinks he can do this faster than I can, so I have that spirit of competitiveness going, which is not a bad thing. Oh, and the rule is, you cannot starve yourself. Which doesn't work anyway.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dieting for Couples

Ever since we've been married, we've been on a diet.

Ok, not a diet, a change in lifestyle, a way of eating... but whatever you want to call it, we've been trying to lose weight. This has not, on the whole, been a happy thing for us, as you might imagine. Actually, frustrating beyond words might well be a whole lot better way of putting it. There are so many reasons why, but I think that the bottom line comes down to a combination of different styles and issues about control. Both of which seem to be worse when you have people with food issues anyway.

Me, I'm a rules-oriented person. I love rules. I love rules because there's no ambiguity, and I can just say, THIS is what we're doing. Exceptions? Of course not. That would be just wrong. (Obsessive? Yes! A tad too rigid? Well, yeah, probably.) But I am brilliant at rules. Tell me that you want a cup of coffee in the morning, and it will be there every day. Forever. And if you say, "I don't feel like coffee today", I'll be all disconcerted. Because that's what the rule was.

Michael, not so much. All you have to do is tell him that he cannot have something, and that will be the number one most wonderful thing in the universe. And the reverse is also true... he has a pretty low tolerance for anything that is easily accessible and Just No Problem if you eat it. That last bit's not entirely fair... I think it's more that he simply gets tired of things extremely quickly. And I can't say that I think he's ever bought into the low-carb thing heart and soul, even though it's been really successful for him.

All of this leads to, as you'd imagine, more than a little conflict. And it's more and more clear to me that something about this dynamic has just got to change. This is the hard part. He thinks that I want to control what he eats... or part of him does anyway... and so he sometimes gets just furious if I mention that it's necessary to keep an eye on the carb content of what he's eating. Hm. Ok. Yeah, as I type that out, I can see certainly why it's annoying to be reminded of that. But... I don't know, what's the option? I really have a hard time with this, in part because I'm so worried about him and because I can see how poor food choices impact both his rate of weight loss (or lately, not losing weight) and his blood sugar. And then he lies in bed at night and frets about not losing weight, and it's hard not to say, maybe you should have thought about that when you were eating X earlier in the day... (not that I would ever say that!).

The other part is that left to his own devices, he doesn't eat at all half the time. And then he gets really hungry and grabs crackers or something like that. (Side note: an economist friend of mine is doing some really interesting research on how mortality rates change after the death of a spouse. His conclusion at the moment: statistically, there's not much impact on women's probability of death, but a fairly big impact on men, probably because at least some men just don't do the "caring" things for themselves that their wives did... proper nutrition, seeing the doctor.) So it's hard to feel like the caring thing to do is just to get out of the way and let him make his own food choices... especially since I shop and cook these days, because he's really not able to.

Sigh. I am really not sure how to change this, although it seems to me part of a big lesson that life is trying to teach me these days, that it is ok for people to handle things in ways that are different than you would.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Non-Weigh-In

You were really checking for stats, right? Well, in a gesture of defiance (or stupidity!), we're not doing that this week.

This isn't much about food/low-carb/fitness either.

It was a terrible week. I spent my LAST weekend in Baltimore, cleaning out my mother's apartment. It's not done, really, but all the things that I had to be there for are done. I simply can't do it any more. It's putting too much of a strain on everything else in my life, and besides that, it's like ripping the scab off an open wound every two weeks. Just as soon as you get somewhere that feels like a little healing, you do it again. I've had enough. I am absolutely emotionally raw, and there just has to be some point where you stop doing this to yourself.

But this whole experience has made me think a lot about some things. My mother was a saver of everything, and she was also a writer, and so, even without really trying to spend a lot of time reading things, going through files and so on gave a pretty good snapshot of a life. And it confirmed something I always knew anyway... my mother was a deeply unhappy woman most of her life. I knew about the later parts, especially the very unhappy marriage to my father, but the thing that never crystallized until now was how unhappy she was even before then. And this is sad... an endless black hole of unhappiness, really... but it also makes you think. At some point, when all of your life is unhappy, you have to stop thinking about the circumstances that make you unhappy and start looking at how you interface with the world. My mother always thought, in a simple kind of way, that her problem was the way that the world treated her... that she was basically ok but that everyone else had a problem. (Actually, in one of the most staggering statements of denial that I've every heard, she once said that she wanted to take Prozac only when other people were around "because other people seem to deal with me better when I take it.") But everyone else in the world is not wrong. When all of your interactions with other people are problematic, at some point, you have to examine what you are doing, how your attitudes and expectations may be creating the problems.

Don't get me wrong. My mother was a wonderful person in any number of ways, and she was unique and extraordinary and very special. But also very unhappy and very damaged by both her childhood and the choices she made after that, and she did a good job of passing on the pain. Sometimes you can see people a lot more clearly in their absence. And I see the difficult relationships with my sisters getting better. I see my own hand in my own unhappiness. I see a lot of previously-hidden things... many of which I'd just as soon skip, really. But avoidance just lets the cycle continue.

And this feels like one of those rarest of life-moments, a point where you can feel everything changing, and you know that you have a choice about where to go.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Weekly Stats, September 15

Michael: -0.6 lbs, 453.8, total loss since January: 89.5 lbs., total overall loss 160 lbs.
Nina: -0.8 lbs, 278, total loss since January, 24.2 lbs.

Well. What can I say? At least my weight was fractionally lower and hopefully after this weekend's trip to Baltimore, I can get back to Really Serious. Because, let's face it, I have not exactly been putting everything in the world into this for some time. Michael's weight loss slowed this week, but he still lost some after bouncing around a bit throughout the week. That's fine, too, though unexciting... he's been doing so very well throughout the summer that the occasional slow week is only to be expected.

Last night, the power went out about midnight... leftover winds from Ike, I gather... and didn't come back on until 4, so I tossed and turned until that happened. Then had to get up at 6 to make sure that my son's alarm went off (yes, I am a bad mom; I usually don't get up with him unless I have an early class. He is a grumpy boy in the morning, and more than capable of toasting his bagel.). Back to sleep for a few hours of weird dreams, and then up... result, we are all a little groggy today except for Son, who is delighted because in the end school was canceled, giving him a mostly-free day with the New Big TV.

We're trying a slightly new regime this week, or Michael is, anyway. I sort of cringe when I say this, but I think that he's not eating enough carbs. Every little low-carb bone in my body shivers when I say that, because I know that technically, there is no carb requirement. But for him, at just above 450 lbs., just moving is exercise. And he's been exhausted all the time lately. Some of this may be something unrelated (and I'm still wondering if the endocrinologist will find something when we FINALLY get to see him/her in January), but I think that part of it may be that he's not eating that much, rich fatty foods aggravate the stomach issues caused by his hernia so he doesn't eat that much of them, and he's not eating something extra to compensate. Result: fatigue all the time. Possibly slightly low blood sugar all the time. So what we're going to try by way of experiment is supplementing his diet with soups and legumes for maybe a 10-15 carb boost per meal. He's still going to be well in the low-carb range, but not in that 30-40 carb range. We'll see what happens.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Life and TVs, sort of

I haven't exactly been posting a lot lately, not for lack of thoughts but due to general life chaos, I guess. Every time I think about the thoughtful, insightful thing I'd like to write, life sort of takes over, and it seems pretty unimportant.

These are the things that I really want to write about: body image, hunger, diet and emotional state, the challenges of eating a high-quality diet in a world of junk, cooking that works because it's great cooking and not because it's low carb.

Here are the things that are actually happening in my life: dealing with watching my spouse in pain all the time and not coping well, a whole lot of work and work-related issues, a looming (and hopefully final) trip to help clear out my mother's apartment, and a computer that totally crashed yesterday, taking all day and a lot of stress to repair.

To add to all the actually serious stuff, I spent most of yesterday evening and all of today (and expecting to spend all of tomorrow) totally rearranging much of my house, a move spurred by my son's desire to have a Huge TV to play Playstation games. I told him he could have this thing if he earned the money for it (the other condition being that he had to put half of any money that he earned into his college fund), and he actually did it, working mostly for his grandfather this summer, doing hard labor getting clam seed ready to ship (don't ask!). So the Huge TV arrived, and now we have to find somewhere to put the thing plus we had to rearrange the room that the adults sit in to accommodate the Not Quite Huge TV (although still pretty ridiculously large, if you ask me). I am still in the middle of that part, and haven't even gotten to the Huge TV part, although I'd better before he comes back from his father's on Saturday or there will be one disappointed kid. And he did really work for this, even though his mom admittedly thinks that the whole thing is silly.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Weekly Stats, September 8

This is a two-week weigh-in, as last week I was in Maine with my family at my mother's memorial service.

: -5.72 lbs, 454.5, total loss since January: 89 lbs., total overall loss 159 lbs.
Nina: +2.5 lbs, 279, total loss since January, 23 lbs.

Don't know what to say, really. Kind of the usual... Michael continues to do well; I continue to do not so well, fluctuating around the same base point that I've been at for a long time. Part of me says, it's been just an awful time, and you really should be ok with pretty much maintaining. Part of me says, yes, but when do you stop babying yourself and say, it's time to do something different?

I feel more like the second thing. I am so tired of feeling wretchedly awful, so tired of waking up every morning depressed as hell and then weighing myself, which makes me even more depressed. I feel like I'm giving into it all. And beyond everything else, I'm tired of feeling sick and anxious and unhappy. It's like all the stress of the past year and a half since Mom was diagnosed with cancer has all consolidated into now... all the things that I didn't feel then, because at least then there were things that I could do for her... all of that is compressed into this intense sadness that I can't seem to shake.

I know it hasn't been that long really. Not even two months. I know that a lot of this is kind of normal. But life has to go on; you have to pick up the pieces and do something different. I have to put me back together, somehow.

And maybe this isn't an appropriate topic for a blog that's meant to be about low-carb stuff. Or losing weight, anyway. But you know, losing weight isn't something that happens while the rest of your life is on hold. The whole process of losing weight is about the every day things, the days that are bad, the days that are good, and how this affects what you actually do. Part of the process of losing weight is not losing weight, of having weeks and months sometimes when nothing works, for whatever reason (and there's a good post on The Divine Low Carb about this, sort of, too).

But I still don't know where exactly I'm supposed to go from here... in the same way that Michael sees the scales go down but gets frustrated because he's still injuring himself all the time, still in so much pain, and still waiting for some day to be really better.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Every so often, it all just seems so damn unnecessarily complicated. There are about 20 types of cough drops/throat lozenges in the drug store. How many are sugar free? THREE. There are about ten or fifteen types of frozen meals. How many are low carb, really low carb? ZERO. And how many aren't stuffed with preservatives and things that you can't pronounce? ZERO. (Ok, maybe there's something in the organic section, but most of those aren't a lot better, and they're all high carb.) How can you get food that's actually worth eating? Make it yourself. That's really about the only choice. And be careful to read the label on everything, because you'll find that vitamins contain colorants, Aleve gelcaps contain tons of colorants, and so on... except that you mostly can't tell unless you carry a magnifying glass. Or, sometimes, phone the company to find out what the inactive ingredients that they don't list actually are. And you will have to pay even more to purchase things that do not have unnecessary additives.

Does this all have to be so hard? Do there really have to be so very few alternatives?

Yes, I'm just tired and annoyed, and it's all a little too much.

Conversation at the bank:
Teller: This money order that you are trying to deposit was not signed by the purchaser. You can't deposit it.
Nina: Ok.
Teller: Would you like me to adjust the amount of your deposit since you can't deposit this?
Nina: Are there any other alternatives?
Teller: *absolute dead blank look*
Teller: *moment of complete silence*
Teller: No.
Nina: Then, yes, that is what I would like you to do.

(I mean, is it ME? And would she have noticed if I'd just driven out of the drivethrough, signed the damn money order since you can't tell who purchased it anyway, and then driven through again? Which is what I will very likely do tomorrow since it's far too time-consuming to track down my tenant who forgot to sign this...)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekly Stats, August 25

Michael: -1.75 lbs, 460.2, total loss since January: 83.16 lbs., total overall loss 153.76 lbs.
Nina: +0.66 lbs, 276.5, total loss since January, 25.75 lbs.

Michael continues to do well.

I continue to do not so well, although that's partly monthly bloating. But I'm actually ok with that, short-run ok anyway. The good bit: I did keep my promise to set up racquetball, played today, won all three games, and my thigh/hip/whatever I hurt last spring didn't bother me particularly. Now I just need to get through this week and find someone else to play with, too... I'd like to be playing at least twice a week, and I'm thinking that my regular partner is really only interested in playing one day, this semester anyway.

But this is the tough week. My classes start tomorrow, and Friday I fly to Maine. My mother's memorial service is on Saturday, and I won't get home until Tuesday. So next week's weigh-in will be Wednesday... and here's hoping to just maintain through this (and that Michael, who's staying home, does too). And then maybe the emotional wreckage that's been a feature of nearly every day this summer will have a chance to die back, settle down, subside. And we can get our lives back a little, and focus really hard on these health issues.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jamie Oliver Cookbook Review, Part II

Just in case anyone's been waiting with eager anticipation to see what snarky comments I had about Jamie Oliver's cookbook after I actully cooked something from it (rather than after I just read most of it and looked at the pictures), here you are...

I've cooked several things from this book now, and I have to say, this is a good but weirdly idiosyncratic, in my opinion, book.

1. Perfect instructions for pan-searing salmon, a cooking method that I invariably screw up, usually overcooking the salmon until it's pretty nasty. Same thing for pan-grilling steak. Just absolutely perfect. So, ok, I take back some of my previously snippy words; this did teach me a couple of skills that I was terrible at.
2. Absolutely awesome recipe for lima beans with leeks. I know, half of you are going, "lima beans, ick", and the other half of you are going "but Nina, that's not exactly low carb, is it?" I love lima beans; they're great if they're cooked properly. And, no, it's not the most low-carb thing in the universe, and you have to be very careful with portion size. Regardless, this recipe is just beyond good. Also a wonderful recipe for lamb shanks, simple, easy to adapt to other things, and really, really good.
3. A lot of these recipes involve simple sauces. If you make these in a little extra quantity (or if, like us, you're really cooking for 2 with a recipe for 4), you end up with a bunch of sauces that can be used for other things, making a lot of quick and sloppy food look like you actually spent some time on it.
4. There are many recipes in this book that need little or no adaptation for a low carb diet. I have to say that I've mostly given up on low-carb cookbooks... well, let me put that another way; I prefer cooking real food and leaving out the carb stuff to adding a lot of low-carb substitutes. So this kind of book, which has sections that are certainly unsuitable (skip the pasta, obviously) but probably 2/3 of the book which is fine without adaptation, are my idea of a good cookbook.

The BAD:
1 (and only): Proportions, proportions, proportions. The first part, the inexact measures. How much rosemary is in "a bunch?" Less than I used, evidently. How much olive oil is in "a glug?" How much butter in "a knob?" (Ok, that last one is actually a sort of standard term, although it has a great deal of inexactness, too.) Yes, these things are kind of charming, but they're far better after you've made the recipe once. But the bigger issue is that the proportions in many of the recipes are just wrong. Most wrong was the rosemary-anchovy-lemon sauce for the salmon, simply FAR too much lemon, not enough anchovies, and I think I just didn't put enough rosemary in since I hadn't figured out that his bunch idea is a lot bigger than mine.

I think that once you realize that the proportions are likely to be wrong, it's ok... you can work with that. It's the part where you're thinking that these numbers have some meaning that are really a problem. I do understand that this is partly what I call the professional chef problem... my sister is just like this; you ask her how to make something, and she can usually tell you the ingredients but not the proportions.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Weekly Stats, August 17

Michael: -3.5 lbs, 462, total loss since January: 81.4 lbs., total overall loss 152 lbs.
Nina: -0.5 lbs, 275.8, total loss since January, 26.4 lbs.

Not bad all things considered. Michael is just doing really well, I think, and I suppose that I'm happy as long as I'm losing something and not gaining something, but really I'm a little tired of this weight. Apparently not tired of it enough to actually move around a bit more and be more careful, sigh. But school will start next week, and that will help. And here is my public commitment; I will email my racquetball partner and see if she wants to play this week.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dealing with injury

I just haven't been able to get it together to post anything this week, and I look back and try to figure out why... busy? No, not really. Nothing to say? No, not really. I think it's just this lingering emotional exhaustion that takes over half the time. I am hoping this will go away soon, although I am sure not holding my breath. There are still a ton of emotionally exhausting things yet to do... my mother's memorial service at the end of the month, and at least one more trip to Baltimore to clear things out, not sure when. I know that it's reasonable for these things to wear me out, but it's still not what I want, and it's going to get even harder when the semester starts in just over a week. No, I am not ready.

But the really hardest thing has been Michael. His leg injury from last spring seems to have recurred... it was getting a lot better, but it's now much worse, so much worse that it's difficult for him to move at all; he's in a lot of pain, and he spends a great deal of time just worrying about it. The physical therapist says, this will get better, keep with the exercises, and we're going to try to get back to the doctor as soon as possible, hopefully next week, but this has just been so endless and grueling that he loses heart. The fact of the matter is that while he is an awesome 150 lbs. below his top weight, he is still more than 200 lbs. above his goal weight, and its been a lot of years since he's been close to that. The continual skeletal stress has taken its toll, and part of the problem is that he just keeps injuring himself again and again because nothing really heals. I know that this will eventually get better if he can just hang in there... I really believe that... but the waiting is interminable, and the worst thing is that every day he goes through this long cycle of worrying about it and talking about it and worrying about it, and so on. I think that this is doing less good than anything else, because it accomplishes absolutely nothing... he doesn't go through this head exercise and then feel better somehow; he just feels worse. And he makes me unbelievably anxious in the process. I say, we would both be better off if we could stop this cycle, and he seems to think that what this is about is me not wanting to be worrying about him. Well, yeah, this anxiety is not doing me any good, but that's not the point... it's that it's not doing him any good, and it's not progressing toward something better.

I know that he is frightened. I know that he is afraid that he will never walk normally again. I don't think that this is the reality, unless he stops losing weight, stops trying, but I can see why he would be afraid.

I don't know what to do really. I think that what he seriously needs is a commanding, reassuring person. Someone to say, I have seen a thousand people like you, I know how this progresses, do X, Y, and Z, and this will be perfectly fine in 6 months. Someone he could believe in. And we don't have this person; the doctors and the physical therapist are all ok, but frankly they give absolutely no impression that they have ever dealt with the issues presented by someone of his size. If I could find a physical therapist or personal trainer with that kind of experience, that would be fantastic, but I simply have no idea where to even start. So I don't know what to do to be supportive, to be helpful, other than listen... but this endless worry is not doing any good. I know that it's hard to disconnect from this when you're in constant pain, but somehow I think he has to try.

I don't know. That's the big thing. And it soaks up all the air in the room, and I sit here and know that I am not doing what I should to take care of things, to take care of myself, but right now, I have no idea how to start the process of doing that again.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weekly Stats, August 11

Michael: -4.5 lbs, 465.2, total loss since January: 77.8 lbs., total overall loss 148.5 lbs.
Nina: -0.5 lbs, 276.5, total loss since January, 25.7 lbs.

Not bad. Michael says, we could be trying harder. I certainly could be trying harder; let's face it, since Mom died I've been kind of on autopilot. It will be a month tomorrow. I could try harder. I think he's doing pretty damn well, though.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Changing What You Do

This morning, I was reading this discussion over at Half of Me. It's really about using pants rather than weight as a measure of change, but what struck me more was the discussion about food habits, about the kind of weird little justifications that we make... "I can eat anything because it's Christmas" "I can eat anything because I'm in California" and so on. Times when there are no rules. Now, I am perfectly willing to believe that the vast majority of the world has food habits that are less screwed up than mine, and that for some people, "day off" dieting is fine, and that some people can be trusted to go on vacation without coming home 50 lbs heavier. I don't think that I'm one of them, not yet. The link listed above talks about exactly the same kind of thing that I'd do... searching for an ice cream (that I didn't necessarily really want) because I was still in L.A., and I'd just have to cram it in, because I could. It's all-or-nothing thinking, and I'm a pro at it. Really, really good. And Michael is even better.

I am not sure that it is possible to change this kind of behavior completely. (I'm also not sure that it absolutely isn't.) But I'm fairly certain of one thing... a huge reason why so many people successfully lose weight but do not keep it off is because they lose weight using a specific set of "rules", and then they stop following those rules, because they've lost the weight. But the food behaviors that caused them to gain the weight are still there, and now there's nothing to stop them creeping back.... which they do, inexorably, and there you are, back at the weight that you said you'd never reach again.

Some years ago, I was... oh, more than 50 lbs thinner than I am now, down from a staggering 340, my top weight ever (ok, I was pregnant at that weight, but I really didn't gain a lot of weight when I was pregnant). And I was very fit. I got this way by (1) eating almost nothing except salmon, salad, and potato chips with Olestra. No, this is not a good way to eat, and (2) working out absolutely constantly. Walking and racquetball in the morning, weights and aerobics classes in the afternoon, karate in the evening. I was in the best shape of my life, and I was pushed there by a kind of obsessiveness that partly feeds on itself, and partly by a lot of emotional crap that was going on at the time. I thought I was fabulous. And I was, in a way, but the fact of the matter was that I got there by replacing one obsession with another, and when the big drivers of that obsession went away, I was left with the same behaviors that I always had. And I gained back most (though, fortunately, not all) of the weight.

Over the last two+ years, I've been trying hard to lose that weight again, and, let's face it, I haven't been brilliantly successful from a numbers point of view. Moving to a low carb diet has helped tremendously, both in losing weight and in causing my body to reshape, so it actually looks like I've lost considerably more weight than I have. But the one thing that I have done with some degree of success is work on the food behaviors. I no longer buy everything in the store because... oh, I don't know; I think that on some level I used to think that if I didn't get it then, it wouldn't be there when I came back. I am getting a LOT better about portion size. I am getting a lot better at stopping eating when I am no longer hungry. I am getting, slowly, a lot less weird about food. And I am very, very proud of myself about this.

But I'm also afraid because, let's face it, a huge amount of the effort that I've put into this and the reason why I've gotten so much better with this is because of accountability. Mostly Michael. A little because I write here. A little because... well, maybe a growing, small commitment to myself. But I always worry that if anything happens to change the current situation, all that careful retraining will fall away. Which why I know that I can never, ever say, you can eat all you want because it's Christmas. Fundamentally, I can't be trusted, and I know that.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Summer and Cookbooks and Whatever

For some reason, this week seems to have been impossibly busy even though really I have gotten almost nothing done. Or it seems like it. Haven't even been able to do the one thing that I really wanted, try to get up a racquetball game (ok. I am able to do this. I haven't gotten around to it.). And we're on Day Whatever of pouring down rain, so the yard is totally going to hell, which normally I wouldn't car about but since we had Overpaid Student Minion working on it for the first part of the summer, I slightly care about at least trying to keep it tidy. Tidy-ish.

What I've mainly been doing lately is cooking. Here's the thing about eating low carb for me... it used to be that I would really crave food. If you asked me something like, if you could eat absolutely anything, and you could have all you wanted of it, what would you eat?... well, there would be lots of answers. In carb-laden, butter-dripping, detail. These days... I don't really even know. Mostly I'd like something that I hadn't had before that someone else made. There used to be all these things that I always felt that I wanted MORE of . I never felt satisfied.

It's taken a while, but these days, I mostly feel satisfied with a whole lot less. Of course, this is a constant battle with the head gremlins who think that my stomach is far larger than it is or that we would derive some intense pleasure from stuffing our (collective) face for a few hours. And the boredom gremlins, who think that food is entertainment. But a lot less is just fine, and it makes me feel better, and, well, normal. But the "bad" thing about this is that there's nothing much I want to eat. I get bored with everything so easily. And then I end up eating things like... oh, nothing but cold chicken, or something like that, which isn't exactly what you'd call nutritionally balanced.

So I've been investing a lot of time lately into fussing with food. Making new things. And reading cookbooks. And, of course, since I'm pretty much intrinsically grumpy, getting annoyed by cookbooks. So I have two selections to complain about today...

The first one is Jamie Oliver's Cook With Jamie, which is subtitled, "My Guide to Making You a Better Cook." I bought this book partly because I like Jamie Oliver, and partly because quick flip-through yielded a bunch of things that looked worth trying, but partly because it claimed to be a book that would improve your cooking technique no matter what level of cook you were. Now, this is not by any means a stupid book, and I am a pretty good (though not what I'd call high-level) cook, but this book is really basic. I read the whole book... not every recipe, but all the technique parts... and I have to say that the only thing that I actually learned from it is one new word, spatchcock, which is apparently what you can call it when you butterfly poultry. So I think that the idea that this will improve your technique is not all that likely if you are already pretty competent. Which is ok, but, hey, don't sell it that way if it's not going to do anything for me, all right?

There are a bunch of great-looking recipes in this books, and I really should save comment until I've made some of them, but I have two really specific complaints about this book.
1. Someone did kind of a weird job of translating this for the American market. I speak pretty fluent British, and it's obvious to me that someone did some editing. Rocket has been changed to arugula, courgettes have been changed to zucchini, that kind of thing. But otherwise, the general buying advice in this book is really not at all suitable for most people in most places in the U.S. Yes, if I were in the U.K., I would probably buy my produce at the local farm market, and I would probably go to the local butcher, and I would have a FAR better chance at getting seafood that had recently been near the sea, and so on (although I admit to a lingering fondness for Waitrose). But in the U.S, in most areas, that is Just Not Possible. The nearest "butcher" to here, for example, is about 35 miles, and it's really not what Jamie has in mind, either. Farm markets are easier, this time of year... but only from late June through September. Food realities in the U.S., although getting better, are not what you'd like them to be. (By the way, what on earth is Jamie thinking of when he says "a chilli?" Roy? Anyone? I mean, if you go into the store in the U.S., there are about 10 kinds of chili peppers of different kinds, each with different properties.)
2. Editing. You cannot use the words "lovely" and "brilliant" in every sentence. They kind of lose their punch.

I'll report back after I actually cook something. The pictures are nice!

And for my next set of complaints... José Andrés, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America. I bought this book because I've been enjoying the PBS series, Made in Spain.
José Andrés is a chef of considerable charm and enthusiasm, and I don't know that much about Spanish cooking, which looks yummy, and the companion cookbook is not out yet. This is a nice cookbook with great pictures and lots of interesting stories and cultural information. BUT. Thing #1 is that quite a few recipes contains ingredients that are not easy to find, and there is no list of acceptable substitutions. Certainly substituting isn't ideal. But sometimes it's necessary.

My other objection is kind of philosophical. Michael and I argued about this, sort of, the other night. Cooking is an art. I rarely, if ever, measure things that I've cooked before, I modify recipes freely, and I appreciate how difficult it is to write down a recipe when really you are doing most things to taste. But, hey, when I buy a cookbook, I want what I make to come out looking exactly like the picture if I follow the directions exactly. On the program, it's pretty obvious that
José Andrés is a "little bit of this, little bit of that" chef, but unfortunately, that doesn't translate all that well to a cookbook that is trying to teach a kind of cooking with which the reader is probably not familiar. Example: two days ago, I made the recipe for Rabbit with Cherries (p.248). I'd never had rabbit, and they have started carrying it at the not-so-local store, and so I thought, what the hell, let's give it a go. Since I'd never made this before, I followed the directions pretty exactly until I realized that if I continued that way, I was going to have rabbit soup. The proportions on the sauce are way off, easy to fix if you're aware of it, but I see no way in hell that following the directions gets you to something that looks anything like the picture.

By the way, review on the rabbit... yummy but not worth the $30 I had to pay for it. I think that I could make this recipe in a pork tenderloin variant; I'm going to try that later in the week and post it if it comes out well.

If you want a cookbook that is absolutely fantastic for recipes that do come out exactly right, I always recommend Jacques Pépin, Fast Food My Way. Excellent book.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Weekly Stats, August 4

Today would have been my mother's 79th birthday. I'd hoped that she would have made it at least to today, that there could at least have been this last birthday to celebrate. It all went so fast and so soon. Happy Birthday, Mom. Wherever you are.

Anyway. It just kind of hit me when I typed the date.

: -7.7 lbs, 469.7, total loss since January: 73.7 lbs., total overall loss 144.3 lbs.
Nina: -5.7 lbs, 276.9, total loss since January, 25.3 lbs.

Not bad at all. :-) Although for me, it's mostly loss of water weight a crap from the last Baltimore excursion. But Michael is doing so fabulously fantastically well! It's taken so long for him to really get focused on this, but now it seems to be going so very well... (yeah, ok, I'm a worrier... it's going so well that it makes me nervous). Anyway, maybe I can stop focusing so much on him and maybe start doing some of the things that I need to do, like start playing racquetball again, which would make me feel a thousand times better all around.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Butterflied Lamb with Herb Cheese/Asparagus

This is kind of a recipe in progress because I haven't quite worked out one big issue, but it's so good that it's worth posting anyway.

A note about the meat: my local grocery store sells a butterflied leg of lamb that has clearly been heavily trimmed... it's a rectangle, essentially. Other stores trim this differently, or if (the cheapest, freshest way) you butterfly it yourself, it's obviously not going to come out into a nice little square. But it does need to be reasonably flat, because you're going to roll it, so if the meat is thick, it's probably better to cut it into two rectangles and score any very thick sections.

You will need....
1 butterflied leg of lamb
1 package herbed soft cheese (I used Boursin. A goat cheese mixed with herbs would be good. Something like Alouette is too soft.)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
about 1/2 t. oregano (more if using fresh)
salt, pepper to taste
olive oil
2 tablespoons butter

Spread the butterflied leg out flat. Season the inside with salt and pepper, and then smooth the cheese inside (all in a column in the middle, not all over the leg. You are going to wrap the leg around the cheese.). I used 1/2 package Boursin for a "leg" that was probably a 5"x 8" rectangle. Wrap the meat around the cheese and then tie the whole thing up with string. (Here is a video guide to tying a roast. Here are written instructions.)

Toast the roughly-chopped garlic and the oregano in the olive oil, to lightly brown, in a heavy sauté pan. Season the outside of the lamb. Then sear the outsides of the roast, to brown. Put in a small roasting pan (note: this is the part that I haven't worked the bugs out of yet. The cheese is going to ooze out, so you really want to put the roast on something like a rack with a piece of foil over it. Pole holes in the foil. This way, the soft cheese with stay with the roast, not drop into the pan juices and fat.). Place in a 325 degree oven for approximately 30-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat (test with a quick-read thermometer; I cook lamb to 140 degrees). Let rest.

Steam the asparagus in another pan or asparagus steamer, until not quite done (about 5 minutes, if you start cold). While the asparagus is steaming, add the butter to the pan that you seared the lamb in... which still has toasted garlic, etc., in it. Drain the asparagus and add to the sauté pan, sauté lightly for a minute or two.

Remove the string, slice the meat, and use the soft cheese as a little sauce or garnish for the meat.

A wonderful meal, very simple really, and minimal carbs (actual carb count depends on how much asparagus you eat; there's virtually nothing in any other part of this meal except the cheese, which is 5 carbs for the entire package, so maybe about 1-2 carbs per serving).

Friday, August 1, 2008


Habit is a bitch. Really. We don't even think about the collection of stuff that populates our head, all the billion things that make up who we are, all the habits that make up the way we perceive the world.

Ok, not all those things are habits exactly, but this is my profound thought for the day, so I get to put it that way. And when you try to make lifestyle changes, all those little habit gremlins pop out from under the bed and scream, NO, this is WRONG, I am not supposed to do this that way.

Michael has not been eating very much lately, particularly of the sort of things that he used to really love... proteins, mostly. Which is fine. I mean, I figure that if this were a Bad Thing, he'd be hungry, right? He's not hungry, he is losing weight, and he feels ok (well, actually, he doesn't, but I don't think that these things are connected; this is mostly structural stuff). And just about every day, he asks me... "am I eating enough? I don't think I'm getting enough protein but I just don't want any more ." I think that this is just all about expectations and perceptions and the loss of something that used to give him pleasure, however "wrong" that might have been. Ill-judged, maybe, more than wrong. Anyway, he expects that food will give him the kind of pleasure that it once did... which I really think means, "food will allow me to turn off my head for a while and comfort myself." Something that we both used to be fabulous at doing.

But things change. The role of food changes. Tastes change. The thing that doesn't change is all those habit gremlins, the things that make me think that there should be twice as much food on the plate, the things that make him think that he should be eating more even though he's not hungry and he doesn't actually want anything else.

I don't have any solution to this, of course, except maybe awareness... the more you think about the patterns, the easier it is to let them change. Which means, still unbelievably hard but maybe just one notch or two less.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tomato Madness (aka Stupid Things I Should Have Known)

Here is the wrong way to grow tomatoes. Think, oh, tomatoes, those are easy. Order some heirloom tomato plants. Don't read anything including the growing instructions that came with them. Put them in pots. Don't bother with cages... tomatoes are vines, right, so they can just wander, right? Put fertilizer in immediately. Water intermittently.


Here are some things that I really should have known if I'd just bothered to look.

1. Don't fertilize right away. Fertilize after the fruits have set or whatever it's called. Otherwise you will get TONS of foliage. Why is this a problem, you ask? Because tomatoes are heavy and at the same time the vines are remarkably brittle, and that leads me to point #2...

2. There's a reason why they sell tomato cages. Tomatoes need support. Remember those heavy foliage vines with the huge tomatoes that you've got because you fertilized too early and besides, it seems to be a great year for tomatoes? Well, they're going to split at the base or at the tips because you have given them no support, and you're going to drive yourself absolutely crazy trying to cage or stake something that is both really big and prone to breakage. All the while wondering if you're totally wasting your time because they're already kind of split. Also, if the fruit is on the ground, bugs are likely to eat it. And/or, it's not going to look very tasty.

3. Just accept the fact that you've got to water every day. Containers dry out fast, even if you fill them with that magical Miracle Gro stuff that retains water. Yeah, it would have been a good idea to mulch, too.

So.... I've got six mega-tomato plants with enormous but very green fruits on them and a serious weight problem. There's some kind of humor in this somewhere.

Next year, I want to do a full-scale garden with raised beds. Maybe I should actually READ something first rather than assuming that vegetables can't really be that complicated.

Oh, and one more tip. Make sure that you know where the sprinkler is relative to you before you turn it on...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Weekly Stats, July 28

Michael: -2.4 lbs, 477.4, total loss since January: 66 lbs., total overall loss 138.3 lbs.
Nina: +4.4 lbs, 282.7, total loss since January... oh, let's not even talk about it this week.

I spent the better part of the week in Baltimore again, doing endless sorting of stuff. (A word to the wise: if you're a collector of stuff, think seriously about what kind of a mess you're leaving to your children.) And it was just a terrible week for food... I'd get up and have a latte and then get nothing at all to eat until dinner... by which time I was starving. And I had a couple of the worst restaurant meals of my life, I have to say... last trip everywhere I went was good to great, even the chain sort of places like Red Robin were ok. This trip... well, I went to places that everyone recommended, and maybe it was an off day, but, well, just ugh. And too many carbs, either because of the restaurant type or because after not being able to eat the food, I had whatever could be found in the apartment... and paid for it, both in terms of weight and just absolutely feeling like death. I swear, eating a low-carb diet religiously for a while just destroys your body's ability to handle much of a carb load. Which is probably a good thing. I can't understand how people who have sort of a "day off" every week do it. I just absolutely feel terrible.

Michael, on the other hand, did really well. And got to stay at home, lucky boy!

I'm hoping that this is my last trip for a while. I have to go to Maine for the memorial service at the end of August, and then probably back to Baltimore in October, but if I'm really lucky, there will be no more trips in the middle. I just can't take much more of this, physically or emotionally.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Food Musings--The Choice Part

This is the 2nd thing that I was thinking about while watching that TLC show (see last post). A lot of people in this show said, "I can't.... ." I can't control my cravings for food. I can't change my food behavior. I can't lose weight.

This is my particular soapbox, and I've said this before, I'm sure... but I think that "I can't" almost always means, "I am not willing to do this thing." In case I'm sounding either unsympathetic or preachy or self-righteous, I should say that there are a thousand choices that I've made that have had this aspect to them. I'm not any better about this than anyone else, and this applies to work things and relationship things and food things. I have spend most of my life not losing weight because I, on some level, chose not to. Because I was not willing to do it... not willing if it meant that I had to give up certain things that I didn't want to give up (like eating for comfort or entertainment or whatever). On some level, the costs exceeded the benefits, at least in the short run. And in a weird kind of way, I think I'm at peace with that. What I have a hard time with is the notion of powerlessness. There are things in my life, mostly relating to other people, over which I have no power. But I do have power over my own choices. I can choose not to eat. I can choose to eat. Sometimes these choices will be incredibly difficult, but at the end of the day, for everyone, they are choices. No one is stuffing the food into your mouth. And if you let it be, that thought is pretty empowering.

It's a whole big future over which you have some control. You get to choose. And if it's your choice, it's the right choice for you, whatever it is.

Caveat: there are situations in which we make choices that are not fully informed, and that's one case where people should step in and say, have you thought about ?