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 ?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Food Musings-- The Way We Grow Up

I caught the tail end of some program on TLC the other night called, I Eat 33,000 Calories A Day. Or something like that. It was another program of super-obese people... I have mixed feelings about these things, a combination of interest and horror and some resentment, because there always seems to be a "look at the fat people in the zoo" element to them. I didn't see all of the show, but I did see most of the last segment, which was about a 640-lb. woman called Lisa, I think. And there were two things that really struck me.... one that I'll write about now, and another that I'll save for tomorrow.

The first was what she said about her family... she said that her mother had had a thing about sweets, that she'd buy things like that and hide them... but that Lisa knew how to find them. I listen to things like this and muse about the complexities of food behavior, about where these problems start. For both Michael and me, there were echoes of that same kind of thing. My mother never bought "good" stuff for general consumption... things like cookies and chips and so on. But she would buy things like that and "hide" it in a cupboard that no one was supposed to go into. Stuff that was essentially for her. Michael reports the same kind of thing... that his father would buy things like cheese and cakes and hide them in the wardrobe and measure how much was there. Besides being a little weird all in all, I wonder how this kind of thing plays into food attitudes.

I look at my son who has, in my opinion, no food issues at all. He eats until he is not hungry and then stops. He's a teenager, so he sucks down milk like there was a direct line to a cow, and can eat a staggering amount of various things... but he will have things like Doritos and candy around forever. I finally threw away the last of his Halloween candy from more than a year and half ago. He has never been denied food. He has never been told that he could not have certain kinds of food... and he's always been fed a variety of food, both of the very healthy and the more junk sort. He prefers the good stuff although he loves a lot of the junk, too... but the point is, he could have these "forbidden" foods around forever and totally ignore them, especially if he was told not to eat them. Even these days, we'd have to throw it or eat it within a relatively short period of time. The compulsion remains.

Would we have been different if we had grown up in environments in which food wasn't some kind of prize? Was this true for you, and how do you think that it affected your interaction with food?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekly Stats, July 21

Michael: -6.4 lbs, 479.8, total loss since January: 63.6 lbs., total overall loss 134 lbs.
Nina: -4.62 lbs, 278.3, total loss since January: 24 lbs.

These numbers are a bit inaccurate since we didn't really weigh ourselves last Monday; they're a guess based off of weights a few days earlier... but the totals are right, and Michael is doing absolutely wonderfully!

But the weekly losses are kind of arbitrary, and they also make me look like I've lost weight when really I just keep bouncing around the same 3 or 4 lbs. I'll be happy when I get a few pounds lower and really have something to show for the last couple of months, but all in all, with everything going on, I think I'm doing ok. I'm going back to Baltimore on Thursday, just for a couple of days, to help my sister sort things out, so it's probably not going to be a great food week. I did a pretty good job of staying the course when I was down there last, but we will probably eat out in the evening, so it's hard to be perfect. I'll be so glad when all the apartment sorting out is done... and when my mother's memorial service, which is scheduled for the end of August, in Maine, is over. I feel disrupted and scattered all the time, and it's hard to adjust to the new "normal"... to the rest of my life, I guess. I am so sad.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Worm Turns

I decided to skip the dysfunctional family post for the moment. Can't work up the energy.

And in the meantime, back to the previously scheduled low-carb programming... the big news this week, of course, is the Israeli study... see here for Dr. Eades' writeup, if you haven't seen a billion articles on this already. It's pretty easy to note that (1) no one on any of the diets lost a ton of weight, and (2) the "low carb" diet wasn't really all that low carb, since the researchers picked an arbitrary and quite high 120 carb limit (which I'd call a maintenance maximum, not a "diet" level). But still... even with this, the low-carb numbers came out just the way they should... improvements in triglycerides and HDL, comparable on LDL, and a little higher weight loss.

But the striking thing, in my opinion anyway, is that it seems to me that the world is beginning to change. Maybe this is just hope, but when we started low-carbing, only about 8 months ago or less, it was pretty hard to find any current, mainstream medical references that didn't pretty much dismiss this as an unhealthy fad. There was (and is, of course) a low-carb community of the converted... but it's not something you talk about much, is it? Like politics and religious preferences, it's been something better practiced in the privacy of your own home. But just over this relatively brief period of time, there have been a number of distinctly positive changes... some in things like acceptance by the American Diabetes Association of low-carb as an acceptable diet, some in studies like this recent one. It's not the only thing going on, but there's considerably more positive stuff out there than there used to be. So, while it's still obvious from the reporting on this study that the media retains its customary low-fat bias, the sheer quantity of coverage, mostly in a positive way, is really encouraging.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Baltimore Wrap-Up Part II-- The Mom Part

I really feel like I should put some kind of a spoiler in here. This is not a low-carb post, and it's all about dying. If you want food, go to yesterday's post. If you want dysfunctional family dynamics, that's the next one.

I think that you can know perfectly well that someone is near death, but it's still a hell of a shock. Even more so in this case, because it was all so (mercifully, I suppose) fast. I don't think that any of us expected the actual way that this went. I'm writing this partly because I need to, but I'm also writing it because I just didn't have any expectation or knowledge about what would happen here, and I really wanted to know that... really wanted some notion of the process, and it was the thing that I simply couldn't find anywhere. Everyone, every thing is different, but maybe this will be helpful to someone else.

We knew it was only a short time, that her body was riddled with cancer, that there was no real hope. But a short time can mean months. But this was so fast.

I got there early Thursday morning, and she looked, all things considered, ok. Frail. But I brought her some roses from my garden, and she could actually smell them... a surprise in itself, because she's barely been able to smell anything since an illness about 15 years ago. We sat for a while, and I tried to make her more comfortable. And there was a merika lily blooming... they bloom for only a day, and usually not this season. My youngest sister and I decided to go out to get some different pillows and to give my other sister, who was clearly way overtired, a chance to nap in peace. Everything seemed ok, within the constraints.

My sister called while we were out to ask us to get something else and said that they'd gotten her up for a minute... she'd pretty much not been standing for days... and bathed her. And she was tired but all right. But as we walked in the door... well, just that minute, really, something had happened, and she slipped into this coma. There was some thought that she may have had a stroke, but there's no way of knowing... she was on anticoagulants and prone to clotting, so standing up could have released something. But perhaps not.

And so, for a little less than two days, we watched. We tried to keep her comfortable. We held her hand... and it seemed like maybe there was a response. I whispered to her things that she probably couldn't hear... but you never know. Things that I could not otherwise say.

Friday night, I went to bed, and I was called at 7:30 in the morning to come now. And it was clear that she was leaving. She was white and pasty and almost immobile. But her heart was still beating, and she stayed until everyone was there. And then she slipped away.

And so it ends.

A year and a little of heart-stopping fear mixed with a time of hope... a time I started breathing again, a time that I stopped calling her every day. And then it all turned around in a heartbeat, and there was nothing to be done.

I am so sad. Sad for the loss, sad for the tragic ironies of it, sad for the things that went so wrong with my mother and me, early on, and that really never could be repaired. This isn't a "wish I'd said whatever" kind of thing... there was nothing else that I was capable of saying. I do wish that it had been different. I do hope that the reincarnation that she believed in is true, and that someday we'll have a chance to do it over again, better.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baltimore Wrap-Up Part I-- The Food Part

I'm finally home, as of yesterday afternoon, and just so happy to be here. Best of all (well, really best of all is being with Michael, who couldn't come with me) is sleeping in a bed that doesn't kill my back and in which I actually sleep. Between Maine and Baltimore, I think I've had three good nights of sleep in about three weeks. Happiness is a comfy bed.

In the midst of a lot of chaos, though, I thought off and on about what I was eating, even under this really stressful circumstance. And the interesting thing is that its really solidified in my mind how much low carb and high-quality, largely unprocessed foods have become a way of life for me. That apartment is just filled with... oh, everything that I don't eat these days, cookies and chips and bread and so forth. Carb paradise. And I didn't eat any of it. I look at it, and I think , this is not food.... in the same kind of way that you'd look at something you totally disliked and say, ick, eggplant (or whatever); I'm not putting that in my mouth.

But a second facet of this is the truth that you can eat very low carb and still eat pretty badly. And that calories do count. In all the chaos, there wasn't a lot of time to eating. I cooked exactly one proper meal, and the rest of the time, we mostly all grazed or went out to dinner. For me, grazing is cheese and meat; and it's easy to eat a lot of calories without a lot of nutritional value when your primary food is cheese. I haven't weighed myself yet, but I'd be beyond surprised if my weight wasn't up, at least a bit.

If it is, one culprit is eating out. We did eat out a few times, and that's where the carb load, such as it was, happened. But that's kind of my third point about all of this, and it's back to my favorite issue of late, portion size. One night, we ate a what I'd call kind of a standard restaurant... not so standard in that it makes sort of American diner food plus an Indian selection, but the big point is that the portion sizes were HUGE. Although what I ate was relatively low carb (a chicken Caesar salad and Saag Lamb, no rice), I felt unbelievably stuffed, and yet I didn't really finish either of those things. The size of things that everyone else got was even worse. (Actually, I have to say that the food at this place was pretty bad in my opinion, too... oversalted, and the salad drenched with dressing). The next night, we went to a fantastic sushi place. Although I did, of course, eat rice, the difference was that portion size was reasonable, and the quality of the food was wonderful. (I was bloated as hell the next day from the soy sauce, which always happens, but it passes.) And the last night we went to a restaurant that I highly recommend, Meli, which was fantastic. Anyway, I didn't try hard to eat religiously low carb; I had a little toast with the cheese selection, a little crispy tempura batter on the onions and so on... a few bites of dessert... but the lesson here is again, portion size. A few bites of dessert, a toast point, etc... these things are not going to kill you. These things are probably not even going to cause you to gain weight, eaten on a rare basis. What kills you is the mounds of toast and pasta and rice and so on... and that's just as true, in a way, about mountains of meat and cheese and whatever, low carb but it packs on the calories. The big secret, the one that I just can't quite wrap my head around consistently, is that less is more. A little of something of perfect taste and quality, not a heap of junk.

If I could just master that, it would make a lot of difference.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

No Time

July 12, 2008, 8:31 a.m.

Friday, July 11, 2008


My mother would be 79 this year. Not so young, but not so old, either. Her mother lived to 86; her father well into his 90s. Same thing on the other side of the family, where both my grandparents lived into their 90s. I feel robbed of time that there should have been… at least another 5 years. Five years for my son to graduate from high school. Five years of holidays, five years of time.

I always thought that there would be more and different time, one day. I realize that this isn’t the way that life works, that people are what they are, and that expecting miraculous changes is a fool’s game. But I thought that sometime, something else would happen. When I was a child, my mother was always busy. Busy with my sisters, busy with a thousand things with which she occupied herself as respite from a difficult marriage. I understand that. I did the same thing, thirty years later. But there never seemed to be time for me. I would come home from college and wait. And wait. And when I left, she’d say, “We never get to spend any time together!” Well, I was there. You weren’t.

Things began to change after my son was born, as he gave us a common ground, one free of anger and resentment and reservation. But then, my parents divorced, and I was so angry. I still am, for the too-late betrayals of my childhood, for her willingness to bail when there was a safe alternative, rather than when her children needed respite from fear. But we do what we can when we can, I suppose. I feel like I should say that these things do not matter now. But they did, and they do, and I doubt that anything can change the way that they hurt. Forgiveness is far easier than forgetting.

And the new marriage… not so long later, her new husband had a stroke, and then there was a decade of caring for him. Again, a choice. A choice that you could not blame her for making, but a choice that meant, again, little time for others, ever-shrinking time as his conditioned worsened and his care became more difficult. Certainly not an easy choice for her, not an easy life. And in the final irony, his death only a few months ago, freeing her… and I thought, maybe now there will be time. Maybe she will be well enough, and she’ll come and look at my garden and admire the rose I planted for her. Get to know my husband. Spent time with my little family, time undistracted by the care of others. It’s not going to happen.

It’s selfish, I suppose, to be focused on how this is a tragedy for me. And when you get right down to it, would that time ever have happened like that? Wouldn’t there always have been something else to get in the way, a thousand things… and not the smallest is my own resentment, the barriers that I put up over the years, the solid wall that keeps me from saying what I would. Now isn’t the time, and there never will be a time.

Life is filled with these inane ironies. The second cancer death in a family with no history of cancer. The second cancer death of women who lived in her apartment (and that seems coincidental, but maybe not, especially since there have been only two). The thing that starts your cells growing and colliding and eating you from inside… what is it? What malign combination of chances coalesce into this thing? You start noticing it after a while, the sisterhood of women with this killer disease, the related brotherhood of people with pancreatic cancer, another killer. The possibility that you, too, contain some ticking time bomb. Wondering what would have happened if only…

And sometimes time is even shorter than you think.

I got here yesterday morning, and she seemed, in some relative sense, fine. So happy that we were all here, looking forward to my son coming tomorrow. Actually able to smell the roses I brought from my garden... a small miracle since her sense of smell has been bad for years. I stayed here for a while, and then my youngest sister and I decided to go out and get some things that were needed... better pillows and so forth... in part to give my other sister a break from all the people, a chance to sleep. She called us while we were out, and Mom was doing ok; they'd gotten her up, but she was exhausted. We walked in the door an hour later, into crisis. Mom has fallen into what I suppose would best be called a coma. A deep, unwakeable sleep. My sister thinks that she may have had a stroke, that the standing released a clot in her leg or something... but in a way, it doesn't matter what exactly the cause of this is. The odd are that it's just waiting now. Waiting and watching and trying to keep her comfortable. Wondering if she can hear you. Looking at all the scraps of her life around you, the scraps of her handwriting, still so vital. Wanting to do something, anything... but there is nothing to do.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Update on Many Things

We're back from Maine as of last night... and it was truly the trip from hell, I have to say. We should not have gone, not this year, not until Michael's weight is lower and his legs are better. But such a lot of things pushed us into trying... the hope that my mother would go, the desire for just a change of scene, wanting something to break out of the routine that we've been in for so long... wanting to see my sister... Lots of things. And so we forgot all the things that would be problems... and they were, pretty much every single thing. Michael was miserable the whole time; I was so worried about him that it was impossible to relax, and all in all, it pretty much has to go down as among the worst vacations of all time.

I'd also like to throw in a review of the Hilton Garden Inn in Springfield, MA, where we stopped off for a night. Overall, Hilton Garden Inns are a nice chain; we stay there a lot in transit. But this one should have come with a huge warning label... it is about 50 yards away from I-91, an extremely busy road which NEVER gets quiet, and the traffic noise is appalling. Otherwise the staff is nice, the hotel is ok, the rooms are reasonably clean... but there were no instructions on the cooling system, which didn't work quite right, and the floor in the shower in the handicapped-accessible rooms is lethal. It's also a long walk to where those rooms are... fine if you're actually in a wheelchair, but a different matter totally if you're walking.

So... back for a while on the actual supposed subject of this blog, FOOD.... how did we do? Very good and then kind of bad would probably be the best description. We did an excellent job of traveling low carb on the way up to Maine, due mostly to bringing our own food, and then a trip to Whole Foods in Massachusetts. And then we did reasonably well for a few days. However, as the misery started setting in, we started going out for lunch (crab rolls, in a bun) and an ice cream (not the thing to mention on a low-carb blog, but if you're in Damariscotta, ME, Round Top Ice Cream has been making their own since 1924, and it's fabulous. I am not really an ice cream fan, but the Ginger flavor is to die for.). Except for the last night, when my sister cooked and made potatoes, we had consistently low-carb breakfast and dinner. So, overall, not bad... although yesterday, on the last day driving bad, we were both so exhausted from the miserable hotel sleep and everything else that we just kind of bailed, had toast for a breakfast, a few fries with lunch, ice cream later... not good at all, but we'd reached such a state of exhaustion that I think it was only the carb blood sugar rush that was keeping things going.

We both feel physically awful from the higher carbs, too, I have to say. My stomach and digestive system haven't been happy in days. I don't think that we did so badly all in all, but the thing that I most learned from this is that, for me, there's no going back. I can't eat these things. I don't want to eat these things. And I've become even more extraordinarily picky about the quality of food than I'd thought.

And then the bad news. When we were in Maine, we found out that they'd decided to discontinue chemotherapy for my mother... she is too weak to tolerate it. So we were looking, probably, at a couple of months, unless her strength could be built up enough to return to therapy. A tiny flash of hope. But my sister called last night and said that the fluid is building up around her heart again, and they have decided not to drain it. Which means that we are most probably talking about a matter of days. I fly to Baltimore tomorrow morning.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Weekly Stats, July 7

Michael: +2.4 lbs, 487.5, total loss since January: 55.8 lbs.
Nina: +2.2 lbs, 280.9, total loss since January: 21.3 lbs.

Considering that we were in Maine all of this week, not terrible (although not great).