Boom. Done

My fortune cookie last week

I’m not a very good painter. (As in painter of walls and furniture.) I’ve had ambition to paint, but never enough to get me through an entire project, or at least, an entire project done well.

I can see the potential in a worn piece of furniture. I can imagine what a room would look like in a different color. But usually that’s where my motivation ends.

Until this week. This week, I did the one thing I never bothered doing before any other painting project:

I learned how.

My niece is moving in for the summer. I have a spare room and a spare bed, and instead of hauling her dresser out here from Minnesota, I told her I’d get one.

I looked at new dressers in my price range (read: cheap) and I was pretty sure if I bought one, we’d be making s’mores over the fire we’d make with it by the end of summer. So I sent out an email to friends and local family members to keep an eye out for a used dresser. Jim’s mom called and said a friend of hers was moving to Florida and was getting rid of all her furniture. Perfect! For $20, I got a 5-drawer 1950s-style chest of drawers, and man, was it ugly! BUT…I saw its potential. A little paint…

I can’t find the photo I took of the entire dresser, but you get some idea of its ugliness.

The blessing and curse of dating a carpenter is that I can’t fake my lack of carpentry knowledge. The blessing is that I can plead ignorance (or actually BE ignorant) when it comes to things I know I can’t or don’t want to do, like fix the exhaust fan in the bathroom. It’s a curse when I think I can do something and I screw it up.

In my mind, the dresser project was going to go this way: Pick a main color and an accent color, buy a brush, throw down a drip cloth and paint. Boom, done.

In Jim’s mind, the dresser project was going to go this way: Ask the guy at the paint store what he recommended I do to the dresser to get it ready for the paint. Sandpaper? What? Huh? Ask the guy at the paint store to recommend the right kind of primer. Primer? Ask the guy at the paint store to recommend the right kind of base paint. You mean there’s more than one kind? Buy a block of medium sandpaper. Buy a 4-inch roller and a couple of pads. Go home. Remove handles of the dresser. Scuff dresser. Prime dresser. Wait at least four hours. Those are the instructions where? On the can? Paint dresser. Wait another four hours. This will take forEVER! Paint dresser again. Next day (next day?), prepare area for accent color by taping the edges of the bevels. Paint accent color. Wait four hours. Paint accent color again. Dry overnight before reassembling. Boom, done.

Asking questions and painting things slowly and deliberately was new to me. Painting was supposed to be easy, something we all innately know how to do, right? Gee, hmm…maybe that’s why my painting projects never turn out the way I envisioned.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

The reason so many of us don’t lose weight or don’t keep it off is that we never took the time to learn how. It should be easy, right? You stop eating so much, you move around a little more. Boom. Done.

But it’s not that easy. There’s way more to it than that. And it starts by asking the right questions, both of ourselves and of others who know what they’re talking about.

However, knowledge only enhances ambition. You can be excited you bought the right paint, feel smart that you bought the right roller and pat yourself on the back for selecting the right drop cloth, but the dresser won’t paint itself.

Boom/done doesn’t happen in successful weight loss and maintenance. Success is an every day commitment to patience, ambition, and learning how.

I’m a day away from boom/done

 

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Love Always Trumps Weight

Today is my 31st Mother’s Day, and it’s also 31 years since I first weighed 200 pounds. Kind of a strange two things to put together, but if you’re like me, you remember what you weighed at momentous points in your life.

I made my formal debut in the 200-pound zone when I stepped on a scale in the labor and delivery ward of Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on March 10, 1983. I made my husband Bruce stay in the labor room. Anyone who didn’t wear scrubs to work didn’t need to know how much I weighed. Bruce was a hair over six feet tall, weighed 170 pounds, and had no clue that when we were married a year earlier, I weighed just 10 pounds less than he did.

As I walked to the scale, I felt the air on my bare back since my stomach took up most of the gown. The nurse held my hand as I stepped up. I looked down at the round monitor that brushed against my lower belly. 205.

“Please don’t tell my husband,” I begged.

Not that Bruce would have cared that I weighed over 200 pounds. I was the one with scale issues. When I looked at myself I saw a double chin. When Bruce looked at me, he called me beautiful. I told him he was just being nice. He told me he never lied.

I’d gained 45 pounds in nine months, 15 more than my obstetrician recommended. It’s not that I didn’t care about my health; I’d just never been told by a doctor to gain weight, only to lose. So when chubby, self-conscious, 19-year-old me was given permission to gain 30 pounds, I went a little food crazy for the first seven months.

I was free to “eat for two.” I didn’t have to “suck it in.” I made grilled Spam and Velveeta sandwiches on white bread, doused salads in full-fat salad dressing, ate ice cream late at night, and put half-and-half and brown sugar on my cream of wheat every morning.

When I developed high blood pressure in my fourth month, I watched my sodium intake and cut out cheddar cheese, ketchup, canned soup and TV dinners. But there isn’t much sodium in baked potatoes with sour cream, prime rib, fried eggs, Hershey Kisses or zucchini bread.

We were farmers. Bruce and I had moved back to the family farm when his parents retired. We had a couple hundred cows, three sows, a bore, and a couple dozen feeder pigs. Bruce and his brother also farmed several hundred acres of corn and soybeans. There were endless chores every day.

When I blew out of my maternity coat late in my eighth month, I dressed in layers and wore Bruce’s coveralls when I went outside. My fur-lined boots were heavy, but twice a day I trudged through knee-deep snow to the silo, then the pig shed, and then the water trough. I even cleaned out the silo room a week before my due date, thinking I could “help things along.” I burned dozens of empty pellet bags that had accumulated over the winter. It took 10 trips back and forth between the silo and the area where we burned trash – easily a 100-yard hike one way – and for my efforts, I was rewarded with eight hours of Braxton Hicks contractions.

At week 40, the baby was still a few weeks from coming out on her own. The doctor predicted she weighed more than eight pounds and measured longer than 20 inches so, certain she was “done,” he decided to induce labor.

Returning from scale, Bruce helped me into bed and the nurses hooked up a Pitocin drip and fetal monitor. After the first contraction, I didn’t think any more about my weight. Scale shock gave way to labor, and for 13 hours, my body cramped and pushed until Carlene was born, all 9 pounds and 22 inches of her.

In the recovery room, a nurse brought Carlene to us and offered to take our picture. My hair was matted to my forehead, I had IVs in both my hands, my face was swollen, my breast was exposed, and Bruce was still wearing scrubs. Normally I’d have protested, but this was not a normal night. Bruce and I were smiling and gazing at Carlene as the nurse took our first and only family photo.

The next morning, the water weight bloat from the drugs was mostly gone and my blood pressure was normal. As I waited for the nurse to bring Carlene to me, I laid in bed and touched my stomach. I gathered its soft folds of deflated skin in my hands. I’d heard it was called an “apron,” the skin that folds over the top of your pelvic bone and rests on the crease where your thighs meet your torso. I followed the rivulets of squishy stretch marks with my fingers and remembered how upset I was when I noticed the first one – a small, light purple line just to the right of my belly button. My mother birthed five children and never had a stretch mark. After one baby, I was littered with them.

I kneaded my skin gently and smiled. I still weighed around 200 pounds, but I had a perfect little girl and an awesome husband.

I’ll lose the extra weight, I thought.

Until his death 10 days later, Bruce and I spent our time figuring out how to be parents. He got up with me for every feeding, especially the ones at 2 a.m. when a Sioux Falls TV station aired “Rocky & Bullwinkle.” In the evenings, he rocked Carlene and sang to her while I slept. In the mornings, Carlene sat in her infant seat on the kitchen table while we ate breakfast. While I moved gingerly and leaked profusely, it was…to this day…the most contented I’ve ever been. A lesson in love, which always trumps weight.

AIM: Is Vanity Fair?

Sometimes I’m this kind of vain: “You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte” (You’re So Vain by Carly Simon). Although, in my defense, when I check my look in the mirror, it’s usually done less as prideful admiration than straight-up concern about looking like a goober. Either way, it’s driven by vanity.

In more ways, though, I am this kind of vain: “Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? Or, having it, is satisfied?” (from Vanity Fair by William Thackeray)

Vanity as “If only…”.

There’s inner vanity “If only…” (“If only I was __________” – thinner, prettier, less grey, smarter, wittier…) and outward vanity “If only…” (“If only people would ____________” – listen to me,  think like me, do as I say…).

Inner vanity example #1: Jim and I were trying on sunglasses at Costco last weekend. I usually wear aviator-style. I put on a pair and asked Jim what he thought. He said he didn’t like aviators.

“I wear them all the time,” I protested. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“Because you like them and that’s what matters,” he said.

I was indignant. I think aviators look good on me! I’ve been told they look good on me! What else doesn’t he like about me?

Inner vanity example #2: During the same Costco trip, a woman was hawking “healthy” pizzas. I tried a sample and picked up the package to look at the ingredients list. Before I could read it, she said, “Do you follow Weight Watchers points?” I looked at her curiously. Is she calling me fat? “A whole pie is only six points!” she added.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said and set down the package. I walked back to my cart, seething with mind-numbing self-consciousness.

Sensitive much? Absolutely. That’s what happens when my inner vanity “If only…” takes over. I make myself a victim of dissatisfaction when I forget I am OK just the way I am, something I forget quite often.

Outward vanity “If only…” is something I call Soap Box Mind. We not only preach our certainties, but we reject any possibility that someone else’s certainties are also right.

Perhaps no other realm – outside religious or political arenas – are people more sure of the answers than weight loss. The Paleos, the vegans, the vegetarians, the no-carb, the low-carb, the non-fat, the DASHers, the pill pushers, the surgeons, the smoothie makers, the “Eat This Not That’ers, the butter eaters, the don’t eat after 8ers…

We cross the line from genuine to vain when we preach our path as the only path.

I sometimes adopt a bit of leeway as to my position about the how-tos of weight loss and maintenance. I read extensively about what works for other people, and I espouse that which is logically and nutritionally sound, even if it’s outside my way of doing things.

But there are times when outer vanity “If only…” prevents me from thinking outside the box; when someone else’s definition of eating healthy contrasts with mine, and I get all, “But…but…my way is better!” I realize this is an area for self-improvement.

Everyday vanity isn’t as extreme as checking ourselves out in the mirror as we gavotte. It’s more covert. It’s learned and lodged deep inside our psyches. We fuss about our clothes, our hair, our weight. We aren’t satisfied when we have our “desire.” It is vanity that causes us to search for that which we think will make us happy.

How would things be different if you had _____? Would you be happier? More satisfied? My guess is that you can be OK just the way you are, right now.

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” ― Fred Rogers
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AIM: Adventures in Maintenance is Lynn, Lori, Debby, Shelley, and Cammy, former weight-loss bloggers who now write about life in maintenance. We formed AIM to work together to turn up the volume on the issues facing people in weight maintenance. We publish a post on the same topic on the first Monday of each month. Let us know if there is a topic you’d like us to address!

Lori @ Finding Radiance
Debbie @ debby weighs in
Shelley @ My Journey to Fit
Cammy @ The Tippy Toe Diet

Own It!

Jim and I had coffee at Starbucks a few weeks ago with our friends Dave and Peg. The manager came around with samples of Starbucks’ new bakery items…chocolate croissants, berry something or others, coffee cake…you know what I mean. The guys dug in, but Peg and I refused them. I said to Peg that I’ve gained a few pounds since meeting Jim, to which Jim said, “I may have had a hand in that.”

While I appreciate Jim’s willingness to shoulder some of the responsibility, absolutely no one but me decides what I eat. He’s off the hook.

I introduced Jim as “Steve” in my blog post, “Food is Like Brylcreem: A Little Dab Will Do Ya,” in February 2013. Jim is a capital “F” Foodie. He’s a great cook and loves to go out for dinner. He understands my desire to eat clean and doesn’t push food on me. But his way of life has influenced me, and what I’ve seen happen in 15 months is exactly what Shelley described yesterday in her post, “Getting Back to Basics”: “I have slowly let other things become more of the norm instead of the exception…”

While writing this post, I noticed how often I wanted to use the words “blame” and “fault.” I’d originally written, “Jim was willing to take part of the blame, but it was my fault.” Ew! Where’s the loving kindness in that? Nowhere, that’s where.  Losing and maintaining weight takes determination and vigilance. Absolutely. But it also takes a kind approach to disappointment. Not blaming, shaming and faulting.

Have I let more food exceptions become the norm? Yes. Am I disappointed with some of my choices? Yes. But I’ve been disappointed in some choices my children have made over the years and I still love them. If I’ve learned nothing else in my 50 years it’s that I respond more positively to identifying a feeling as disappointment than I do blame and fault. Blaming someone else takes the responsibility off of me, and blaming myself is punishment. I cannot grow or learn from either of those reactions. Disappointment, on the other hand, allows for self-examination and spurs me to do better, to make amends.

Our friends’ and family’s food behaviors can have sway in our lives. But our friends and family are not responsible for our choices.

Jim is an adventurous foodie, and if I choose to eat something he offers, that’s solely my decision. Now, whether I’m listening to my inner voice at the time…that, too, is up to me. Like last night’s pound cake incident (while watching the Pens game…Go Pens!):

Jim: “Want some?”
Inner Voice: “You’ve been on track all day! Atta girl! Keep it up!”
Me: “No, thank you!”
Jim: “Oh, man! Did you see that shot?”

My decision to not eat pound cake had no impact on Jim’s life.

I’ve been at this online weight-loss blogging thing for almost nine years. One of the things I hear the most from people who read my blog is the angst they feel about other people’s food behaviors, either in the form of “pushing” food on them or not accepting their decision to improve their food choices. Food as a form of psychological pressure. I know much has been written about this issue, but really…it comes down to individual choice. My food choices are not responsible for someone else’s happiness. Nor is any resulting weight gain or weight loss or weight neutrality a result of something someone else has done, said, made or offered.

Yikes! I sound so militant. But then…losing weight and maintaining weight takes a bit of militancy. Militancy based in loving kindness for one’s own body. It’s yours! The only one you’ll ever have! Own it.

Disappointment happens. Let go of the blame and shame and fault.

And don’t let anyone tell you what you should eat.

AIM: Are We There Yet?

Continuing our “Ask Us (Almost) Anything” series, this month we’re answering this question from Diane: “How did you know when to transition to maintenance from loss mode? Was it a number or a size or something else? Did you struggle to not want to ‘lose a little more’?”

I declared goal on a cloudy March day in 2007. I was at my doctor’s office for a routine checkup. I weighed 138 pounds. I said to my doctor, “So, do you suppose I’m done?” She said, “I think you can stop now.” No fanfare, no confetti, no fireworks, no angels flying around the room singing “Hallelujah.” Just me, my doctor and my medical file in which my doctor wrote, “Lost 158 pounds in two years, two months and 12 days.”

I walked out of the her office no longer a person losing weight, but a person maintaining weight. I got in my car, sat there for a moment, and thought, ‘Now what?’

My original goal weight in January 2005 was 150 pounds only because my doctor and I picked a number that sounded reasonable. When you’re sitting at nearly 300 pounds, your goal weight is the least of your concerns.

So I got to 150. I looked at my body and knew immediately I wasn’t “there” yet. So I changed my goal to a waist size – 32 inches. I got there in January 2007 and still didn’t feel done yet. I knew there was a more toned body in me somewhere.

When I got to 140 pounds, I felt like the body I was hoping for was emerging. My lower stomach and hips were getting stronger, carrying less fat, and they were getting flat, despite the fact that I’d had two children and was morbidly obese for several years. What I thought was loose skin turned out to be fat because much of the “flap” was gone. That amused me in so many ways. I can’t count the number of people who’ve asked me about loose skin, particularly people who haven’t lost a pound. My reply is always the same: you simply DO NOT KNOW what you will look like until you reach your goal. Deal with skin then if you want to, but remember, loose skin won’t kill you. Obesity could.

Anyway…goal. 138 pounds. I was still a member of Weight Watchers online and at goal, you are allowed a few more daily points. Believe me, I ate them(!) and yet, I continued to lose weight. By the time I taped the “Oprah” show in October 2007, I was 132 pounds…and obsessed with losing more. More, more, MORE!

In preparing to write this AIM post, I sifted through my blog entries from December 2007 and found this:

“Overall, I’m feeling good and slowly accepting my body at goal. I still can’t say the words ‘I am thin’ out loud because all my life I’ve either been told by others or I told myself that I had a few pounds (at least) to lose. It will take some time for me to really embrace the whole ‘thin’ thing.

I realized the other day that while I’m only 17 pounds lighter than last Christmas, I’m two to three clothing sizes smaller. I’m a little excited that my size 6 Levis are bagging and I might, just might, fit into a size 4. That is so surreal. I remember thinking three years ago how happy I’d be to get back into a size 12. Then when I got to a 12, I started thinking, ‘What if I go just a little smaller?’ And then at size 8, I thought, ‘One more size. Let’s see if I can do one more size.’ I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be a size 6, let alone a 4 in anything.”

By summer 2008, I was vacillating between 125-128 pounds and I remember thinking that maybe I’d try to reach 120, despite the fact that I was cold all the time and the people closest to me – the ones I trusted the most – told me I was getting too thin. I won’t say I had an eating disorder. It was that I couldn’t let go of that weight-loss mentality. I hadn’t embraced maintenance, even though I said I did. That didn’t happen until 2010, when I had knee surgery and my marriage fell apart and my focus was no longer entirely on my weight.

Am I the world’s greatest maintainer? Not by a long shot. In fact, I’m back in weight-loss mode. Only this time, it’s not with the same fervent veracity with which I lost weight the last time, the “Get it off NOW” approach.

I’m convinced that maintaining any weight loss takes years to figure out, and often, many of us gain some or all of our lost weight back in the process of trying to figure out what maintenance path is best for us. I’ll say one thing, though, losing that freaking obsession with gaining weight has been a godsend, despite the pain and heartache I went through to get there. I don’t always like what I see in the mirror, but there’s a quieter, gentler person looking back this time. I know I have what it takes to lose and and to maintain, even if I choose to maintain where I am right now, this second.
——————————————————————–
AIM: Adventures in Maintenance is Lynn, Lori, Debby, Shelley, and Cammy, former weight-loss bloggers who now write about life in maintenance. We formed AIM to work together to turn up the volume on the issues facing people in weight maintenance. We publish a post on the same topic on the first Monday of each month. Let us know if there is a topic you’d like us to address!

Lori @ Finding Radiance
Debbie @ debby weighs in
Shelley @ My Journey to Fit
Cammy @ The Tippy Toe Diet

Numbers Revisited

244, 136, 92, 90, 120/72, 27.5

The numbers are in from my latest blood work: overall cholesterol, LDL (“bad” cholesterol), HDL (“happy” cholesterol), triglycerides, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and BMI.

For comparison, the recommended numbers for most people are:

  • Overall cholesterol
  • LDL
  • HDL >60 mg/dl
  • Triglycerides
  • Blood pressure 120/80
  • BMI 25 or less

Compared to when I wrote about this before (See “Lady in Red, Do You Know Your Numbers?”), my HDL still has a slight edge over LDL, but not as much as it did. Triglycerides are hanging in there, but the overall number is up, higher than it’s been in a long while. Years. Many years.

Higher-than-normal cholesterol levels are in my genetics. A few of my thin and not-so-thin kin need medication to control it. But I know my levels can be controlled through diet and exercise. I can’t use genetics as an excuse. Or menopause. Or daylight savings.

Refuse to Regain’s Barbara Berkeley recently posted a blog about how weight gain isn’t a simple ratio of too many calories consumed to too few calories burned. She wrote: “Weight gain appears to be much more related to the specific ways in which our individual bodies dispose of (or store) the foods we eat.”  

This is most definitely true for me. I don’t process a piece of cake the way my boyfriend does. I can’t look at Thanksgiving stuffing without gaining five pounds. The same is true for cholesterol. The foods I eat and how my body processes them directly impacts not only my scale number, but my lipid battery numbers. Cholesterol follows my scale number like a dance partner – from my heaviest weight (300+) to my goal weight (138) to my lowest weight (125) to the weight I am now (165).

All of my numbers improve when I eat: 7-9 servings of fruits and veggies (mostly veggies) a day; beans and legumes several times a week; one or two daily servings of reduced-fat dairy; eggs (mostly egg whites); grains such as brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, and oats; a serving or two a week of soy products such as edamame or tofu; and five or six servings a week of nuts, like almonds and walnuts. Oh…and green tea every day. I also like a bit of seafood now and then: white fish, tuna, scallops, mussels, shrimp and canned salmon.

I know “low-fat” diets aren’t in anymore, but when I eat fatty foods, including olive oil and the new darling of the nutrition world, full-fat dairy, I feel queasy and really full. I hate that full feeling. It makes me tired. Slows me down. Fat isn’t my thing. Neither is sugar or white flour. But clearly I’ve been consuming them to varying degrees since my last blood draw, damn any full and queasy feeling. I knowingly (and regretfully) increased my white flour and sugar consumption, and, no doubt, saturated fat tagged along. Thus an embarrassingly high overall cholesterol number (and a rising BMI…ugh…).

That’s what got me on the weight-loss band wagon nearly 10 years ago. My numbers. They were abysmal (triglycerides were 300!) and you KNOW I wasn’t exercising one bit.

A scale number doesn’t scare me half as much as a cholesterol number, but knowing I can control both through what I eat and how I move is like opening a window on a beautiful spring day. There is hope in change, in eating right, in moving, and there is power in having the key to success. I know what works for me. I have documented proof.

But my digestive system isn’t your digestive system. We each need to find the foods that work best for our overall health and well-being.

WebMD has a spiffy little quiz to give you a quick “back of the envelope” primer on cholesterol. And the Mayo Clinic offers these “Top 5 Foods” to eat to help lower your cholesterol.

Do you know what your numbers are? If not, don’t be afraid! Knowledge is power, and armed with your numbers, you can carve out a diet that works for you to keep your arteries free flowing.

Help in the Middle Of Nowhere

Smicksburg  is one of the smallest incorporated boroughs in Pennsylvania. Population: 46. Forty-six “English,” that is. Surrounding the borough is a community of roughly 800 Amish.

If you live in western PA for more than 5 minutes, you grow used to seeing the Amish walking down the road, riding in their buggies, grocery shopping, working on construction sites, or manning vegetable or bakery stands at farm markets, even in the heart of Pittsburgh.

So I was in Smicksburg with the Irishman the other day, buying a birthday gift for my daughter (Smicksburg is known for its quaint shops and killer fudge). Driving the back roads home, we came across this pay phone in…quite literally…the middle of nowhere.

What seems random and a throw-back to 1982, this pay phone is a lifeline for the Amish community. It connects those in need of emergency assistance with the people who can help. It just seems out of place to those of us with cell phones and Wi-Fi.
There continue to be times in my weight-loss and weight-maintenance journey when I need help in the middle of what seems like nowhere. Those times when I feel shame or guilt or self-loathing. You know, the stuff you don’t want anyone to know about. I know I’m in the middle of nowhere when food seems like the answer or I can’t get past a plateau or I need help accepting my body as it is right now or when I just need someone to say, “Lynn, I believe in you” when I don’t.

I’m making this photo my screen saver to remind me that I am not alone. All I have to do is “call,” and my friends and community will be there. My mediation and exercise will sustain me.

What reminders do you keep handy to help you remember that you are not alone when you feel stranded in the middle of nowhere?

FYI: TMI (Remember the fifth grade "film," ladies?)

Rip Van Uterus woke up today from an 11-month sleep.

I blame Crabby McSlacker because she posted this:

And as I watched it, I thought – in that cocky sort of older-lady kind of way – ‘Yeah…I’m so over periods. Still get hairs on my chin, but hey. Savin’ money on the tampons. Woohoo for menopause!’

Then I got home this afternoon after taking 2/4 grandchildren home. Last night, when I asked Mae and Luca what they wanted for dinner, neither of them screamed, “PASTA!” which is sad, because that’s what was screaming inside my head. They totally ignored the neon sign above my head that flashed, “With a side of toast!”

They wanted peanut butter instead.

So back to when I got home this afternoon. I got out of the car, after driving for an hour, and I had that “you-know-what-I’m-talking-about-ladies” feeling down below, and sure enough…

Frickinfrackinhowdoesthishappenafter11monthsIhatemybody…

Thank god I hadn’t given away my entire stockpile of Always.

That’s as much physical TMI as I’ll divulge. (Guys, you can open your eyes now.) But man…the emotional landscape I’ve been playing on for two weeks looks like this:

If I could be more uncertain/forgetful/bitter/happy, I’d get locked up, I’m sure of it.

I know many of you reading aren’t in this place yet, this abyss of pads/no pads/pads/is it done yet?/cry at every cat video your friends posts on Facebook.

But for those of you who are, and for the people who love us, we deserve some slack. This was NOT in our 6th-grade Modess-sponsored film. That day came at us like a mushroom cloud. Girls were ushered into one room. Boys were hustled to another. The boys watched “a film,” which I’m convinced was a recap of the 1973 Super Bowl, and we watched a film about a day in the life of a pretty brunette, age 15, who took showers during her period, went swimming during her period, ate healthy meals, and brushed her spectacular white teeth.

And she smiled the whole damn time!

One of the girls in my class asked the school nurse after the film, “Where do babies come from?”

“Ask your mother,” she said.

So the girls went to recess having NO idea there was a connection between our monthly “friend” and having babies. The boys congregated around us, wanting to know what we knew that they didn’t know. We were still processing. Between playing four-square and jumping rope, we didn’t know a whole lot more than they did.

I’m a smart woman. I know my body pretty well after 50 years. It’s bossy and demanding. But today…? I’ve rolled my eyes so many times I’m pretty sure they will permanently face backwards.

The same educational mandate that forced us to watch “The Film” in fifth grade should require we watch Ellen Dolgen’s video when we turn 40. You know, to prepare us for what is to come.

Don’t get me wrong. We all know menopause is coming. But when we get to “That Age,” it’s like we learn about that time of the month (or 11 months) in reverse. Ending our periods is as much of a mystery as it was when we started: Moodiness? Check. Boob issues? Check. Weird hair? Check. Issues down below? Check.

How about this: After the initial film in grade school, girls could sign up to watch a perimenopause film at age 40. Maybe the Office of Perimenopause could send them a reminder postcard every five years or so? Then, at age 40 (or whenever), they could report to their nearest Office of Perimenopause and watch the video.

I’ve had 36 interesting years with my uterus. But I’m no longer in need of her services. I want her to shut down like a retired nuclear energy facility.

Obviously, though, being a body part, she gets the last (hopefully?) laugh. This is her last (hopefully?) hurrah. I assure you, however, that today, I am not smiling like the 15-year-old in the Modess film. I am determined to overcome the desire for pasta, bread, sugar, and all things unwholesome. Except for, maybe, a piece of dark chocolate. And maybe a bagel. And perhaps a piece of pizza…

Oh good GOD! Shut up, uterus! Go back to sleep!

Ugh. Those of you who know what I’m talking about…leave a comment. Please. Especially if you have a memory of that “film.” It’s OK. Here, there is safety in numbers.

The Pause

March 10, 31 years ago, was my daughter Carlene’s due date, but she wasn’t interested in coming out. According to his measuring tape and his best guess, my doctor said Carlene was in excess of 8 pounds and she wouldn’t be born for another few weeks if she had her way.

“Your blood pressure’s high, the baby is big enough,” he said, taking off his gloves. “We need to get the baby out.”

“Ok,” was all I said, like I knew what he meant. Only I didn’t.

He left, I got dressed, and a nurse came in with some papers. Told me to check into the hospital.

“Ok,” I said again, and again, I asked no questions because I was 19 years old and I was stuck between the fear of the unknown and the mandate by which I was raised: never question authority. I walked numbly to the waiting area. My husband, Bruce, met me near the coat rack.

“So, what did he say?” he asked cheerfully, helping me into my coat. Bruce was terribly excited to meet the baby. Every night, he rubbed my belly like it was Aladdin’s lamp. “Come out and play!” he’d say.

“I have to go to the hospital,” I said quietly, trying not to cry. “He said the baby has to be born soon.”

He took my hand and I clutched the papers with the other. We walked outside. Bruce helped me into the car. Nothing was easy anymore.

Bruce slid into the driver’s seat. I looked over the papers the nurse had given me and could feel my heart beating in my temples.

“I don’t know what any of this means!” I slapped the papers. “I don’t know what they’re going to do. Am I having a C-section? Is the baby OK?”

Bruce took a deep breath. “Let’s just sit here for a minute,” he said.

“But they’re expecting us at the hospital! We have to go!” I protested. God knows we had to do exactly what we were told.

“They’ll be there when we get there,” he said. He reached over and stroked my hair. “We need some time to think.”

So we paused. I took a deep breath and loosened my death-grip on the papers. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember not feeling alone. I was afraid and so was he, but we were afraid together. When we felt ready to go, as was always Bruce’s positive approach to life, he said, “We’re having a baby!” Which we did, the next day, at 7:27 in the evening after more than 13 hours of labor. No C-section.

Carlene Rae came out looking just like her father, and as she grew, she took on his nature, even though they only knew each other for 11 days. Like her father, Carlene prefers to take her time, and she chafes against the hectic world and deadlines. She’s the person you want holding your hand when you shake, and she will remind you – with a joyful heart – about the good stuff yet to come.

 
Carlene was the joy of his life, if only for 11 days
   
Our wedding day; Carlene today

A Writing Manifesto (…I think I can, I think I can…)

Let’s say you get asked to write a book about the moon. You’ve never written about the moon before, so you create an outline and do a little research before you sit down to write about the moon.

After a few chapters about the moon, you realize that you also have a lot to say about Skylab and Apollo 11. You try to focus on the moon again, but the lunar module comes into your mind and you start singing “Dark Side of the Moon” as you write about Neil Armstrong and what it might have felt like to be the first person to bounce down to the moon’s surface.

You share your work with the person who asked you to write about the moon and she tells you that no one wants to read about Skylab or Apollo 11 or the lunar module. The want to read about the moon. So you try again to write just about the moon.

But you can’t. You think the moon is limited and dull and would be so much more interesting  buoyed by stories about the getting to the moon and walking on the moon. The person who wants you to write just about the moon thinks the moon is fine the way it is and so you part ways and you put away your stories and get a job at WalMart.

That’s what writing was like from 2009-2011. I tried hard to write the book someone else envisioned, but it was like acting in a play in which I didn’t know my lines. I lacked faith to write the book I wanted to write, and so I gave up entirely and went back to school to study dietetics.

I loved school, and the experience challenged me in ways I needed to be challenged. Studying nutrition and math and science got me out of the rutted thinking I was running myself over with. Volunteering at the soup kitchen introduced me to a world I’d only read about.

But school ended four months ago, and I’ve moved away from the city and the proximity of the soup kitchen. I’ve been wandering aimlessly in the guise of getting used to this new town. I almost had myself convinced that I just need more time to figure out what I want to do with my life until yesterday, when I read an article in a Minneapolis business journal about  a company I worked for a long time ago – the one that gave me my first writing job.  The company, general contractor M.A. Mortenson, won the contract for a $200 million expansion project at the Mall of America.

I remembered when the Mall was built and how Mortenson wasn’t the general contractor, although they did their best to bid the project. Instead, they were contracted to build the parking lots. While not the same as building the largest mall in America, they knew the parking lots were important and the company put its best and brightest managers on the job. Years of experience later, they are one of the top-grossing companies in Minnesota, building skyscrapers, hospitals, and ball parks all over the country.

I have this habit of thinking and then acting on the notion that if I can’t build an entire mall, I won’t be happy building a parking lot. For the last five years I’ve thought, ‘If I can’t write this damn book (the way someone else wants me to), then I can’t write at all.’ This, I now know, is bullshit.

I’ve been writing all my life, even before I learned to print. From my sandbox, I’d regale the pine trees with stories of riding my trike and drinking Kool-Aid. I am a teller of stories – mine and other people’s – and I tell these stories in the space of 3,000 words or less. So rather than write one book about one subject, I will write one book with many stories; the book I’m supposed to write.

I started organizing my thoughts today and it was like walking into a room filled with overflowing file cabinets. There are coffee stains on the desk, a half-eaten sandwich leaning against the keyboard, cobwebs in the corner, and books piled on every chair. In my mind, the place is just the way I left it years ago.

It’s good to be “home.”