Saturday, October 24, 2009

Trick or Treat

It's that time of year when leaves turn brilliant colors, fireplaces are awakened for the first time of the season, and kids begin to get excited about going trick-or-treating, a tradition that families have taken part in for ages. But I have a confession to make: I've never been trick-or-treating, at least not in the traditional sense. Growing up, I lived next door to the Monastery of St. Clare, a secluded order of Franciscan nuns who spend their days in prayer. My family lived in a house on the grounds and worked for the monastery. My mother drove the nuns to doctors' appointments and ran other errands, and my dad, on his days off from the fire department, cut the grass and served as a general custodian. One of the byproducts of this unconventional living arrangement was a lack of friends. Any other time of the year this wouldn't have been a problem, as I was happy to entertain myself, but in order to trick-or-treat, especially at the age of eight, one needed friends to go with, and my solitary existence severely limited my candy-gathering potential. So did my parents' paranoia about my going from house to house "begging for candy," as they called it. They were convinced that our neighborhood was filled with sadistic child murderers, and that I would meet an untimely death after having consumed candy laced with poison, or discover too late that a stranger's apple concealed a razor blade, as if fat kids even ate apples to begin with. But I had a bigger problem; if I didn't have candy to share at my second-grade Secret Pumpkin party the following Monday, I would be subject to public humiliation and a subsequent pummeling by Richard Baumgarten, the class bully.

Since the neighborhood was clearly off limits, Mom suggested that I go trick-or-treating at the monastery. I had not previously considered this as a viable alternative, but it wasn't a bad idea. The sisters adored me, and they had scads of food in the place. Yes. I would trick-or-treat at the monastery. A last-minute trip to the local Ben Franklin yielded my first and only Halloween "costume," a simple tiger mask, the only thing left in the costume bin that hadn’t been destroyed. Its hard, razor-thin plastic edges cut into my face, and a wisp of a rubber band served as the only means of securing it in place. The microscopic air holes in the nose were never meant for a human to breathe through, causing an inevitable build up of condensation—not to mention carbon dioxide—on the inside of the mask. I wore it the entire afternoon, bumping into walls and door frames due to the lack of visibility through the tiny slits masquerading as eye holes. Mom told me repeatedly to take it off, that she would tell me when it was time go.

As dusk approached and the blue sky began to melt into orange and pink and gray, I went to the hall closet to find a bag in which to carry my loot. Bag selection would be crucial; too big a bag and they might think me presumptuous, while too small a bag sent the message that I didn’t want or expect much. After some deliberation I chose a middle-of-the-road paper grocery sack, one you might use for a few oranges, say, or a couple of handfuls of golf balls. As soon as the sun sank out of sight, taking with it the last remnants of light and color from the sky, I began to get antsy, waiting for the go-ahead from Mom. The sisters usually retired to their individual rooms around 7:00pm, writing letters, reading the Bible, or spending time in prayer. If Mom didn't hurry, I would miss my window. As soon as I heard her call my name, I sprang into action, grabbing my loot sack and mask and heading for the door. She had originally insisted on going with me, but I talked her out of it, reasoning that she could watch me make the entire 150-foot trip while standing on our back porch. With Mom at her post, I stumbled across the parking lot, through the covered walkway, and into the monastery. It seems they were expecting me. Mom, I later learned, had called and told them I was coming. Eleven of the twenty-six sisters—most were older and had already gone to bed—greeted me at the front door without my having to even ring the bell. They each held a mixing bowl full of goodies. They all ooh-ed and ahh-ed about my "costume," remarking how scary I was and asking if I bit. One after another, they approached me and emptied the contents of their bowl into my grocery sack, which was soon overflowing. They were prepared for that as well. Sister Jude, one of the younger, newer members, pulled out a canvas tote bag large enough to hold a baby elk. The rest of the sisters emptied their bowls into the tote bag, then laid my puny bag on top. They hugged me, tousled my hair, and generally made a big deal over me, after which I issued a muffled "thank-you" through my mask and made my way back across the dark parking lot, struggling to drag the tote beside me.

Once in the house, I peeled off my mask and unceremoniously dumped the contents of the bag on my bed to survey my take. There was candy: Tootsie Rolls, root beer barrels, butterscotches, peppermints, caramels, candy corn, circus peanuts, Dum-Dums, bubble gum, and Hershey's Kisses. There was also less traditional Halloween fare such as apples, oranges, and bananas. Then there were items that didn't fit into any other category: a packet of powdered lemonade mix, a dozen or so Oreos in a plastic sandwich bag, a small crucifix, and a tin of Sucrets lozenges. I knew instantly that these items came from Sister Gabriel, an eighty-nine-year-old nun who was young at heart but oblivious when it came to social situations. She didn't understand the rules of Halloween, the unwritten protocol of costumes and candy. She simply knew she was supposed to give me something, and she likely just collected items that were lying around in her room. But I loved Sister Gabriel, and I would find a use for each of her gifts.

Our Secret Pumpkin party was in full swing when our teacher, Mrs. Yarbrough announced that it was time for us to play Secret Pumpkin, the portion of the party where everyone placed on our desks the jack-o'-lantern lunch sacks we had created earlier, and then walked around dropping some of our Halloween candy into each sack. As we prepared for lunch, we all grabbed our pumpkin sacks, excited to see what we had gotten from our classmates. As everyone sifted through their candy, they found root beer barrels, butterscotches, and bubble gum. Everyone was pleased except Richard Baumgarten, who sat at his desk with a sour look on his face, staring at a handful of Sucrets.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Worth Celebrating

Progress is, in some respects, not unlike money. The more you have, the more you want. I had my weekly weigh-in today, and was down a pound. I know I should celebrate that victory, but after last week's substantial loss, a part of me is disappointed and feels like I could have, should have lost more. And that part of me? Can bite it. I lost another pound, and I'm proud of myself. I was reading some work by one of my favorite authors recently, and the following sentence caught my eye: "Every success, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is evidence of change." So very true. Change has always been difficult for me, not only with regard to food, but also when it comes to giving myself a little credit. Like many other people, I'm my own worst critic. If one of my friends had lost a pound, I would congratulate them as if they had completed a marathon. But my own lost pound is met with a dismissive wave and a sigh of boredom from the side of me that expects more. So it may take a little while for me—all of me—to truly believe that even small successes are worth celebrating. But in the mean time, I'm doing just that.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Un-Fair Food

I was outside earlier today during lunch. The sun was out, and the air was cold and crisp. Yep, it's craft fair weekend here in Northwest Arkansas, and from War Eagle to Bella Vista, huge white tents have been popping up in pastures for days. The other morning on my way to work I passed by one such site. It was misting and still dark, and as I got closer I could see the lights of the concession stands, already powered up and ready. The soft flicker of golden light reflecting off the peaks of the nearby tents in the dark field made it seem almost sinister. But there's nothing sinister about the craft fair. Except the food. Corn dogs, funnel cakes, kettle corn, and a host of meats on a stick. The smell of it hangs in the air and rides on the breeze, tempting you as you browse through booths filled with quilts, wooden crafts, and birdhouses constructed from license plates. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with fair food. I love it, but I can't devour it like I used to. I love kettle corn; popped in a steaming cauldron the size of a Buick, the sweet and salty mix is one of my weaknesses. And corn dogs. I may need a moment. No store-bought or fast-food corn dog will ever compare to a corn dog from the fair. Ever. Even the mustard is better. A properly prepared corn dog with just the right application of mustard will make me weep openly, causing passers-by to stare, their children pointing and asking, "Mommy, why is the fat man sad?" Oh, and funnel cakes, made irresistable with a liberal dusting of powdered sugar, are another favorite. You can easily spot someone who's just had a funnel cake: eyes crossed and mouth slightly ajar, powdered sugar on their face, hands, and clothes, a wad of napkins the size of a grapefruit, and a single paper plate, gray blotches of oily residue peeking through crumbs and clumps of white powder. Whoever said ignorance is bliss has obviously never had a funnel cake. Or any fair food, for that matter. But fair food has a dark side; namely the calories. And fat. And carbs and sodium and...ok, there is no redeeming nutritional quality in fair food. Out of curiosity I Googled "fair food nutrition." I found a chart showing the calories, fat, and carbs found in popular fair foods. I've included the link below, so I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that, with the possible exception of meth or heroin, you'd be hard pressed to find anything worse for you. So as I head out to craft fair this weekend, I will do so already having eaten. Because fair food? Is not the least bit fair.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Now That's More Like It...

Sometimes encouragement comes just when you need it. Today, I needed it. And, thankfully, I got it. Last week's weigh in was a real disappointment with a loss of only a half pound, taking me from my starting weight of 480 to 479.5. Then I folded like a cheap lawn chair last night and ate everything but the dog. Needless to say, I was ready for something positive to happen. And the timing couldn't have been better. When I weighed this afternoon, I was down eight pounds to 471. It was sufficient motivation to keep me from repeating last night (which will henceforth be referred to as The Great Calorie Debacle), as well as providing me with the positive numerical feedback that I so desperately needed. Now that's more like it.


Punching Cicero

If Cicero were alive today, I'd punch him in the junk. The Roman author wrote, "Where is there dignity without honesty?" There is nothing dignified about this post. When I recently began writing about my battle against obesity and diabetes, I made a promise, both to myself and to the faithful few who read this blog, to be honest and forthcoming about my successes and failures. It seems that promise has come back to bite me in the ass. Last night I caved. I knew it would be more difficult with Mary at an out of town conference until Wednesday, but I had no idea just how easily I could fall back into old habits. When I got home I changed clothes and went straight to the kitchen. I grabbed a one-pound container of chicken salad out of the fridge, a sleeve of Ritz crackers from the pantry, and plopped into my chair to watch a recorded episode of My Name is Earl. I polished both off before the first commercial break. Then I followed it up with two chili dogs, half a bag of Fritos, and a large bowl of lite ice cream. And lite ice cream? Loses quite a few of its low-calorie benefits when you consume an entire pint of it in one sitting. Afterward I felt miserable, both physically and emotionally. I know that I'm the only one that can change my eating habits. And that's what scares me. Why would anyone put me in charge of something as important as my own health? That seems like a role that would be far better suited to someone more responsible. But it's ultimately my job to become that responsible person. The best thing to do after you fall is to get right back up. So today is a new day, and I've done well with my eating. And tonight will not be a repeat of last night; rather, I like to think of it as an opportunity for success.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Problem with Big Balls

In my recent efforts to become a healthier version of myself, I’ve begun looking at various exercise programs to strengthen my core, if I still have one. Several fitness books and websites suggested a body ball. However, I’m not sure a body ball is the way to go just yet. I have serious trust issues when it comes to sitting on things that I’m not entirely certain will support me. This is not an irrational fear, but rather the result of experience.

When I was about eight, the Bishops, one of the families we went to church with, invited us over to their house one Sunday night after services. The adults sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee, eating pound cake, and talking about boring adult subjects. Things adults always talked about that bored us kids to tears; things like sales tax or property easements. The kids, Carrie, Leigh Ann, and I, played in the garage, which, except for a few toys, garden tools, and the girls' bicycles, was empty and made a fine playroom. The toy we all ran to first was something called a Hippity Hop, which was fiercely popular at the time. If you don’t remember, it's a large colored ball with a handle that the kiddos straddle and hang onto while they bounce around. It looks like a lot of fun, but in reality? It's a tool of the devil.

Even at eight I was a gentleman, so the girls went first, each taking their turn on it, bouncing around the garage and giggling hysterically. I could hardly wait for my turn. When it finally came, I was beside myself. I swung a chubby leg over one side, gripped the handle, and settled down onto the huge ball. It took more than a little effort to generate enough energy for me to actually bounce, but once I got started there was no stopping me. I bounced as high as I could, reveling in the momentary feeling of weightlessness between bounces. Upon contact with the garage floor at the bottom of my trajectory, I noticed that I was putting a bit more of a strain on the ball than the girls. I didn't really give it much thought until, on my third or fourth trip around the perimeter of the garage, I passed by the girls and noticed that their smiles had melted into pained expressions of profound concern.

As I rounded the corner on my next trip, the ball exploded with a loud BANG that sounded very much like a gunshot, sending bits and pieces of red rubber shrapnel rocketing in every direction. The girls screamed and ran into the house, only to be met by our parents, who had heard the noise and were coming to see what we had destroyed. I sat motionless on the garage floor, scraps of red rubber dangling from my head and shoulders. I still maintained my grip on the handle, from which the remains of the ball now hung lifelessly. A white powder, industrial talc from inside the ball, covered my face and clothes as if I had been sandblasted, and the acrid smell of warm rubber hung heavily in the air. My parents scooped me up off the floor, dusting me off and brushing flecks of rubber from my hair. Apologies were made, along with a promise to replace the ball. The adults exchanged the obligatory pleasantries and goodbyes while I stared at the powdery starburst on the garage floor, not realizing that some thirty-odd years later it would serve as the deciding factor to not purchase a body ball.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A (Half) Pound of Flesh

As you may have imagined, I can't weigh just anywhere. A bathroom scale is completely out of the question, and even a regular doctors scale won't do the trick. Fortunately, my doctor's clinic has a biometric scale that will weigh me. So on Tuesdays when I get my allergy shot, I also weigh. For those joining this blog already in progress, last Tuesday I weighed in at a petite 480 pounds. I've been eating well all week, feeling better, and even re-introduced my rear end to a pair of pants that hadn't fit in months. So today when I weighed, I expected to see a decent loss. When one is as overweight as I am, weight comes off quickly in the beginning. That said, I would have been excited to have dropped six or eight pounds, but I would have taken two. But when I stripped off my socks and shoes and stepped on the scale, I was shocked to see that I had lost a whopping...half-pound. Son of a—half a pound?? Really? That's what I've been busting my ass for? For the love of Pete, I can pee half a pound off. I stared at the numbers for a moment, as if I could stare at them long enough for them to adjust to my liking, but the 479.5 just stared back at me. I stepped off, reset the machine, and got back on again. 479.5 again. The nurse passed by the open door and asked if I was doing alright. I wasn't. I picked up my socks, slid my bare feet into my shoes, and left. Quickly. Disappointed? You bet your sweet bippee. I've done really well with my new lifestyle, and some numerical evidence would have been fantastic. In the past, that kind of disappointment would mean, ironically, stopping on the way home to binge—a Quarter Pounder, large fries, 6-piece McNuggets, large drink, and a McFlurry—and then eating dinner as normal to hide the fact that I binged. But now? Not so much. I have to think about the other forms of validation I've gotten: feeling better, having more energy, spending way less on fast food and restaurant meals, and enjoying a happy reunion with a pair of cargo pants. It's not all about the pounds. So I'm finishing this post, then going into the kitchen to pack my lunch and get ready for a new day.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

You're Going to Make It After All

Yesterday, I made my two coworkers look at my butt. And, good friends that they are, they congratulated me because my butt, it seems, is a bit smaller. I wore a pair of cargo pants that I haven't been able to squeeze into for quite some time. I'm starting to get the hang of this new way of eating, and it's not that bad. I'm rarely hungry. Truly hungry, not just bored or anxious. I do have to admit that I miss some things. I could really go for some mint chocolate chip ice cream, and I'd wrestle a bull moose for a plate of fried pickles. I know, technically, I could have a half-cup of ice cream or an ounce or two of fried pickles. But I don't want just an ounce or two. I want a heaping platter. And therein lies the problem. Once, when I was only ten, I consumed an entire peach cobbler. I'm talking about a made-from-scratch peach cobbler in a nine-by-thirteen Pyrex casserole dish. That unhealthy mindset is the reason I weigh only slightly less than a Mini-Cooper. And that's what I have to fix. Why have I always felt the need to consume my food like Cookie Monster, with crumbs flying and falling from my mouth as I make num-num sounds? So, for now at least, no ice cream, fried pickles, or a host of other food items that send me into a feeding frenzy. Like any relationship that leaves you in a bad place, they've had to be nixed until I'm healthier and more responsible, physically and emotionally. But if my progress thus far is any indicator—and I believe it is—that day will come more quickly than I might have imagined.