Success is a Point of View

Recently I wrote about my success in keeping off 115 pounds for three years. Looking back, I’ve held that weight at bay for nearly four years. In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal that I haven’t been absolutely successful in this battle. Who has been?  I actually lost 135 pounds originally, and I have reached a turning point where I know I must be positive or I will eventually gain back more weight. Now is the time to refocus my efforts and to get back closer to my goal. If I had consistently followed the tips I outlined in the above link, I believe that I would not have slowly gained back twenty pounds over this time. My weak link is being honest with myself about how much I eat. This kind of self deception can grow slowly, where I start eyeballing servings to create larger portions and so on. This week I am trying to “get real” about what I eat and more accurately record my intake in my food diary. I don’t watch what I eat on holidays, and back when I was losing weight, that meant actual holidays. I have created a few too many extra food holidays during my weight maintenance.

I don’t have nearly as much struggle with exercise. I think this is because it is easier to record activity honestly, especially with my use of a Fitbit.I’ve also made exercise convenient by putting a TV in front of my elliptical machine. I can slowly binge watch series on Netflix and the like while getting in a work out. While I was saving up for an elliptical, I wore out an exercise bike in front of the TV.

One motivation I had in maintaining a 100+lb weight loss was the fear that I didn’t have it in me to do that again. That concern has served it purpose, and I think I do have the strength to lose those twenty pounds again. Even if I do not succeed in that venture, I still have maintained a 115 pound weight loss.

Southbound

I have yet to infect anyone with my enthusiasm for Thin Lizzy. I suppose this affinity is like my passion for barley, something that happens spontaneously and cannot be taught. I had heard “Jailbreak” many times while growing up and found it merely tolerable. It was one of those songs that would not compel me to change the radio station to avoid it. Sometime around the two hundredth time I heard it, it suddenly captured my attention as if I were hearing it for the first time, and I was impressed enough to check out the band’s back catalog. Soon their songs became a regular sonic thunder that helped propel me through my awkward spell in retail after dropping out of college back in the 90’s.

My fascination with Thin Lizzy was no exception to my tendency to ask myself oddball questions. How many other people read the Bible story about Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana and wonder whose wedding it was? With Thin Lizzy, I speculated whether “Jailbreak” and “The Boys Are Back in Town” referred to the same people but from different points of view. Was the jailbreak successful and the second song the celebration of it?

“Cowboy Song” made me wonder how many Irish artists explored themes of the American West. Both Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott and Irish author Flann O’Brien imagined life in the Wild West in some of their work. This inquiry is one of many unanswered questions from my youth. Why would an Irish artist feel drawn to those themes? Did they find a small of measure of release from their postcolonial tensions in recreating the American frontier?

Southbound” is the Thin Lizzy song that I enjoy most. Outside the realm of alternative music, their are few songs that embrace failure and depression that don’t mention romantic loss. In the song, the lyrics tell of a man who cuts his proverbial losses and disappears, “taking only what I need before my head explodes.” Having quit and departed many circumstances in my past, I know exactly what that feels like, and I listened to this song many, many times in my younger days because it was a relief to hear that someone else had felt that way, too.  I feel that I have grown past my tendency to escape, except when I feel trapped if I spend more than an hour at time shopping. When I hear this song now, I do not feel tempted to bail out of situations, but it does inspire compassion for the quitter I once was.

Ham and Cabbage Dinner

I value simplicity when I cook. Although I enjoy reading many recipes, I typically cook without one. Often there are ingredients in recipes I can’t tolerate due various food intolerances and aversions, so I improvise based on culinary reading and past cooking experiences. I cooked this meal a couple days ago, and I was pleased that something so simple had a satisfying result.

  • 1 2lb presliced boneless quarter ham
  • 1 medium head cabbage, chopped
  • 2 14.5 oz cans fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 8 oz can mushrooms, undrained
  • Cornbread for serving with meal

Place chopped cabbage into dutch oven over medium low to medium heat. Empty undrained tomatoes and mushrooms into pot and stir gently into cabbage. Place the ham on top of the cabbage so it looks a bit like a bird sitting on a nest. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. You may wish to lower the heat if the pot starts steaming out of the lid to prevent having a home perfumed with cabbage. For each serving, use a meat fork to pluck out a few slices of ham and then fill most of the rest of your plate with the cabbage mixture. Serve with cornbread.

 

Bring Us Your Ancestors

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My great grandfather, Leslie Fairchild aka Leslie Kelly

Back in my college days, one of my classmates suggested that a good salve for writer’s block was contemplating one’s ancestors. He reminded me of this once by saying “Bring us your ancestors!” from a second story window as I walked on the sidewalk below. Since I could hear but not see him, I first worried that I was having a command hallucination, which would have been a serious complication of the major depression that was descending upon me at that time. To my relief, he confessed that he was the one who spoke those words as soon as I walked into the classroom.

I avoided doing much research or writing about my ancestors because I was afraid of what I might find in studying them or the feelings I’d develop while writing about them. Would they seem perfectly functional in comparison to me, making me one of the original screw-ups in my family tree? Was it possible that some of them were infamous, casting my problems in a kinder light in comparison? I also considered that I might have no feeling whatsoever for my ancestors, the possibility I feared most, yet another experience that did not penetrate my unsentimental core. I was seldom sad while depressed. Instead, I felt numb like a limb fallen asleep, full of pins and needles.

Recently I dared to dip into the subject of my ancestors, and the discovery of one of my ancestors was compelling enough to me to cut through the concerns I had in the past. In discovering him, I understood that there was no point to judging my ancestors, for if they had lived their lives differently, I would not exist. There is nothing like finding out that the existence of me and nearly half of my close relatives depended on the drastic choice of one person to drive this point home.

My great grandfather Leslie appeared on a bicycle at his future in-laws’ farm in Middlepoint, Ohio, around 1926, and offered his work as a farm hand. While working on that farm, he was a man with no proof of his past, yet he quickly wooed and married my great grandmother. They had three daughters in the next few years, one of whom is my paternal grandmother. In 1936, the family of five was farming at night to escape the July heat and were in a car accident on the way home. Leslie and two of my great aunts lost their lives in that accident. My great grandmother and grandmother were critically injured in that accident as well. Inquiries were made to a town in Michigan that Leslie claimed as his hometown. No one in that town knew him.

Until this year, the only mementos we had of him were his death portrait, his hat and his long johns. His origin was a mystery that my family attempted to solve several times in the intervening years. Little did we know that in Michigan there was another family who knew his beginning and had been searching for information on his end.

Since I doubt that I will soon stop wondering why he did what he did, I will not linger here on the details of how I found him. I’m sure I will write of this matter again, as I have before. I discovered that in 1923 that my great grandfather became a missing person in Minneapolis. He left his home, where his first wife, his mother and five surviving children were living, stopped at work to collect his paycheck, and did not go home again. He had lost two children to a measles outbreak three years previously, so he originally had seven children in his first marriage. Since he left so many close relations behind and made no contact with them, the authorities presumed he was dead, yet he lived thirteen more years under a different last name in another state.

As his origin was revealed, we discovered that he was truthful on some details. He really had been born and raised in Michigan, just not in the town he mentioned. He offered his actual birth date and mother’s name on his second marriage certificate. What he did not reveal is staggering, that he left a beautiful wife, a loving mother and precious children behind. I can only imagine what forces inside and outside of him led him on this course. He did not live long enough to reverse it. He spoke of taking his second family to meet his relatives in the months leading to his death. I can only imagine how he might have negotiated that reunion.

This revelation healed a part of me. For years, I felt like I was the one who was out of place, a changeling or foundling child in mind if not in body. I am relieved to know that I was not the outlier. Now that I know more of my great grandfather’s story, it’s like a long awaited piano tuner has finally arrived and restored a piano fallen out of tune long ago.

 

The Fashion Fiasco of 1987

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By the time of my ninth grade Christmas, my parents had long given up the ghost of my belief in Santa and let me put a limited wish list on layaway at a discount department store. I chose four Beatles albums, some sensible tops and a pair of pleated plaid trousers. This was at the height of the high, tiny waisted pants era, and I was at my most vulnerable to the influence of teen fashion magazines like Sassy and Seventeen. Relying on my own taste alone, I had previously bought a hideous intarsia sweater that had the words “Ski Bunny!” knitted in black on a yellow background, so I was up for trying the styles promoted by such magazines. They had touted plaid britches as a back-to-school necessity, and it didn’t matter so much to me that I’d be four months late to that trend by Christmas.

I now doubt that anyone but a mannequin had a body suited for those pants, but at the time I felt that they were a mandatory indictment of my shape, one I deserved if I wanted to partake of future trends. Family legend has it that I was born shaped like an accordian. This isn’t entirely false. After losing considerable amounts of weight, I still look a bit like an accordian but with fewer folds.

The waist on the plaid pants was so small I had to choose a pair two sizes larger than usual, making me look as if I were wearing loud pantaloons. After opening them on Christmas morning, I wore them only three times. The first two times it seemed as if people were trying to see me without seeing the pants. I revisited the experience of being seen-yet-not-seen a few years ago when I went grocery shopping in a pair of Stewie lounge pants.

Dryer shrinkage had doomed the plaid pants by the third time I wore them. After struggling to button them, I sat down on the stairs at home to wait for my sister to finish getting ready for school. This was a day we were free from wearing our school uniforms, and all such days were an opportunity to show our fashion sense and flair for maximum big hair. All of the hair spray in the air made me sneeze, and the recoil of that sneeze ripped the button from my pants. As the button ricocheted off two walls, I was spared the infamy of having worn those absurd pants to school. I had already given others enough fodder for embarrassing nostalgia by wearing “Ski Bunny!” for class picture day and for my dateless appearance at that year’s Homecoming dance.

I have been relatively immune to fashion in the intervening years. Every year has an absurd, ill-fitting trend. Even though I have worn every size from 4 to 24 over the years, I still have not had the dimensions for easily finding clothes that fit well. I don’t know who the industry has in mind when their ever shifting sizes are created. I used to think that I had a hard time finding flattering clothes because I was overweight, but I’ve had the same problem at a healthy weight. I have the best luck buying clothes at thrift stores, finding nearly new apparel that didn’t fit someone else well enough.

 

A Recipe for Cheap Diet Soup

I have a few recipes for inexpensive, diet-friendly dishes. Back when I was broke (not so many years ago), I made a goal of seeing how little money I could spend on cooking and still create something nutritious. This soup was part of that quest. The butter can be omitted, but I think adding a little fat helps with flavor and nutrient absorption. Of course, this recipe can be varied. I’ve found that mushrooms and a 1/2 cup of cooked barley are nice additions.

  • 8 cups chicken broth (boullion may be used)
  • 1 lb carrots, sliced
  • 1 bunch celery, sliced (include the leaves if you love celery)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 lb dried kidney beans, cooked
  • 1 bay leaf (optional, really enhances the flavor of the soup)
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 T butter

Melt the butter in a dutch oven and cook the onion over medium heat for five minutes. Next add the celery and carrots and cook for fifteen minutes more. Adding the remaining ingredients and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Remove bay leaf before serving.

I plugged this recipe into a recipe calorie calculator at caloriecount.com and these were the results if the recipe were divided into 12 servings:

recipe calories

 

How I Lost 115 Pounds and Kept it Off

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I have maintained a 115 pound weight loss for four years. I would like to share my strategies for two reasons: to help others would like to achieve similar results and to renew my goal of keeping my excess weight off. The hardest part of sustaining weight loss is determining how much focus needs to be devoted to that effort. I admit that I have not found an easy formula for setting this priority, but I know that it needs attention every day. I have learned that I was overweight because I have little sense of proportion regarding food and physical activity. For example, if I do not make a list of what I’ve eaten, I will just keep on eating. Likewise, I won’t move enough without a record of the exercise I’ve done.

Based on my experiences, I think there are many ideas in circulation about weight loss that are discouraging. The darkest one is the notion that it should be done quickly. It is better to think of weight loss like paying off a long term beneficial debt, such as a mortgage or student loan.

My journey also leads me to doubt common ideas about how restrictive a diet needs to be. I think the intensity and duration of exercise suggested is probably inflated, too. I have rarely eaten less than 1500 calories a day. Actually I average eating 2000 calories  and walking 12,000 steps a day. While I was losing weight, those numbers were closer to 1800 and 15,000. I also gradually worked up to those numbers needed for me to lose weight.

Here is a list of what has helped me manage my weight:

  1. Keep a Food Diary and Count Calories – Calorie information is widely available online and on food packages. After a while you will gain a good sense of estimating calories.
  2. Use a Pedometer – At first just use it to get a baseline of your physical activity then gradually increase your steps to 10,000+ a day. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many daily steps you can sustain. Then try some more intense exercise like an elliptical workout or strength training. This last part isn’t absolutely essential, but you may find it feels so good that it helps you stay dedicated to watching your weight.
  3. Limit Restaurant Meals – I try to limit take out meals to once a week. I aim to spend the majority of my food dollars at grocery stores. It is easier to stretch your money and calorie budget by making your own meals. The portions of ready made meals at the grocery store are usually smaller than at a restaurant, too.
  4. Short Term Failures are Inevitable – I think it is impossible to eat right all the time. I have had many bad days with food. I have repeatedly gained and lost the same ten pounds. I try not to see these setbacks as signs of doom. I used to do that and yo-yo dieted my way to 260 pounds as a result. Keep trying, even if you have a bad day, a bad week, or a terrible month.