Thursday, December 30, 2004


One day last week, I woke up with a stiff neck and never completely unfurled throughout the day. It was as if I had been working out with weights: perhaps those nine puppies weighing in at seven to ten pounds each? These days I spend a good part of each day in a variant of the upside-down-dog pose suited to picking up puppy poop or simply reaching, stretching into the corners in which the little darlings creep for their private ablutions. Every time I open the dishwasher, it seems that two or three puppies jump in, and I find myself screeching, “No puppies in the dishwasher!” as I lift them out. It is my own personalized exercise plan, and I didn’t even plan it.

All throughout Miss Nell’s nursing of the vampire puppies, I have kept her fortified with mystery meat items from my freezer: the breaded chicken (tastes just like fried!...not), last Christmas’s sauerbraten, and what passes for smoked salmon in Vermont. As a result, I was able to do a clean count of what’s in there, and it is most satisfying. Frozen soups of all descriptions line the back wall, herbs and shallots nestle in the top tray, my summer garden vegetables are ready to enjoy…and that is it.

Flushed with the energy of active days, I stand in awe of my organized kitchen which is innocent of so much as a single Christmas cookie. What a great time to go on a diet! It’s not that I need it any more than I have for the last two years, but suddenly an open vista of whole grains, vegetables and lean protein beckons. I am intrigued, I am tempted, I leap into a healthier world. Being goal oriented is sometimes less about will and more about seizing an opportunity that is in the right direction.

With that in mind, sometimes the most important thing we can do to get to our goals is to get barriers out of our way…or should I say get ourselves out of our way? It comforts me when I am having trouble making some aspect of my life work to think in terms of manufacturing flow, to analyze the trivial and mundane into submission. And it is a pleasure of single life that keeping myself fed is uncomplicated. There are foods I like and foods I don’t, foods that are good for me and foods that aren’t. Obviously, I have the best chance for success on a diet if I can organize enough foods I like that are also foods that are good for me—the trick is getting the combinations right.

So I have a standard shopping list—two columns on a normal size sheet of paper—that includes everything I normally eat. Items in bold should never run out; items that are special requirements for the next time I shop or are on sale at the local store are written in. With this simple tool, I always have on hand stoneground wheat bread, chicken and fish, the vegetables I am allowed, and the lemons, limes, ginger, cilantro, garlic and spices that make life worth living. Life is far too short for boring food.

Readers will be relieved that I do not intend to blog my diet, but every now and then I may wax poetic about a particular discovery. Tonight, for example, I made Italian sausage from ground turkey, then cooked it with peppers, onion and eggplant. Tasty and so filling I almost couldn’t finish. Hmm. Maybe when I redesign my blog, I will include a recipe section. Food writing is a calling in itself.

An important trick of dieting, at least for me, is never to cheat. That idea that if you get off the train you can get back on may work for others; for me one wrong step takes me down the slippery slope. In this, if not in many other ways, I know myself.

On the exercise front, there are many ways to trick the sluggish beast into action. Redundancy is key: having exercise clothes for the entire week knocks out one major roadblock of an excuse. In my most successful workout years, another key was going to the gym every day. How many times have you gone to the gym and dressed for a workout, then done nothing? For me, never. If I get there and dressed, I do the workout. So I trick myself to get there and dressed, and the rest is all downhill. How hard is it to get up and get dressed every day? Not hard at all.

Until I am in a routine, I don’t always enjoy the hard work, but I will gladly do aerobics and weight work in exchange for meditative stretching. Add a sauna and make the workout in the morning, and my day is made. My challenge this time is to find a place and a routine that work for me. Until then, warm weather walks and the Nordictrak make a temporary but acceptable stopgap. And snowshoes, it’s time for snowshoes! Maybe this year I will find the trick of keeping German Shepherd Max off the back of my snowshoes.

I tried to learn to ski cross country last year, but my Southern fear of sliding betrayed my will, and my knees buckled on the snowplow. I might try again, or I might stick to snowshoes, or who knows what else I might do? For sheer delight, it is hard to top contradanse, but I don’t think I have been dancing once since I moved to Vermont. I wonder why not?

In the realm of exercise—and other initially unpalatable ventures—I have made the unlikely discovery that combining two things I don’t like sometimes transforms both. It’s kind of like inviting two difficult people to dinner at the same time; sometimes the result is not only lively, but downright memorable. I used to dread reading the dry Economist, but an extended session with it on a recumbent bicycle made my daily aerobics session fly.

And into my mind springs an image of a row of a dozen Lifecycles, each with a Wall Street professional perched aloft. On that particular morning in memory, rows of the New York Times echoed down the line, each open to a particularly intriguing editorial on policy issues relating to a so-called third sex, children who were born neither male nor female at birth. Bemused brains, as yet untouched by the morning’s caffeine jolt, trying to take in a concept that was a little too tough; legs pumping away.

Next week I can work on finding a daily spot of zoned out bliss. The puppies will be moving to new homes, and we will all need a shot of newness in our daily routines. Still it's a little sad to think of no puppies underfoot, no puppies scrabbling at the bedroom door, no puppies chasing Max and Toby, even no puppies in the dishwasher.

No comments: