Sunday, July 08, 2012

Body Image

“My *** is too wide. My ******* aren’t big enough. My ankles are thick. I don’t like my *******. I won’t go out in a swimsuit.” You don’t have to be around women very long to hear these comments. And yet, for as long as I can remember, I have felt such comments to be irrelevant at best, and even ungrateful.

I want to turn around and say, “Your *** is exactly the size it was meant to be.” Subject to the ability to modify through diet and exercise, that is. “What makes you think you deserve a different one? We weren’t all meant to be models nor were we all meant to be geniuses. Someone in the world will think each of us is beautiful, bright and lovable, even if only ourselves.”

It is our own responsibility to come to terms with what we have, and what we don’t. We may mourn losses as we age. I am sympathetic to the late Nora Ephron’s “I’m sorry about my neck.” I, too, am sorry about physical losses as I age, but I work hard to slow them down, and I am fortunate to have the few losses I have. To date, there are some parts that hurt (wrist and shoulder) and some parts (knees) that require ongoing intervention, but everything works! I see others who are not as fortunate, who have deteriorating conditions, and I grieve for them.

It would be nice to be prettier, thinner, more fit, but it is startling how many people want to have body image issues on my behalf. People want to dress me differently, change my hair, bleach and straighten my teeth, give me different diets and exercise programs. I take their advice with thanks, but I am perplexed why they have so many opinions about my appearance. And why they feel free to share them.

More than one man has conveyed to me that I’m not pretty enough to marry. Okay, but there is not a lot I can do about the size of my ***, my drooping *******, or the fact that I am not particularly athletic. Since I wasn’t planning on marrying any of them, I have to wonder what was the intent of that message? If they weren’t planning on marrying me—why not just…not ask?

Why be hurtful? I’ve come to conclude it is more about these men than it is about me. I don’t even blame them. What they want is what they want. I don’t gain anything by trashing their view. And I’m still friends with all of them—I can think of at least three—but a little more at arm’s length.

I work hard to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in all areas of my life. I am grateful for my body and how it works for me. I am grateful especially for my mind, even though my memory is not what it once was. I am grateful for all my friends, even the ones who aren’t perfect—that would be all of them. How fitting, since I am clearly not perfect either.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Before September 1, I had a busy life. So busy that I slept in my exercise tights so that I was ready to roll as soon as I woke. It was very satisfying to hurtle through darkness toward Montpelier, then challenge myself with a killer ab class or a weights workout customized just for me. By the time I settled at my desk, I was physically and emotionally ready for whatever the day might offer.

Now my life is not so busy. I fell, you see, down the stairs. In my sleep. After some unknown period of time, I woke up on a living room sofa, bleeding. Based on the puddle of blood at the bottom of the stairs, it seems I had lain there for some time as well. But at the time, all I noticed was that my wrist hurt. Once I wake up, I thought, I’m probably gonna have to go to the doctor for that. And I walked through the puddle of blood and went back upstairs to bed.

When the alarm went off at 4:30 (my normal time to get up), my arm still hurt, so I put on a sweater and some shoes (how did my feet get so bloody?) and drove myself to the Emergency Room. Nice parking spot, close to the entrance. Registration staff looked at me horrified—although I had tried to wash off the blood from the head wound—and immediately put me into a wheelchair and skipped all their usual questions. The staff proceeded to take excellent care of me, starting with a catalog of my injuries: an H-shaped laceration on my forehead at the hairline (25 staples and stitches), a broken wrist (30 little pieces), a cut on my right leg (19 stitches) previously held together by my exercise tights, 2 black eyes, a big lump on my left shin, and numerous other bumps and bruises. I really should have called 911, but my battered head was not working very well.

By today (October 10) most of my injuries are far, far better. The shattered wrist is still healing. Anyone who knows me might expect me to be chomping at the bit, ready to re-engage fully in life. It is true that I am working half time (thanks to the federal government’s push for telework), and I am grateful to be able to keep my clients rolling along, not to mention grateful to be able to stretch leave a little longer. I am driving short distances to get myself to hand therapy or to the grocery store, and it is nice to regain a little independence. I’m even on the treadmill a couple of miles a day, so distressed I am at how much my muscle tone has diminished in a few short weeks.

And yet, I’m not really in a hurry to resume my life exactly as it was. Not that there was anything wrong with it. I take care to try to be thoughtful and responsible about my choices, so there have been no “Aha! I must stop (or start) doing that” moments. I wouldn’t wish to have the injuries again, and I still have a lot of healing to do. But to have life stop, to have others care for me, to have the patterns rearrange themselves, to be required to exercise ingenuity to accomplish the tiniest task…this has been an unexpected gift.

This interruption has to it the feel of a divine message. One that I cannot yet parse. So far I know only what it is not. Not a call to find a new friends—if anything the interruption underscores the rightness of these choices. The degree of help and support that came my way in the last few weeks has left me startled, humble and grateful beyond words. Not a call to find a new job—just doesn’t seem to apply right now—job hunting is one thing it is hard to do with one hand. Not moving, no right now. Not a push in any particular direction. So what is it?

Maybe it is the gift of time to sit still and listen. To pare my life back to basics and then add back what really matters. For example, it was only yesterday that I added back treadmill time—oh, how was missing my exercise routines! And for the last several days, I have been thinking how much I have missed writing every day. Maybe time to add that back.

If you have ever lived in a cluttered environment, your own or someone else’s, then you know that open space can seem like the ultimate gift. This time in my life feels like that kind of gift. I can’t figure it out, not yet, but I am enjoying the space.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Planting nasturtiums

I have relatives and colleagues with obsessive compulsive disorder, and from time to time, I find I understand them very well. In the morning in the gym, when I put my shoes in exactly the same spot as the day before, and the day before that, I understand. When I put my favorite water bottle into one of my shoes, I understand. There is something about making sure I don’t lose that water bottle that gives me control over my world.

Then there are certain things I do every year. Starting at Christmastime, I save the skins of yellow onions so that I can use them at Easter to dye eggs. They turn out the most amazing shades ranging from pale yellow to deep maroon tie-dye. These eggs delight me over and over again.

And in the spring, I plant nasturtiums. I have twelve (isn’t twelve a wonderful number?) galvanized window boxes, an even dozen fitting perfectly along the tops of my porch rails. I used to buy plants, but I found that nasturtiums grow reliably from seed, at least they do with a little care. Soak the seeds overnight, nick each one slightly to give the burgeoning plant life a start, and plant them. Miraculous!

I am an enthusiastic but not a very good gardener. In the back yard, I have a circular herb garden in a space once occupied by an above ground pool. (Now that was a bad idea. Never got the maple leaves cleared out, and really, I am not the pool bunny type!) Gave it away to someone who regretted accepting the gift, hauled in a load of topsoil, and presto chango! It’s an herb garden.

I specialize in invasive species. I pretend I am a gardener, but sometimes I think all I do is weed out Siberian iris, lemon balm, mint, and fern-leaf tansy. A few old reliables come back every year—oregano, chives, catnip, and horehound—without taking over. Thyme is fussy, as are lamb’s ears. Lady’s mantle and peonies are steadfast. I take great comfort in the return of plants that do not run rampant. I am so happy to see them.

Out back, there is much that is unexpected. But on the front porch, there are twelve window boxes planted with nasturtiums. They grow reliably and they look beautiful. I am obscurely grateful to them for being a gardening project that I can manage. I put the seeds in the ground, they come up, and the flowers come. How amazing is that? None of my other gardens act like that, and I love them for their wild and crazy nature. But I love my nasturtiums for being exactly what I expect them to be.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today I am thankful

Today I am thankful (not in any order):

1. For the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
2. For the pleasure of making pie
3. For a pumpkin that came out to be exactly the two cups the recipe required
4. For Mom’s pumpkin pie recipe
5. For new recipes googled—say, pecan pie with maple syrup
6. For Northern-Southern d├ętente—say pecan pie with maple syrup
7. For my family
8. For my dogs
9. For the joy that my girl dog gets from an 18 inch stainless steel bowl (yip-yip-yip-yah!)
10. For neighbors who tolerate her singing (yip-yip-yip-yah!)
11. For the giant octopus toy that Stony loves, which has only now started to fray after a whole year
12. For a washer and drier that work (we won’t discuss the dishwasher)
13. Okay, we will— for the dishwasher’s eight years of service in this house
14. For plentiful water – what a gift!
15. For the whole idea of flannel
16. For old friends
17. For new friends
18. For my neighbors
19. For the guy who reliably plows my driveway
20. For heating with wood
21. For my little gas stove in the living room that toasts my toes
22. For the pleasure of weeding out items too big to wear any more
23. For my job
24. For my colleagues, every last one of them
25. For certain specific people who have enriched my life this year and made me see the world through fresh eyes
26. For the invention of DVR
27. For all manner of things electronic: email, word processing, spreadsheets, digital cameras…
28. For snow
29. For my super reliable, mileage efficient car
30. For my friend who visits my dogs every day, just because she cares about them
31. For the incredible views from my house
32. For water, but especially hot water
33. For a big pile of balsam brush on my front porch—garlands in the making
34. For my health, especially the dramatic improvements in my health this year
35. For my trainers and their good advice
36. And most especially for the elliptical trainer and what it does for my shape
37. For knitting, which turns 2 dimensions into three—how cool is that?
38. For the women who knit with me
39. For silk long underwear
40. For my garden
41. And my house
42. And the 14-inch maple boards in my living room, that extend the width of the house, and that I suspect came from the maple grove out back
43. For modern and not-so-modern medicine and for my healthcare providers
44. For Vermont’s no-billboard law
45. For being (sort of) handy around the house
46. For friends who help me finish projects when I’m not quite handy enough
47. For the miracle of paint and wallpaper
48. For the invention of cleaning products that easily remove nose prints
49. For being almost done with my Christmas shopping
50. For a day off to finish
51. For the gift of hunter orange bandanas for Cassie and Stone to wear for hunting season
52. For friends who taste test recipes for me
53. For having a garage in winter
54. For the invention of automatic outdoor lights and remote garage door openers
55. For the lights that come on in my bedroom at the same time winter and summer
56. That although I forgot to set the timer for the pumpkin pie, I can smell when they are perfectly done (they are!)
57. That the pies came out perfect
58. For dogs who don’t steal food off the counter, and even for those who do
59. For pecans from my Mom to go into another pie
60. For maple syrup from a colleague to in there, too
61. For the whole idea of whipped cream
62. And for whipped cream itself
63. For recipes that turned out (pear jam, pickled pears, apple butter with coriander, pears in maple syrup) and for the lessons from the ones that didn’t (awful pumpkin pickles)
64. For recipe mistakes that turn out to be discoveries (apple butter with coriander was supposed to be with cardamom)
65. For friends who will feed me dinner today if I bring pie, or probably even if I don’t
66. For the farm fresh local organic turkey I still have in the freezer and for the fun of cooking it on another day
67. For friends who regularly drag me out for pizza
68. For friends who keep calling me even when I am not nearly attentive enough to them
69. For the Quiet Path in Stowe, and the dogs who romp there
70. For the tree that fell down this summer, that will warm us all this winter
71. For the repairs to the dog pen, so that Cassie can be outside and sing, even during hunting season
72. For silly jokes
73. For migrating birds outside my window
74. For an unending supply of murder mysteries to soothe my frazzled brain
75. For the opportunities to learn a lot of different things, to do a lot of different kinds of work and to live a lot of different places in my life
76. For blogging, which spurred me to write almost every day for a long time, which taught me a lot about writing
77. For genetics, which gave me a happy and exploratory spirit
78. For my parents, who nurtured that spirit
79. For those knee injections I tried for the first time this year that relieve almost all of my knee pain
80. For flu shots
81. For the fun of watching Cassie watch the dog show
82. For discovering items in my closet that I forgot I had…and that I love!
83. That the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade still makes me cry

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cuisine Fancy and Simple

Some months ago, I read a description of Meyer lemons. So appealing was the verbiage that when I saw Meyer lemons in my local grocery store in Vermont, I jumped at the opportunity to try them. After a brief web search, I decided to try making candied Meyer lemon rind and Meyer lemon syrup to go into Meyer lemonade.

Just finished up the candied rind. It is very nice…and a dead ringer for candied grapefruit peel, a classic Christmastime sweet of my childhood. Ha! Still, I’m thinking it is probably worth experimenting with candying different citrus peels, maybe combining them in a yeast bread, something like a stollen, but lighter. I wonder if the different peels would be different enough to be interesting.

Just another adventure in the kitchen.

Followup: I'll need to go back to the old time sugared peel recipe. With three times boiling and a closely watched syrup phase, it is more work, but the new fangled version turned damp and limp. The Meyer lemonade wasn't half bad, though.

Followup 2 Well, huh. After a day of exposure to open air, the short-cut, new version of candied lemon peel was almost as good as the labor-intensive old version. Time to re-think? Maybe so.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Herb harvest

It’s the first hard frost tonight, they say, and the chill wind confirms. I spent the day cleaning up the garden, harvesting the herbs. I wasn’t sure there was much there, but I brought in lemon balm and thyme, sage and catnip, a little parsley, some oregano and even a few last tiny squash. My kitchen smells wonderful.

Most of the herbs are tied with twine and hung from the spice rack, but I put the parsley into the oven to dry. Start at 200 degrees, put in the parsley and turn off the oven. Repeat several times. That really works!

Tomorrow I plan to forage for a few more experiments. Goldenrod and mullein can be made into teas, they say. And there is plenty of mint. Beautiful, invasive fernleaf tansy, no—unless taken in small, weak amounts tansy can be poisonous. I should have cut tansy earlier to see if the tiny yellow flowers and the foliage would dry for wreaths.

I’m reading and re-reading all my herb books these days, thinking of next year’s garden. I only have two acres, but I can grow a lot of herbs. I’m working through what products I might be able to make and sell to make my garden habit profitable. The dreaming is worthwhile in itself.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I wish I had a different picture for today. A picture of myself dressed up in Corella’s hand made clown costume, which I embellished with extra ribbons, a big bow at the neck, a hat with tissue paper roses, and—of course—a big red, painted-on nose. It was an extra thrill to find that my hot pink Timberland boots were a perfect match. (This picture is Stone, not Daisy or Sam. But it looks just like Daisy and Sam today).

Corella was pleased with the look. And I was pleased that this spry 93-year-old was happy to see me in her finery, prancing my way down the route of the Hyde Park Home Days parade. I had my own spot in the parade as the only clown—no function whatsoever but to wave to the crowd—but I was enticed to walk with the Lamoille Valley Veterinary Services float (complete with a 3-month-old German Shepherd puppy named Daisy), then I was wooed away to walk with the Hyde Park Players. It was something to do with their current play, but I never quite got the connection.

I was too busy waving and babies and old people, while trying to convince Daisy to walk with me. The parade was just that little bit too fast for us, so a couple of times, I had to pick her up (oof!) and scurry forward. Big girl! Somewhere in front of the Hyde Park courthouse, Daisy licked my red painted nose, and then she had one too.

A little further along, I switched to walking her brother Sammy. Daisy gave her breeder a kiss, and then Carole had the red nose. What fun!

All in all, it was fine parade. Puppies were admired. Corella waved back from the reviewing stand, happy to see that one boisterous clown in the autumn sunshine. Corella says she needs a new heart, and that they won’t give her one because she’s 93. She’s a little bummed about it, since she doesn’t really feel old at all, and I do understand her position. Still, on another level, I don’t see a thing wrong with Corella’s heart. Maybe that’s because I spent a day in her clown suit, waving to small children and enjoying puppies.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Second Half

It's been a good six months of letting go, making myself space to consider new things. For four months, I have been getting stronger, first walking every morning, then with a renewed commitment to a workout each weekday. I can feel not only my physical strength returning, but also my creativity.

I'm thinking a lot these days about the second half of my life. My mother's family have mostly lived into their eighties and nineties. For my father's family, it's tougher to tell what their natural span might have been, since there were fewer of them, and they were lifelong smokers. It's a fairly strong probability that I have almost as many years left on this planet as I have been here already.

There are some things I want to be different in the second half of my life. I want to be fit and physically active. I want to be well grounded in the place I live and with the people with whom I share my life. I want to dance more. I want many creative outlets. I want to wear pretty clothes. I want to be able to touch people's lives in ways that are direct, personal and meaningful. I want to learn a lot of new things. I want to garden more and grow more of my own food. I want to have more people to cook for (or better yet to cook with). I want less conflict. I want a quiet life.

I'm going to buy one of those big adhesive note flip chart pads, and before I finish new walls in my study, I'm going to create a wall size vision of the second half of my life. I can't wait to get started.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Scent of a Skunk Part II

I thought it would be one of the dogs who had the first skunk encounter, but no, it was me!

Driving down the hill, I saw a black spot on the snow. As I got closer, I could see that it was furry and moving. I was too close to stop, so I straddled the small animal. I thought for a few minutes I had escaped the spray, but no. It just took that long for the aroma to penetrate from my car's undercarriage.

For days now, my dogs have loved the car even more. Other cars don't like to park near us. Never one to name my cars, I'm thinking this one may be christened Pepe Le Pew.

Making Space

I’m sitting in my study, a strange and jumbled room, the last in the house papered in one of the tiny florals beloved by the last owner. It is the least offensive of the tiny florals, which is probably why it has lasted this long. Functional in a haphazard way, the room has too much furniture and is the only reasonable place in the house for the treadmill. I’m looking at the room, and I’m trying to figure out what would make it a more pleasant place to sit on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Clearly the first step is to move out everything that is not immediately important to the room’s best use. (We will work around the treadmill for now.) Since I am no longer attempting to run a business from this room, I don’t need as many shelves, but which should go? The tall ones that add a library feel? Or the waist-high deeper ones that accommodate piles of paperwork so nicely? Is there room somewhere for a cozy chair for reading here? Is it time to give up on my tall armoire that was made from a kit and still is missing its doors? Should I put some of the shelves in the closet? Can I really work around the treadmill? Will I ever know what storage I need unless I actually sort out piles of old paperwork?

So many questions, but only one real answer: clear out the old. Only then will it be possible to imagine the new. I’m craving a new house project, something that takes my personal space to a new level of function and comfort, but I can’t see my way to it. For now, it’s prep work and waiting for inspiration—my least favorite (though essential) part of the creative process.

Funny, I didn’t see the answer before I started writing, but now I do. Not the whole answer, not yet. But it is time for the last of the tiny florals to go. I have the wallpaper already, purchased when I moved in almost eight years ago. A mellow yellow with a small abstract repeat, suitable for a study or a bedroom. I think the armoire goes upstairs, maybe the treadmill, too. Keep the tall shelves, and move them to a different wall, no longer in front of the second bathroom door. Put one set of the lower shelves in the closet, the other two out in the mudroom, which needs more function of its own. Give away extra electronic equipment. Clear out, clean up, wallpaper and paint. It’s a plan.

I wish the shape of my new life were as easy to discern. In a strange twist, I was accused last week of “liking my job too much.” I do like my job a lot. I think I am well suited to it. I like getting out into the community and finding out about projects, then doing what I can to help them along. I like my colleagues. I pad around in my sock feet most of the day, leading some of my colleagues to offer to take up a collection to buy me shoes. And most of all, I like that part where every two weeks, the federal government zaps money into my bank account. Whoo-ee! I think long term federal employees have lost track of the value of a regular paycheck and outstanding benefits, but it is all new and exciting to me.

Yes, I like my job, and I like my routine of walking in the early morning. I like my commute, and I am re-adjusting to having forty hours of my week scheduled for me. But it’s the rest of it I can’t quite envision yet. Who do I hang around with? What thoughts and dreams and activities make me who I will be? It’s stunning how much of our lives change with the change of a job.

One thing I am letting go is the church I have attended more off than on for the past eight years. I was there pretty religiously for a year, then got busy with economic development and lapsed, and finally went back about a year ago. The people are pleasant enough, though not particularly friendly, but then we are in New England. But I am missing there the hands-on connection to the broader community and the intellectual exchange that I had in a past church experience. I kept hoping that I would come to appreciate this church for what it is, but the spark doesn’t seem to be there, at least not for me. Time to stop. Time to open up that time in the week and see what new feathered thing presents itself in my life. Doing the same thing over and over doesn’t leave room for hope or for charity.

I wonder, is there something I am missing? Is there something I need to finish in order to be able to move forward? I really don’t know, and all I can do is clear out the old in order to make room for what is to come. This in itself is an exercise in hope.

Meanwhile, I think I will move out furniture and get rid of that last tiny print wallpaper. Then maybe I will be able to see the possibilities.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cabin fever

It’s right around zero this morning, and I am grateful for the gift of a bed of coals that lasted the night. No struggle with insufficient kindling, no running up and down the cellar stairs, just pop in a couple logs and the fire comes back to life.

Until this weekend, I had been afraid that the embers of my spirit were burning low. I had started to feel isolated, pitiful and older than my years. When you live alone, as I have for about half my adult life, every now and then you start to buy into social judgments on the single life. You keep saying, “No, really, I am happy,” but you wonder if it sounds as tinny to others as to your inner ear. Certainly, the happiest periods of my adult life have been when I was in a close relationship, married or otherwise, but then so were the unhappiest periods. It’s good to know how to be happy alone.

Right now, at the end of January 2010, I’m poised on the rim of a new life. I’m itchy to see what its shape will be, who will inhabit it, and who I will be. Looking back, it can seem easy to divide our lives into chunks that have some meaning: the years I was married, the years I lived in New York, my time (so far) in Vermont, periods that had some kind of story line that I could inhabit for years at a time. I am happy to close the book on some periods—the Chattanooga interlude, say, or the last two years.

I’m never sure if I cling too long to old story lines or launch too rashly into the new. At least I have learned to recognize the between-times. For me, health concerns are often a sign of the “betweens.” Something needs to be left behind, and I don’t seem to get the message until my body cries stop! you are living in your head again and ignoring body and spirit. My stamina needs to be rebuilt. As much of a change-lover as I fancy myself, I can be slow to discern when my personal world has changed, and I need to allow myself to be transformed along with it.

Certainly (I think), there are periods when you need to run on stored faith, to put your head down and do what you have to do. I wish I were better at recognizing when those reserves are running low. Eventually, even the message penetrates even my hard head, and I start to see where change needs to occur. I need to grow in friendship, with the ones I have and new ones. I need new charitable and volunteer ventures, not that there was anything wrong with the old ones, but I need renewal in this part of my life. I need a spiritual expression that aligns more fully with my heart’s desires. I love my new job, and I need to explore how it can contribute to a meaningful life for me and my broader community. I need to go back to the kind of daily schedule I have had in the past that honored my body in physical activity. I can see where I need change, but I am only beginning to see how it might play out.

If the initial stage of the between-times is recognizing that change needs to come, the more challenging stage is the next: making room for it to happen. I’ve been trying to keep still, to make space for whatever is to come. It’s a little like waiting for Christmas. Every year I wonder if it will still be special, and every year it comes, not just a day in the calendar, but a gift like this year’s hoar frost. This enforced peacefulness does not come naturally to me, a confessed control freak.

So here I sit, confined to my house by sub-zero weather, warmed by the gift of a fire that kept burning all the night long, nosed into action by Cassie and Stone, who desperately want to get on with the next adventure. We’re doing short runs today, building up reserves of faith and stamina for milder days to come. You can’t rush spring, but you can get ready.

Postscript. My horoscope for today, which I read after writing the above:
It's difficult for you to reconcile your current feelings with your commitments for the year ahead. There's a part of you that's ready to cash in your chips and start anew, but that's not necessarily an option. Instead, consider what you can do to revitalize your life without abruptly turning it inside out. This may be a time for bold thinking, but don't be in too much of a hurry to put your ideas into motion.