You Have My Word

February 2, 2008

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  –Mark Twain

I recently started reading the highly acclaimed Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Almost immediately, I found myself laughing out loud as I read page 2, and was hooked.  

Gilbert’s memoir recounts her travels through Italy (eat), India (pray) and Indonesia (love) following the chaotic dissolution of her marriage.  Now that I’ve reached the penultimate chapter of the “Eat” section, I’ll be sorry to see all those robust and flamboyant foods disappear, slick with garlic and olive oil.  But I am also looking forward to delving into the next section and the solemn world of spirituality as it’s presented by this enviable wordsmith.

In one of the Italy-based chapters, Gilbert discusses the theory of a friend of hers, who asserts that each city, based on its communal “personality,” has a single word that epitomizes the very core of that city.  In the case of New York, for instance, it’s “ACHIEVE.”  (Yes, Gilbert writes these words in all-caps).  For Rome, says her friend, it’s “SEX.” (He explains, “If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets. . . you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought.”) Dang, those randy Romans!

If I had to propose a word for Toronto, with its most-ethnically-diverse-population-on-the-planet claim to fame, it would have to be “ACCOMMODATE” (not to be confused with the defining word for the country as a whole, which is “POLITE.”). 

This little word game got me thinking. What would my own personal word be?  My first thought was, Well, that’s easy.  It’s “FOOD.”  No, I soon realized, that’s The Girls’ word.  (“And what’s wrong with that, Mum?  No, seriously.  What’s wrong with it??“) 

Upon further reflection, I decided my word was closer to “SEEK.”

In truth, I suppose these two concepts, eating and seeking, coexist in my life, and even work in tandem.  In both my work and my play, I’m frequently surrounded by food and on the lookout for that classic, “perfect” recipe.  At the same time, I’m a perennial seeker (the better way, knowledge, inner peace, what that comment really meant, self-improvement, weight loss,  le mot juste)–basically, I am made restless by the status quo, inevitably searching out something–sometimes, anything–else. 

In my quest for that elusive something, however, I have on occasion lost track of the present and all the wonders that exist with me now.  Perhaps my new word should be “APPRECIATE,” as I remind myself to take stock of what is going right, right now. Steady income? Check.  Great guy?  Check.  Dear, long-term friendships? Check. Two dogs I am crazy for?  Double Check.  Beautiful winter weather for 5 months?  Hmm.  And I was going along so well there, for a moment.

On another note, this blog has been indispensible in my quest for what’s good, and what’s next.  I’ve read about all kinds of approaches to eating, weight loss, and life in others’ blogs and found humor, new perspectives, and inspiration there.  As I continue to seek out the best of healthy and, at the same time, tasty, recipes, I simultaneously discover what works for me, which foods appeal and which allow me to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. It’s work, but it works, too.

With luck, my word will continue to evolve over time. Perhaps “FOOD” and “SEEK” will commingle, or perhaps the constant striving toward some elusive “better” will eventually be eclipsed by another, more appropriate, word. I’d happily accept “SATISFACTION” or “GRATITUDE” as my life’s new keyword.

Until then, the search continues.  But for now, it’s on to the next chapter.

What would your word be?

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The last few nights, I’ve been having trouble falling asleep, then waking up in the morning feeling exhausted.  My heart is pounding too fast, my chest feels full and heavy, my stomach aches ever so slightly.  I’d say this was caused by overeating or binging, but I haven’t actually been indulging in those lovely activities in the past couple of days, so that’s not it. 

What it is, I’ve recognized, is the oppressive stress I’m feeling because of this impending move (only 5 days away!), the lack of organization in our home preceding it, work pressures, and having to keep up with daily routines because of two little fur-babies who don’t have the faintest idea that their lives are about to change radically and irrevocably in less than a week. (“What?  Change radically? What are you talking about, Mum? Are you going to change our food?  Are you going to buy us new toys?  Are we finding a new trail to walk in–??? WHAT???”)

 Now, when this sort of thing has occurred in the past, I’d either ignore it (if all else were going well, or I found myself otherwise distracted), or rush to make a doctor’s appointment and check out all vitals (if anxiety were rearing its ugly persona once again).  In this case, however, I’m trying to be more self-aware as part of my overall plan, so I stopped to take a closer look at what it is and how it’s affecting me. 

Years ago, when I suffered regularly from panic attacks, I saw a wonderful therapist who practised cognitive therapy and recommended a program based on the philosophy of Jon Kabat-Zin, called Mindfulness Meditation.  I attended the sessions for eight Saturday mornings (culminating in an entire day of silent meditation–bliss!),  and learned how to use a form of meditation based on progressive relaxation.  Then, during my halcyon year at CSNN, I resurrected the practise as a daily routine before going off to school.  I have to admit that I felt fantastic.

So, this very morning, I awoke at 6:53 AM, mere minutes after the alarm blared beside my ear, and determined that I’d begin to meditate again.  Yes, I had promised myself (again) that I’d walk on the treadmill this morning, but this seemed more pressing.  So, after being greeted by one exuberant puppy pressing her cold, wet nose into my cheek (C. and I sleep on a futon bed, resting on a pedestal frame–which means our faces are perfectly aligned with dog-face level), I dragged myself upright and padded into the TV room.

I had done this before, only a couple of years ago, so there should be no problem, right?  I clearly remembered the routine, the progression from general relaxation to focusing individually on each body part and relaxing it in turn, along with breathing in while focusing on the part (and any sensations, pain, etc. there), then breathing out while letting the part go limp, consciously relaxing the muscle, freeing my mind of any thoughts (and gently returning it to the business at hand should it wander in any way).  I can do this, I thought. It’s like riding a bike.

And so I began.  Bare feet flat on floor.  I sit on a chair with a special back pillow behind me for support (bad back), so I’m actually upright and sitting fairly tall.  Face forward, eyes closed, tip of tongue on roof of mouth, breathe in–deep–breathe out, a heavy sigh, relaxing all of the body.  I’d deliberately left the light out (there’s just barely enough to limn the various pieces of furniture and assorted packing boxes in the room , these grey autumn mornings) so that I could close my eyes and really focus.

I’d gotten as far as focusing on the soles of my feet when I felt it again–the cold wetness, this time on my big toe.  Then used said big toe to push Chaser out of the way, Nylabone still in her mouth.  Back to the soles.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Relax.  Focus.

Not ten seconds later (I was at the ankle by now), she’d returned to chewing her bone, this time using the top of my foot as a brace so she could prop the bone between her paws and get a better chewing angle.  And I thought meditation was supposed to be RELAXING.  At this point, I was more tense than when I’d awoken.  I gave up with a sigh and headed toward the shower.

I think I will need to close the door next time I meditate.

(“But I found it very relaxing, Mum!  You should try chewing a Nylabone once in a while.  Great for the tension in your teeth.”)

I can already see how important accountability is when trying to adhere to an eating regime:  I got home from work, desperate for something chocolate.  Yet, knowing that I’m going to be posting this to the whole world (even if the whole world isn’t reading it!)–well, that’s what basically prevented me from stopping at the local Loblaws on the way home and buying a large-sized chocolate bar.

I’m still feeling a little full from lunch, even (and a healthy lunch it was, too:  the leftover sweet potato salad, with raw almonds and a big, crunchy Gala apple), yet still have a craving for chocolate–anything chocolate.  What to do?

Well, if I’m going to be honest and stick with my original rules, then I shouldn’t eat it unless I’m really, really hungry.  Should this rule be amended, then, to include “or when you really, really want just that thing“? This is what The Solution advocates.  So maybe it’s worth including.

What I’m going to do with this craving is twofold: first, I’m going to examine it, try to figure out why it exists today, at this time.  Next, I’m going to give in to it, within limits.  I know myself well enough to know that it’s impossible for me to eat “just one piece” of chocolate (at this point in my life, anyway).  Therefore, I will attempt to assuage the craving, but with something chocolatey that fits within the parameters of the NAG diet.  So:  Halvah!

I like halvah, it’s very filling, and I do a great halvah with a chocolate swirl.  But guess what?  Having blogged about this, I no longer feel like eating it.  So it’s off to the next activity, in this case packing for our house-move (coming up in one week–yikes). 

We’re so proud of you, Mum!  And what was that about a house move??

Two Constants in My Life

October 28, 2007

For a long time now, I’ve wanted to start a blog about food.  Being an organic baker and a Natural Nutritionist, I’ve learned a lot in the past few years about which foods are healthy, which aren’t, and how to bake terrific desserts that won’t harm your health.  And while I’ve enjoyed a modest amount of success at my business, there’s always been the nagging feeling behind it all that I’m a. . . . fraud.  How can I purport to be a holistic nutritionist when I’m (quite) overweight, and can’t seem to stop myself from eating foods that aren’t good for me? How can I tell others how to “eat healthy” when I can’t manage it all the time myself?

 Paired with my lifelong food issues has been a love of dogs.  I was born in the Year of the Dog,  and my honey tells me I have “dog-like qualities” (I didn’t take offense, as I think that’s a compliment!).  girlsonstoop.jpg About five years ago, we got our first furry kid, Elsie (black Lab-Border Collie cross).  Then, seven months ago, we got 6 week-old Chaser, a Lab-Border Collie-Shepherd cross.  See pix of both of them attached to this post.

When trying to decide what to blog, I realized I had to somehow combine both those things–dogs and diet.  Most of my waking hours are pretty much consumed by one or the other (not to disregard my actual job, or anything!).   I thought that writing about these two things in tandem might help me to gain a bit more personal insight, to learn why I can’t seem to stay on a healthy eating plan these days (I used to be about 40 pounds lighter–and even then, I thought I needed to lose weight!), and to figure out how to develop the emotional or psychological fortitude to get healthy again. 

I don’t know why, but I’m sure my dogs will have something to do with it.

So this blog is devoted to my quest for physical health and ideal weight, my love of food and recipes that will move me in that direction, and, of course, my two dogs.  Along the way, I’m sure I’ll mention my honey of ten years, my friends, my family. . . .but really, what it boils down to in the end is diet and dogs.