Food and Weight: An Ongoing Journey

Archive for the ‘Coping Strategies’ Category

Replying to a comment in my last post got me thinking about the music that has shaped my life.

As anyone who knows me for more than ten minutes knows, one of the two life regrets I have is that I can barely carry a tune on my own. However, I have been a lifelong music fan. (I think the first song I remember hearing on the radio was “Venus,” sung by Frankie Avalon – yes, I AM that old; live with it.)

I was hooked. Not just on the song, but on the way the words and melody fit with each other, the way the sounds came out, the harmonies…. I still am hooked on music all these years later.

As I grew older, I found that the songs I loved had certain characteristics:

  • Often, the singer had an unusual voice
  • There were complexities in the arrangements – harmonies and counterpoints and descants
  • It moved me just by its magnificence
  • It had words that rang true to some part of my life
  • It had something in it that helped me cope somehow with some part of my life or some issue I was struggling with

Fortunately, my parents also liked music – chores were done to the Texaco Sunday Opera in the background; Dad liked pop music, and was often the one staying up late with me to watch the late night music shows. My Grandma was a fan of The Monkees (long story – ask me elsewhere about that). Mom loved musicals and show tunes and musical comedy such as Danny Kaye, and Allan Sherman. The Beatles hit the US when I was in 5th grade, and their excellent lyrics hooked me even more.

When I got old enough, I started hanging out in Greenwich Village – an excellent place for someone who loved music. There, I fell in love with Richie Havens, Raun MacKinnon, Laura Nyro, David Bromberg, Weeden & Finkle (later Finkle, Weeden and Faye), Christine Lavin, a cappella music, Buzzy Linhart, Eric Frandsen, and so many others.

Then prog rock came along. It had all the complexities I loved, plus Chris Squire – a bassist who often played top line leads with his bass. It also has Phil Colllins and Carl Palmer (I love a good drummer – always have) And brought me more to listen to jazz and classical music.

My taste in music has kept expanding as I’ve grown. To this day, I still hear new stuff and fall in love with it. My friend Gundo can tell you about the first time he showed me the video for “Wheels” by the Foo Fighters. I pretty much fell off his couch when it was done. And Marc can tell you about the time at the Nassau Community College Folk Festival I first heard Richie Havens do an a cappella cover of Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away.” I was literally left speechless. Megan could tell you (if she was still alive) about the first time I heard Tom Paxton perform “The Last Thing on My Mind.” Sue can tell you about how watching the 25th anniversary PBS showing of “Les Miz” not only left me speechless, but gave me two new singer obsessions: Alfie Boe and Norm Lewis.

That said, there are songs that have shaped my life. Sue and Marc have seen the looseleaf where I’d been copying lyrics since the first time I saw “Fiddler on the Roof.”

There are all sorts of sources for those songs, so I will list here some of them, in the hope that you may know and feel the same about them.

  • Follow – Richie Havens
  • On the Turning Away – Richie Havens a capella version
  • You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught – from South Pacific
  • If I Loved You – from Carousel
  • No Time At All – from Pippin
  • If I Never Spend a Morning Without You – Andy M. Stewart and Manus Lunney
  • Is A Puzzlement – from The King & I
  • Corner of the Sky – from Pippin
  • The finale of the Firebird Suite – Igor Stravinsky
  • Video – india.arie
  • I’m Still Here – Stepehn Sondheim (as performed by Elaine Stritch)
  • Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil) – by Yes
  • Run with the Fox – Chris Squire
  • Too many Paul Simon songs to single any out
  • What Makes you DIfferent (Makes You Beautiful) – Backstreet Boys
  • Too many Christine Lavin songs to single one out
  • Circle of Fifths – Raun MacKinnon
  • The Last thing on My Mind – Tom Paxton
  • Most songs by Allan Sherman
  • Most songs by Tom Lehrer
  • Waving Flag by K’naan
  • Take me to the Alley by Gregory Porter
  • Bring Him Home – from Les Miz
  • Way too many other songs to enumerate

So, these are some of the songs that have shaped me in one way or another, and why music is so important to me.


Since I live on the outer edge of Brooklyn, often seeing friends involves me traveling either to downtown Brooklyn or Manhattan.

Thursday was one of those days. I was meeting a group of friends for dinner. The last express bus into Manhattan leaves my bust stop (three blocks from my house) at about 3:05, though. Currently, this means I need to have a plan of where I will be for the time period  from my arrival in Manhattan – approximately 4:30 to 5:00 – until it’s time to meet my friends  – approximately 6:30 to 7:00 – because I can no longer just walk around window shopping.

This week, I agreed to meet one of my friends at Bryant Park, which runs from 40th Street to 42nd Street along Sixth Avenue, back to the library (yeah, the big one, with the lions in front) that fronts on Fifth Avenue. Theoretically, this is an easy walk – get off the bus at 41st and Madison, and walk a block to 40th, and walk along 40th for about a block and a half to the nearest park entrance. When I was healthy, this was the easiest thing in the world, even if the bus driver let me off somewhere other than the stop due to traffic or other stuff.

However, I am not healthy at the moment.

The driver let me off at 38th Street, which wasn’t a bad thing, but meant I had an extra block to walk. Now, because of the heart issue I am walking slower than a crawl these days, and every extra step costs me in energy. For those of you who understand Christine Miserandino’s  Spoon Theory, you know where this is going, kinda.

By the time I got to the park, I was exhausted. We sat and enjoyed some people watching until a bit after 6, then got up to go to the restaurant, which was on the south side of 38th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  We made it, going far more slowly than I would have liked, but that’s not what I wanted to write about mostly.

You see, I was trying to explain to my friend how walking in my current condition was very different from walking when healthy. And it occurred to me that I should write about that here.

When you are healthy and you are walking somewhere, you aren’t really thinking about it. You may be conversing with a friend, talking or texting, watching the cute guy or gal ahead of you, but whatever you are doing, you are just walking.

When I go walking now, I have to consciously be aware of everything around me. It’s kind of like when you first start driving, in some senses. I need to be hyper aware. I need to be watching every step I take, while being aware of who around me isn’t watching where they are going and might accidentally kick my cane throwing me out of balance and into a fall (yes, that has happened), where and how far I put my cane, so I don’t accidentally hit someone, the evenness of the ground (or lack thereof), how my feet hit the ground when I walk (because if I don’t hit the ground and my ankle turns, I end up falling), how crowded the sidewalk is, if there are little kids in the vicinity I have to watch out for, is there somewhere I can stop without causing problems when I run out of breath (and, yes, that is an issue when walking in Manhattan during evening rush hour), and I have to assess with every step whether I need to stop, or if I can keep going. Add in things like crossing streets, which involve being aware of vehicles, pedestrians, traffic, stop lights, and policemen, and it becomes a very energy-intensive process, requiring my full brain. I also need to be aware of where restrooms are, since industrial strength furosemide means that when I have to go, I have to go NOW.

I am not complaining, mind. It is what it is, and I am grateful that I have any mobility at this point. Further, it will eventually get better when the heart issue has been dealt with.

The thing is, it affects my planning. When I go out, I have to know that I need to deal with all of this, instead of just walking the way I used to be able to do. This means I have to plan my transit route very carefully, and find a place close to where we are going to be meeting to wait. Now, when I was healthy, close could be anywhere within a mile of the ultimate destination. These days, close means within a block or two, or I will be totally out of energy getting from where I am waiting to the destination.

Worst, it means that walking, which I have always loved because I could just take off and go walking, now requires planning, coordination, and being super aware of every choice I make in an afternoon.

I know that those of my friends who are mobility impaired know all about this, but I also have friends who are not mobility impaired, and I often find that, while they are sympathetic, they really don’t know how it’s different to walk when you are having health issues. They see me struggling to walk half a block, where I used to be able to walk three to five miles. They think that if I walked more, the problem would go away. They are sympathetic, and well-meaning but they do not understand how walking when you have a heart/breathing issue is different from walking when your body works the way it does when you don’t have those issues. And I pray daily, that those friends never have to find out firsthand how different it is.

Anyway, I just wanted to get down how it’s different to do even something as automatic as walking when you have a health issue.  Thanks, as always, for reading.



Yesterday was my 61st birthday. Had dinner with a great bunch of friends.

Marc Glasser, Harold Stein, Jon & Debbie Baker, Lisa Braun, Chris Quinones, Ariel Winterbreucke, Nina Bogin, and the roomie took me to Chennai Gardens by Tiffin Wallah on East 28th Street. It was a great dinner with good company.

I, however, was not doing so well.

I had planned to go to lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup with the roommate, but my energy was low enough that we had to cancel that plan. So I was already unhappy. Then Chris’ mom, Josie, who I adore, called me to sing “Happy Birthday,” but couldn’t understand a word I said in return. (I currently get little enough oxygen into my lungs that – on a good day – I sound like Minnie Mouse.) By the time we got to Manhattan, and started walking to the Starbucks a block away from the restaurant, I was fast running out of spoons. So I got a table, and the roomie got our coffees, and we waited until it was almost time to go to the restaurant (the last Manhattan-bound express bus, which is the easiest way for me to travel other than a car service, leaves my area just after 3 pm; dinner was planned for 6:30 to allow those with day jobs to get there). That’s when the roomie decided that she needed to point out to me what terrible shape I was in.

Like I don’t know this? Like I don’t have to face this every damned time she has to talk on the phone for me because the person on the other end cannot make out what I’m saying? Like I don’t have to face this when I need a cane to walk half a block and, even then I end up huffing and puffing? Like I don’t have to deal with it when I have to crawl back into bed because my energy crashes while I’m in the middle of working? Like I don’t have to face this every time I have to turn down a request for attention or help or even fun, because I know my stamina is wonky to the max? Or when the roomie has to go pick up my prescriptions because I just can’t walk the four and a half blocks to the pharmacy?

The thing is, normally I would have shaken it off and ignored her. But I am currently stretched so thin that I couldn’t. I’m scared to death about this whole thing. My time to make needed choices is dwindling rapidly. And the choices suck: Open heart surgery or having them, in effect, induce a heart attack by injecting alcohol directly into my heart.

I’m trying to be strong; I really am. I know that the open heart surgery is my best option. And you guys know me, I will fight to get my health back.  But right now, I hate that I am helpless to do anything immediate to get my life back. This stupid heart issue is taking away from me things that I consider to be essential to who I am, and I hate it.

Great grandma Pearl

Great grandma Pearl

This is my Great Grandma Pearl – my mom’s mother’s mother. It’s the only picture I have of her. According to the family stories, she walked across Russia alone, at age 16, to get out of there. I can only imagine how scared she must have been, and how confident that she could, after all, make it out. She is my model for things needing determination. I keep her picture near my computer to remind myself that, if I have the drive and the determination, I can do anything I set my mind to.

The truth is, I just want this situation to be over and done. I want to be past the physical pain and well into the healing. I’m also afraid about what could go wrong. Let’s face it, this is not minor surgery. And I am not the greatest candidate for surgery. I’m 61, way obese, and have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I know Dr. S. says that I am nowhere near the worst candidate for surgery he has dealt with. I am trying to keep my spirits up, but there are times I just want to be done with it all. I really hate not feeling like me.

Anyway, that’s where things are right now. I hat that they are like that, but I did promise to be honest about what I’m going through.

To those of you in the midst of the ten days of the High Holy Days, may you be inscribed for a good year.  To everyone else, I wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous year. To everyone, I wish a year filled with love and laughter, and family of the heart – by blood or by choice.

Unfortunately, I found out about this too late to join this year’s project. However, I would like to point all of you to my friend, The Enabling Cook, who posted about it here.

As someone whose income has been cut back so drastically that I had to apply for the SNAP (Food Stamps) program last year, I really want you all to know that no matter how well off you are, hunger can happen.  An illness, a job loss in this crappy economy…the effect snowball like crazy.  I went from earning over $56K a year to earning $33K a year, then to about half that when my job hours got cut in half, then to under $190 a month when I had to retire.  The roomie and I were barely hanging on, but when I got sick and couldn’t work to supplement that for the last six months of 2012, things kind of went to hell.  So, after much prodding by my sister and various friends, I swallowed my pride and applied for SNAP.  I hate being on it, but it does make the difference between eating crap all the time, and eating healthy much of the time.

Now, you guys know me well enough that you know I’m not writing this to look for pity.  Pity is a pretty useless thing in my book, as you well know.  But I am writing it to let you know that all of us — no matter how well we seem to be doing at any given moment — could be a few crises away from hunger.

Learn to be as self-sustaining as possible.  Learn basic cooking, if you don’t already know how.  Same for basic baking.  Homemade bread tastes a heck of a lot better than store-bought and is much cheaper.  Buy whole instead up pre-cut up.  Yes, getting a package of chicken breasts or thighs is nice and convenient. A whole chicken, roasted, will last you for several full meals, and then you can make chicken salad out of the remains.

If you are of a mind to, volunteer in a food kitchen, or your place of worship’s food for the poor program.  If you know someone who needs SNAP, gently get them to apply.  It is a life saver.

I know not everyone can do everything. But, as an old hippie freak, I sincerely believe that if we all do a little bit, it will go a long way.  Yeah, the only person you can really change is you.  I know that.  I also know that any good you can do in the world, you should.

Peace out.


Sundown is bringing the first night of Passover, and the roomie and I are making a small Seder (ritual & festive meal) for ourselves, my ex, and a friend, M (C was coming but is not feeling well, so she messaged me this morning that she couldn’t make it. Not entirely unexpected, given that I know she has been having health issues.

The ex requested brisket, and the roomie was agreeable.  We got a gorgeous brisket during the week, and this morning, we pulled out Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and looked up brisket. Lo and behold, we actually had everything on hand, so the brisket just went into the oven.

We got one of the gefilte fish that you cook yourself. I like both that, and the regular jarred gefilte fish, but the ex prefers the homemade one, and it’s really nothing to make.  Unwrap the outer wrapper, remove the tray, boil some water, add a sliced up onion and a sliced up carrot, some slat (we used light salt) and some pepper, toss in the wrapped fish, bring the water back to a boil, simmer for an hour, cool, then refrigerate until dinner.

We will have matzoh (eating matzoh is a part of the holiday), and some juice (we are none of us big wine drinkers). I even, thanks to the ex, managed to find some high-fiber matzoh, and some matzoh made with rye (both kosher for Passover), so the commandment will not exacerbate some of my health issues. The veggies will be broccoli, cauliflower & carrot mix (we got a huge bag of that on sale the other week).  The roomie is doing the Seder Plate, and the charoset (a mix of apples, nuts, and wine [for us, grape juice]) can be done just before we sit down.

As for staying on program during Passover, I’ve never found it impossible.  Depending on how many weekly points I have when it falls, it’s generally pretty easy to stay within bounds. I do track, except for the two Seders, and though I don’t track those, I do keep an eye out and, when I do the one at home, I do weigh and measure my portions.

I also make sure to eat lots of fruit and veggies during the day. I know I will want to have a nice portion of meat at dinner, so I keep my points use down during the day by eating lots of salad.  Salad is my friend in general — it’s one of the few ways I can get the volume of food I need to feel full, while keeping my points usage to a minimum.

This morning, for example, I made an 8 Points Plus salad.  The only things in the salad that used points were the salad dressing, and the steamed dumplings I tossed in (I like one warm component in my salad). The rest of the salad was romaine, spinach, a tangerine that I sectioned and cut in half, and some baby bella mushrooms. It was hugely filling (I’m just now getting to my coffee), and it should hold me until dinner.

While we were doing prep for the cooking, we got the house vacuumed,, so all we have to do housework -wise is to move the spare computer from the dining table to the windowsill for the evening, and put the stuff for mailing Bookmooch requests in my room. We will only have to move two chairs into the living room, since we have two in there regularly.

So, everything is about as ready as it can be at this point.  Will let everyone know how the Seders went on Wednesday.

To those who observe Passover, please have a wonderful, safe, healthy holiday.

At least I have some good news this week.  I lost 5.4 lbs., and am back to weighing 231.8, so I’m just about caught up to where I was before I had a small setback.

I’m feeling very revved up this week, and I’m actually looking forward to the two Seders.  I’m making Seder the first night, so I have total control over the food, and the meal will definitely be WW-friendly.  We are planning a brisket (we got a gorgeous one yesterday, which is sitting in the coldest spot of the fridge), the roomie’s matzoh ball soup (which is yummy), veggies of various kinds, grape juice (we are not big wine drinkers here), and — of course — matzoh. I am also looking forward to having a few matzoh breis over the course of the holiday — tracking everything, of course.

This week has been kind of weird, walking-wise.  I have not earned any activity points, but I wasn’t really expecting to; I’ve had crazy deadlines, and since I’m enjoying revving my business back up to where it was before I got sick last June, those come first. But I am still feeling healthier and more energetic, overall, which is the main point of the process, after all.

I have started reading Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God. It’s interesting, and I find myself agreeing with a lot of her insights, although I don’t have time to write about them right now.  I expect to do so here when I have finished the book, though, so that’s something to look forward to.

Anyway, I must get back to work, so I will see everyone on Monday.  Have a great weekend, and I wish you all luck with your programs over the upcoming holidays!

Oh, and just for the heck of it — one of our cats has found a new use for my Pilates toning ring and my exercise towel:

Maybe We Should get Her that Cat Bed, After All©2013 Deborah J. Wunder

Maybe We Should get Her that Cat Bed, After All
©2013 Deborah J. Wunder

I admit it — the last few weeks, I’ve basically been ignoring the program. I’ve been so busy feeling sorry for myself that I forgot that all it really takes is one choice after another to change things.

So, I’ve had a slight setback. I gained back a bit of what I had lost while in the hospital — nowhere near all of it, mind, but enough to make me sit up and look at what I’m doing, and ask myself if I really want to throw away all the good work I’ve done so far. (I don’t).

My current weight is 237.2, which is still a drop of 25.2 lbs., and I am very proud of that.

I had a really good insight at meeting today, too, but it kind of needs a bit of leading up to, so please be patient.

On Sunday, a friend on Plurk mentioned that she was signing up for a free 21-day meditation course, and I decided to give it a try. Now I have never been able to sit through meditation courses without falling asleep before, and the gods know that I’ve tried.  I can’t tell you how many times instructors at Integral Yoga (my favorite yoga place) have had to tap my shoulder to wake me up after meditation sessions.  However, a lot in my life has changed, so I figured it was worth a shot. So far (Day 5) things are going well — I have not fallen asleep during the sessions, and I seem to have figured out how to deal with the stray thoughts that try to grab my attention. I simply bring my attention back to the mantra we are reciting that day.

Well, I woke up this morning to find that one of clients had something of an emergency and was wondering if I could help out.  Being a client I genuinely like, I agreed, and immediately began putting up coffee, feeding the cats so they wouldn’t annoy me, making breakfast so I could function, etc. By the time I got back to the computer, my thoughts were going ten miles a minute in about twenty different directions. Then I thought that instead of waiting for the email from the meditation program that today’s session was active, I would log in and see if it was ready. It was, so I sat for a few minutes and did the session, including the journaling afterwards. By the time I was done, I was centered enough that I knocked out the needed work in about an hour, with very little drama.

Now, fast forward to my WW meeting. I was sitting there taking notes, and someone else was doing major drama over how could she stick to program during Passover because she would have to be eating so much matzoh….Well, several folks noted that you only have to eat a certain amount of matzoh, then another person noted that different people had different family or community traditions. (It was finally agreed that whether you ate the larger or the smaller amount of matzoh, you tracked it, and moved on). Now that last sentence is the key one — you track it and move on.  It hit me that it’s just like meditation — you don’t need to create a ton of drama around it; you note it and bring your attention back to where you want your attention to be; in this case, to doing your program.

Since I have no idea how many people in my group are familiar with meditation (a large number of the folks there are either Orthodox Jews or traditional Catholics), I didn’t mention this during the meeting, but did tell it to my leader afterwards.

Yes, it’s a little thing, but it’s one of those key little things that makes everything else function.

When you go off track, do you create a lot of drama, or do you just quietly bring yourself back to where you want to be? Do you find it easy or difficult to do so? Was my analogy helpful to you in any way, shape, or form?

‘Til next time…..have a great week!

Freelancers Union

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