So here we are. Day One of Week One. I’ve shopped for the requisite lemons, limes, pineapple, oranges, mangos, and other fresh fruits; stocked up on lentils, vegetables, nuts, and seeds; indulged in an array of fresh herbs and a bottle of dried turmeric. I tentatively accept the proposition that combinations of these foods will “tune up the liver by supplying it with the things it needs most.” Now I look forward to the promised result of increased energy and sounder sleep.
The plan directs me to skip weight training and focus on stretching for ten minutes, five days this week, with 30 minutes of mellow cardio on three days. I will increase that to daily half-hour elliptical workouts on six days. I know my well-being requires this. I’ll also expand the stretching sessions to 20-30 minutes each, and add a 20 minute midday yoga session every day but Sunday.
My meals for days one through seven are tasty, if sparser than the mounded platters I usually dish up. French lentil salad, creamy broccoli soup, cauliflower “rice” stir-fry, roasted portabellas with kale, red lentil and sweet potato stew, roasted beets on greens.
Breakfasts this week are smoothies. Rejecting juicers because they waste so much nutritious fiber, I’ve printed out alternative blender recipes from wholeliving.com, and soon learn that puréed green apple and kale gives no comfort on a frigid winter morning. But the mango-tahini blend is luscious, the blueberry-mint refreshing, and the carrot-beet-pear combination gives my taste buds a happy surprise.
I enjoy an evening snack every day but Tuesday, when I ironically fall into bed too hungry to schlep my bod back into the kitchen and whip something up. End of the day munchables include strawberry-coconut-banana smoothies, sweet potato chips, raisins and pumpkin seeds, or an apple with homemade cashew cream.
With all the initial food prep required, some days I don’t eat lunch until 2:30 or 3:00, and am stunned to be neither swooning with hunger nor shaky and irritable from dips in my blood sugar. Bottom line: mood and energy levels, a-okay, and tummy just empty enough to really appreciate the good stuff coming its way. “When you know you’re locked in to a prescribed menu, you are freed to focus on other things,” I write in my journal.
My usual sleep patterns are pretty good, but I find that I’m sleeping well and long consistently, rather than sporadically. It’s just plain easier to get out of bed in the morning. By Wednesday, I have a distinct sense of benefit from the stretching and yoga. My mind doesn’t race as much, with thoughts tumbling and tripping over each other and bouncing off the walls of my cranium. And by Thursday, I feel reprogrammed somehow. Softer around the edges, but not weak or depleted. I fully expected to be hallucinating by now, instead of enjoying a sense of calm and well-being.
Except for that one night. I haven’t had a handful of Lay’s or Pringles in years, but my subconscious must be totally confused by what’s happening inside the body cavities below because I awaken in a panic from a gustatory nightmare: I dreamt I’d eaten a whole, family-size bag of cool ranch potato chips, ruined the whole effort, and had to start all over again. Maybe losing a quick three or four pounds from these radical alterations to my diet is doing weird things to the brain.
Getting ready to enter week two, I am astounded at how fabulous I feel. My energy levels remain high and this sense of peace is an unexpected gift. When our (new) computer crashes and I have to recreate an entire blog piece plus three laboriously produced pages of the memoir I’m working on, it is unfortunate, but not devastating. My temper never even flirts with a meltdown. At this point, I decide that my rage center has put up the “Gone Fishing” sign. Let’s make that an extended vacation, please.
If my senses are being distorted by chemical changes in my system, then the transformation must be for the good. Sitting across from my nacho-noshing husband at Taco Bell, as I nibble on the sugar snap peas I bagged up and brought along from home, something sinks in hard: Boldly embracing the discarded concept of will power and reconnecting with one’s sense of self-control feels pretty darned good.
I’ll put my halo away for now, and get this posted. Notes on weeks two and three will follow shortly. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you about this whole subject of cleanses, detoxing, or simply revamping and tweaking your routine. What has worked for you?
As I start this, it’s a cold Sunday in February and the final day of a three-week “whole body detox” for this former skeptic. It’s also sneeting* outside, which doesn’t seem as depressing as it would have in mid-January. But let me back up just a bit.
I’ve yammered on before about battling the Winter Blues. By the amount of media coverage it gets, this must be a common struggle among people who deal with freezing temperatures and grey skies for months in a row. When I had made it to 1/13/13 with no symptoms, I was primed to sit down and pound out a declaration that I’d dodged that psychological bullet this year – ta-dah, and hip-hip hooray. Of course, sitting atop that cocky attitude, I was doomed for a fall.
Sure enough, no sooner had I decided to share my “secrets” for skipping right past this year’s seasonal mood slump, than it whacked me right in the ego. I had stuck with my pre-breakfast walks, refusing to let the weather cage me in; switched my radio station from tedious newstalk to calming classical; tackled and conquered a dreaded organizing chore; and kept my eating habits balanced to the healthy side. But obviously that scheme had not enough curative powers to boost me over the familiar old hurdle: coming out of the glitter of the Christmas season into the raw reality of long, dark nights and snow-cloud-dimmed days, with no flurry of baking and wrapping and carol-singing and card-writing for diversion.
Sliding back into my regular routine, as the experts suggest, seemed to compound the problem – a case of the same old, lame old starting to feel like a tire-spinning rut. I was flat-out bored. And cranky. My walks started to feel like banishment to Siberia, with mile after mile of unchanging whiteness. (Please trust me when I tell you that those big, glossy “PED XING” pavement diagrams are the last place a ped wants to x in sleety, icy conditions.)
Then we learn that we’re facing weeks of wind chill advisories. It could be done; the mail carriers manage to dress for that kind of weather nonsense. But I was feeling supremely unmotivated to risk it myself.
Enter my final issue of Whole Living magazine, a gift from friends for Christmas 2011. A committed pooh-pooher of radical dietary gimmicks, I had every intention of skipping over what looked like another sleek set of false promises for a fresh start in the New Year via their “21-Day Challenge.” But those color photos of steaming red lentil and sweet potato stew and broccoli and garbanzo bean salad glistening with Dijon dressing were irresistible. They grabbed me by my foodie instincts and led me straight through every word of the 13-page article – and on to a light bulb moment: Could this timely double-dog dare be an answer to prayer?
Truly, I got excited just reading the recipes and the upbeat narrative. This approach was so far removed from those scary $300.00 commercial kits sold by health food outlets, with their mysterious bottled concoctions conjuring up images of intestinal Sani-Flush. No references to “corrective colon-clearing” or “gentle liver-cleansing teas and capsules” here. Strictly items I could buy at my local super market.
And what a perfect excuse to mix up the ol’ exercise routine for a while. That really appealed to my jaded, already-sick-of-winter self. I had become superstitiously wedded to a thrice-daily regimen of cardio and resistance training, each followed by piles of fruits and vegetables and lots of animal protein, convinced that this was the one magic formula for dealing with low-blood sugar. But I’d also been hitting the Burrito Supremes and Diet Pepsi pretty hard at Taco Bell on weekends. Then when stevia prices shot through the roof last year, I switched to Splenda for my double-serving of oatmeal – more chemical garbage to gunk up my system.
I certainly know better. I learned the truth about artificial sweeteners from the Bernstein book I tout here often – the real calorie count and same-as-sugar effect on the body that is hidden behind manufacturers’ zero-calorie claims for a 1/16th of a teaspoon serving. You develop a tolerance for this stuff that makes you want more, and I was up to a disgusting three tablespoons every morning, just to get the sweetness that my tongue had come to crave.
Here’s a translation that may be news to you: Those three tablespoons of Splenda actually add up to 18 calories, with no nutritional benefit and some concern for side effects over time. One tablespoon of honey adds 64 calories, but it’s real food. And local honey carries the benefit of reducing allergy symptoms, once all this snow melts off and the world turns green again.
The overall cleanse plan had restrictions, most of which I thought I could live with. No processed foods, including sugars; no dairy, no gluten, no alcohol; no coffee. Oh, and no real meat. I figured I’d give it a shot, and if I should swoon from lack of animal protein by day two, I would call it a nice try and look for another way to reinvigorate my luster-lacking day-to-day.
So week one, straight vegan. The thought was a little scary. But week two, you add back some fish, legumes, and gluten-free grains like quinoa and brown rice. Week three, more add-backs, like eggs and soy products. Even with my whole physical activity schedule turned on its head, I still did more huffing and puffing than the plan calls for. Call it residual caution. But what a refreshing thought, to open my mind to yoga and stretching, which I know to be beneficial but don’t make time for in my magic formula for eating a lot and exercising like crazy.
Time for a breather from the craziness. “Substitute another brand of insanity,” you may be thinking. But wait until next week, when you get to hear the results. You may end up calling yourself a former skeptic, too.
*For those of you in the Sunbelt, this is not a typo. In states with radical seasonal fluctuations, “sneet” is a common form of precipitation which occurs when snow turns to sleet as it moves through the atmosphere. Of course, this logic demands that sleet turning to snow be labeled “slow,” but that seems unnecessarily confusing, wouldn’t you say?
It is the day after Cupid’s Day and I’m chomping sour grapes. I’ve managed to convince myself that the only reason I didn’t win a Valentine dinner out with my sweetie is because the local newspaper’s “Greatest Love Story” contest was judged not by the quality of the mini-essay entries, but by who was able to round up enough acquaintances willing to help them stuff the electronic ballot box. But who wants a fabulous gourmet meal at one of the finest Italian dining establishments the Twin Cities has to offer, anyway? (Pit-too-ee; these Concord seeds are hard on the teeth.)
Now that I have that all rationalized, my thoughts are free to explore more consequential things.
On the day before Valentine’s, I interviewed a warm, delightful woman who survived over three decades of marriage to an emotionally unbalanced man who had never given her one compliment or word of encouragement in 33 years of living together. A specialist in the art of non-parenting, he overtly favored his first-born son, and virtually ignored his only daughter and son number two. Looking back, Trudy struggles to forgive herself for not “taking the kids and leaving” that dismal family environment years earlier.
But her children bear no ill feelings. Somehow, with the help of a gracious God, Whom their mother led them to in quiet moments alone together, all three turned out to be high-achieving, well-adjusted adults. “Forget it and put it behind us,” they counsel their mom, appreciating the fact that it was a blessing to have been mostly ignored by this narcissistic man, who bought himself $300.00 suits while his wife and children shopped at second-hand stores. And the fact that Mom’s loving ministrations had more than compensated for Dad’s neglect and verbal abuse.
Within a year or two of finalizing her divorce from the charmer who shed his niceness like a molting reptile the moment he had walked down the aisle, Trudy met a wonderful man for whom it is second nature to treat her with loving respect and to be an equal partner in every aspect of their lives. Her gratitude for this union radiates with every relaxed smile she beams and every endearing southern expression she utters.
My husband’s 2013 Valentine card to me sums it up quite nicely: “When someone means a lot to you, you need to let them know.” Inside he had hand-written, “I’m sorry I don’t say it and show it, better and more often.” He’s not given to grandiose displays of emotion, this is true. But he shows me his heart in a million ways, large and small, every day of every week of every month of every year. And that’s more than I would have ever thought to ask for.
My Valentine to him this year is the little blurb I wrote for the newspaper contest:
My husband Jack and I live in Fridley, which is where we first met in high school. We came close to dating back then, but ended up going separate ways, with separate spouses, until – both single again – we re-met at a reunion years later.
Even after 25 years of marriage, it seems a bit presumptuous to claim to be the world’s greatest romance: we didn’t exchange love letters across a war-torn continent or have the honor of donating a major organ, one to the other. But we did give each other that cherished second chance to discover true devotion – the kind that survives rebellious stepchildren, career disappointments, the loss of loved ones, and personal health crises; the kind that hangs in there for the ebb and flow between passion and friendship. And that particular blessing may just translate to the best gift this earthly life has to offer: someone who will always, bottom line, invest the time and effort to figure you out, to help you over the rough spots, and to guide you toward your better self.
I only hope that my appreciation for my second chance shows forth like Trudy’s does. But I know one thing for sure: I don’t need to win some silly contest to confirm my great good fortune. And that’s not the sour grapes talkin’, either.
Years ago, before she gained national acclaim, I took a writing course from Natalie Goldberg at The Loft in Minneapolis. One of the concepts she introduced in class was “found poetry.” As examples she used an old journal entry of her own and a WWI-era letter written by a female relative. I may not have the details precisely right for that second example – it may have been a WWII-era letter – but what did stick emphatically in my brain is the idea that gems of prose and poetic expression can often be unearthed from unexpected places.
When my father passed away in 2006, I became sole heir to his office contents. Dad was not an overtly emotional sort, but apparently he harbored a private reverence for meaningful mementos. Among his papers were files labeled Personal History, holding his baby album, his high school diploma, and newspaper clippings about family members; a Personal Correspondence folder that includes wonderfully animated – and sometimes illustrated – letters written by my stepmother while they were long-distance dating in the mid-70s; and one manila treasure-trove marked Personal and Professional Letters.
This last batch was subtitled, in bright orange marker, Ego. He hadn’t preserved them because they touched his heart and warmed his cockles. Oh, no. Merely because they flattered. Tucked in among the documents that crossed the line from professional to personal was a memo written in 1963 by Bud Dunham. Bud was the head honcho in the Detroit office of the firm of consulting psychologists where my father and Bill Meyer, his best friend from graduate school, had worked since graduation – nine years for Dad and ten for Bill M.
I always liked Bud. And I liked his family. We enjoyed so many delightful times with them all at company picnics and holiday gatherings, and even a memorable week at family camp in Pennsylvania, abuzz with horse back riding, tennis, golf, arts and crafts, and even a kid-performed water ballet to wrap things up.
Still, my childhood memories have frozen in time a clear image of an imposing figure: athletic and burly; competent, accomplished, authoritative. Dr. Dunham. As a kid, I wouldn’t have thought to describe him as warm and fuzzy. Well, maybe a little fuzzy, with his carpeted chest and that topper of coarse, wavy, salt-and-pepper hair. But to my younger self, this tall, cigar-chomping bear of masculinity was more tough than tender. Not the sentimentally gushy type at all.
Fourteen-year-old me collapsed into tears when my father broke the news that he was being transferred from Michigan to Minnesota to open a Twin Cities branch for the firm, but all around me the adults were handling the announcement with business-like acceptance. Appearances can be deceiving, of course, and sometimes time reveals that change can also translates to loss. Even for the most grown-up among us.
On the day before Christmas, a little over 50 years ago, Bud Dunham settled into his big leather desk chair on a gray, snowy day in a still-thriving downtown Detroit, and hand-wrote the following memo to Dad and Bill M., who had been transferred to Illinois to head up the firm’s Chicago office. Having discovered this archived copy of it, I will never again think of my father and his former boss in the same simplistic terms.
Rohrer, Hibler & Replogle
TO: Bill Meyer & Bill Williams DATE: December 24, 1963
FROM: Bud Dunham RE: “’Twas the Day Before…”
Today started out about like any other winter day in Detroit – cold, blustery, traces of snow in the air – a speck of dust in my eye – the elevator girls snapping at the tenants of the Guardian Bldg – the tenants reciprocating – me with 11 evaluations to dictate and two talks to prepare – last-minute shopping to do, with no clear-cut idea about what I’m going to buy – yes, it started out about like any other day-before Christmas.
But as the day wore along, I began to realize that it wasn’t the same. Maybe the fact that Dave is on vacation, Wayne is in Houston, Mildred had already made another date for lunch and I had to eat alone, – maybe this has something to do with my feelings.
Anyhow, all at once I realized what it was – you two guys weren’t here for the first time in many years. I guess this was the first time I really had faced that fact, what with all the turmoil we’ve had since the middle of last summer. And I’ve got to admit that your departure has left a real void in the Detroit-RHR stable.
Who was it who said: “And the moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on,” or words to that effect? Not that it would help to know who did write it – I still have to find the answer for myself (that’s odd; I was having trouble with only one eye when I started to write this).
It’s a good thing tomorrow is another day – I’ve had enough of this one! So I am going to take the automatic elevator when I leave, and try to think of Santa Claus when someone cuts ahead of me in that lousy traffic!
Merry Christmas and a Happy new year to both of you and the families.
I wasn’t planning to publish another post this week, but I just returned from a funeral service for a 52 year old member of my church, a father of two who died of leukemia after a few months of attempted treatments leading to cardiac complications.
I remember with a shudder that I once, in my rebellious younger years, would have sat at such a Christian service with my mind slammed shut, harboring a cold heart and refusing to participate in hymn-singing or prayer recitations. Turning away, in other words, from the very sustenance that my angry, hungry soul was starved of. And how I hated weddings back then, with their ritual and scripture readings and rosy expectations. If I couldn’t avoid one, I would sit in the pew in recoiled posture, like a vampiress confronted with a bouquet of garlic, hawthorne, and wild rose.
When funerals or weddings take place in our humble sanctuary these days, I can’t help but glance around at the faces of the crowd and wonder how many of them are not participating because the words are unfamiliar, and how many are hunched behind a wall of resistance. My prayer, always, is that the legacy of the departed believer’s faith will soften stony hearts and open narrowed minds to the full peace and comfort to be gained by accepting the balm of God’s Word.
The opening hymn for today’s service says it better than I could ever hope to.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Text: Joseph M. Scriven, 1820-1886
Music: Charles C. Converse, 1832-1918
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;
thou wilt find a solace there.