Monthly Archives: August 2013

In Search of Inspiration

The other day, an old friend asked me why I was writing a blog. Hmm. I started this blog because I aspire to be a published writer of fiction and creative non-fiction. Alas, I don’t do well without some kind of deadline, and the act of announcing my blog to friends and family motivates me to add to it regularly. Then my friend asked what my blog was about. I’m interested in so many topics, and it’s been a struggle to pin that down the main focus for this blog – but here goes:

  1. Fitting the good life into this busy life. As I mentioned in the “about me” bit of this blog, I have a demanding, full-time job, as most of us do, and I find it a real challenge to fit in creative self-expression, exercise, fun times with friends, alone time for contemplation and writing, travel – in other words, all the good stuff – given my limited time, money, and energy. But I refuse to be just a working drudge who spends her evenings vegging in front of the TV. Time is all we have, and I want to go to bed each night having done something that was personally satisfying – beyond doing my best at work.
  2. Doing this age well. I’m currently 51, and am determined to make the most of this decade. Sure, age is just a number, time is a man-made construct, blah blah blah, but this mature, post-childrearing age is new to me, and it presents opportunities that I want to fully explore.

 That said, I’m always looking for role models – women around this age or older who are meeting the above two goals. So, what does it mean to “do 50 well”? The women this age whom I admire and to whose example I aspire are:

  • Fit. Yes, our skin will be looser in our fifties, but there’s no reason why the muscles beneath can’t be firm and fit.
  • Slim – not skinny, but reasonably slim. This depends upon height and build, of course; I feel happy and attractive around a size ten. Getting and staying there is not easy, but it can be done.
  • Well-groomed and comfortable in their own skin. They do not hide their mature beauty behind layers of makeup and stiffly-styled hair, but they adorn themselves in a way that enhances their best features.
  • They behave like ladies in public. No yelling except in cases of extreme provocation, no braying laughter, no squawking, no cursing (see above re: extreme provocation). They are polite. They are kind and respectful to the people they meet throughout the day. They do not behave or dress ostentatiously. They have some class.
  • They dress with flair, be it snazzy, artistic, classic, or modern – but never schlumpy or slutty.
  • They have something interesting to say. They are not walking clichés.
  • They do something interesting and worthwhile with their time – not just shopping, television and gossip.
  • They are interested in the world around them. They think for themselves.
  • They are open to new experiences, but not swept up by fads and trends.

 Your list might be quite different, but if I meet these goals during my fifties, I will consider it a decade well spent.

 In July, I embarked on a month-long visit to the U.S., with stops in the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, Oregon, Tacoma, Washington, and Pacific Beach, near San Diego. From the moment I set foot in Frankfurt Airport, my point of departure, until the moment I settled gratefully back into our car for the drive back home, I looked for these role models: women who look good, show some style, are full of spunk and seem to be enjoying life – the kind of woman I aspire to be. Of course, it’s not possible to tell whether a passing stranger or a brief acquaintance meets all of the above criteria, but I did look everywhere for inspiration. I saw a few admirably fit 50-somethings, some slim and well-dressed ones, some artistic and intriguing ones, and a lot of schlumpy, overweight women who appeared to be doing their mommy and grandma thing on automatic pilot. Please don’t misunderstand me: taking care of children is incredibly important – not just for the children involved, but for all of us. But if that becomes your whole focus, to the point where you neglect maintaining any identity of your own other than generic mommy/grandma person, and when you neglect taking care of yourself, well – that’s a waste of your God-given individuality and a poor example for your female offspring.

 What did I learn from this trip? In my own lovely sister I saw an example of grace and generosity, and I admired again her feminine style and attention to little details. I also admired my old friend’s frankness, intelligence and poise, my aunt’s spiffy style, my mother’s strength and polish, my future sister-in-law’s colorful wardrobe and playful sexiness – so I do have some wonderful role models for female maturity. And from the many mature ladies in Mom’s neighborhood, I learned about the polish that a bit of good jewelry adds to an ordinary outfit. My outdoorsy sisters in the Northwest reminded me of the power of exercise to improve one’s posture, appearance and energy. (I didn’t learn much about well-lived maturity in Pacific Beach, since that area attracts such a young crowd, but it was amusing watching the young girls try to figure out their own style.) And when I returned to Europe, I admired the polish and chic style of some of my German Schwestern, with their tailored, feminine outfits, well-coifed hair and good posture. Our European sisters have a lot to teach us Yanks about how to be a mature woman with style.

 My studies continue…

Lavish Praise for the Fast Diet

It started with a colonoscopy. “TMI!” I hear you scream. Well, dears, I’m over fifty, and when one is fifty, one must have the nasty procedure. Better 24 hours of nasty than colon cancer. So I booked an appointment with our excellent local gastroenterologist, picked up my packets of poop-o-matic, and – being the research nut that I am – proceeded to Google all the advice I could find on preparing for this nasty procedure.

            And did I ever find advice! God bless all the generous people who share such advice on the internet. So I followed the advice of those who had gone before me and consumed nothing but clear liquids for two days before the test. I dreaded the discomfort of fasting, but much less than I dreaded the night of a thousand waterfalls. 

            Well, imagine my surprise when two days of white grape juice (so tasty!), green tea and veggie broth turned out to be not so bad. I was uncomfortable, but just a bit, and tired, but not too tired to function at work. Hmm – I’d always thought that when I went without food for any length of time, I’d feel cranky, headachy, and miserable. Not this time. And – after having recovered from the anesthesia – I got to thinking. I remembered having read Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat and Dr. Will Clower’s The Fat Fallacy, both of which remind us greedy, snack-grazing Americans that the French do not snack between meals. Hmm. But don’t our fitness magazines tell us to eat several small snacks a day to avoid dips in our – what, insulin levels? energy levels? weight? pants size?

            And then, in one of those God-thunks-you-on- the-head weekends, I ran across several mentions of intermittent fasting, both online and in magazines. Didn’t Dr. Andrew Weil, that wise and jolly health guru, also advocate a once-a-week fast for health benefits? And mightn’t my angry belly benefit from an occasional rest? I was intrigued – not enough to book a week-long Fasten Kur (supervised fast) at a German spa, but enough to download Dr. Michael Mosely’s The Fast Diet on my Kindle. Well!

            The Fast Diet is a quick and easy read. I won’t bore you with a lengthy review – there are plenty of good reviews online, such as here: http://foodwatch.com.au/reviews/item/the-fast-diet.html. Basically, Dr. Mosely says that by consuming only 500 calories (600 for men) on two non-consecutive days each week and eating normally on the other five days, one can lose weight steadily and reap other health benefits. I was intrigued. I liked the idea of exercising strict control, but not all the time – and I really liked the idea of once again being able to wear those size 10 pants I’d stashed away in the attic.

            Now ten weeks into the routine of Monday and Thursday “fasts,” really more like mini-famines, I feel dandy and have dropped thirteen pounds. Wow! And that includes a month of visiting friends and family in the U.S., during which I managed only five fast days. A typical fast day looks like this for me:

  • No breakfast, just black coffee with Splenda. I’d never been a breakfast-skipper, but I find that I really don’t miss it that much and feel pretty good until lunchtime.
  • For lunch, a salad with tuna, lots of greens, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, carrots, green onions, dressed with lemon juice and lots of spicy seasoning. Not the best salad I’ve ever eaten, but filling and tasty-ish.
  • For dinner, lots more veg., either roasted, grilled, or “stir-fried” in cooking spray and some broth, along with a bit of boiled chicken breast, boiled shrimp, or a small portion of broiled tofu or fish. No alcohol, no starches, no sweets. Not gourmet fare, but not bad!

             My body seems to like this routine; I sleep great on fast nights, and my twice-weekly fast days fit well into my work routine. Do I pig out on non-fast days? Not at all! If anything, this new (for me) way of eating has sharpened my awareness of calorie counts, of real hunger v. eating out of boredom or habit, and I seem to crave starchy foods less often – I, the former pasta junkie and slave to crackers! Sweets were never really my thing, but salty crunchies? I was helpless before them. Having lost the weight feels so good that I don’t want to screw it up by over-indulging.

            But the most important benefit of this experience is that I’ve lost my fear of hunger. I used to be convinced that if I allowed myself to get really hungry, I’d …what? Feel really awful? Bite someone’s head off? Lose my mind? Curl up and bawl like a baby? Actually, none of that happens. So far, there are moments during “fast” days when I feel a little tired, a little unfocused, but those feelings pass pretty quickly. If I acknowledge the hunger, remind myself that I can eat a little this evening and I can eat whatever I want tomorrow, this much-feared discomfort goes away, and I get on with my day. This is a revelation! It’s a type of freedom. And I’ve shrunk back into so many cute outfits that I couldn’t zip up two dress sizes ago. Who’da thunk it was so simple? Thank you, Dr. Mosely!