Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Recap: Holiday Week-end

Our holiday week-end included all sorts of surprises, both good and bad.  Let me take a moment before we go rushing into June to record them here:

--On Friday, we had some time in the pool before grilling our swordfish.  The meal was delicious, but my first glass of wine in 11 days was less so.

--On Friday, I returned to MyFitness Pal.  I was surprised by how much I would have consumed this week-end if I hadn't been tracking calories.  My Fitness Pal has determined that given my goal of losing 1 pound a week, I need to limit my food/liquid intake to 1430 calories.  I can consume all of those fairly early in the day if I'm not careful.

--Because I wanted more calories, I did more exercising over the week-end than is normal for me:  an hour walk on Saturday and a half hour bike ride on Sunday.  We would have had a longer bike ride if my tire hadn't gone flat because of a nail--sigh.  So, we came home and went for a half hour walk.

--We had plans for Saturday, from working in the yard, to replacing the battery that has died on one of the motorcycles.  But we awoke on Saturday to rain, and then the phone rang with a message to let us know that Comcast would arrive between 8 and 10.  As the morning progressed, our technician was running even later--but with the rain, I was grateful for a reason to stay inside.  Finally, after half a week with no phone service at all, we had a technician who seems to have fixed the problem.

--Yesterday I met with my quilting group where I tried embroidering photographs.  It was not as interesting as I thought it would be, so I didn't do much.  But later, I found myself wishing I had done more.

--Yesterday we finally got some yardwork done:  my spouse mowed, while I put weedkiller down on all the sprouts poking through the paver bricks.

--There have been moments throughout the week-end where we both despaired at how much upkeep work we face, even before we do the kinds of work that can improve the property.  But I try to remain grateful.  Some hours in the week-end, it was easier to maintain gratitude than others.

--Late in the afternoon yesterday I typed a poem into the computer and sent it to Dave Bonta's Via Negative site, where it was posted by the end of the day.  Go here to read it.  It was inspired by these lines by Luisa A. Igloria:

"But as always the taxicab
of history picks up its passengers, takes them where
they think they want to go; then leaves them there."

Current Events” by Luisa A. Igloria

--I am also almost finished with the short story that I'm calling the Prince story--it's gone in interesting directions.  I need one last scene to bring it to a satisfying close.  I'm waiting to discover what it is.

--I have a few more weeks before my teaching load intensifies.  I wonder if I could complete one more story in addition to the Prince story.  Let me see!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Commemorations

Today I will celebrate Memorial Day in an unusual way:  I will be with my quilting group.  I plan to experiment with stitching on photographs--or on copies of photographs. 

In some ways, this seems like a perfect way to commemorate; after all, for most of human history, during times of war, women have stayed home, stitching and keeping each other company.

I do miss being able to go to a national monument, listening to one of the service bands perform. Or maybe I'd rather be in a contemplative spot, saying a thank you.  Or maybe something more festive.  I miss the small town parades; I know that my college town of Newberry, South Carolina will be celebrating in ways that remind me of the 1950's.  Now, I no longer know the stories of my neighbors.  I don't know whose great great grandfather/uncle served in which ways.

I heard about a colleague who plans to go to a local cemetery and fix the flags that have fallen over.  I like that way to celebrate too.  I remember the first time I saw the World War I graveyards in France, vast acres of white markers.  It was a sobering reminder of the cost of war.

Our school has a number of veterans, and their presence, too, is a stark reminder of the cost of war, as many of them have returned home with disabilities.  Last week I walked down the stairs behind one of them.  I watched him make his way very carefully, step by step, his cane useless on the stairs.  As I walked to the parking garage, I reflected how lucky I am to be able to move my legs with very little thought or effort.

It is impossible not to realize the cost of war.  There's the money, of course, and the death of soldiers.  We may forget the other costs:  the families of military members, the injured veterans, the civilians damaged in so many ways, peace of all kinds shattered.

So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue or open up the beach house, let us pause to reflect and remember.  If we're safe right now, let us spend a moment in gratitude.  Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places.  We've got a world lumbering towards the abyss.  Let us recommit ourselves towards actions that move our common trajectory towards peace.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mepkin Abbey in Black and White

Two months ago, I'd have been walking around the Mepkin Abbey grounds, taking pictures in black and white, wondering what differences I would see.

I didn't expect to find the tree such an interesting focus in this shot:

I expected some shots to look arty:

When taking pictures in color, I return to this kind of shot because I like the contrast of the color (in this case, green palms) against the cool marble.  It looks interesting in black and white too:

When I first started shooting in black and white, I headed to the sculptures made out of fallen trees.  Indeed, they did look compelling in black and white:

It was an interesting experiment.  I should be on the lookout for ways to keep experimenting.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Post Shred

My spin class instructor who encouraged me to do the 10 day shred with her told me of the 30 day post-shred plan:  no gluten, no dairy, continue the protein shake and detox tonics, 2 caffeine drinks allowed, 1 glass of wine allowed.  

It's not the plan I envisioned, and I'll do a modified version.  I will continue to avoid gluten unless it's part of something healthier.  I'll limit dairy.  I'll continue the protein shakes and detox tonics, and when I run out of ingredients for those, I'll assess.  I'll monitor the wine, and certainly on week nights, have none or just one.

Last night, I took my first sip of wine after 11 days of wine fasting.  I was expecting it to be swoon worthy.  It was not.  And after a glass, I had a headache.  Interesting.  I had expected the wine to go straight to my head, but not in a headachy way.

This morning, I drank my first cup of coffee black.  And then I tried a modification of my usual coffee drink; instead of using 1 cup of coffee, I used 1/4 cup, plus a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of cocoa.  It was O.K., but not significantly better than black coffee.  And now, I've made a pot of tea, which I'm liking better than either cup of coffee.

This morning I also measured the ingredients in my protein shake:  600--that's 2 scoops of soy protein powder, 2 C. raspberries, flax seeds, and 1/2 c. oats.  When I return to my usual breakfast of raspberries, yogurt, flax seeds, oats, and pecans, I'll need to measure those too.  I suspect I've been eating a lot more calories at breakfast than I thought.

One of the ways I was successful in losing 22 pounds back in 2011 was using MyFitness Pal, and yesterday,  I went back to the site.  I plan to keep using it, while also keeping a Post Shred journal offline.  I had forgotten that at the end of each day, it gives you this motivation, "If every day was like this day, you would weigh x by this date."

Let me end by showing an inspiration in a different medium.  Last night, as darkness came on quickly, I did this sketch:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Technology Fails and Journaling Gratitude

Last night, I posted this on my Facebook feed:

"At least when I am on the phone (my cell phone, because my "land line" isn't working at all after the last technician visited) with Comcast for several hours after spin class, I'm not eating junk or drinking empty calories. Although my quest to have a modern telecom company provide me with something basic like a dial tone I can rely on or incoming calls that actually make the phone ring might in fact drive me to drinking!"

I didn't plan to be on the phone with Comcast for several hours last night.  I had thought I might write.  I am close to the end of my short story that has something to do with Prince's death, with aging, with midlife, with passionate kisses in the Greyhound station parking lot.  I didn't finish it last night, but I will finish it this week-end.

My day was book-ended by technology troubles.  On Wednesday, Comcast came to the house AGAIN.  I've lost count of how many times the technicians have come.  We got our third new modem in 6 weeks.  My spouse forgot to tell me that we had a new modem, thus a new password, and so on Thursday morning, I tried to connect to the Internet for 20 minutes before I gave up.

Happily, we had electric and my laptop worked, so I settled into other writing, mostly journaling of all sorts.  I wanted to do some end-of-shred analysis, and I had some offline journaling that I did too.  I confess that later, when I got online, I used some of that writing in yesterday's blog post, but when I was writing, I didn't think about that.

I was enjoying the feeling of writing just for me, of doing some self-growth work; I was enjoying it so much that I almost felt sad when my computer reconnected with the larger world.

All day, I thought about my various journaling this spring.  Some of it is a return to the type of journaling that I've always done--wrestling with life situations on the page, as I try to sort out my emotions and check in with myself.  I've kept a dream journal, which I once did in college.  Some of it is new:  the visual journaling that has brought me such joy.  I've been interested in my focused journals:  journal of a retreat week and journal of the 10 day shred.  I haven't done any journaling by hand--well, that's not exactly true, is it?  While I haven't written by hand, I have done my visual journaling by hand.

And yesterday I came across this article, which makes the argument that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes with a laptop.  And this morning, this blog post by Michelle Francl-Donnay, a chemistry professor who urges her graduating students to write:  "I think I should have been giving this advice to all my students. Write, no matter if you are on the road, or planted for four years in a doctoral program, or starting a working life. Write often, write with purpose, catch the details when they are fresh.  You will not, I think, ever regret having this door to these days of your life."

I love this kind of writing and could do it all day.  At times it seems a strange passion, and I think I might rather strum my fingers raw mastering the guitar or mandolin.  At times, I wish I had more glorious colors to blend together on a canvas.  But most of the time, I'm simply grateful for this writing and spiritual practice which has sustained me for so long.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lessons from the Shred

Yesterday was the last day of my 10 day shred, which was an elimination diet of sorts:  No gluten, no dairy, no alcohol.  Lots of veggies, fruits, and lean protein, plus nuts and seeds.  One or two protein shakes a day.  Start the day with a detox tonic:  1 tsp. of apple cider vinegar, 2 T. lemon juice, 4 T. cranberry juice.  Only one caffeine drink a day.

I'm pleased to report it was largely successful.  Since I have written about it occasionally, I thought I'd write up a final report, for those who are interested in that sort of thing.

First, the elimination, and how that went:

No gluten:  I had a meal replacement bar several times when I was out of my office and away from home and looking for something to tide me over.  Did those bars contain any wheat?  But overall, I was successful in avoiding gluten.  I ate other grains, notably oats.

No dairy:  I had a smidge of cheese with 3 restaurant meals--but otherwise, completely successful.

No alcohol:  completely successful

Lots of veggies, fruits, and lean protein, plus nuts and seeds:  completely successful.  But I don't feel I deserve credit for this, as I was already doing this, for years and years (of course, along with not so lean proteins). 

One or two protein shakes a day:  completely successful

Start the day with a detox tonic:  1 tsp. of apple cider vinegar, 2 T. lemon juice, 4 T. cranberry juice:  One morning, before a fasting blood test, I skipped this.  One morning, I forgot.  But otherwise successful. 

Only one caffeine drink a day:  completely successful.

So, what did I learn?  Many things:

--I already knew I ate a lot of bread at the restaurant where I usually have lunch at least once a week.  I usually have 3 rolls, with butter.  I thought I would feel deprived as I watched my lunchmates having bread.  I did not.

--A larger thought on gluten:  most of the gluten that I consume during a normal day would be in total and complete junk: cookies that someone brings in, other treats, bread at a restaurant that has no nutritive value. I don’t eat that stuff every day, but I eat it often enough that I noticed the lack of it, the walking by the cookies and donuts, the deciding not to bake because I’d be breaking the gluten fast, the passing up of free pizza on Pizza Friday. In the past 10 days, I’d have eaten junk on at least 7 of the 10 days (and maybe 10!) if I hadn’t been avoiding gluten. Sobering to realize this aspect of my eating life, this bit that had been completely outside my notice. I have been saying, “I’ll have this treat on this one day. It’s only one day.” I have been unaware of how often I say that. I suspect it’s daily. Let me start/keep tracking that.

--I expected to miss my liquid calories, wine and milky coffee, and I did.  But it's good to remember that there are other alternatives.

--I was allowed nuts, which quickly became my treat of choice.  I might have lost more weight if I had restricted nuts.  Some days I ate as much in cashew calories as I would have in cheese and wine calories.

--I also became aware of how often I want a treat.  This insight is not new, but good to be reminded—there are many points of the day when I want to put something in my mouth because I want a treat—not because it’s my birthday, not because it’s a truly special day, but because I want something to make the moment special, because I feel I deserve a treat, simply for making it through a different chunk of the day. I want to infuse moments with meaning, not by being aware of them, but by putting something in my mouth, preferably something with calories.  It's interesting (and depressing?) to realize how much work I still have to do in this area.

And yes, I lost weight:  about 4 pounds in 10 days.  It's inspired me to keep going.

I'm glad I did this 10 day shred.  It's been a time of insights, many of them not exactly new--but it's good to be reminded again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Second Lives of Poems

I generate a lot of paper in my work as a writer, although I don't keep as much in terms of paper copies as I once did.  Once, I would have kept a paper copy of everything I wrote, draft after draft, file cabinet after file cabinet.  Now, I don't.  If all computer systems crashed, meaning that I could not access my files that I've backed up on USB drives and the computer system at work, and I had to reconstruct my files of creative writing, I'd be hard-pressed to do it. 

Even though I don't generate the kind of paper that I once did, I still fill our recycling bin--unless my spouse uses it for scratch paper or as paper for the printer.  Lately he's been using poems that were part of an older version of a manuscript, which I found when cleaning out a shelf.

He came home from teaching Philosophy class one day and told me that he'd been teaching from notes that he wrote on the back of old poems.  He told me that some of his students were interested in what was on the back of the paper, and so he read them a poem.  It mixed up the class in an interesting way, and the students were more attentive for the rest of the class.  He thought about reading a poem each day.

I said, "Or you could have the students write a poem about what they're learning, what you're teaching.  It might be fun for them, and you'd have a way to find out what sticks in students' brains."

I'm always looking for ways to keep students interested.  I've heard all about "flipped" classes, and that's a great technique.  But it's not the only technique.  I think a variety of techniques works best.

His story about recycled poems also reminded me of a time, years ago, when I put a stack of handouts of poems in the recycling container in the classroom after my evening class.   I went to my office to collect my belongings before leaving campus.  When I walked back by the classroom, one of the custodians was reading the handouts. 

His English had seemed rudimentary to me, and I wondered how much of the poetry he understood.  I had a vision of him, learning English by reading the castaway handouts from a variety of classes. 

When I was younger, I wrote with a vision of making something immortal, capturing a moment or a character or an idea forever, so that future generations would have it.  And there's still some aspect of that when I write. 

But I know from studying literary history that most of what humanity writes will crumble away and not be found by future generations.  So that's not really what motivates me.  I'm really capturing it for me, since so much slides right out of human brains too, in the same way it disappears from history.

I've thought of some future grad student, finding our poems that were published in small journals or our collections published by small presses, and rescuing us from obscurity.  But I hadn't thought more immediately, the Philosophy teacher giving a poem a new audience or the janitor rescuing a poem from a dustbin.

Perhaps there are other ways we could give our poems another chance at a second life.