Dieting, Step-by-Step

The Five Phases of a Successful Diet:
1. The Vow
2. The Plan
3. The Drunken Optimism
4. The Sacrifice
5. The Happy Scale

The Five Phases of an Unsuccessful Diet:
1. The Vow
2. The Plan
3. The Drunken Optimism
4. The Sacrifice
5. The Consolation Chocolate

Table for One

“Just…one?” The hostess eyes me, a long sweeping look, as if trying to figure out what’s wrong with me that I have to eat out alone.

I used to answer, “Yep!” with a smile, all peppy and bright and for God’s sake don’t look at me like that, I have lots of friends, I’m fine, I’m great. Or I’d hold up my notebook or stack of papers, maybe even a pen, and explain self-consciously, “I have stuff to get done. Had to get out of the house. You know how it is.” All the while, I would cringe at my urge to lower my eyes, to explain, to make jolly and nice.

Over the last year, though, I have decided that it is Not Their Business if I decide to take myself out to lunch. Not the hostess who tacks on “just” and a judgmental pause before the “one”. Not the waiter who snootily asks me if I’ll need another water glass and menu, or if it’s just (there’s that word again, as if I’m not enough) me. Not the couple in the corner, who eyed me and whispered when I took my booth alone.

It may be immunity born of necessity – the more there is to do at home, the stronger my need to go elsewhere in order to be loose and creative and writerly. Or perhaps this confidence comes from motherhood. When you’ve had too little sleep, and you’ve changed and laundered hundreds of diapers, and you’ve contorted your face into this many silly poses just to make an infant laugh, well, eating alone isn’t such a big deal. Or it could be the realization that it’s just food. It’s eating. You do it three times a day, and often alone in your kitchen or dining room or in front of your TV or at your desk at work. A restaurant is just another place to do it. No different from going to the library or the bank alone, only, you know, with food.

Mostly, though, there’s the comfort of my writing. It is so nice to work on it again, and if it means I have to put up with an occasional smirk or up-and-down glance in order to enjoy a little quality time with a notebook and a bowl of pasta, well, so be it. I’m not alone, anyway. I have my imagination and the characters I’ve created. Together we make a whole crowd.

Not Entirely Metaphor-Free

Extended metaphors make me itch. This means I could never write straight nonfiction, because the extended metaphor is the nonfictionist’s crack. Just look at early parenting books, and you’ll break out in red hot hives, too. Not since those two-in-the-morning if-you-were-a-shrub-what-type-would-you-be college discussions have I heard human beings so frequently compared to plant life. Babies, apparently, can be roses, sunflowers, even soybeans, based on a few cringingly flimsy criteria. And these metaphors do not last just a paragraph, but flourish and build for four hundred pages, twining from chapter to chapter, mixing freely with wholly unrelated metaphors, breeding at will. I could go on, but I see myself slipping from simple metaphor to extended, and I cannot let that happen, if only because of those hives.

That said, let me make just one (moderately) quick and almost metaphor-free comparison to something I haven’t even brought up yet. During my high school years I had a room of my own. ‘Had’ is an inadequate verb, really. I lived in my room, loved it, haunted it, possessed it. I made it mine. I misspent many math classes rearranging furniture in my mind, re-appropriating graph paper so I could sketch out a visual representation, then hurrying home after school to shove around my bed and night stand and bookshelves according to my not-to-scale scribbles. Then re-taping all my posters. Then rearranging my knickknacks.

Then doing it all again three weeks later.

Until my room had been subjected to intense interior redecoration, I could not do a single homework assignment. It was urgent and glaring, and never more necessary than when I had a big project due. I believe I told myself it helped me think.

I’ve outgrown a lot of my younger tendencies. I feel no need to draw comparisons between humans and horticulture, for example, and I never use graph paper. Graduation took care of most of the rest, including all the homework I once pushed heavy furniture around to avoid. But one thing prevailed: the urge to redecorate. Hence my new website. And this blog entry. Nothing like a good template switch-up to inspire a new post.

Well. You didn’t really think I could do a massive site redesign and not write about it, did you?

I Am Unstoppable Now…Well, Once I Figure Out These Directions

When I was six, I thought grownuppery would happen at nine. At nine, I thought thirteen was the age of adulthood. At thirteen, I knew I was at the pinnacle of wisdom and maturity – if only my teachers and parents would acknowledge that I was their equal. Once I got over that assumption, I always aimed a few years ahead for the exact moment when I would become an adult, or at least behave like one. Now, at 33 and expecting a baby of my own, I pretty much feel like a kid most of the time. Except for one thing: I now read the directions that come with my toys. Which is how I found the following misdirections this morning in the packaging for my camera’s battery charger. This multi-folded bit of paper assures me that I am not yet an adult – after all, adults should be able to process even complex directions such as this:

When the charging is complete, the LED light will turn orange. As(sic) this point, the battery can be removed for use. It is recommended, however, that you leave the battery connected to the charger for another 30 minutes to ensure a full, or “topped off”, charge. It is best to remove the battery after charging but it is ok to leave the batery(sic) in the charger for a short time because the micro processor controller will reduce voltage loss.

Um, wha–? Take the “batery” out when? After the light turns orange, or a half hour after that, or after it’s finished charging, which is when, exactly? And if it’s supposed to come out a while after the light turns orange and there’s no buzzer or beep or bloop to tell me when that happens, how do I know? Do I time it? Do I watch the battery charge? That’s guaranteed to be a fun time.

And that is why I read the directions: They make me feel young. And they amuse me severely.

The Summer of the Flower Explosion

I am not a girly-girl. I’ve never treated myself to a manicure, I have less interest in shoes than most men, and my blow dryer last saw action several months ago when I removed one those flashy stickers some companies like to plaster all over their products. And yet.

And yet I am all about rainbows and butterflies and chirping birds and, yes, flowers. Not on t-shirts or binders or anything plastic and decorative, you understand. Just in reality, in this dimension.

Which is why I’m loving this summer so very much. Flowers are everywhere, blatantly growing and spreading and blooming. Three volunteer rosebushes sprouted in my vegetable garden, globe mallows are sweeping up and down the hillsides, and wild irises are grinning like lunatics in the mountain sunshine. It’s an obscene rainbow of blossoms carpeting everything outside of town except the rocks and asphalt. It’s like the Disney Channel, except no princesses.

What’s great about flowers, beyond the fact that they are nice-looking and they usually smell good and they stand still when I try to take pictures of them, is that they make no pretense whatsoever. They are all about the pollination, their petals and perfumes and colors brashly yelling, “Come and get it!” to any passing insects. It’s hard not to admire such honesty, especially when packaged so prettily.

Alas (if one can use such a word in 2009) this year the ridiculous abundance that overtook the local flowership completely skipped every fruit tree I know and love. Our neighbor’s apricot, which hangs halfway into our backyard, always produces enough to make any self-respecting fruit-lover sick to her stomach. This year, though? Only leaves. The plum tree? Nothing. Peaches? Not a one.

Only the Bing cherry in our front yard deigned to bring forth anything remotely edible – lots and lots of gorgeous cherries, swinging merrily in the early summer breeze. No doubt they were delicious, too. I wouldn’t actually know, you see, since the birds cleaned off the branches exactly one day before I planned my harvest. They did look yummy, though, plump and juicy and deep, sweet red.

Hrm. Now that I think about it, I take back what I said above about liking birds. Greedy little suckers. Flowers, though. Those I still adore. And rainbows and butterflies, of course. And once our trees start making fruit the way God and the garden center that sold them intended, I’m sure I’ll start liking them again, too. Check back next July, and I’ll let you know.

Obligatory flower photo. This one's in our front yard.

Obligatory flower photo. This one’s in our front yard.

On the “Lite” Side

I bought a tub of cottage cheese the other day, which means my weight loss plan finally has a chance of working. I never would have made the connection, except the other night hubby and I were in a restaurant and, while I was trying to decide which delectably greasy item to order, guilt nudged me toward the “On the Lite Side”(sic) portion of the menu. You know, all that heart-healthy, tasteless crap they dish up just so they can say they cater to everyone. It was there that I saw the key to effortless weight loss. It’s a trick that all restaurants seem to know, yet women’s magazines still have not picked up on: eat cottage cheese. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, according to menus across the country, one scoop of cottage cheese is all you need in order to stay healthy and lose weight, no matter what accompanies those blessed curds. And the good news is, all restaurant diet plates come with it, so you’ll never be without this magic gut-shrinking agent. And to think, you’ve been lied to all this time: Dieting is not about the portion size, the fat content, or even those now-meaningless calories (or kilocalories for those sticklers out there).

Skeptical? Itching for more specific proof than “every restaurant’s doing it”? Fine, then. Just witness this listing under the diet section of the restaurant menu mentioned above: ½ lb. ground top sirloin with a side of peaches and cottage cheese. And, no, I swear to you I’m not making this up. In fact, I just called the restaurant to verify, in case it was actually supposed to read “Mixed salad greens tossed in a light vinaigrette dressing, accompanied by a side of steamed broccoli and a dish of low fat cottage cheese”.

Since all evidence points to syrupy canned peaches, and we all know a whopping ½ lb. serving of beef doesn’t fit into traditional heart-healthy parameters, it must be the cottage cheese that makes this dinner choice “lite”. Which is the reason I had no worries about the contents of my plate at a family barbeque I attended on Saturday. All I had to do was add a spoonful of the miraculous side dish, and I could eat whatever I wanted. In fact, when I weighed myself that night, I had actually lost weight. It’s a miracle.


My kind of diet: Cheeseburger, baked beans, brownie and, of course, cottage cheese (which makes it all good for me).

Concrete Nights and Marshmallow Mornings

These days I’m finding it unusually hard to get out of bed. It’s not the time change, hateful and inhumane though it is. And it’s not that I spend each sleeping minute lumped upon by three dead-weight felines, whose combined corpulence equals thirty-six pounds of purring, furry, gelatinous cat. No. It’s the fact that our new mattress pad begins each night with about as much give as a slab of concrete, but by morning it has the structural integrity of warm marshmallow.

Here’s a tip: Do not buy a mattress that tries, night after night, to eat you.

Once upon a time, investing in a Memory Foam mattress topper seemed like a sensible plan. Long before we met, my husband — who had taken to sleeping on the floor of his college dorm room — finally broke down and purchased a bed. Since habit dictated that even carpeting was too soft for sleep, he asked for the firmest mattress they had. Unfortunately, they delivered. He was thrilled. Plywood would have been softer, and asphalt more forgiving. Life was perfect.

As it turned out, when I married my husband his bed came with him. While I immediately abhorred the thing, hubs’s turnaround came more slowly. Recently, after years of tingling fingers, aching shoulders, and dead arms, I made an executive decision: It was time for a new mattress.

Here’s another tip: Executive decisions should only be made after a full night of sleep.

To our surprise, mattresses, while they seem simple, cost as much as both our cars put together, but without the handy test drive to make sure everything feels okay. Time for a new plan. And so, several weeks later, a thick, gray, queen-sized expanse of foam came into our lives. Filled with enthusiasm, we tore open the box, poured it out, and ripped off the plastic bag in which it came. Then we stood back as it slowly unfurled itself, like a prehistoric beast stretching after a long winter’s sleep. We watched it rapturously. Soon life would be perfect, our dreams delightful and uninterrupted, our nights unmarred by discomfort.

The cats were more skeptical, sniffing the air around it with great distrust, jumping away when we nudged it, and daring one another to cross its dimpled expanse. Dropping them in the center sparked duck-and-cover maneuvering as they tried to escape this brand new enemy.

Final tip: Sometimes cats have a good point.

Bubbling with anticipation, we ignored their fears. Instead, we tossed it into place on top of the old mattress, fitted the sheets over it, and waited for night to fall. To our horror ((mine more than my husband’s)), though, when bedtime hit we quickly discovered that our revolutionary new Memory Foam mattress topper morphs into a four-inch-thick brick in the cold evening air. We didn’t so much crawl into bed as on top of it. The pad hesitated ((which led my husband to quip, “Foam has slow memory. Needs more RAM” in a stilted, computer-esque voice.)) and then, with an almost audible sigh, it slowly began to give under our weight and warmth. Fighting back giggles, we watched each other sink until our bodies had formed deep, steep-sided troughs from which we then fought to free ourselves each time we rolled over, reached for our bedside glasses of water, or flailed for the snooze button. In the morning we excavated ourselves with effort, as the sleep-softened foam beneath us sucked at our tired bodies and the untouched, cold foam beside and between us formed impossible, unyielding walls. Once we had escaped, a glance back at the bed showed the outlines of our sleeping positions, as crisply formed as chalk lines around a murder victim.

It has been thus for weeks now. While we are gradually growing accustomed to this new arrangement and the mild spring days make for softer nights, well, it’s still no wonder I was late to work today: My mattress tried to have me for breakfast.

A Warning

Dear Spring:

We would like to thank you for your continued years of faithful service. Your performance has been unfailingly cheerful and, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, your grooming beautifies the place.

However, it has come to our attention that your lack of consistency has caused a number of problems, especially in the areas of production and public relations. This has resulted in considerable delays in crops, such as those illustrated below, as well as dropping customer approval ratings. As a result, the board has determined that you shall be subjected to a probationary period, which will last no less than one half decade and no longer than one century. This is effective immediately. This has been a difficult decision, made with heavy hearts, but in the end we must ensure that all seasons, fronts and spells we oversee best represent the Weather Oversight Board, as well as the weather in general.

In order to receive full reinstatement of your powers, you must agree to and meet with the following requirements:

1) March shall no longer “come in like a lion”. It shall be a lamb throughout. Leonine behavior is merely an excuse for spotty service, and shall no longer be tolerated.

2) Once the flowers arrive, you do, too. This means no more frost, and most certainly no more snow. You may exercise your powers to the point of providing brisk breezes and occasional hail; more extreme weather is limited to those who control winter and, in some cases, late autumn. If you wish, you may request a transfer to either of these departments.

3) Blatant favoritism shall be considered inappropriate and grounds for immediate dismissal. This refers specifically to your habit of providing certain areas of the country with balmy, late-spring weather while other parts are mired in temperatures befitting mid-January.

As you are aware, we encourage communication between members of the Weather Oversight Board and those seasons, fronts, and spells we oversee. For this reason, if you have any questions during or after this probationary period, we encourage you to contact us.

Once again, we would like to thank you for your continued service.


Jack M. Frost
President, Weather Oversight Board


Third Annual Crocus Post

Around the middle of July, when the sidewalks sizzle and the sun scorches, I begin to fantasize about winter. Ah, the crisp, cold air! The pretty swirling snowflakes! The hot chocolate and baths and cozy evening fires!

It takes exactly one snowfall before my naiveté dissolves and memories of past winters rush in. From that moment on, I long for spring to come again.

In our area, hints of the changing seasons can appear as early as late January: bickering birds, a breeze whose arctic bite is more of a nibble, and — my favorite — the unfolding of flowers. This year the flowers held out on us, popping up well into February. Finally, a week ago the delicate creations below poked through our dry, winter-brown grass and opened up to the sun. While we’re not ready to break out the shorts and sandals, I’m already helping winter pack its bags and hinting that it should hit the road before rush hour clogs the interstate.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to enjoy whatever springly attributes this month has brought. And so on Saturday morning, the first bright, clear day since the crocuses’ appearance, I carted my camera and my new tripod (the latter courtesy of my brother and sis-in-law) into the yard and let loose. Recorded now for posterity – or at least the extent of this digital age – are this year’s first flowers. Click on the photos for larger renditions in more detail. Trust me; they look much better that way. ((If you like these, check out my photoblog, Playing with Pixels, at!))




Huh. Wow. So this is what the internet looks like. I’d nearly forgotten.

My dearest blogosphere,

In the words of a pen pal from my elementary days, how are you? I am fine. Mostly. I know that it has been ages since I’ve written, but I promise that there are reasons, many of which are even valid.

For one thing, blogging minus the internet doesn’t work so well. It’s been nearly a week since my (former) phone company, a bottomless reservoir of brilliant communicators, interpreted a clear request for ditching our land line as an order to disconnect all service, including our internet and every one of our well-established email accounts. ((That means that if you wrote to me in the past week, I may not have gotten it. And since I’m not about to post my shiny new gmail address online, you can use my contact form to try again.)) It’s possible it was an act of spite, brought about by their jealousy at our choosing somebody else’s cell service over their land line offerings. I, however, prefer to think of it as an honest mistake somehow perpetuated by, well, no fewer than six different customer service reps, four technical support gurus, and two managers. ((This is no exaggeration. I actually counted how many people couldn’t help me. I had to do something with all that time on hold.)) In an act of breathtaking incompetence, they managed to make the problem worse every time I called. While their communication skills may be lacking, their determination to screw things up is admirable.

Whatever the cause, this incident, as you may imagine, has not exactly filled my days with sunshine and rainbows. The good news is that I have now developed an exciting new hobby: unsuccessfully battling the company that ate my internet. Which is excuse number two for not having written. You know how hobbies can be, so all-consuming that at times they almost cease to be fun.

The public library, with its abundance of light, foliage, and wireless internet, is perhaps an obvious choice for those who find themselves marooned in a house without a workable way to surf the web. If only I hadn’t also been battling something mean and contagious, a fight I plan to win tomorrow, or maybe Friday.

Then there was the possibility of writing from work, with its many doors to all things online. Let’s just rule that option out now, though, shall we? I don’t typically blog about work, and I definitely don’t blog at work. The two entities go together like plaid and stripes.

I would like to think that my remaining time has been spent well, however. For example, I’ve attacked my new cell phone, associating different ring tones and photos with almost all of my contacts, a crucial first step in breaking in a new device. And then there are the book revisions. It’s astonishing how much less painful they can be without the worldly web tempting me at every turn.

All of this is to say that there is more coming soon, when I am less annoyed and more coherent. And to apologize for my lack of communication. A new company swooped in a few hours ago to hook us up to the rest of the world, which means I’ll be touring the blogosphere – and adding to it – in no time.

More soon,


P.S. I think everyone should probably be without the internet for a while. At the very least they can rewnew their relationships with the dictionary and the phone book, two worthy publications that don’t see a lot of use these days.