Fitness for Seniors

Death of a Pajarito and Other News

As so often is the case, there is good news and bad news. Well, sort of bad news, I guess, but maybe it is actually good news. My mother, who has hovered in an undoubted twilight zone for the past year, since my father had the audacity to pass away rather suddenly and leave her behind in this vale of tears, seems to be more responsive than she’s been in a while. But she is also simultaneously starting to be much less interested in food and drink, which may be a signal that she’s fixin’ to die. Death has been on my mind the last couple of days, because yesterday I found a little bird struggling in the fountain, gasping for breath, with what looked like broken neck and a broken wing and it was clearly probably not going to make it. But I got it out of the water and set it down in a sheltered place where at least Reina wouldn’t get it, and thought maybe there would be a miracle, maybe it would recover; maybe it was just in shock, maybe it wasn’t that badly injured.  I couldn’t tell how it got into the water but it was cold and rainy and I know birds can’t survive long once they have gotten that waterlogged . And I was right, the poor little pajarito soon died. It just was one more sad thing upon sad thing that I’ve been dealing with lately.

The other day, I went over to the pretty little house we have rented for my mom and her caregivers, and for the first time in many visits, she was actually awake and seemed to recognize that I was there. She is in bed night and day; they turn her every so often to prevent bedsores, and change her diapers, keep her warm, give her oxygen, adjust her nebulizer, cool her off, whatever she needs; she has the world’s most attentive care from Jose and Sandra. She can’t really talk any more but I made a joke about getting her up and dressed because there was a sale on at Saks Fifth Avenue and there was just the tiniest, tiniest hint of a smile. That’s more than I’d gotten out of her in months. But the horrible thing about it was that it also was proof positive that – as we all say – she’s still “in there” – and what must this ongoing saga be like for her? She is asked repeatedly by the nice young doctor who stops by every few days to check on her, whether she’s in pain, and she nods her head to say she is not. I ask her if she wants anything or needs anything and she nods no. Or barely whispers no. But she – who was one of the most visual people I can remember – admired for her beautifully decorated homes and her personal style, is now completely blind, bedridden, incontinent, and her health has been failing, leading to this final landing place, for decades.  Now, she can’t carry on a conversation any more, and she is ever so slowly fading away, but she is still, for some unfathomable reason, with us, in spite of the ravages of diabetes, COPD/Emphysema, and just plain old age and frailty.

As I’ve noted on these pages before, I’ve been waging a pitched battle to lose the 70 lbs I managed to put on god knows how over the years.  It got more serious for me as I watched my mother disintegrate and I’ve read more and learned that in fact, based on my own history and blood test scores, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that the tendency to obesity, strokes, diabetes, heart stuff, is also genetically encoded in me as well as the various relatives who have died from all this stuff over the past few decades. I’ve read every book I can find about all this and they all sort of drum “diet and exercise” into your head to the point where I finally just surrendered to the obvious, cut all the carbs and sugar out of my diet and started to make excruciatingly slow, halting progress on the journey back down to a normal weight.  From the point where I began, it felt like being at the base of an enormous mountain I was going to have to climb, some monstrous, fog-shrouded Alp or something. I had no idea whether I would succeed. But, with all my “numbers” now in normal ranges, I guess I can say I have won at least the major skirmishes of the battle since nothing else horrible seems to be going wrong with me just yet.

It has been hard, but in a way it hasn’t, when I consider what I’m trying so hard to avoid – the pleasures of having to replace my entire wardrobe with new, NOT-plus-size stuff notwithstanding. Watching so many people around me age, especially my mother, I realized that thanks to the “miracles” of modern medicine, the chances are pretty good that lots of us baby boomers are indeed going to live to a ripe old age, whether we are actually fit to keep living or not. Everyone who knew my dad would have agreed he was one of the most brilliant people they’d ever met – with a Ph.D. from USC in musicology and an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Oberlin. He was brilliantly funny, loved by his colleagues, and successful enough to have kept us all in reasonable Southern California style when I was a kid, complete with red Jaguar and Encino swimming pool. He spoke four languages – five, if you count Italian, required by his musicology degree and love of music; even through the ravages of Alzheimer’s or whatever dementia or depression finally got the best of him. Though he died quickly and with great dignity, his departure was preceded by decades of slow, inexorable mental decline and withdrawal from the world which was a torment for him and an even greater torment for the rest of our family. Then there’s my mother, who absolutely refused to do the exercises prescribed by a parade of physical therapists and doctors throughout her life, as though somehow, as the Queen of the San Fernando Valley or whatever she thought she was, she was going to be exempt from the ravages of mostly preventable illness and old age.

Well, guess what, troops. She wasn’t exempt, nor was my dad. So even at the risk of being a little over-obsessed with it, I decided along the way to look the snarling demon right in his glowing red eyes and take him on. Scary and hard, when all you want is a tortilla with your chile relleno but you have – over and over again – to say no, it’s got too many carbs for me. I’ll just have a salad, thanks. (Well, I’m Atkins enough to have had a steak with my salad, to be more precise).

But the rewards are there, too, now, closer to the end of the trail than the beginning of the daunting project eight or nine years ago. I’ve lost weight more slowly than any other creature on the planet, I think, with stops along the way for various family and professional crises. But I have managed to stick with it and now, getting stronger working out three times a week, it’s starting to be more fun. I told a friend the other day “it’s odd, I look in the mirror now and the reflection I see staring back at me is a NORMAL person. Not thin, not especially athletic looking or sleek or anything like that, and most assuredly an older woman, but NORMAL. For a five foot tall girl who was pushing 200 lbs, this is weird but also undeniably kind of cool. And as I think about it from this new perspective, my hope is that at least while I’m still alive – hopefully twenty or even thirty more years – I can keep my strength and my faculties and enjoy whatever time I have left.  My poor mother could have had a much better time of her late eighties than she has had, that’s for sure.  None of us knows what fate awaits us, of course, and a bus could hit me turning a corner in the village tomorrow, but barring that, it is curious to say “here I am, at sixty-five, in the best shape of my life.”  I know others have had this experience too, from my reading, and at the end of my own life, for what it might be worth, at least I can say I tried. Not that it makes any difference if the diablo with the red eyes has you in his cross-hairs. Which he well might, knowing that we live in the land of vicious armed narcos, loco drivers who drink and text, unstoppable superbugs bedding down in hospitals, and on and on.

In any event, tomorrow I go back to my workouts with my trainer to keep slogging away at this, for what it is worth. The territorial battles of the cuatro gatos continue apace and it’s just so crazy with the yowling and hissing and chasing and god knows what that we honestly wonder if we will have to find new homes for Tabitha and Luigi in spite of our best efforts at some point. We hate to admit it, but maybe this ISN’T going to work out despite our intentions. Our original two are petite, delicate little girl kitties who have ruled their roost for years. But my mother’s two are bigger and stronger, and having been strays rescued at an older age, they were both on the streets in Santa Fe long enough so that they both can be aggressive with other cats, though they never were with any humans they encountered along the way.  We try to separate the four of them and break up the hissfests before they turn violent but today for the first time I heard some screaming while I was out in the garden, dropped my pruning shears and came running in to find a few drops of blood on the staircase. But all four kitties were by then far apart calmly licking themselves. Examined each cat for damage, could find none, checked the ears, the paws. Who knows which of the four got nailed? Now, they’re all curled up asleep scattered around the house. We are trying to be patient, give it some more time. Meanwhile, we seem to have a moment’s peace.

Post-Election Update

On the saga of my new smartphone: I finally gave up on the beyond-provincial cell phone store in the village and bought my new toy in New York. After ditzing around for days with the girls in the office here, who had never heard of this particular phone, even though Telcel clearly says they carry them, I figured it would cost less and be much simpler back in the Ancestral Homeland.  Back there, acquisition of new material objects has been elevated to the highest art. Indeed it was just so much easier to call one of the big electronics stores and say “here’s my credit card number, have an unblocked, international model waiting for me when I fly in” which they most efficiently did. I got it up and running in a trice. It is hugely fun and though there is no way I can justify needing to own so much technology now that I am no longer working, the stoop has been worthy of the conquest: in short, I don’t care!

After I brought it home, we did go in to Guadalajara to a big Client Service Center and had them update my records and put a new Telcel SIM card into it, since apparently the chip that was in my old phone was an antique and the new device requires more current technology. And we just learned that in the “progress in Mexico” department, they are opening a new Client Service Center right here in town, so those treks into Guadalajara to straighten out our bills, deal with our monthly billing plans, etc., (which always involved a trip to a mall and a bunch of unnecessary but amusing shopping!) will cease and we will be able to take care of all those things now five minutes away from our house. This will be a huge convenience to everyone around here, especially the expat community.

On the arts front, Baby Carlos turned out to be decidedly NOT interested in violin lessons. After a huge effort to get him and his mother to the town auditorium where the children’s orchestra was practicing and lessons are given, he met a violin teacher, and saw a couple of kids playing various instruments. But in fact he was far more interested in playing on the stair banisters and running around the corridors. To further the musical analogy, it reminded me of the last act of Wozzeck where the little kid is intently playing on his hobby horse, indifferent to the fact that his mother has just been killed. However, it turns out that in his pre-school there is a brand-new Tae Kwan Do class being offered, and he seems to love that and have aptitude for it, so maybe we’ll see how that progresses. He is of course awfully young – we decided we would try the idea of music lessons again perhaps in a year or two.

My excuse for not writing for awhile: We were in New Orleans for a few days to celebrate my uncle’s 90th birthday. My sister flew in too and it was wonderful to see not only my uncle but my aunt, who is also in terrific shape for her age and all of us young ‘uns (in our fifties and sixties) kept saying over and over that they are our role models for aging, for sure. Active, engaged, still traveling and enjoying their family. It was a great reminder to us that some of my own parents’ awful decline and fall was as a result of choices they both made throughout their lives – painful to acknowledge that but it’s true. Too many pills, refusal to exercise, being unwilling to question and challenge overworked and indifferent doctors who were prescribing this or that medication or treatment or surgery, for decades.

While we were occupied with eating beignets and anything else NOLA could offer us that we could cram down our carbohydrate-starved gullets, back home in Mexico the elections resulted (no big surprise) in the election of the young, fabulously handsome, and telegenic – as they say – Enrique Peña Nieto. There have been all kinds of commentaries on the re-emergence of the PRI in Mexico, ranging from “they’re the same old corrupt bums they always were, they haven’t changed, they will just rob us blind” to a more nuanced “Well, we are ready for a change and hopefully he can do something to move Mexico forward and bring some peace back to our cities and towns”. There probably really was a ton of voter fraud – as Peña’s rival Andres Lopez Obrador alleges – but I also think that people nowadays, in every part of the world, are just so susceptible to the superficial that if someone’s THAT handsome and married to someone THAT gorgeous, they can pretty well count on being elected even if they haven’t a brain in their head. Clearly, Peña is no intellectual, but I’m hoping this turns out to be one of those McLuhanesque “Medium is the Message” kind of situations where what people wanted was – as was the case with Obama in so many ways, someone who LOOKS fresh and young, even if at the end of the day he will be facing the same stalemates in actually getting legislation passed that his U.S. counterparts have. Let’s just hope that the people behind him pulling the strings (NOT Salinas, por favor) do have some brains and are trying to figure out, however complicated it is, what might actually be good for the country and its people.

But here, in Chapala, it’s still PAN country and as I write this there is a monster PAN victory party with an enormous band, going on up at the evento place a block away, with the amplifiers and speakers turned up to “window-rattling”. The fiesta is celebrating the election of our new PAN municipal president. It probably is a good thing; most of the Mexicans I know think the last PRI guy who was president of the municipality stole every peso he could get his hands on and handed out favors like they were cascarones, those eggs filled with confetti that you break on peoples’ heads.

In any event, I suspect it’s going to be a long, noisy night – we may as well get the earplugs out now. It reminds me of a telephone call I made to the local constabulary several years ago to complain – at 2 a.m. and after hours of incessant party racket, about the noise. “HOW long is this going to go on?” I demanded, in exasperation, of the young policewoman who answered the phone. “Well, señora, they have a permiso for a party (permit) until 3 A.M.” “How is it possible, I railed on, abandoning utterly my usual attempts at cultural sensitivity (mostly because I was sleep-deprived and beyond annoyed at that hour), “for the gobierno (the government) to issue a permit for a noisy party that is keeping several neighborhoods around here awake, until 3 a.m.?” She answered me patiently, as if she were speaking to a young child, “Señora, this party is being THROWN by the gobierno, all the important officials are there. It is a fiesta to present the queens for the annual Independence Day parade and celebration in September.” I felt another piece of my American sensibility sort of crack quietly within….and I just surrendered at that point. Since then, I haven’t called the police station in the village very much. For sure, I won’t be calling them tonight!

Considering everything….

It turned out that while we were dealing with our own issues in New York, we missed several really horrific murders and kidnappings right here in our little village. Even USA Today had an article about our lakeside retirement paradise  and how much things are changing with the ongoing battles between the various cartels who want to take control of the routes in and out of Guadalajara. Which gangs they are changes from time to time – but there’s no doubt that it’s gotten worse. So far, they have just targeted Mexicans, and left the expat community alone.

But we are all very concerned, and a number of people are pulling up stakes and heading back to the States or Canada or Europe or wherever they came from. Not good, as Arnold says pensively, not good. After several innocent young people were massacred a few weeks ago, the entire town is on edge and people are terribly frightened. Various stories are flying all over the pueblo, and some of the local expat chat boards which are usually great resources for “can anyone recommend a good barber” sorts of questions have had all references to crime shut down as there was no way to verify much of what was being posted. So now on top of the reality we have a form of censorship. It reminds me so much of Death in Venice – I do feel like Aschenbach hearing rumors of cholera, wondering if I should head back to the Frozen North away from the sun and the flowers where I’d hoped to find a sort of permanent peace.

We had our own little taste of it earlier this week: Not in our village, but in one a few miles away, one of our Mexican friends was working at the home of an American couple and four men broke in, tied them all up, bound and gagged them and covered their heads with hoods. Then they locked them all together in a bedroom. There was the couple, their maid, a little kid, and the Mexican guys working there. They left them tied up and held pistols to their heads while the robbers ransacked the house. Only the maid managed to hide in the laundry. They were ready to kill them all and one even said to the other robbers to put the silencers on the pistols. Something – maybe the little kid? – made them change their minds but  they had been told “don’t move, we will kill you if you try to untie yourselves” He then commented that the first guy he killed, he was scared, but now he’d killed more than seventy people, and it didn’t faze him at all. While all this was going on they forced the American to sign documents to empty his bank accounts and transfer everything to some Mexican account, forced him to give him the ATM cards and his passwords; it just went on and on.

They loaded up the couple’s SUV with everything they could remove from the house; they took everyone’s cell phones, wallets and car keys and had cut the power and phone lines. Finally they left in the stolen car, and the maid crawled out from her hiding place and untied them all. Their wrists are all cut up from where they were tied up; naturally they are completely traumatized. You’re never the same after something like this happens to you, I can attest from my own experience having been carjacked at gunpoint. Much to think about and none of the options are particularly compelling. In spite of it all, we really, really, don’t want to move. We love our house and our life here. But yes, there is much to think about.

People are saying things will calm down after the election in July, that this is just the cartels’ laying the groundwork for getting things arranged favorably for them by whoever gets in. But people say all sorts of different things about the brutality and barbarous ways of these thugs who kill dozens of people at a time. Who knows? And Arnold is dealing with the psychological aftermath of the pacemaker: “We can’t run away from the fact that we are indeed getting older”, he sort of says with a certain resigned air. It is all just “demasiado” (too much) for me, and as I was really beginning to freak myself out worrying about all this, tonight I decided to experiment with making some sugar-free Mexican chocolate ice cream, which turned out terrifically, if I do say so myself.

Meanwhile after three weeks “off” on our trip, I have returned to my thrice-weekly workouts with my trainer, who tells me his fifteen American and Canadian clients are now down to but three. His business is really falling apart; this horror show is affecting everyone. And starting this week I am driving the two blocks to exercise class, not walking, as I used to. And it is such a pretty walk, a great warmup going and a great cooldown coming home, down cobblestone streets with flowers cascading over the tops of the walls.  But Arnold can’t exercise for awhile yet and I am going by myself for the moment; I’m not willing to be a woman walking out there alone just now.

Will it get worse? Will it ever get better? Where will this all end, for us, for México Lindo y Querido???

The village…

A Doctor’s Excuse

I have been so neglectful of my poor blog; a million things have conspired to keep me from writing. But hopefully I can catch everyone up a bit. But I do have an excuse for my silence from a doctor, or a bunch of doctors; I really do. Our best laid plans for diverting ourselves in the big city were changed and our lives and our assumptions about what the future might hold have been altered over the past several weeks’ events  – everything looks different these days and we are still getting used to some new realities.

On May 8 Arnold and I set out for New York City anticipating a week of opera, concerts, shopping, a couple of museums – our usual New York madness. The first few days were loads of fun as we crossed items off our various shopping lists (the things one MUST have that are not available in Mexico) and walked around the city till we had blisters on our feet. But a few days into it, Arnold began to notice that he was having trouble climbing up the two flights of stairs to the apartment we had rented. At first, he thought it would just go away, and I said “maybe you should have yourself checked out”….and it really didn’t make any sense to me because we live in a two story house so one more flight shouldn’t have made any difference. And whatever difference there was should have been negated by the fact that whereas at home we’re at five thousand feet above sea level, here we were at sea level, where I was pretty much bounding up the two flights (at least after we got the luggage hauled up there).

But the shortness of breath came back and Arnold was concerned enough about it the second time around so that he said “yes, let’s get me to a hospital”. But not before he did a bit of research on the internet to find out what the best cardiac hospitals in New York were! We ended up taking him to New York-Presbyterian where they basically took one look at him, ran a few tests, and said “you need a pacemaker, sooner rather than later”.  And they wheeled him off right away to have that done, leaving me to both be scared to death about what was going on but also enormously grateful that we were there, in New York, in the States, where Arnold could speak English to the doctors and nurses, it would virtually all be covered by Medicare, and that actually, if it was inevitable, we were in the best possible place for this to have happened.

A few hours later he was back in his room with the new device installed in his chest and hooked up to a million different wires and computers. The nurses showed me how to interpret what was going on and how to read the different numbers and even I could see that once they got the pacemaker sort of adjusted in there, it was already making an enormous difference in his heart rate. It was actually kind of amazing. Every couple of hours someone would come in to check something or other out, sonograms, x-rays, all sorts of blood tests. They had him stay in a couple of extra days just to be sure everything was functioning properly, and then by Tuesday they did one more final round of tests after he’d been up and around and walking around town again. At that point the cardiologist literally and figuratively cleared him for takeoff, so we could fly home. We tore a page out of my mother’s book and cashed in a boatload of mileage so we could go the whole way back first class. It made a huge difference – no lines, wheelchairs at each stop, everyone was nice to us, we had room to stash our stuff without it interfering with Arnold’s arm, and they even fed us! (That wasn’t necessary after two weeks in New York but, well, why not be pampered?)

No matter how you slice it, though, it made us both stop and think about the fact that we are getting older, that this unexpected medical stuff can and probably will happen to both of us. It has raised a bunch of questions for us about our lives in Mexico, far from family, far from the kind of state-of-the-art medical care we received while going through this adventure. On top of the stress of going through the ordeal itself, we also were faced with a lot of other nettlesome questions about our lives and our future. But the main job for me was to be there for him and so I went off to the hospital, across town to the East Side, every day, and stay with him for awhile. I kept thinking “I think he’s officially a cardiac patient now….” and tried to grasp what, as far as our future plans might be, what this could mean.

Arnold’s doctors told him he has to take it easy for a few weeks and especially not to lift his left arm higher than shoulder height. So far, he’s being very good ! And already he admits to feeling better, and his color is better, too. What a relief. We made an appointment to go back to New York (just the excuse we needed, I’ll probably need some more makeup by then!) in October for them to do a routine check on the pacemaker. For now, we are both exhausted, but happy to be home. Reina, Rosie and Missoni all went nuts when we came through the gate after Luis picked us up at the airport. All in all, rather than being gone for just eight days we were gone for more than two weeks.  We are both relieved and hoping this means he will be around for a long time to come. Still, as they say, always something!

Meanwhile back here we are plunged once again into the increasing crime affecting all of us; the expat community’s efforts – misguided? hopeful? sometimes even a bit effective? to do something about it. And the rainy season is drawing closer every day. The brown hills and dusty gardens are just waiting, waiting, now for the first serious rains to fall.

Not So Aerobic…

Today was a “domestic duty” day; spent the day waiting for various repair people which is a common thing everywhere, I suppose, but the WAITING part is especially big here in Mexico. First the alarm people were supposed to come and they actually – mirabile dictu– did what they said they were going to do and showed up mas-o-menos on time to service our alarm. Then my next job was to wait for the stove repair guys to fix my oven which has been AWOL for six weeks. It’s good that I am on a low carb diet because ain’t nothin’ gonna get baked in THAT oven. It went nuts without any prodding from me; decided it wanted to clean itself but after it locked its door it blew its internal circuitry up completely so it is not only completely locked but dead as a doornail. Parts had to be specially ordered for it. I spent the whole day hanging around waiting for the repair crew who kept saying they were on their way; but when they finally did show up, around 5, they said they just wanted to drop the parts OFF but they would be back tomorrow to actually do the work. The logic escapes me but they did come all the way from Guadalajara so maybe they just wanted to get back before the traffic got too insane. So I get to wait for them again mañana.

It’s okay, I don’t really mind. It is gorgeous in our garden and it’s warming up, and one is retired, after all. It’s not like I took time off work to wait for them. And it gave me time to do one little task I thought might help me with the workout routine – I gather from my exercise book that I am supposed to go through all these weightlifting exercises in a circuit, racing like mad from one to the other to keep my heart rate up. That would be fine except I really do forget where I am in the whole process and by the time I sort out which exercise, how many reps, check my “form” in the mirror and put something back down on the book so it doesn’t flop around and lose my place as I pick up where I left off, my heart rate has most assuredly gone back down. Not so aerobic. So I made lists and copied the pictures of the impossibly thin and fit smiling young gym rats doing these exercises and I can keep them in front of me, in order, while I’m doing the workout so I don’t leave anything out. Hopefully it will help.

Meanwhile I have been going through some old family photos – listening to Mahler’s 2nd on the radio, which is always perfect but especially so for gazing at photos of deceased-and-nearly deceased parents who were complicated and difficult at times but whom you still loved. Seeing the pictures of my parents (and us!) on one of our trips to Europe – Bayreuth, actually, to see the opera – all dressed up in our fancy duds and having a great time – is hard. There are wonderful pictures of all of us eating all sorts of pasta in Italy, my parents sitting together on a bench under a tree at Wahnfried, Wagner’s house, and pictures of Arnold and me – much younger too, obviously.  The twisted thing in my mind is that I get it that my parents look young and in their prime, Arnold looks young and in HIS prime, resplendent in his tuxedo, and I look, well,…..WORSE than I do how. Huh? As they say, I hate it when that happens.

And who could have predicted, back then, how all this would come to an end – or at least how my parents’ lives would end. In my most financial-planner-who-catastrophizes-everything mode, we’re gonna go broke, we’ll be homeless unless we fund those IRA’s, etc. etc., even I never imagined that my dad would suffer whatever dementia finally killed him after years of mystifying decline, and my mother now blind, bedridden, incontinent, unable to speak. Honestly, it is beyond horrible to live with the reality of it every day and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we could or would have done differently. With my father’s death last year and my mother for all intents and purposes a vegetable now (albeit a superbly tended vegetable – she has the best care in the world), the outcome, at least thus far, makes you wonder what the point of all of it is. Of course listening to Mahler may or may not help this mood I’m in. But there you have it.

On a more practical level, though, in the simplest terms, watching both of them decline has made me feel more strongly than ever that whatever you can do to fight “senectud” and decay off, you really ought to do. Or at least give it the old college try. So I got up early and did my workout and now I will have my little homemade guide to the exercises before me to make sure I don’t mess up. One thing about those old photos is that they included a bunch of the “old” me and while I know I must have weighed that much, from my vantage point now, decades later, it doesn’t seem quite possible. But I guess as they say, photos don’t lie. In more recent photos I look much better, except that now I’ve got wrinkles everywhere, including, of course, where the weight has come off. I’m dying my hair now (have done the gray thing and I just don’t feel like MYSELF with gray hair, at least not yet!) and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be; I’m not thrilled about night driving any more, either.  I bet every woman who loses a lot of weight in her fifties or sixties feels like she somehow was robbed of some part of her youth, when she could have felt prettier, sparklier, sexier, whatever, but she was in a place where for whatever reason, she wasn’t ready or able to deal with the whole thing, so time goes by and before you know it you are in your 60’s or your 70’s and the reasons for losing weight are much more about keeping yourself alive and hopefully pain-free than fitting into those Calvins. I missed the whole Calvins thing big-time. Rats.

What a colossal waste.

Adios Thirty Kilos

Me and Mom in Venice 1993

The good news about this photo: I’m in a gondola in Venice with my mother. The bad news:  At that point I weighed close to 200 lbs.

I’ve had a “weight problem” ever since I can remember. Growing up in Los Angeles in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, with a dad who worked in television, meant that no matter how thin I got (and I tried Weight Watchers, fasting, amphetamines, and everything in between), I was never thin enough. I was never going to be long-limbed and blond; I could go down to Malibu beach and watch the surfer girls ride the waves and listen to the Beach Boys all I wanted, but I could not turn myself into one of those mysterious creatures.  Of course I knew that on many levels, I didn’t actually WANT to be one of them, but I envied their ease with their bodies, their strength, their tiny bikinis, their tans, how easily they fit into the prevailing ideal for California Girl Beauty. The fact that even at fifteen, I was an intellectual whose most physical activity was pawing through the classical music bins at our local record store, never stopped me from wishing I could be like “them”.  Ongoing pressure from my parents about my weight didn’t help. They were sure no one would marry me (someone did) and that I’d be crippled in my attempts to find a good career (I wasn’t). They had my best interests at heart, but their “concern” about every morsel I put into my mouth and my size made my teenage and college years not-so-much fun, a struggle dominated by endless diets and pills and self-hatred.

By the time I hit my fifties, I, who am five feet tall on a good day, found myself weighing nearly 200 pounds. My grandmother and aunt died of complications from diabetes, my mother developed it too. But still I was blocked about what I could do that might actually work and not destroy my health, and became hopelessly stuck after a scary ride on fen-phen. But somehow, a few years ago, I was able to approach the massive project of taking it off with some strength and commitment. Bit by bit I have slogged away at it, with  several “vacations” from the journey caused by horrific stresses in my personal and professional life. Despite the “time-outs”, with perseverance and a lot of experimentation, I have managed to drop close to 70 pounds by now. I still have a way to go but the worst of it is over. Of course people want to know how I have done it, but there hasn’t been any specific formula or program; it’s been my own weird variations on Dr. Atkins, Paleo, the Primal Blueprint, and being patient with many plateaus and stops and starts along the way.  Thus far, I have managed to bash my way from size 20 pants down to 10 petites, and there is no denying how much fun I have had – pobrecita! – HAVING to replace every single item in my closet – down to the underwear – with stuff I can fit into now. And normal sizes! Shopping in the regular sizes – what a blast!

But now I am in the “you’d better add exercise” phase because my skin is hanging off me in places, and at age 65 I was starting to have some of the aches and pains that plague so many people “our” age. It’s great that we can get a 50% discount on bus tickets with our “senectud/Third Age” old age cards from the Mexican government, but it IS sort of a memento mori to have been able to apply for them. Climbing up stairs was starting to hurt, my back was starting to hurt, all that stuff. Arnold also said he wanted to do something so we began working out with a personal trainer three times a week. But our trainer loves to travel, so I figured that I’d better just bash myself over the head (counts as exercise!) and put together a routine I can do by myself if/when he nips off for a week or two. My sister treated me to some dumbbells while she was here last week and I bought some ankle weights and a barbell and now I’m trying to decipher the worldview of the person who actually USES this stuff and works out a few times a week.

It’s all trial and error. If you read books (of course I have an intellectual’s approach to all this, spending weeks READING about it before I would actually do anything, god help us, physical) some of them say “a 65 year old can do just about anything a 35 year old can do” but there are also books and websites that say “over 65 you have to be really careful” and everything in between. Who knows? I guess you have to be your own lab rat. So far I have indeed been cautious, as I’ve gotten injured on these physical fitness forays in the past and I do have any aging person’s share of leftover weird stuff from having been rear-ended a few times, bad feet and a wrecked ankle, bouts with sciatica, and so forth.

But our trainer got us going with very light weights and neither of us got injured or horribly stiff as we edged sideways, sort of crablike, into our little beginner’s fitness regimens. But now I’m ready for more.  My original “fitness goal” of being able to lift my heavy Kitchenaid stand mixer out of its lower cabinet up onto the counter with ease has been met. Where do I go from here? Ironically, pretty much the only thing I used the Kitchenaid for was baking or making mashed potatoes with its cool balloon whip attachment, and that’s been long thrown out the window on a low carb diet, so I may as well replace THAT object-to-lift with something else. Enter the barbell.

So I spent last evening working on an exercise chart, how many reps and sets of which exercise (here is where the “senectud” comes in, I lose count along the way).  I am going to try for four or five circuit workouts a week using a tattered old Gold’s Gym weightlifting book from the 70’s (have had it for years) as my guide. I figure they ought to know about this stuff and that book seems as good as any.

Wish me luck!