Weight Loss

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.

A Little Breather….

It’s been pretty quiet narco-wise and crime-wise for the last few days, ever since the narcobloqueo in Guadalajara where all the streets were blockaded and buses burned as a sort of commentary and communiqué from the cartel guys on the capture of one of their big capos a few days ago. They even left apology letters around town, sorry for the horrific traffic mess and the burned buses and all, we just wanted you folks out there to know how we felt about this whole arrest-of-our-leader thing. One could just laugh except that two people died, including one of the drivers of the municipal buses they burned. It’s pretty surreal.

But after staying close to home for a couple of days “just in case” something weird happened in our neck of the woods, an hour away from the city, I poked my head out of my paranoid shell long enough to realize that it is breathtakingly beautiful here now, our garden is resplendent and Carlos, the gardener, has planted a bunch of new seedlings that have “taken” which of course they never would have back in our old life in Santa Fe. I had thrown some tomato peels into our compost pile – I guess there were stray seeds in them – because now we have two or three strapping, healthy tomato plants growing! In fact reports are that Santa Fe is still very windy and cold. Our biggest debate here is whether or not we should sleep with both bedroom windows open or just one of them. Rosa and I folded up the winter blanket and stored it in its box till the fall. Happy equinox!

Arnold has survived his skin cancer surgery – the biopsies came back negative gracias a dios – and it looks like his forehead is going to heal up very nicely; America is back in her ballet classes again after a short break; Sofia got over the awful flu she had and is back in school.  I reorganized my bathroom drawers so all my makeup is easier to find, put the winter clothes in the back of the closet and found the box where the bathing suits are. Somehow life is going on despite the two big elephants in the room; the ongoing drug wars and the ever-closer presence of the narcos to our little paradise here; and the steady decline of my poor mother, who just fails ever-so-slightly every week with no end in sight. We are taking turns traveling now because one of us probably needs to be here in case we get “the call” – so I am heading up to Los Angeles next week for a bit of a break, to be with my sister and have some retail therapy and other fun with the family and friends. Arnold will stay here and hold down the fort with Reina and the kitties till I get back.

A big tradition here for is “Primavera” – Spring – where the schools all put on festivals and the little kids all dress up as animals, bugs, flowers, bees. Just adorable. Carlos’ pre-school is putting on their festival this Friday and he is going to be a sheep. How cute will that be? The little girls are all going to be cows, or so we have been told, and the older kids will be farmers. They are all busy working on their costumes. As part of the festivities each child was asked by the teacher to give a report on what his/her favorite animal was. Gaby (Rosa’s middle daughter and Carlos’ mom) asked him which animal he was going to pick – Kitten?  Doggie? No, said Carlos, “la girafa” – the giraffe. Where he got that idea no one knows but he is looking for pictures of giraffes and is working on his report. We think we should make a plan to take him to the Guadalajara zoo so he can see a REAL giraffe, one of these days.

We went out tonight with friends and the restaurant fixed a bathtub-sized margarita which I could barely lift, let alone drink! And I was REALLY BAD and ate a tortilla, on top of the margarita. Oh well! You can’t be perfect all the time. Can a margarita and one tortilla make you regain seventy pounds?

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!