Sunday, December 28, 2014


This year my boss and his wife made gift bags of food for his staff. Everyone got cookies and (I think) candy, although I'm not 100% sure of that since I didn't get cookies or (possibly also) candy. Instead, my boss and his wife correctly deduced that I would not want a bag of cookies in my apartment, and made me a little gift bag with ingredients and a recipe for lemon and olive tagine chicken with couscous instead. (Except for the chicken, because who's going to give you a bag of raw chicken for Christmas?) I was very excited, because this was both very thoughtful and was an opportunity to try some new stuff in the kitchen.

The only problem was that I didn't have a tagine.

I mentioned this to a few friends, and almost all of them asked the same question: "What's a tagine?"

A tagine, like my Famous Covers Aunt May action figure, is a thing that exists.


Yes, you do, in all your horrifying glory.

Aunt May actually has nothing to do with this blog entry, but I had her out for another entry that I ended up not writing yesterday, so I figured, "What the hell. Let's go with it."

Anyway, a tagine is a Moroccan clay cooking pot, with a lid, in a very specific shape. Since you're already here, Aunt May, why don't you show it off?



Jesus, that's enough of that. People are going to have nightmares.

They had tagines at Williams-Sonoma, where Richard and Laura got theirs, but they were $60 dollars. The one at the World Market was $20, so I went with that one and decided to give this whole thing a try.

First, I had to take the "tagine spices":


and toast them in a skillet pan for three minutes:


I have no idea what's in tagine spices, but they smelled really good when they were toasting. Once they were toasted, I mixed them in a bowl with salt, freshly ground pepper, minced garlic, and olive oil to create a paste:


that I then coated the raw chicken in:


The bowl of chicken, with some bay leaves added, went into the refrigerator for three hours to marinate, and when the three hours was almost up I got to work on the rest of the preparation. First, I had to slice up some fresh cilantro:


and Italian flat leaf parsley. Then I scooped out a cup of olives from the jar that was in the gift bag, and got out the jar of preserved lemons:


I've never worked with preserved lemon before, but it seemed easy enough. According to the recipe, I needed to rinse, then clear out the pulp:


and slice the peels into strips:


Then I sliced up two onions, put them in a different bowl, and it was time to start cooking!

According to the recipe, I needed to heat some oil in the tagine and brown the chicken in it to start. I was a little worried about this, because the tagine is a ceramic, and you can't put most ceramics on stove burners without them cracking or exploding. I texted Laura, and she said she usually puts her tagine in an iron pan, and the pan acts as a heat buffer to spread the heat and keep it evenly distributed. I didn't have an iron pan, but I looked around for one that seemed thick enough and decided to give this a try:


I set the stove for medium-high heat, and when the oil was ready I added some of the chicken:


It started to sizzle, and we were in business! I was cooking in a tagine! Everything was going so well!

And then the kitchen rang with the sharp sound of the tagine cracking.

Approximately one second later it rang with the sharp sound of my swearing.

I removed it from the heat immediately and scooped out the chicken to double check. Maybe it was just some oil popping or something?


Nope. Cracked tagine.

Now I had the problem of a bowl of raw marinated chicken, a bowl of onions, and a bowl of fresh herbs, olives, and sliced preserved lemon peel to contend with. Thinking quickly, I threw away the onions because onions are disgusting and I had no use for them in my repurposed dinner. I would have omitted them to begin with but figured they were adding liquid to the tagine chicken by cooking down in the pot, and I didn't want it to dry out. Then I pulled out a skillet, tossed in the chicken and the quarter cup of lemon juice that was supposed to go in the tagine, and started browning the chicken. When it was mostly done I dumped in the other bowl and let it simmer for a few minutes:


while I made the couscous. So, I didn't get to make delicious tagine chicken, but I did make delicious Moroccan spiced chicken instead, and ate it with couscous with golden raisins:


Too bad about the tagine exploding.


Actually, Aunt May, I think that one was all me.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Thanks, Obama!

I've been missing walking on the Greenway a bit. Since daylight savings time started I haven't really been able to walk there because it's dark when I get out of work, and I don't want to be out on the Greenway after dark because there won't be anyone else there, so if I trip over tree roots and hurt myself no one will come along to find me. I probably could have gone on the weekends, but most weekends I just haven't felt like it and have walked on my treadmill instead. I'm going to stop doing that (unless it's raining) and get back into going on Saturday and Sunday, because it's nice to be outside.

Also, I missed the People of the Greenway.

Back when I thought my neighbor was dead I mentioned that I assign little nicknames to strangers that I see often. They're not particularly clever, but it mentally acknowledges that I know those people, and sort of makes me feel like we're friends even though we haven't actually spoke. I haven't seen any of them during my walking this week, when I've been on the Greenway every day that it wasn't raining, but I'm keeping hope alive that I'll run into any or all of them. There are other people out there, but none of them are my people, if that makes sense.

Since I never explained, these are the People of the Greenway:

Gramma Jogger: Gramma Jogger is my friend Meg's neighbor, and Meg has told me her name at least a dozen times. It just slides right off of my brain. When I began walking the Greenway in July, I saw Gramma Jogger almost every day. She is a tiny little older lady, not even as tall as my shoulder, and she jogs. She doesn't just walk the Greenway like most of the people on it her age. She jogs, and she's pretty fast. She's also the first (and so far only) of the People of the Greenway to acknowledge me in a friendly way. After about a month and a half of walking, she started to wave when we passed each other (she and I always go in opposite directions), and now whenever we see each other we wave. I was kind of hoping to see her this week, but no luck so far.

Pecs-y Galore: I am barely conscious of what Pecs-y's face looks like. All I've ever noticed is the chest. From July until October, every time I saw Pecs-y Galore he was running toward me, shirtless, often sweaty, and it was like a scene from "Baywatch", every single time. It was like he was always running in slow motion, and all I noticed was gigantic, Rob Liefeld-esque pectorals glistening in the sun as they shifted and bounced. Like I said, I have no idea what his face looks like (He might be blonde? Or brunette? I know he's not bald. I think.) but I'm pretty sure I could pick his chest out of a police lineup.

Stroller Dad: Stroller Dad jogs the Greenway while pushing a stroller. He jogs the entire time. Even uphill. Not only that, but he jogs quickly. Sometimes he takes the Greenway loop one way and sometimes he takes another, but every time he goes in the same direction as me he passes me. Going uphill. While pushing a stroller.

I have sometimes had unkind thoughts about Stroller Dad.

Henna Rinse: Henna Rinse cracked me up. I walk the Greenway with my headphones in and my iPod on shuffle, so usually I don't really hear what people are saying. My friend Elizabeth said she likes to hear herself breathe while she runs, but I find that counterproductive, and wear the headphones to drown out the sound of my own wheezing. One day in August, I found myself a few feet behind Henna Rinse and her friend, and in the brief but magical window between one song and the next on my iPod I heard Henna Rinse:

"I don't do ALL THIS," she said, gesturing at the Greenway, "for ALL THIS," she continued, gesturing at herself, "for him to not call me."

I almost choked. It wasn't what she said so much as the outraged, "men are pigs" tone of voice, and I loved it. For a moment, I wanted to be her friend.

Rescue Dog: He's a nice little old man with a small, white rescue dog. He talks a lot, though, so if you notice the dog Rescue Dog will immediately begin telling you the entire story of where they found him and how long they've had him and how long they've been working as dog rescuers and the history of the dog breed and the pros and cons of owning one and how important it is that dogs have a good home and you'll begin to wish you'd never slowed down, much less stopped, to pet his dog. Normally I ignore dogs on the Greenway, but if you look at Rescue Dog's dog he says, "Go ahead and pet him! He's friendly!" and then you're trapped.

Tennis Skirt: A middle aged lady, she always walks in the opposite direction, and she always walks in a tennis skirt. I have no idea how many she has, but I've seen her in a black one, a white one, and a pink one, all with matching tops.

Finally, there is The Really Hot Guy With Three Dogs and One of Them is a Dalmatian: For the longest time, I thought he was a myth, some sort of Greenway urban legend. Two of my female friends told me about him during two separate conversations about walking the Greenway, and both of them spoke of him in hushed tones.

"Have you seen The Really Hot Guy With Three Dogs and One of Them is a Dalmatian?"

"I don't know. I don't really notice people's dogs, but I guess I might have seen him."

"Oh, no, you'd know if you saw him."

July turned to August, August to September, and September was creeping into October, but still I hadn't ever seen a really hot guy with three dogs, period, nevermind seeing a really hot guy with three dogs and one of them was a Dalmatian. I began to suspect that he wasn't real, or that he'd started walking on some other Greenway (the city has several, after all), and that I would just never see him, but then one Saturday I went to the Greenway at a different time from the one I normally walked at. As I was walking from the parking lot where I park downhill toward another parking lot, I noticed a guy getting out of his SUV.

A really hot guy.

He paused at the back of the SUV to grab the bottom of his shirt with both hands and then peel it slowly upwards, and then he tossed it into the back of the SUV as dogs began piling out.

One, two, no, three dogs.

And one of them was a Dalmatian.

Oh my God, I thought. He's REAL. It's the Really Hot Guy With Three Dogs and One of Them is a Dalmatian.

And then I never saw him again.

You know what I saw every time I went to the Greenway, though? Something I didn't miss.

This Chick-Fil-A sticker:

greenway 1

Someone stuck that on the light pole just past the 1 Mile marker or, if you walk the Greenway in the opposite direction, just before the 1 Mile marker. Every time I see that sticker I feel mildly irritated, because I'm gay and Chick-Fil-A hates me. Why does that sticker have to be there? That light pole isn't near any of the parking lots, which means someone had to carry that sticker with them. Who does that? Who feels that strongly about Chick-Fil-A and their hateful bigoted values?

I've thought a lot about that sticker.

I think about it every time I make a lap of the Greenway. I think about tearing it off of the light pole, but I'm worried it will rip, and then I'll have to look at an ugly, ripped, half sticker every time I go by, and that's not good, either. I thought about reporting it as vandalism, but felt that the city wouldn't take such a complaint seriously. Not only that, but I'd feel a little bad if they sent some poor city parks employee out to check all of the light poles on the Greenway just because I don't like a sticker. I also thought about coloring in all the words on the sticker with a black marker, or putting another sticker over it, but that's vandalism. Granted, the person who put up that sticker also committed vandalism, but two wrongs don't make a right. Vandalism to cover up other, worse vandalism is still vandalism, right?

Maybe, I thought. But maybe it serves a greater good, like civil disobedience.

But it's still a crime. I don't commit crimes, usually.

If your family was starving, would you steal bread to feed your family? I think we all know where that particular inner voice came from. What if your family didn't need bread? What if they needed someone to vandalize a light pole on the Greenway?

It would still be a crime.

Can crime serve a greater purpose? Is doing the right thing and doing the legal thing not always the same thing? I don't know. Those aren't my questions to answer. All I do know is that yesterday, somewhere between my first and second mile on the Greenway, some hypothetical person carried a sticker that's the exact opposite of everything that rabid Chick-Fil-A supporters stand for to the light pole just past the first mile marker, and that nameless anonymous person righted a wrong:

greenway 2

Peeling off that sticker will also peel off the sticker beneath.

Problem solved.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Wait, are you still making fudge this year?"

I don't have a lot of holiday traditions. Some years, I don't even put up the tree, although I lie and tell my mom that I did because otherwise she gets this sad tone in her voice when she asks, "What are you putting your presents under?"

They're on the kitchen counter, Mom, under the ceiling lights.

Merry Christmas.

See how depressing that sounds?

So, even when I don't put up the tree, I lie and say that I did so that people don't worry about me. Even though I don't always decorate, though, I do have one holiday tradition that I've upheld since 2010: Every year, sometime in December, I attempt to make fudge from the Carnation Famous Fudge Kit, and I blog about how it is a constant source of failure, disappointment, and mental self-abuse. This year I thought about not following through with my tradition, because I'm so serious about my diet that people accuse me of an eating disorder and having a pan of fudge in the house would not be conducive to maintaining diet integrity, but then a friend asked me if I was still going to make fudge.

"It's not on my diet."

"Don't keep it. Take it to work."

I hadn't thought of that, but it is the season for giving. Maybe I could give some fudge to the office. I could maintain my holiday tradition, stay on my diet, and do something nice for other people. Everybody wins that way, right? Everybody, that is, except for the makers of the Carnation Famous Fudge Kit, because after I decided last year that the Famous Fudge Kit is impossible to use according to the directions on the box, I decided to break the cycle. This year, I decided that I would forgo kits and gimmicks, and just make fudge from a recipe like normal people do.

My Mom responded to last year's blog entry by going in the complete opposite direction. Apparently having mistaken Mommie Dearest for a tutorial rather than an indictment, my Mom has now purchased the fudge kit two years in a row, and patiently explained to me that her fudge turned out just fine, so it must be me doing it wrong. I love my mom, but her story doesn't hold up under cross-examination; each time her fudge has turned out fine, but each time she has deviated in some way from the instructions on the box. I stand by my point that the fudge on the front of the box is impossible to produce according to the directions on the back.

Since my Mom can apparently spin straw into gold and make actual fudge out of chocolate chips and an overwhelming sense of failure, I asked her for recipes to make fudge this year, and she provided one for peanut butter fudge and one for chocolate. Feeling ambitious, I decided to try both.

I was only partially successful.

The chocolate fudge was very easy and, dare I say it, practically foolproof.

Chocolate Fudge

1 14oz can sweetend condensed milk
3 cups chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts or other nuts (optional)

I left the nuts out, and, since I like the people I work with, I sprung for the expensive Ghiradelli chocolate chips. (I didn't spring too far. They were on sale. Still, it's the thought that counts.) I poured the milk and the chocolate chips into a pot:

fudge (1)

set the stove for medium heat, and began to stir and wait for the chips to melt:

fudge (2)

As soon as the chips were fully melted, I removed the pot from the heat and stirred in the vanilla:

fudge (3)

and my God, did it actually look like fudge. Beautiful, well-made fudge. I spooned it into the pan:

fudge (4)

(yes, I used a cheap disposable pan; I'm not taking any of my Pyrex to the office) and put it in the refrigerator for two hours to set. After that, I sliced it, and ate a small piece:

fudge (5)

It's good. It's not quite as soft as I like fudge to be, but I bet using milk chocolate chips instead of regular chocolate would make all the difference there. Other than that, it tastes good, and all is right on the chocolate fudge side of the world.

The peanut butter fudge side of the world, on the other hand, is a barren terrain of heartbreak and despair.

Peanut Butter Fudge

1 cup milk
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup peanut butter

Mix milk and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir continuously for 2.5 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla and peanut butter, and stir until blended. Pour into lightly greased 8 by 8 inch pan and set in refrigerator for at least two hours.

I should have been able to do this. I watch Mom do it while I was home for Thanksgiving, and it was almost effortless. Mine looked right until I added the peanut butter, and then it became obvious that something was horribly wrong.

peanut butter fudge (2)

I was on the phone with Kristin at the time.

"This fudge is really, really liquidy. Like, something's wrong with it."

"Can you add something to it? Maybe some flour? Or a little bit of cornstarch?"

"You don't put flour in fudge. I'm going to heat it for another minute and try to cook out some of the moisture."

"Good luck."

It thickened up a little, so I poured it into the pan and hoped for the best:

peanut butter fudge (3)

When I took it out of the refrigerator a couple of hours later, it had firmed a little, but attempting to slice it was a disaster:

peanut butter fudge (4)

That clearly wasn't right, but I wasn't ready to give up. I put it back in the refrigerator, and came back two more hours later:

peanut butter fudge (5)

It sealed the cuts that I made in it.

I invented self-healing peanut butter fudge.

I threw the whole pan away, and decided that maybe I'm just not good at making fudge, but my Mom is.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Five Months

Remember that time I lost so much weight that my unbelted shorts fell off in public, and how I thought it was hilarious and triumphant at the same time? I still think that, but five months into my weight loss journey I've learned a valuable lesson:

It is not funny when you have to take your belt off to go through airport security and your pants start falling down when you raise your arms above your head for the x-ray machine.

Those are the pants I just bought in September, by the way. I wore them for the flight to New York for Thanksgiving, because they are getting to be a little looser but still basically ok (I'm not swimming in them), but when I put my arms up in the scanner machine my torso must have stretched out a little more than usual and for a second I really, seriously thought pants were going down. If there had been anything in my pockets at that moment, it probably would have happened. As it was, I had to grab them as soon as I could put my arms down, because I was afraid to take a single step otherwise.

And that was after I had to show the lady at the starting checkpoint a second form of photo ID, and then explain that I don't wear contacts any more and that I've lost over 50 pounds since my driver's license photo was taken. Since two different people at stores have said the same thing when they've checked my license against my name on my debit card, I'm starting to wonder if I should go have a new photo taken. I'm going to wait until it actually expires, though, as I hope to lose more weight between now and then.

Also, I hope to lose more weight in the next month than I did last month.

I only lost six pounds this month.

I know I shouldn't complain, and that lots of people would be really excited to lose six pounds in a month. Those six pounds are part of a much larger total that I should be really proud of. I started at 295, and this morning I weighed in at 234.

I have lost 61 pounds.

I'm just a little disappointed in myself because I know I could have done better this month. I feel like I've hit a plateau, but to be more honest the real problem is that I've been coasting. Now that it's not a struggle to hit 10,000 steps every day, I really should have increased the daily step goal to 12,000, but I didn't. I also needed to start increasing the speed on the treadmill. If I can walk on the treadmill for over a mile without breaking a sweat, then I need to increase the speed and push myself harder, but I haven't been doing that for most of the month, and because of that I only lost six pounds when I could have lost more. The first few months were filled with dramatic weight loss, and part of that was because in the first few months I was really pushing myself. I was struggling, and I was fighting, but like I said, I've been coasting this month, and it needs to stop.

I have a plan for this. I even made myself a slogan:

Every Day is a 5K

What this means is that every day, either in the morning or after work, I need to put in 3 miles at one time on the treadmill. Even if I'm already at 10,000 steps for the day, I need to put in 6000 more, because part of pushing myself is working on my endurance. I already know that I'm not built for speed, but I realized during the Race for the Cure 5K in October and the Buddy's Race Against Cancer in November (46:40, which is 30 seconds faster than I was at the Race for the Cure) that I am excellent at maintaining a constant pace. I pass other racers and never see them again. I pass people going uphill. People run, then walk, then run, then walk, and eventually I pass those people, too. In both races, I've been right at the line that divides runners from walkers, and once I reached that line I've stayed at it all the way through the race.

I can do this.

I know, because I did it every day last week at my parents' house.

I treadmilled, I sweated, and I know that I burned fat, because I didn't lose any weight at all for the first two weeks of this month and now, at the end of the month I'm down six pounds. I did that by refocusing, buckling down, being deliberate, and pushing myself. And I'm going to do that every day, because I'm not just walking anymore.

I'm training.

When I facilitate a Safe Zone training, there's a part of it where we talk about how important it is for allies to practice their skills, to keep themselves ready to intervene and assist and support and educate if needed, and I have a little prepared illustration that I always use for that part:

"Who here played, or still plays, a musical instrument?" There's almost always at least one hand, as schools in Tennessee fortunately still seem to have strong music programs. "How did you learn how to play it? Did someone show you everything one time, and then you were good to go? Or did you have to practice, over and over, so that you got better and then stayed good?"

I can't believe that it's taken me this long to realize that I needed to turn that back on myself, but there it is. I want to get faster at 5K's. I don't know if I ever want to run one (I do, actually; I just don't know if I ever will), but I want to be faster than I am, and the only way to do that is to train. Doing one 5K a month isn't building muscle, it isn't building endurance, and it isn't causing improvement. All I'm doing is walking, when what I need to be doing is training, and I can do that. All of the tools I need are already inside me. I am determined, driven, and stubborn. All I need to do is focus that, and for the past week I've done so. My next 5K is ten days away, and we'll see how it goes.

And then we'll start looking at 10K's, because I was told you get a medal for those.

I need medals, because my friend Bernadette sent me a progress board, and it has hooks for medals:

inspiration wall

I've added it to the Inspiration Wall across from the treadmill, but I'm not calling it an Inspiration Wall anymore. It's a Progress Wall, and I'm progressing. My eyes are on the prize.

Next month I will turn the first page on my Venice calendar, and when I do it, I will weigh less than I do right now.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

When Life Hands You Soy-Lemons, You Make Soy-Lemonade

As we approach the holiday season, I've encountered a potential heartbreak as far as my diet goes: I may have to celebrate the holidays without delicious holiday nog. That may not sound like an actual problem for most people, but I love eggnog. A lot. To an unhealthy degree that is difficult to make other people understand.

My friend Sandy, for example, said this when I mentioned my problem and talked about the amount of calories in a single serving: "Would you really drink 8 oz of that at once? Granted, I don't like eggnog, but even if I did, that seems awfully heavy to drink a full cup at one time. It's egg yolks and sugar and cream plus all those colorings and preservatives and corn syrup."

Well, no, Sandy. Of course I wouldn't drink 8 ounces of eggnog at a time.

Because I drink my eggnog out of a 20 ounce tumbler.

And sometimes I have a second glass after the first one.

I know. That's disgusting. But it's also my holiday vice, which doesn't make it less disgusting, but does sort of explain how sad I am that I will not be able to buy any eggnog this year, for the same reason that I can't buy more than a single service size container of ice cream at a time. If it's in the house, I will drink it all. Possibly all in one sitting, because I've done that. I've consumed an entire half gallon of eggnog in one evening by filling glass after glass until the jug was empty.

I didn't get to 295 pounds by accident, you know.

Since I'm trying to change those kinds of eating habits, and I know I lack the willpower to carefully portion out the eggnog a serving at a time over the course of several days, and at about 350 calories per cup one serving is a poor use of my calories for the day anyway, I've been a little sad, and mentioned this to several friends. Some of them expressed sympathy, some offered recipes for light eggnog, and one suggested that I try soy-eggnog.

"It's just like eggnog!"

SPOILER: It's not.

I know, because I tried it.

soynog french toast (1)

It looks sort of like eggnog, right? It's the right color, and if you lean over it and inhale, it even sort of smells like eggnog. When I opened the carton, I was for a moment filled with hope, and willing to run to the friend who told me this and hug her over and over until her ribs snapped or my arms got tired. I should have talked to more friends about it before buying, though, because when I mentioned it to other vegetarian and vegan friends this week they all looked at me the same way that they would if I had opened my mouth and spontaneously vomited soynog onto their shoes and pantlegs.

Even vegetarians hate soynog.

There's a good reason: While soynog may look, smell, and even taste like eggnog, the texture is all wrong. It's like eggnog-flavored water.

soynog french toast (2)

It's like something that some of your eggnog might turn into if your eggnog sits in the refrigerator long enough to separate.

So I now had a quart of soynog, and it was disgusting. I debated just pouring it down the drain, and was even encouraged to do so by friends who work with charities that feed the hungry and try to reclaim leftover restaurant and dining hall food for homeless people. Even they saw no value in soynog, but this morning I conquered the soynog problem, by turning it into something delicious and holiday festive.

I made soynog French toast:

soynog french toast (3)

It's warm, it tastes like eggnog, and the texture doesn't matter because it is the texture of French toast.

You'll need:

2 eggs
1 cup soynog
Splash of vanilla (maybe a teaspoon?)
liberal sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg

Mix the first four ingredients together and pour into a wide, shallow bowl. Place each slice of bread in the mixture, turning the slice over to get both sides, and then drop in a nonstick skillet on medium-high heat, cooking one side and then the other until they are both golden brown.

It is the most delicious French toast I've ever made. Plan it for a festive Christmas morning breakfast, and dazzle your family with your holiday festiveness.

Just don't drink that crap.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

4 Things I've Learned

I've talked a lot about this whole walking and trying to lose weight thing since I started it in July, but I realized this week while talking to a friend that there are some things I haven't talked about. You learn a lot about yourself and your friends when you try to turn your life around (or at least part of it) and, while some of those things are hard to mentally wrestle with and some of them are annoying to listen to, some of them are also kind of amusing, at least to me.

In no particular order, here are some things I'm learning during my journey that are amusing me:

1) The top of my head doesn't sweat.

Every time I walk outside, I wear the same hat. It's the gray Old Navy hat I bought for Alternative Spring Break in 2013. We were going to some service sites that said we could wear hats instead of hair nets, and I didn't own any hats, so I got this little gray one at Old Navy. It's been riding around in my car since then, because sometimes I go outside and walk around and I don't want the sun to burn the top of my head, so it was natural that when I started walking around outside regularly I put on the hat.

And I sweat in it.

A lot.

And over the course of four months, this happened:

salt washed

The top of my hat is the only part that is still the same color it was when I started walking. My sweat, soaked into it over the course of days and miles, has slowly bled all of the dye out of the hat except for the top. The top of it does touch the top of my head; I've checked when I have it on. One of my friends has argued that what's actually happening is that the sweat all rolls down my head and the bottom of the hat, which is tighter, soaks it in, but I have chosen to believe that the top of my head doesn't sweat.

2) I'm going to donate clothes that I have worn less than five times.

I bought a lot of clothes on my way to 295 pounds. I had to, because the old clothes stopped fitting. The pants wore out, but the shirts didn't. I just kept putting them away and buying newer, bigger shirts. This happened gradually, over time, so it never seemed like, "I just bought this. Shit. It doesn't fit any more," but now? Let me show you something:

I bought a red, white, and blue shirt in June, a 3XL, with the idea that I might wear it for the 4th of July with a patriotic tie. When I tried it on, though, my 3XL shirt was too tight when I sat down. It looked fine standing up, but when I sat and my belly spread the buttons were straining and about to let go, like the unmarried sister in a Tennessee Williams play, so I couldn't wear it with one of my patriotic ties and I put the shirt and the idea away. After a few weeks of walking, though, I could wear it on July 29, and look how cute it looked! I looked adorable and patriotic, but a bright red and white shirt isn't something you can wear every day, so it turns out that I didn't wear it again until Tuesday this week. It was so big that when I tucked it in I had to unbutton the bottom button, because it now hangs so long and billowy on me that I have to tuck the bottom part not just into my waist, but past my groin and into the legs of my pants. 55 pounds will transform a shirt that had tight, straining buttons into a tarp with buttons.

It's a great problem to have, but it also means that I am going to take a shirt that I wore twice and put it in my Goodwill pile.

3) Cramps hurt like hell.

One morning, I snapped awake out of a dead sleep and sat up in bed somehow managing to both scream and to gasp for breath. God only knows what the neighbors thought if they heard it, because I'm pretty sure that I've never made a sound like that in my life.

Probably because I've never had a cramp like that in my life.

My calf was fully constricted and rock hard. Like any sane, rational person who went from sound asleep to maybe a six on the pain scale (possibly more; it felt like more, but I don't want to belittle people who have been impaled by things or had limbs violently removed) in under a minute, I sat up in bed and began punching myself in the calf. This was purely instinctive, because it took me at least a minute to think, "Oh, this is a cramp. You need to massage that out."

I've never exercised enough to get muscle cramps before.

When I finally got my calf to unlock, I staggered to the living room to google "cramps", and then to google "leg cramps" because I'm not menstruating. Now I eat at least one banana every day, and I haven't woken up with horrible leg cramps again.

4) My tailbone hurts.

This is my living room furniture:


That's not the way my living room looks most days, because it is both spotless and organized in that photo, but you get the general idea. That chaise lounge piece on the right is my favorite piece of furniture. I love that couch. I refer to it as my Fainting Couch, and it is the piece of furniture that I sit on every day, because the other couch is usually hosting a big pile of laundry that I need to fold and put away.

It is no longer comfortable, because I got so fat that I broke it.

I don't mean that it is physically broken, in the sense that the frame remains solid and I didn't get so heavy that I actually cracked my furniture by sitting on it. I did, however, wear a bit of a rut in my fainting couch. It was a really comfortable rut, actually. I'd come home, sit on my fainting couch, stretch out, put up my swollen ankles, and settle in for the night. I might fall asleep while I was watching television, but eventually I would get up and go to bed after spending a night not moving, sunk into my rut on my fainting couch.

And now, I can't sit on it for more than an hour or so at a time, because it hurts my tailbone.

Because my smaller ass no longer fits in the rut.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Four Months

One of my friends asked the other day if, since I've had to buy new pants, I was going to take one of those photos where you smile at the camera and stand in your old pants and hold the waist out so that people can see how far the waist of your pants is from your actual waist. If you were hoping for such a photo, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it's hard to take one of those pictures by yourself. I guess I could take it in the mirror, but this isn't Myspace and I don't want to show you my (nonexistent) abs. I also don't feel like inviting anyone over to take such a photo, so anyone who wanted one is going to have to live without.

You can look at this photo instead:

Inspiration (2)

The khaki pants on the bottom are the pants I was wearing in July. They were tight in July, but I was wearing them. The charcoal pants in the middle are a pair of the new pants I ordered at the end of September, a little over a month ago, which I mentioned above. The jeans on top? I wore those on Sunday. Last time I wore those, as far as I can remember, was April of 2012.

That's what progress looks like.

How much progress?

In July, I weighed 295 pounds.

In August, I weighed 273 pounds.

In September, I weighed 260 pounds.

In October, I weighed 248 pounds.

Today I weigh 240.

I have lost 55 pounds.

This month was a little rough for me, because I was out of town for a lot of it. I enjoyed my trips, and found the conferences educational, but I had trouble sticking to my calorie limits. It's really hard to maintain control of your food when you have to pick it off of a conference buffet, and options are very limited. I don't think I'm going to have the same problem when I am home visiting my family this month, because we'll go grocery shopping and I can handle eating out here and there, but trying to manage food for two straight weeks was a challenge. Walking was less of a challenge, and in both places it gave me a chance to get out of the hotel and see things that I probably would not have seen otherwise. I hit my step count every day, and most days exceeded it (one day I even doubled it, and walked ten miles), so I feel like travelling was ok, for the most part.

I also struggled a little bit with people at conferences. A lot of these people are friends that I only run into once or twice a year, usually at these conferences. It's nice to see them, and many of them told me how good I looked and how much thinner I looked, but a lot of them were also a little less supportive when I didn't want to go to happy hour before dinner because I wanted to go walk on the beach for an hour and a half instead. I didn't ask anybody to walk with me, because I think you should make your own choices, but I also don't appreciate being told, "You're no fun! All you do is walk on the beach!" by surly drunk colleagues. It's a problem that I talked about before, but that doesn't make it less annoying. Fortunately, I've always been willing to stop talking to people if they annoy me, and I found some other friends to hang out with instead. I might even like them more.

This is not to say that I am surrounded by unsupportive friends, because the opposite is actually true. I did the Race for the Cure this month, and enough friends donated to sponsor me that I made my $500 fundraising goal.

Race for the Cure 2014

Even better, I came in at 47:10. That's four minutes faster than the race that I did in September. I have another 5K this weekend, on Sunday. I'll let you know how that one goes.

My friends have also been supportive in other ways, and I don't know if I've thanked them enough. Many people have stopped to tell me how proud they are, or that they are inspired by my journey, or just that they support me. Larry (actually Mike, but I'll always think of him as Larry), Sara, Ilona, Erin, and Leonor all sent me books for my Kindle. My friend Lauren sent me an Amazon gift card, and in addition to spending some of it on books, I also spent part of it on a calendar for the Inspiration Wall across from my treadmill:

Inspiration (1)

It's a calendar of Venice.

I am 40 pounds away.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Be kind to yourself."

Back in July, when I started trying to change my life and lose weight, I posted about it on Facebook, and my friend Ilona said, "Just remember to be kind to yourself." At the time, I appreciated the support, but not the message. Hadn't I spent a lifetime being kind to myself by pouring milkshakes and donuts and Cheetos into my mouth? Wasn't being kind to myself more the problem than it was part of the solution? I'd been so kind to myself every time I passed the display of Little Debbie Snack Cakes in Kroger that I weighed 295 pounds. Maybe what I actually needed was to stop being kind to myself, right?

I didn't get it, but we'll get back to that.

Another friend, Anna, said, "During times when I have wanted to lose weight/get healthier, I've found it better to say I have fat instead of I'm fat." This, to me, sounded like the worst sort of semantics game, a way of prettying up my problem, like saying that I have glasses rather than that I'm legally blind. Not only did I not see the difference, but it felt like a way of sugarcoating things, saying that I was a little heavy rather than that I was morbidly obese.

I didn't get that at the time, either, but I've learned over the past four months that words are important.

I had a realization this week of how much things have changed since I started this, and it got me thinking about how much of this journey is changing myself. I was checking my Fitbit stats and my weight because I wanted to see how many more pounds I have to lose before I stop being morbidly obese, and I realized that being overweight is now my goal. How weird does that sound if you say it out loud?

"I really look forward to being overweight someday."

"I can't wait to be overweight!"

I even tweeted it, because the idea struck me as being somewhat absurd. It's like I've entered a weird Bizarro World where words no longer mean the same thing. Overweight is something that I now aspire to. It's not the end goal, but it's a milestone, and I've spent most of the week, when I think about this, trying to wrap my mind around that. After a lifetime of being a big fat person, referring to myself as "hugenormous" and "Joelba the Hutt", I've now somehow become a person who wants to be overweight, who is working toward being overweight, who is going to be so excited when I actually am overweight that I will begin booking a trip to Venice.

And that's when I realized that I have spent my entire life not being kind to myself, because I have spent my entire life calling myself fat. Even now, in writing this entry, I keep having to go back and correct my words, because keep typing things like, "The first time I realized I was fat," and then thinking, "Except that I didn't realize I was fat. I decided that I was. There's a difference." My whole life, I've been using the word "fat" both to label and to injure myself, and if I'm going to make the kind of permanent change that will keep me at a healthy weight and in a healthy mindset, then I need to stop doing that. I have to stop it, or at some point down the road this whole adventure is going to fail. I'm going to settle back into my old ways, because I will decide that it's totally ok to bake and eat a cake for myself over the weekend because hey, I'm fat, and that's what fat people do.

I can't do that anymore, and I can't be that anymore.

The first time I decided that I was fat was in the seventh grade, in 1987. I was 11 going on 12 when the school year started, and that was the year when we started getting a lot of puberty-related education in science classes. I don't remember all of the curriculum, but it was the usual things they tell you in non-"abstinence education only" states, which Alaska was at the time: you'll begin to grow hair in weird places, girls will start to develop breasts, and boys' voices will deepen and they will become more muscular. So I rolled into seventh grade, waiting for these muscles to appear (because no one told me that you had to actually exercise to get them; I believed they would just show up on their own with the rest of the physical signs of sexual maturity), and that was the first year that we had a gym class that I had to shower in afterward. That meant it was also the first time that I was around a bunch of guys my age with their shirts off a lot, and I realized something: many of the other kids had muscles (ropy little kid muscles, but they still looked like muscles), and I had a little round belly.

I didn't have any muscles, so I must be fat.

I decided.

For reference purposes, here's a photo of seventh grade me. I'm on the right:

grade seven

I don't look fat in that photo. I'm not sure what I weighed, but I bet the waist of my jeans is under twenty inches, rather than my current forty-plus. In my head, though, I was fat.

Let's fast forward about ten years. Here I am in 1998, on the left:

old photo

I thought I was fat when that picture was taken, too. I had a thirty-two inch waist at the time. I went to bars and guys thought I was cute, and we went home from bars together. And still, I thought I was fat. I was excessively enamored of guys who had abs, because I've never had any.

I'd kill for that thirty-two inch waist, now.

I'm grinding myself down on the treadmill and the Greenway and the beach and wherever else I can get some steps in so that I can be that "fat" again.

In 2004, when I was a hall director, this was my building:


That's a twenty-two story residential tower, and there was a lounge called the Penthouse on the top floor. Sometimes I took the stairs to it, from the lobby. It may have taken me twenty minutes or so, but I climbed twenty-two stories worth of stairs if the mood struck me, and doing so didn't kill me. Not surprisingly, I thought I was fat then, too. My entire adult life I have considered myself a fat person, and I realize now that it's an identity that I assigned to myself whether it happens to be true or not.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because words have gotten away from me, and no longer seem to mean what I thought they meant. "Fat", whether I have it or am it, is an amorphous concept that I can't seem to hold onto, and it's not the only word I'm having trouble with. People keep telling me I look so thin, but I'm not thin. I'm thinner, but people only think I'm thin because they know me. Strangers aren't looking at me and thinking, "Wow, that guy is so thin." They're looking at me and hoping (if they think anything about me at all, which is probably actually kind of unlikely) that I don't sit next to them on the plane because even though I fit in my own seat and can buckle the seat belt without the extender, some of me is still going to spill over into their space. I still weigh over 200 pounds. I'm not thin.

But I'm trying really, really hard not to say that I'm fat.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

California Sunset

closed amenities

I knew, all along, that this day would come. The sun has set:

California sunset

on my time off. The shops have closed:

closed shop

the volleyball courts are empty:

empty courts

and I got on a plane and flew home.

The weird thing, though, is that I don't miss California. I'm not saying I didn't like it, because I did. I had some good food (one salad was so delicious that I got almost to the bottom of the bowl before I realized that there were green onions in it), and I got to walk a lot on a nice, paved path on the beach. Walking along the ocean in the morning was so soothing that I didn't use my iPod at all, instead just listening to the waves, and in the evening I got to listen to the waves and to the drone of traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway on the other side. It was like walking in a cocoon of white noise, and the temperature was beautiful as long as I walked at dawn or dusk.

I'm under no illusions that I saw the real California, though. One of my friends said that I should get a job out there, so I could live by the beach all the time, but I work in higher education. If I got a job out there, it wouldn't pay enough to live in this version of California:

spitting fountains

but it was nice to visit. I think that every time I visit California.

And then I always come home.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bobby's Funeral

On Sunday I went to a funeral for a stranger.

This was not in my travel plans for the trip to California, but I was here and the funeral was here, so I went ahead and attended the service with about a thousand other people, lined up all along the pier that I've been walking to and from in the mornings and the evenings.

I didn't know Bobby, the man who died, but I was able to gather (and by "gather" I mean, of course, that I eavesdropped on all of the conversations around me) that he was in his mid to late 40's. The numbers that I heard most often were 43 and 47, so I assume that one of them is correct. I know that he died from cancer, although nobody knew or nobody said what kind. I know that he was cremated, and that the reason so many mourners were gathered at the pier is that his ashes were going to be scattered into the ocean on the north side. Someone said that Bobby would find it ironic that the north side was his final resting place, but no one said why. As a stranger, I didn't think it was my place to ask.

The reason so many people were gathered, even strangers, to see Bobby's ashes scattered is that Bobby was also a surfer, and that meant that he had a surf memorial. I'd never seen one, and probably never will again, but here's how it worked.

The mourners/attendees were split into two groups: those on the beach and those on the pier. Those on the pier were all in regular clothing, and many carried flowers or leis. I was surprised to see so few of them in black, but this appears to have been a pretty informal affair, which I can only assume Bobby would have wanted. Those on the beach, including some of Bobby's family, gathered beneath the pier for a prayer and a few words, and then, all of them in wetsuits and carrying their surfboards, they took to the water and began to swim out into the sea:

surf funeral (1)

The man in the front appeared to be a pastor, although someone near me said that he was a church youth group leader and not ordained. Again, I did not feel that I was in a position to ask a lot of questions.

After the leader decided they were far enough out, which was a little tricky because the lifeguard truck announced just before they took to the water that due to the high waves no one should be out further than 200 yards, the surfers began to circle their boards and hold hands:

surf funeral (2)

This is a lot more difficult than it sounds like it should be. I was thinking, "How hard can it be to float into a circle and grab each other?" but due to the waves the circle kept breaking as it tried to form, and sometimes people slipped off of their boards when they didn't mean to, and had to maneuver back into place.

It took about twenty minutes for them to get the whole circle together, with Bobby's family and some close friends in the center:

surf funeral (3)

surf funeral (4)

surf funeral (5)

Once they did, someone in the center of the circle said a few words, they bowed their heads, and then the people on the pier began throwing flowers, leis, and flower petals into the water. The circle pulled in on itself as the people in the center began to scatter Bobby's ashes, and then people started to wish him well:

surf funeral (6)

That was the part that surprised me. The people in the water were cheering, laughing, and clapping as they tried to stay on their boards and threw their own flowers (most of which they had carried in their teeth or tucked into the backs of their wetsuits), and the people on the pier were clapping and yelling back at them.

"So long, Bobby!"

"Bye, Bobby!"

"Safe journey, Bobby!"

I've never been to a funeral where everyone seemed so happy before. It was kind of like Bobby was leaving for a trip, and all of these people showed up at the pier to see him off. I didn't see anyone crying, and for a few minutes it seemed like everyone shared in positive feelings. I felt included in a moment of togetherness and, oddly, hope.

I didn't know Bobby, but I really enjoyed his funeral.