Friday, January 14, 2011

Dieting is Not For Me

Five or six years ago, my oldest daughter decided that she and I, (yes, she was kind enough to include me in the decision) needed to go on a diet. I knew that losing five or ten pounds wouldn't hurt me and at my age, keeping weight off did seem harder and harder. So I reluctantly agreed, thinking it would help both of us if we did it together. Tiffany proceeded to go and purchase a diet book and when I saw the title, "The South Beach Diet," I thought, "Oh good, I like the beach - this can't be too bad." Ha!! What a foolish thought.

We decided to start the diet on the weekend because Tiff and I rationalized that we could stay fairly busy for two days, what with cleaning our houses and doing errands. What I forgot was that I spent every other Saturday caring for my infant niece, Ruby, while her mom worked. When I realized that the diet started on one of my "designated" Saturdays as a caregiver, I became a little worried. Tiff called me the night before and assured me that she would bring my "meal plan" to me early the next morning so we could begin the diet together. Oh, joy! I couldn't begin to describe the excitement I felt about this new phase of my life. The next morning, I got up fairly early as I needed to be at Ruby's house by 9:00. Needless to say, I woke up starving and couldn't wait for the delivery of my first-day-on-the-diet meal plan. I packed a bag with fruit and veggies so I would snack on some healthy food and then realized I had a text on my phone and wondered who text me already that day. Well, you guessed it - Tiff left me a text informing me that she left my breakfast on the counter for me (that's what happens when you sleep the sleep of post-chemotherapy treatment - you don't hear a thing). I came into the kitchen to find two, yes, I did say two, miniature quiches and a glass of V8 juice on the stove. Now, when I hear the word "quiche," the picture that comes to my mind shows layers of flaky crust, rich, cheesy filling and pretty green garnish on the top. The quiches that sat nicely on a plate before me measured no more than an inch-and-a-quarter in diameter and about 3/4 of an inch high. They looked tasty but I knew that at that moment, I could easily partake of at least a dozen or more of those little suckers to quiet the now angry growling of my stomach. But I knew Tiff counted on me to encourage and support her during this difficult time so I sat down with my paper and that's when it hit me - no French Vanilla coffee for this girl. No, it would be black or none at all because of course, this diet did not include sugar. I decided just to go with hot tea, sans the usual honey, and eagerly drank my V8 and ate my breakfast pies, expecting to feel sated and revigorated. Well, guess what? I didn't feel any of that. My stomach growled as loud as ever and I felt weak as I drove the fifteen miles to my brother and sister-in-law's house to watch little Ruby. I hoped that the morning would fly by with all the diaper changes, bottle feedings and baby-rocking filling my time. Little Ruby was a darling baby but a very slow eater and all I could think about while I fed her was how I couldn't wait for "snack time." Yes, the diet allowed us one snack in the morning and one snack in the afternoon. As soon as I put Ruby down for her morning nap, I eagerly ran to the kitchen where my meals and snacks for the day sat on the counter. After opening the bag, I reached for the little baggie marked "a.m. snack" and couldn't believe my eyes. The bag held a plastic-wrapped piece of string cheese. String cheese! That's it?!! And of course, the label said "Lite," which to those of you who know your cheese, you know that means no flavor and of course, not enough of anything to make you feel better. Whereas normally, I would bite off a little piece at a time, I took three big bites and before I knew it, snack time ended. I managed to turn an average morning snack time of 15 minutes into a new record of exactly 42 seconds. And again, my hunger continued to nag me for the rest of the morning. I eagerly watched the clock because I didn't care what time I usually ate lunch - today lunch would come as soon as I finished giving Ruby her noon bottle which, for my sake, would come a little early. I couldn't wait to sit down and enjoy a delicious lunch and went into the kitchen to get the meal ready but my first instinct was to call Tiff and say, "Surely you jest!" Tiff kindly packed my lunch for me but instead of a nice turkey sandwich on some whole-wheat bread and some carrot sticks to munch on, my noontime feast consisted of a small can of water-packed tuna and one, yes, one, chopped piece of lettuce. Trying to see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty, I got a pretty plate out of the cabinet and spread the lettuce out as best as I could. I drained the tuna and placed it in the middle of the lettuce, forming a nice mound that really looked quite tasty. I ate as slowly as possible, with my stomach screaming in protest but I needed to make this meal last. If it took me an hour to eat lunch, that would make less of a waiting time for the anticipated afternoon snack, although at this point, I held little hope that something delicious lay inside that little brown bag. Taking care of Ruby helped the time go by quickly and as soon as the clock showed 2:30, I tore into the kitchen at breakneck speed and ripped the bag open in anticipation. Wow! Celery sticks and a miniscule triangle of Laughing Cow cheese. Seeing that laughing cow with his smiling face made me furious - laughing was the last thing I wanted to do right now. But I knew that celery would add fiber and hopefully, fill me up and the cheese would taste good and satisfy my deprived stomach. My mistake - I felt slightly better for about ten minutes.

Needless to say, by the time I got home, I could not wait to eat dinner, which consisted of orange roughy and scallions with ginger sauce, along with a salad. I did find it difficult to make dinner because my hands shook from weakness. All the books and articles about dieting always seemed to emphasize that the right diet would keep a person from getting hungry but I now know they lied. I don't remember feeling so hungry in my entire life. And to finish my day on a happy note, I found out that bedtime did not mean snacks but it didn't really matter because nothing I'd eaten had kept the hunger pains at bay all day.

The next morning I didn't even want to get out of bed. I dreaded what the day would bring in terms of food but I did look forward to stepping on the scale. So much for that anticipated moment because according to the scale, I gained, yes, I did say, gained, one pound on the day I started the diet and nearly starved to death. Of course, today would mean a brand new menu and I could feel my excitement building. But in the words of Randy from "Christmas Story:" "Skunked again." That's right - more miniscule breakfast pies and another glass of V8 juice. The day dragged on with a couple pistachio nuts and three baby carrots and a turkey roll-up with cilantro mayo for lunch. Now that may sound absolutely delicious to you but when I saw that the roll-up was actually made of the turkey itself, well, my heart fell. No delicious bread for me today. Lunch contained one slice of turkey with cilantro mayo wrapped around a piece of string cheese (still Lite cheese). Yum, yum. I kept thinking of how good a piece of fruit would taste with the roll-up but the South Beach diet didn't allow fruit in the diet for at least two weeks. What kind of diet containing the word "beach" wouldn't include fruit? I never heard of such a thing until this craziness entered my life. The diet guru felt that the consumption of fruit led to sugar highs and lows and thus lies the reasoning behind the omission of fruit. Well, at this point, what was another deprivation? I convinced myself that this was what some people called "character-building" and plodded on through the day.

The final straw came when Tiff came bouncing into the house with something she hilariously called "dessert." She wouldn't even let me look in the bag until we sat down and ate our delicious dinner. More surprises awaited me on the plate with grilled salmon and what the recipe surreptitiously called "Surprise Potatoes." I learned long ago that anytime the word 'surprise" appeared in the name of a food, the biggest surprise was always the taste. After putting a small spoonful on my plate, I took a bite and actually found it quite palatable. Lucky for me, caulifower has never been a hated vegetable of mine. I quickly consumed the fish and "potatoes" with a side salad and waited for Tiff to finish eating so we could get to the main course - dessert. She assured me she brought something delicious and at this point, if the food even hinted at sweetness, I would inhale it like an elephant eating peanuts. After setting out the dessert plates, Tiff took the lid off the bowl that held dessert and dished out a spoonful of white fluff. I must admit that the stuff looked pretty appetizing. Being a lover of both rice and tapioca pudding ( yes, I know that people call tapioca "fish eyes"), I could only hope the stuff would satisfy me like those desserts always did. After spreading my napkin nicely across my lap, I quickly put the spoon to my mouth in anticipation and just as quickly pulled it back out, following that action with "What in the world is this stuff? It feels like a big pile of goosefeathers dipped in cinnamon has been stuffed in my mouth." I'd never tasted goosefeathers but my gag reflex kicked in much too quickly for me to even recognize the ingredients. I thought I tasted vanilla but I could not get past the texture of the so-called dessert. Tiff began laughing at my reaction and told me she thought it tasted really good - after all, it contained ricotta cheese, lemon zest, vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Her explanation didn't help at all. At that moment, I decided that my journey with the "South Beach Diet" was over. I told Tiff that over the past three days, I gained four pounds, literally starved myself and didn't care what she chose to do but as for me, I headed right for the pantry. Tiff's heels joined mine in staccato and we knocked each other over grabbing for whatever we could find, which included cinnamon graham crackers, milk and for me, a pint of strawberries, three kiwi fruits and half a honeydew melon. And if I looked as round as a honeydew, I didn't care. Dieting was not for me and the next time I heard the words "South Beach Diet," it would involve sand, water, sun and drinks with umbrellas. That would forever be my diet fare.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Back to the Mall

Now, really, doesn't Christmas always fall on Dec. 25th? Every calendar I ever owned marks that day with a big red number - "25." A person can't miss it and most people I know, especially children and mothers, watch as that number comes closer and closer. Before I know it, that number floats in front of my eyes like a distorted face when looking closely at a round ornament. I get sick of hearing the television and radio screaming out the countdown of the days left to shop. As soon as one Christmas ends, I begin paying close attention to the conversations between my family members, including the musings of the man who believes in Santa Claus. I consider myself to be a fairly good gift-giver and I honed that skill by listening for conversations that included the words, "I want," "I wish I had," "I saw this. . ." and other such spoken wishes. When my kids were young, before school even started, I got in the habit of scribbling lists in a notebook I keep in my nightstand, with each person's name at the top of each page. After I buy a gift, I star it and write a "w" next to each present after covering each gift in matching paper and ribbons. Oh yes, don't forget the gift tags. After all, whose heart doesn't flutter when they see their name on a gift and know that someone spent the time to buy something special for them and them alone. Well, most people receive gifts chosen especially for them. I would, of course, write "From Santa," on the kid's gift tags but really wanted to write "From Mrs. Claus." But that would disturb the innocent, little children because when we visited Santa's Workshop at the mall, my kids sat on the lap of a big, kindly but scary-looking man in a red suit. I could barely restrain myself from yelling out, "Santa's not a man and never has been, at least at our house." But I went along with the fantasy, at least until Christmas morning.

Knowing that Christmas always comes in December and one short month after Thanksgiving, why does my husband wait to shop for my gifts on December 23rd? We play the same game every year with him asking for my list and me believing that this could be the year for "the" gift, the one thing I don't write down but secretly hope he knows me well enough to buy. I consider myself relatively easy to buy for and my friends and my children don't seem to find it very difficult to ply me with surprises every year, even on my birthday and Mother's Day. But, inevitably, Christmas morning arrives and Mark eagerly hands me a gift to open, all the while stumbling over his words, i.e. "I know it's not what you wanted but they didn't have your size," or color or whatever reason the box didn't hold the coveted surprise gift. I don't know any other way to make shopping any easier for him than I already do. My list comes complete with item name, color, size and which store stocks said item. I mean, I shop every year and hardly leave my house. All the man needs to do is go online, find listed site and enter item number but he tells me that he doesn't know how to enter the debit or credit card number. REALLY? Then I realize that he is indeed telling the truth. Mark never activated his debit card because he claims not to know how to use the thing. Hahaha - I find that hilarious considering the man can take a computer apart and put it back together or disable an engine only to get the thing running again. I now know that it's probably best that he doesn't use a debit card because upon opening his bathroom drawer to look for something, I find receipts dating back several years. A debit card in his name could truly prove disastrous. He bought something once online and got scammed and that has now become his excuse for never shopping online again.

Needless to say, this year I made the old Christmas list again, making it very short because all I asked for was a screened-in porch. I mean, that's not asking too much, is it? We need to build a new deck so I figured we could screen it in at the same time. I did tell him he could skip the stocking tradition of the Russell Stover's marshmallow Santa because I plan on losing a few pounds and if the candy sits in front of me, I feel guilty if I don't partake. Imagine my surprise (ahem) when I took my stocking down from the mantel and tucked inside sat, not a marshmallow Santa but an entire box of Russell Stover's candy. Sabotage!!! I couldn't believe it but I went ahead and opened it to find the vanilla cream before anyone else could steal it. After all, I didn't want to seem ungrateful for what would probably turn out to be the best gift of the lot. To my surprise, my stocking held several things from the list - a Borders gift card, a tube of Lollia hand cream and a tube of Chicken Poop Lip Junk (don't knock it until you try it - best lip balm ever but don't ask me why the name). Mark then placed several gifts in my lap and the excitement on his face reminded me of our kids in their childhood when they came into the living room to see their presents under the tree. I remarked that he should probably lay off the coffee as he seemed quite jittery to me. I know now that it wasn't excitement as much as nerves. Upon opening the first gift, I spied the maker of some perfume on my list but alas, two boxes came together inside the plastic wrap, a ploy to make sure you spent extra money purchasing two to get one. Unfortunately, if I wanted to smell like a Granny Smith apple, I would just take a bite of one and let the juice run down my chin onto my clothes. Can a person tell if they will like the scent without taking off the plastic wrap? Of course not, so now I own two bottles of will-never-use-why-did-you-buy-this scent. Returnable? Not with the plastic wrap off the boxes. Just another holiday ploy. Of course, if Mark paid close attention to the list, I wrote the name of the desired perfume and it's maker, but "since he didn't have his glasses on at the time," he didn't realize he bought the wrong kind. Darn.

The next two boxes held two nice, gray sweaters, neither one the sweater I put on the list. But again, waiting until the 23rd ensures the shopper that the store will not have the size or color on the list and this lets the shopper off the hook. He can then purchase a wonderful, always useful, gift card but this time he did not. Mark asked his oldest daughter to finish the shopping and sadly for her, she bought two gray sweaters just to be on the safe side. Tiff knows what I like but this time she didn't know that I owned one sweater almost identical to one she purchased. I hated to tell her and her dad but the pockets on the side of the other sweater looked like two elephant ears that God mistakenly placed on my hips. I just couldn't bring myself to look like a zoo animal even if it would keep me warm.

Sadly, none of the boxes held a screened-in porch or even a miniature rendition of one but Mark did tell me he found someone to give us an estimate. As for those other gifts, my wallet holds cold, hard cash from the return of those sweaters. And the perfume, well, I decided I'd spritz it all over the kitchen so when I start my weight-loss program, Mark will think those vegan burgers and salad taste as good as green apple pie.