Thursday, January 27, 2011


If it’s Thursday, it must be Dyson day. Actually I don’t have a Dyson and only a vague idea of its merits, but I have a good friend who does…and I just like the ring of it.

The other day another friend and I were talking about division of labor, as in which spouse does what when it comes to domestic chores. This is a touchy subject in many households, and I remember buying a copy of The Second Shift at a garage sale eons ago.

This is from the product description on Amazon:

“Fifteen years after its first publication, The Second Shift remains just as important and relevant today as it did then. As the majority of women entered the workforce, sociologist and Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild was one of the first to talk about what really happens in dual-career households. Many people were amazed to find that women still did the majority of childcare and housework even though they also worked outside the home. Now, in this updated edition with a new introduction from the author, we discover how much things have, or have not, changed for women today.”

I’m a lucky woman. My husband took over all the cooking when he was diagnosed with diabetes more than a decade ago. But his culinary roots go deeper. He learned to cook over a campfire in Boy Scouts, worked in food service in high school, and ran a vegetarian on-campus restaurant during his senior year of college. He likes to cook; I don’t. Washing a pile of pots and pans stacked to the ceiling is far more appealing to me than dicing, slicing, and trying to get dishes to come out at the same time.

What’s more, I enjoy cleaning. Scrubbing toilets or dusting woodwork is my idea of relaxing. I know I’m an aberration, and I didn’t always feel this way.

Growing up, Saturdays meant chore day. My sister, Joan, and I took turns cleaning bathrooms or dusting and vacuuming. When they got older, my brothers joined the ‘fun.’ Joan and I also alternated doing dishes after dinner each night. She got odd nights; I was in charge on even nights. I can still hear her complaining there were more ‘odd’ days in the calendar than ‘even’ ones. We did get our birthdays off.

My siblings and I had it much better than my mom and her brother and sister did. My grandmother made each one of them dust the same pieces of furniture. Grandma Rock never got up and made breakfast for them either on school days, preferring to sleep in. My mom made breakfast for us every morning. Now it wasn’t until I was married that I knew oatmeal could be creamy and not lumpy (love you, mom!), but while growing up my mom’s younger sister got up before school and cooked breakfast.

My husband’s mom had a cleaning woman when she went back to teaching in her mid-40s, but my spouse and his older brother (big sister in college already; surprise baby sister too little) had to keep their rooms clean, do their own laundry during the week, and cook one meal a week. On my father-in-law’s night to cook, he took the family out to eat.

When my mom started writing romances full-time, my school administrator father started vacuuming and doing other domestic duties. He was always neat to a fault, sometimes tossing mail before my mom could even see it. And my mother is an organizer extraordinaire.

I grapple with organization, having married a man who leaves a ‘snail trail’ of paper. On the other hand, I can safely say I’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving turkey, which means I’ve never poisoned anyone.

I’m embarrassed to admit my own children never had the chore list my siblings and I did. Conversely, my sons did and do keep their rooms clean, their schoolwork organized, and their activities scheduled.

When people ask how I write with my mother, I always say it’s a symbiotic relationship. The same holds true for housework. I scrub toilets and sinks, my husband cleans the showers and tub, my mom folds laundry (a chore I find particularly odious).

We don’t keep a chart where we write down who does what. There’s just an ebb and flow of domesticity that usually works. My mom loathes dusting; I adore banishing those particles. If I were single, I’d eat cereal for dinner every single night. Seriously. My husband is color blind; I do the laundry.

Sometimes the system breaks down but not for long. And sometimes turning a blind eye to a floor that needs mopping just means it will look that much better when it finally does get cleaned.

All the time I’m glad Cheerios aren’t my usual dinner fare.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pity Party…table for one…

So this month I’ve hardly been able to stand my own company. After being felled by severe stomach pains on Halloween and undergoing an endoscopy (that landed me in the ER with a bad reaction to the anesthesia) and an ultrasound on my gallbladder, I’ve been wallowing in self-pity. Like big-time major wallowing.

My gallbladder is at the ‘upper range of normal,’ which means…nothing. In addition, to step up my exercise routine I recently worked out on weight machines and ended up at the eye doctor with more aging eye ‘issues.’ Can you say fireworks ‘exploding’ in my eye? Then there’s my late grandmother’s foot…reincarnated on me….spooky.

For the past year, I’ve endeavored to make a lifestyle change by ramping up the exercise and eschewing dieting in favor of the aforementioned change.

But hadn’t quite counted on the aging process ‘processing.’ Silly me. And even as I whine incessantly, I know I have nothing to complain about. Seriously. Don’t even want to travel down that road of friends who’ve gone way too soon. That would necessitate finding a new box of tissues for my office.

Just this morning I heard an upbeat story about an old friend’s health scare and a sad, sad story about another old friend. Makes my ‘problems’ seem like a hangnail.

With me, it’s always about the subtext. Why did I think getting older would elude me? I vividly recall my mom telling me at a Christmas Eve service when she was about 50 that she still felt 25 on the inside. Some days I feel 15…the age of my youngest son. Other days I feel…old.

And very happy to be alive to feel old.

Cancel the table for one.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Baby Steps

At noon today I headed to the YMCA for a ‘last chance’ workout with two young trainers who I was sure would kick my aging posterior. Instead I left exhilarated after an hour on the treadmill, elliptical, and weight machines followed by a great bout of stretching to cool down. This special session is part of a a three-month program called ‘Resolution Solution.’

Last January the Y offered another program where participants were challenged to do things such as attending different exercise classes for one week. When it comes to group exertion I’ve always been a lone wolf (or a cowering coyote!). The only exceptions were an aerobics class I took 20 years ago after the birth of my first son and a faculty wives hiking group in Flagstaff that introduced me to the splendors of the Southwest and the strain of switchbacks on my then-young knees!

But with my neighbor encouraging me, off we went to 5:45 a.m. classes.

Did I mention I also have NEVER been a morning person?

One year later I can say that nearly every weekday morning (except for Thursdays in the summer when that day’s instructor ran a Boot Camp, which I will never do!) for the past year I’ve gone to a combination of zumba, toning, body sculpting, and step classes.

What hooked me?

The variety, the awesome instructors, the camaraderie of a great group of women, the decision to approach getting in shape at fifty as a lifestyle change rather than a diet...all were factors.

Yes, I’ve lost weight. And over the holidays I gained some weight. But for the first time I’ve kept off more than I gained, and also for the first time I’ve decided not to beat myself up about weighty matters. I have some good friends I can talk about this with (thank you Susan and Angie!), and we all agree it’s a process.

And I’ve been processing for a long time.

I have this little ‘obsession’ that drives my mother and husband bonkers…and rightly so. Beginning when I was 9, I can recite from memory what I weighed most ages of my life. (3rd grade 89 lbs.; 4th grade, 120 lbs., 5 foot two and 3/4th’s…oh to weigh that now! And the list goes on.)

On two occasions (and I’m now slowly aiming for three) I have lost (and eventually regained) a significant amount of weight. The first time was the summer between 8th and 9th grade. At the end of 8th grade we went on a picnic to a park on the shores of Lake Superior and were joined by high schoolers as chaperones. It was a different era. One boy was so beautiful he took my breath away, and I still remember thinking if that’s what awaited me in high school, maybe I wanted to lose weight. So I did.

My starting weight in May 1974 was 175 pounds. I lost 20 pounds that summer (through a combination of staying at my grandmother’s and eating following her diabetic diet and by counting calories when I got home). By January 1975 I was down to 130 pounds. Okay it’s a big obsession with me. For the record, there were gorgeous guys in that high school.

Over the years, the pounds crept back on. By the time I hit 40 I was at an all-time high, precipitated by hitting George Foreman-worthy numbers during my second pregnancy a few years previous. Then my foot-taller husband was diagnosed with diabetes and lost 65 pounds. I didn’t want to be the fat wife of the thin man so I promptly…gained nine pounds that year, going from 180 to 189. Did I mention I’m five foot two? (I lost the ¾’s somewhere along the way.)

Then I lost more than forty pounds again on the what I call the ‘stress and grief diet.’ Please don’t try this at home. I’m a stress eater but this time the stress level was so great, it took my appetite away. My spouse’s diabetes was followed by a cancer scare, and that was followed by a horrifying period. A dear friend died at the age of 49 at the same time my husband fell ill with a mysterious ailment. While sick, he continued to work long hours at his job. Unable to eat much more than cottage cheese and apple slices, he got dangerously thin. And for the first time in my life, I was too distraught to to eat. The diagnosis was his liver having a horrid reaction to a cholesterol drug change, and he recovered fine. But there was a point where I worried he was going to die. He wasn’t, but….

The weight I dropped didn’t come back for a while, but then my Viking-blooded older son took off for a year at the tender age of 16 to be a foreign exchange student in Germany. That combined with the usual stresses of being a working mom, packed the pounds back on. Food (and my friend Susan whose daughter, Emma, had also been on an exchange program) provided comfort.

Then came a cross-country move. I made a difficult transition from working outside the home fulltime to fulfilling my life-long dream of writing fulltime. Finally last December found me with my head in a bag of holiday M&M’s, stress noshing. The same son was in Europe again on a college study abroad program, and he and his girlfriend were stranded in Denmark during a wicked snowstorm.

I had an epiphany a year ago right then and there among the red and green M&Ms. Candy (cake, cookies, brownies, fudge, chips, dip, name-your-poison) isn’t the answer to anything. This is a continuous struggle for me. People gave me fudge for Christmas, which I ate. However, I did leave the holiday M&Ms I bought unopened.

The point of all this is baby steps.

At the first meeting of Resolution Solution at the Y on Monday night, one of the trainers advised us to set realistic goals for the 12-week program. We weighed in that night and will weigh in at week six and week 12. Until last year I would have set as my goal, 24 pounds in 12 weeks or 30 or…you get the idea.

Now I’d like to lose six pounds in six weeks. That would include the five fudge pounds I put on between the first of December and now. And if I lose three pounds in six weeks, well, it’ll be three pounds less.

I will never stop obsessing over the numbers on the scale. After all, I was the only layperson in the crowded room who knew how many calories are in a pound (3,500).

But I will continue to try to pay attention to how good exercise makes me feel and how bad candy is for me. If once in a while I want a piece of chocolate (or, more likely, a donut), I will indulge. And I won’t berate myself afterwards.

What do I weigh now? Less than George Foreman and more than I did in high school.

I’ll let you know in 12 weeks.