The days that come our way in little staccatos during our winters I refer to as tease days. Those luscious days after a freezing cold spell where the temperature magically climbs to 35 or 40 degrees causing elation and jubilance among fellow New England comrades. It is not unusual to see an immediate surge in the roar of motorcycles, convertibles out and about with their drivers wrapped up like they are headed on an expedition to Mt. Everest. Shorts and an extra pep in the step of people who had previously thought they were hunkered down for the long haul and bike riders trying to appreciate the glorious bonus day of some added warmth and brighter light.
We New Englanders so willingly get sucked into that tease. When the slightest increase in temperature makes it feel positively balmy outside almost making us want to pull out the gardening equipment to clean up the yard. But we seasoned souls know that this is only a lure of nature, playfully provoking us to think that this is a reliable temperature. We shut down our heat, open our windows, change the sheets on our bed and lean full force into what we know is temporary. After all, it is February and though we have not had even a drop of snow, we have been here before. That year not too long ago when we thought we were home free, barely a snow plow bill and just like that- snow in record amounts every day for almost an entire month. Mother Nature as usual made fools of us. It is we who choose to live in this environment rather than a larger space of a state offering sun and fun most of the year.
I have been on a mission this year to pepper my fitness routine with bouts of nature. Hikes, walks, climbs, outside no matter the temperature instead of the gym running like a hamster on a treadmill among the tribe of the fabulously fit. My love for the crazy gym workouts is still pure, but I have found my body desires less of that potency and more of outside walks so I honor this as often as I can. Walking to the library to return my latest read and hoping that another great book awaits fills my soul as much as fifty burpees, (well maybe 20 burpees).
Because I have the luxury of two spaces I get to call home in two glorious locations, both near large bodies of water, the beach is easy access especially on my way from one to the other in the early morning light. Recently I have been stopping at the beach, leaving my phone in the car so as not to be distracted by feeling the need to take it out of my pocket every five minutes to capture a picture that will never look as good as the real one in front of me. The sound of the waves, the tide, the shrieking of the seagulls, the wind in my hair and in my lungs and that deep smell that wakes a very tired olfactory system up from its dormancy that has been locked up in forced heat and closed windows makes my heart open wide.
I make my way from the parking lot, locking my car and feeling the change of scenery in my shoes as they move from pavement to sand and I am home. The beach is my happy place. I have figured out much about my life and who I am in these tender moments. I have released old stinky stale thoughts and welcomed new bright sun-filled ideas that seem to pop at rapid fire. Problems solved, anxious thought cast out to sea, heart rocks avail themselves at every turn and nature bathes me like a baptism. Outside never disappoints and whether it is freezing, blustery, humid, baking, misty and everything in between, the beach right in my backyard in a fifteen minute drive is a reward beyond pushups and ab crunches. Though my body may not be as rock hard as those pesky movements create in my muscles, the deep breaths, the contemplation, the change in scenery and aroma in my hair is enough to compensate.
As I walked yesterday in what seemed like a 60 degree rare day in February, I did a lot of soul searching, I sat on a piece of driftwood that had made its home from goodness knows what journey and meditated for a good fifteen minutes breathing in and out at the pace of the wave. When I opened my eyes I looked ahead, I looked to my right and to my left and I was the only one on the beach. My private moment deep within witnessed only by me and I smiled at my good fortune and appreciation that I was able to veer off my course and take a right into the parking lot instead of saying I will do a walk when I have more time. Because really what does this even mean, how do I know that I will have more time? How does anyone know this? The power is in the present moment. We just forget to look. Yesterday I didn’t forget and today I will try again to remember the gifts of every time I do.
“Have you tried celery juice?” my beloved Dr. W. asked me at my regular breast check in this past Monday. “No.” I replied with a straight face. “But funny you should ask, because my new favorite nutritionist Amanda Rigbyjust recommended this to me. Something about cleaning out the liver…” I suppose I should feel grateful that I have a doctor in my direct inner circle who would even know about this. A doctor who would be willing to speak the blasphemy of ….. shhhh, quiet here……functional medicine…. in her office while BIG PHARMA BROTHER looks on waiting like a predator to pounce on every unsuspecting person in America to get them on their plethora of pharmacopia.
I love Dr.W. like a sister and I am so grateful for her brilliance, but also for the kinship we share in trying to navigate through the bullshit of what we really have control over when it comes to recurrences. She has seen it all in the world of female cancer and I trust her completely. That being said, I have to make my own way through the maze and hard work of deciphering what I am willing to commit to when it comes to preventative vs reality. I have done my own research for the past almost thirty years.
I read a book by AnneMarie Colbin called Food and Healing written in 1986 when she was talking about fat and nightshades and the challenges that food brings to our health in both negative and positive ways. This book set me on a path of studying on my own any food modality as it relates to healing the body and for the most part I feel I have been way ahead of most of the doctors and nutritionists I have met since. This may read arrogant after all I have no credibility as far as initials after my name, but what these books have taught me is that we are all are own science experiment. I know my own body like a slick leather glove that fits perfectly.
But celery juice? I get it. I get the need for a healthy gut, for a better liver to increase functionality in our bodies filled with toxins and goodness knows what else. I get the need for the consideration of prevention. Prevention is that pesky word we consider often after the fact. Usually the P word comes in the thousands of articles everyone who thinks they are being helpful sends along with the “FYI” caption. But how much is just out of our control?
I am not the type to put my head in the sand ignoring all of this influx of information coming at me every time I open my computer screen. Sometimes I get sucked into the rabbit hole of over thinking everything that goes into this body of mine. This unnecessary stress is not helpful for sure. It causes lots of guilty feelings everytime I decide that Macaroni and cheese instead of a kale salad is the dinner of choice. And I think often, does it really fucking matter?
Twenty years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a woman, Dr. Pamela Peeke . I had invited her as a guest speaker to an event I planned. At the time, she was doing extensive research on the how the effects of stress in our lives was showing up as the inordinate amounts of illness now part of the human race caused by its regular presence. She planted the seed in my mind about the importance of movement and other stress reducers even more so than food. She has gone on to write books and speak at Ted talks around the globe. In my experience it is stress more than most other factors that create illness. Of course, stress from bad eating is definitely one of the many elements of stress as a whole, but there are so many causes of daily stress I am sure play an even larger part of the puzzle.
Family relationships, financial worries, evolving friendships and catostrophic events all plant their little seedlings along the way sometimes growing ever so slowly or sometimes like dandelion weeds after a four day rainfall. I do believe that learning to settle down, slow down and make peace with your past are all helpful ways in our control to change the growth pattern that has been planted. Meditating, writing, art, creativity, reading, walking, exercising, cooking and not drinking alcohol are definitely the top ways I work on my own stress and past traumatic events. Focusing on these things that bring such joy to my life helps me heal and march forth in ways hard for me to describe. But I do. I march forth.
As I made my way to the second Dr’s appointment of the week to have my plastic surgeon inspect his hard work on my upper half, he reminded me that I am still swollen. It has been almost two years since the first half of my surgery and almost a year and a half since my last one.
“Swollen? Still? Really?” I asked, perplexed. “How could I still be swollen?”
“Totally normal, he replied matter of factly. And you will feel joint pain and tightness too, so don’t be alarmed.” It was here at this very moment that I freed myself from thinking that the mac and cheese from Sunday’s football extravaganza was the root of all evil. I am swollen because I had two of my breasts taken off, fat sucked out of my stomach that I didn’t ask to be sucked out for said breasts, muscle from my back brought to my front to support the fat and allow the new breasts to have a permanant home. Why the hell would I not be so swollen? I was thinking that it was my workouts, my body, my food intake, causing my fingers to be slightly swollen so that some of my favorite rings no longer slide on.
This is the bad part of being a resillient half full kind of chick. I had forgotten about the stress that my body has gone through in the last four years. Four surgeries in four years. And I was one of the lucky ones, I didn’t even have to have chemo. I would say that counts for stress, wouldn’t you? I don’t think buying endless stalks of celery and putting them in my three hundred dollar juicer every morning before I start my day is going to be a game changer for this body. I also don’t know if daily celery juicing is going work the same type of magic as a good deep breath at the mat with myself breathing in light and out darkness. I am willing to try it maybe. No scratch that. I am not juicing celery stalks, fuck that.
I was recently asked, “Why do I write?” I just started my adventure with WordPress, the way out of my comfort zone attempt at designing my own missalayneous.com website. Deciding to jump into WordPress University, I immediately found a writing class that I clicked YES on promptly. The first prompt came to my inbox like magic. Why do you write?
This is a question I can easily answer.
I write because I have to. Because if I don’t, I am in spiritual agony. Because not writing is simply not an option for my health, my soul, my mind. When I write, I feel good. When I don’t, I get jammed, and clogged like a kitchen sink drain that has backed up because a chicken bone from dinner the night before found its way in. Writing helps me move ideas, feelings, thoughts and musings up and out. Writing creates open space in my heart so my creative brain can have the room it needs to get shit done. Writing is a force to be reckoned with and it shows up every day like a loyal friend.
Since my first journal in third grade pen to page, fingers to keyboard have never let me down. I feel calm and on purpose when I write. Just like a good workout, there is a steadiness and a purpose to my mornings giving me a fresh perspective on the day before.
I used to only write in a unlined notebook, with a sharpie, then a smooth uniball pen, then that changed to a lined notebook with a pencil. I soon realized that in order for all of this writing to become something, it needed to be saved on a computer so I started to type on my laptop and organize my writings more formally. Then I started typing occasionally on a typewriter. This led to becoming an avid and manic collector of portable typewriters. Each mode of writing makes me write with a different personality. I love the various themes I come up with depending on what I am writing on.
Writing feels like what I imagine photographers feel when they see an image. Instead though, while they have the need to capture the actual image with a camera, my image is a story that unfolds with a sense of urgency that I must sit down to write about it. Words to paper, adjectives, adverbs, nouns, run on sentences, verbs, pronouns and prepositions all come spinning at me as I sit there with my influencers of yesteryear.
Miss Foley, my mean first grade teacher who created writers block until I set her free and now she has become my friend who sits nearby when I am about to make a grammatical error. Mr. Chase, my seventh grade teacher who was of great encouragement to this hormonal twelve year old girl he recognized as a talent for writing. I before e except after c and Neck-eccary to remember that the word only had one C in the beginning. Mrs.Nixon, my freshman teacher who taught us Tess of the D’Urbervilles and turned us on to the human injustices in books like The Invisible Man,The Jungle, and female power imbalances that permeated our lives in 1980 we had never considered until she brought it up.
When I write, I am joined by my past teachers and am also joined by great women who have shown up in my adult writing life screaming from the sidelines WRITE WRITE AND WRITE! Hannah Goodman at her first writing class as a young teacher who brought meditation to my writing party and planted the seed about actually thinking I could not only write, but maybe even write a book.
Why do I write? This is why. Because I can, i must, I need to, I want to, I have to. Lucky to be alive and I don’t take this privilege and gift lightly.
“What is that?” I asked Michael, my partner, the love of my life, the man I share my stories, hopes and dreams with. I had looked down on the floor of his living room to see this perfectly flat square thin contraption sitting there. Waiting. Calling me. I had a feeling it was a scale, but I just had to ask, because normally scales find their homes in bathrooms on the floor next to the sinks and toilets and this modern looking shiny black square was by the front door, looking kind of like it was headed to the rubbish bins on trash day. (She said with her hands in prayer position.)
“We’ll need to put your info in the app for it,” he said excitedly, like I was actually going to stand on this contraption and allow it to record not only my weight, but my body fat, bone mass, protein and a list of other physical attributes I didn’t know I was supposed to be recording. He moved like a lynx to his phone to open up the app that connects with the scale. Apparently I am supposed to stand on this and allow it to do whatever it does and it takes all of this information and submits it through Bluetooth to the app that Michael has downloaded on his phone. It is here that he, with a twinkle in his, eye told me he could set up my own account on his app. Then like he had just discovered one of life’s great mysteries, he opened up the app to reveal his entire health profile including of course his weight without even a brief pause. I love this about most men I know. Weight is not a thing. 198 he said. 198 on a man who is a little over six feet that is mostly made up of stunning runners legs I only hope to obtain in my next life if we get to choose.
This man knows me better than anyone. He knows the insides of me, my fears, my angst, my dreams, my strengths and my weaknesses. He knows my schedule, how I think, almost, so when he said this so matter of factly like this was even going to be a remote possibility I laughed aloud. “That is so funny, Michael. No, I am not putting my information on your app. Do you even know me?” Insert laugh, chuckle, snicker here. I detected the tiniest tone of wound in his voice, “I was just showing you how it worked, you could probably put the app on your phone and do it,” he said so sweetly with patient empathy. Insert another small laugh here. That will not be happening. I hate the scale. I hate the number. I hate what the whole thing invokes in me and almost every woman I know. It is a downer. If the number is higher than I thought, I am depressed. If it is lower than I thought, it validates that what I am doing is in fact working and I feel like I will never be able to have a glass of wine or a piece of my friends delicious cheesecake again. Or it says, “That’s all? I have been following food plan number five thousand and I didn’t lose ten pounds in a week?” Completely ludicrous. Insane. Self defeating. Every single opposite of how I live my life in my fun and alayne’s brain world. That scale though, it gets to me. I allow it to get to me and I don’t know how to change the pattern, the belief. It has layers and years of layers dating back to my grandmother’s own issues with weight. I try to self talk my way through the brain fuck that is the topic of weight. Yes I am alive, I am healthy. I am fit. I am strong. All of that. But that pesky scale gets the better of me so I choose NO. I will not get on a scale that records a plethora of information. I will not put myself in the vulnerable position of wirelessly communicating my health to my partner’s phone and then likely transmits the information to Big Tech so they can have their way with my health data in however they choose.
We so carelessly hit the “I agree” button because they damn well know that we are not going to read the document they force us to sign for the access to the app in the first place and who knows it the data that is being recorded is even correct. I compare it to the variety of mirrors I have found myself staring back at myself. Some, like the one at Jackie’s Loft is like a magic mirror. No matter what I try on, I look amazing, svelte even. I think it is a thinning mirror. God forbid I should think that this reflection staring back is how I really look. Michael has one of these in his closet too. I can look at myself in a variety of outifts and the reflection staring back is one of a thinner version of how I think I really look, but I’ll take it. The bizarre aspect of the mirrors and the scales are that what if the lower number and the thinner mirror is actually the way I am? What if the scale that says the higher number or the mirror that adds so breadth to my hips (because it never adds to my upper half, a part of my body even before breast reconstruction was satisfying to me) what if it is that one that is wrong? All of this sounds crazy and completely fucked up, but it is part of my gene pool and who I am. Someone that no matter how much I try to meditate the negative thoughts away, it is like they are intrinsic to my femaleness. Arg. I think of the AA phrase Progress Not Perfection. Yes I totally understand that this world of advertising and catalogues coming at us does not help the cause of body delight. Even the thinnest healthiest women I know, you know the ones that can throw on a pair of leggings and tennis shoes, throw their hair up in a messy blonde ponytail seemingly without a glance in the mirror on the outside, have their own weight and body image demons. This I know because I have open conversations with women every day of my life and have for the last almost thirty years in the beauty business. I am not sure if the scale will ever be my friend. My beautiful Dr. Wiggins always says, “Alayne, you look great, the scale is just a number.” I know what she is really saying is “Alayne, Give yourself a fucking break.”
I am trying. Really. Every day. But in my opinion if the scale were truly a “smart” scale as it self proclaims, you would step up onto the two feet outlined for yours to fit into and it would talk back. It would say, “This number is only a number so today I give you a free pass. Go for a walk, smell the earth, look up, smile at a stranger and breathe deeply. Be grateful that today, again, like yesterday, you got to wake up and have the luxury of stepping on to this scale today. There is no number today, so enjoy your day and stop all this unnecessary fretting. You are alive. This is your day. Today. Enjoy it.
There they were, the trio of family making their way through security together headed for sunny Florida. Perhaps to see the grandparents like I was for a precious visit not knowing if this would be the last time they may have the opportunity. Or maybe they were trying to get that Disney family trip in before their only son became too old to want to go with them. I don’t really know, but the airport is one of those places where I can make up stories about every person I watch while I wait for the plane’s boarding call.
I am the person at the airport two hours ahead of time, much to my friend, Ken’s chagrin who is an expert traveler like George Clooney in that movie whose name escapes me, Up? I don’t remember, but I marveled at his character’s pride in packing, his superiority complex in his expertise narrating each step as he made his way to the airport for one of his many business trips. My friend Ken is like this. He travels almost monthly for business, Germany, Hawaii, Denmark, Australia, and his experience leads him to arrive almost minutes before the flight takes off. I have anxiety even writing this. This behavior drives his wife, my dear friend, Ro absolutely bonkers and each time they go into battle over this, I am reminded of how happy I am solo in my ability to decide the whens of travel time. Though I am a seasoned traveler, I feel calmer waiting at the gate two hours ahead of time rather than waiting at home to leave, distracted enough so I can’t get anything accomplished because I am thinking about getting to the airport. I have traveled with Ken and it is a whirlwind, but also invigorating knowing that if shit happens, his experience will get us to the proverbial church on time.
I was not traveling with Ken, however, on this early Saturday morning, but my partner, instead, who is equally as happy to join my time zone party and make our way to the airport, relaxing, using the restroom, getting our tea and reading our books inches from the gate. Today though, we really got there early, like two and half hours, which gave me plenty of time to people watch and make my tales come to life as I watched the dynamics and interactions between the vast majority of people traveling at the same time as we were. I try not to stare, but they are likely thinking the same thing, hopefully their curiosity has been peaked too and they are staring back while I am not looking making up their own stories.
I was intrigued by the family in front of me. First of all, the parents were only about five feet give or take a couple of inches and they looked so much alike. Their very sweet son, who seemed to be about seven or eight was tracking to follow their footsteps in the height department. The entire family looked alike, plump, sandy brownish hair, sweatpants, t shirts, sneakers, ready for travel with their freshly purchased brown bags filled with Dunkin Donuts lore. Leaving the house as early as one needs to get to the airport requires planning if you don’t want to eat the slop that is served in the wee hours. The healthy options are limited so many families just decide well this is vacation so we’ll just start our party time with our first meal once we get there. I of course am a food snob so I pack a nice blend, (yes eye roll here, I know)
I am watching them respectfully to see what snacks will be flying out of the magic bags, they were overweight and their son was too, making me cringe at the first sight of the green bottle that suddenly appeared. It was 7:30 am. I am thinking as I am watching them that the three of them couldn’t be more than late thirties and they were headed for the diabetes and heart disease path faster than a dozen chocolate munchkins heads down their digestive tracts. The boy passed his mother the bottle to open it and to my judgmental horror, my worst fears were confirmed, Sprite. For breakfast. For a chunky eight year old, and the parents who each were each about to drink their own bottle demonstrating the poor and obvious example of bad nutrition. Bottles of soda don’t come in small containers either. I was willing to bet that the bottles they were about to guzzle were at least twenty four ounces. I couldn’t believe that these seemingly nice parents had not received the soda memo that in my world of reading seems to be at every turn. I feel the same way about soda that I do about cigarettes. Super bad. But what does this innocent boy know about bad nutrition choices as his own example of his plump parents set the tone. Soda shouldn’t even be a special treat, it has sugar, caffeine and all kinds of dyes that are hard to pronounce, it doesn’t quench thirst, it is addictive and shoots up insulin levels to the point where children are being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes like a common cold. I know as I write this, I am offending the soda drinking households out there, but if weight is a struggle, just simply switching from soda or juice to water could make a difference from an unhealthy road ahead to a healthy one. At least the start of one.
Parents need to take some ownership of the food examples they set, soda, sugared cereal for breakfast, processed foods before school all lead to lots of distracted kids and wired up energy making it hard for these same kids to learn or stay focused when they get off the bus and into the classrooms. I have seen this myself as I used to volunteer in the middle school lunch room and the crap not only that the kids were eating, but the food they were being served by our own institutions gave me a birds eye view into some of the troubles. Often these same kids get misdiagnosed with ADD and all of the other three letter diagnosis we have placed on our kids along with a pill to fix them. If we could just make a shift in their nutrition, many of the issues can be solved, but our medical system seems to ignore this in any consultation. Sure nutrition can’t solve all of the problems, obviously I know this as someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice and I can’t remember the last time I have brought a soda to my lips or a bowl of apple jacks for that matter. As I watched this young family though, I wondered how long it would be before each of them made their way to the doctor for their own medical futures.
I was feeling a bit smug with my assessment of them, but I just know that they were all going down an alarming path and I felt like I was watching the beginning of a train wreck knowing it was completely out of my hands. But I guess this is life anyway, no matter how much we think we are in control or think we are controlling our destinies; none of us really know the answers. So maybe drinking the soda and eating the donuts is a happier place than the worries looming overhead. Kind of like a plane ride. We all make our way jam packed into a tube of metal thinking that we are going to land where and when the airline says we are, but we really have not a clue as we make our way up up and away. Look at my grandfather, here he is and here we are getting ready to celebrate his 101st birthday. Wine every day at five, crackers and cheesesticks for appetizers along with the wine, apple cinnamon lego waffles for breakfast and here he is. Still strong. But he never drank soda either, Just saying.
“Pick up the weight and swing it between your legs in a squat, then up over your head and straight up, Arms straight! Lean Back!” Kathy exclaimed with the sound of a woman enjoying this (or a sound somewhat close to the familiar shrill of Aunt Lydia from The Handmaids Tale depending on your mood in the morning). Was anyone else in the class today finding her commands amusing?
I am almost fifty four years old standing in a class filled with women, some my age, some far younger and was struck by how fast time had flown. It was just yesterday it seemed that I was the twenty two year old head to toe in Jane Fonda aerobic tights, thongs and goodness knows what else was the eighties workout fashion of the moment watching a woman in her fifties teaching the class thinking , “Wow, she looks good for her age.” Hard to believe that this was almost thirty years ago and now I am that woman. I felt like we should all have pictures of ourselves on the wall with our age and life experience next to it to explain why I was finding it necessary to use some of the time to just hang out in child’s pose instead of one more over achieving push up.Why wasn’t anyone else resting, sweating, stretching in between change overs?
Yes I signed up for this, yes I paid for this, continue to pay for it, and actually as much fun as I make of it, love it. Can’t really live without the wackiness of the almost daily routine of the grind, pound, move, and an accelerated heart rate that astounds me all these years later. Who actually enjoys this? I do. I love the camaraderie of mostly women thinking that we are in some sort of control of our health, our lives and this in itself makes me smile. I smile a lot in these classes because I so often am in utter disbelief that I am one of the insiders, one of the regulars, not a stranger showing up quivering filled with potential embarrassment that I may have to give up. Nope. Not me. There is no giving up as I jump and twist and burpee and mountain climb my way through an hour of my life. “If your shoulders can’t take any more spider man twists, then there is no shame in lying on your back and doing bicycle crunches,” Kathy yells. I peek out the corners of my eyes to see if I am the only one too happy to take her suggestion, tired shoulders or not. Any excuse to be on my back for even a brief moment I relish in.
I will never be one of those workout chicks who have the discipline of an army general. When I am on, there is no stopping me. Deliberate, consistent, clear headed gym girl. Then I feel really good, really fast, like in a week, and then I start to go down the path of least resistance, but I have learned to semi enjoy this despite the fact that I know I will have what I refer to as spinney head. Or as I have heard in countless Alanon meetings, washing machine head. It is okay to take a break from myself and for myself, it is okay to rest once in awhile. I don’t know how often I try to convince myself of this. I know there is a distinct rhythm to habits. Wake up, check the clock, make sure it is at least 5 am, brush my teeth, wash my face, put moisturizer on, walk into the kitchen and make coffee. This is definitive every morning, never breaking from the routine. Once this all happens though, there are lots of am choices for me. Workout? Write? Type? Watch the news? Read the paper? Read a few pages of my latest book? They are all vying for a segment and this is all before the start of my day at around nine am. Waking up at five am gives me four full glorious hours, and each one of these choices feeds me and in a unique and stimulating way and this is where my discipline usually goes out the window. Lately I haven’t been writing as much because the morning gym takes so much time. I have to fit work in there too, paperwork takes a lot of time, and I forgot to mention that I have signed up and been taking three different writing classes each week. I love working out so this has been my morning priority lately. And as a result my morning writing has taken a hit.
Here’s what I know though. I am off kilter when I am not healthy. My mind starts to spin and takeover in a way that doesn’t serve. My partner has a sign hanging in the house that says, Don’t believe everything you think. When I am not writing or moving or eating healthy, my mind takes me hostage and I have been known to go into a tailspin. This may not be obvious to the people who are not in my inner circle, the ones who really know my insides, because there is the outside alayne and the inside one. As much as I try to speak the truth 24/7 sometimes I need a nap from the incessant mindspeak that is my brain (likely my closest friends do too). Health, meditation, creativity, movement, eating well are the cures for a calmer head. I know this is part of who I am.
The entrepreneurial spirit I have been blessed with is sometimes a hindrance, but most often it is a welcome creative force to be reckoned with. The question I often ask myself with the wisdom of hindsight is what is the spark that ignites the tailspin? When I take a deep diaphragmatic breath, you know that breath that cleanses you from top to bottom, that delicious calming and soothing free meditative sigh, I know. I know it has to do with the pain of loss, grief that still lies within like that little shard of glass you know you missed when the dish dropped on the floor and shattered. There is always one fragment left to be found by a bare foot some time in the future when you have forgotten all about the broken dish. Grief will never be something I can check off my to do list and it is an absurd notion to even consider this as a possibility. What I always know is that working out and writing and being in nature are the trifecta of calm and better energy for me. Though wine and sugar feel so fucking helpful at the time going down, they are smothering band aids staving off the air necessary for healing. But it is so much easier and fun to wake up, stay in my pjs, buy typewriters (or cars), make chocolate babka and drink wine in the afternoon. My perpetual cross to bear isn’t so bad when I say it like that.
There it was, in the cookbook section of the small independent bookstore I have made my way to every year for the past six in the stunning fall foliage of the White Mountains. I had found myself with some alone time, meandering through the small shops of North Conway, New Hampshire and decided to visit my favorite store for the second time this week. My partner was back at the condo reading and resting, I was out on Main St. trying to support the local New Hampshire economy like a good tourist. I don’t really buy books any more. I relish using the library now, the smell, the neatly covered books with their plastic protectors, the interaction with the librarians and volunteers. But here I stood in the aisles among rows and rows of glorious possibilities and found myself scanning the cookbooks.
One book almost impossible to take out of the library is a cookbook. First of all, a cookbook needs its butter smears and gravy drippings on its pages, eliminating it immediately from being a library contender. For a while I was taking books I had purchased to the beach rather than the library book I had taken out for fear of getting it greased with sunscreen. Now that I am a seasoned library book borrower however I have graduated myself to a successful beach outing with the loaner. But cookbooks still don’t really fall into a successful library book borrow so here I was gazing. I surely don’t need another cookbook, I have plenty I haven’t even made my way through yet, but there she was in her aerobic clothing, midriff bare like a teenager, hair coiffed like Farrah Fawcett, perfectly blonde feathered bang, lovely and firm cleavage gazing out at the camera as if she were posing for seventeen magazine in the seventies. Except the difference was she wasn’t seventeen. Unless she got married at thirteen, she had to be at least forty- five since her bio on the inside jacket fold said she had been married for twenty five years with two teenage daughters.
The person I am speaking of was or rather is Denise Austin of famed workout DVD kind, like Jane Fonda fame. I have never worked out to a Denise Austin video, but I have seen her on morning talk shows back when I was a young mother and she was too. She is a successful famous woman who made a business and a name for herself in the fitness boom way before YouTube and Amazon TV. I picked up the book somewhat startled at myself for doing so. I am not generally interested in books like this screaming at me that skinny is the desired word of choice for my future body. Skinny coming from who has a six pack and her real breasts, probably still has her ovaries too for that matter. But for some reason there in the independent book store filled with my peeps and their natural hair color and birkenstocks I bent down and picked the book up. As my fingers made their way to lift the book I did look out the corners of my right and left side to see who might be witnessing because this book was a bit embarrassing to be seen with. Its cover not only screamed SIDE EFFECT: SKINNY, it had a disclaimer on the bottom. WARNING: Reading this book may cause thinner waistline, toned tummy, slender thighs & a sudden burst in confidence.
I laughed a loud. Denise, really? Did you just come from a time warped seventies Cosmopolitan magazine? For some reason I found myself opening the book to the peruse its pages filled with “Denise’s Tips for the first time!” Words like long awaited and redefining the word skinny showing us that “you don’t have to be rail thin to look gorgeous and live healthier.” I stood there speechless, but enamored with her in a twisted sort of way in what seemed like a very dated message. If I don’t have to be rail thin to look gorgeous, then why is she showing her rail thin scantily clad body as an example? She got my attention. As I read on in this granola book store , she, just in the jacket cover alone, used the word tummy and trim making me think I was reading a Good Housekeeping magazine article on keeping my man happy.
I decided to buy the book. I don’t know why. Something came over me as I read her encouraging yet dated words of wisdom. I felt like I was cheating on my entire female tribe by buying this book so I slithered over to the counter purchasing a second book that I could place on top so as not to be discovered by the gender neutral person at the front desk. Did she just roll her eyes at me? Did she think I was to be pitied for having the type of personality and self talk to warrant the purchase of this book? I wanted to let her know I was buying this book as more female research than as a diet book. I don’t believe in diets or diet books I wanted to say, but I didn’t because actually turns out I didn’t care what she thought about my purchase. What a relief.
When I got back to my room, I opened the book and began reading. I can’t remember the last time I read a book like this if ever, but I loved her enthusiasm for skinny, flatter tummies, smaller hips and yes she even used the word sexier (Helen Gurley Brown would have been proud). Her tips and lists of how to start this seven day fat blast diet (which by the way is twenty one days) is really designed for women or ladies as she likes to call us to motivate us with her cheery words who have a lot of time. Her Super Splurge lists on the mandated “cheat day” on the seventh day of each seven day run are foods I wouldn’t let pass my lips even on a dip into the dark side. Kit Kats, Hershey bars, “You may have anything you want on Super Splurge day as long as you keep it to under 1500 calories!” She proclaims like this is some anointing of goodness coming our way. Am I reading a Saturday Night Live skit? For some reason 1500 calories and Super Splurge seem to be on opposite ends of the reality spectrum. I forge ahead though for some reason I am sucked into Denise Austin’s approach despite its warped sense of reality. If my new gal pal Denise was sitting down on the couch next to me she would likely be saying, “Alayne, did you try any of it before you criticized my theories?” My reply would of course be no Denise, I haven’t, but I am open to giving you a try.
I really enjoy starting new food plans, I love the beginnings of them, the shopping to fill up my cabinets and fridge with all of the allotted foods from the convenient grocery list provided at the back end of the book. I love the Sunday prep day cutting and dicing and slicing the inordinate amount of vegetables to get my little plastic baggies ready for quick on the go snacking when I am running late (or starving because I have been eating vegetables for twenty one straight days whatever comes first). There is hope and starry eyed dreams of the twenty first day where the promises of flatter tummies and slimmer hips await. Her advice is counter intuitive to all of the Whole 30 advice I have worshiped mainly because it has worked for me.
Ditch the mirror, the hell with the scale, figure out what foods make you feel shitty (sugar, wine, carbs) and bask in the glory of not having to worry about how you look (because as a feminist and modern woman, looks shouldn’t matter) but how you feel, this is the desired goal. Denise on the other hand aims for us ladies to look skinny, to have flat tummies, which in turn will give us a sense of confidence we didn’t know we were lacking. She wants me to weigh myself at the same time every other day. I can’t remember the last time I got on a scale (which by the way could be the reason her exclaimed Side Effect: Skinny title got my attention. I don’t have to weigh myself to know I have gained weight since my surgery and let’s face the truth here, there is only so long I can use surgery and recovery as a scapegoat for my gain). Excuses and more excuses, but I read through her fat blasting plan with its prescribed daily commitments like morning stretching every day, Denise Austin’s super slimming seven minute walking training every other day and countless other lifestyle changes that require a full time job. But Denise manages to fit it all in and she has a multi million dollar fitness empire, so anyone can!
She has countless ways for us ladies (I am not exaggerating here when I say every time she uses the word ladies to motivate, I have a vision of Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale coaching her lovely handmaids to ready themselves for their “celebration nights” with their commanders in Gilead) to move even when we weren’t aware we could be. When we are talking on the phone, (walking the length of whatever room you are standing in), standing in grocery store lines (five tummy tucks), brushing your teeth (leg lifts of course) and about ten other possibilities I was completely unaware of until Denise and I met in her book. Denise in her happy blonde and sparkly way has made me realize that fitness and food planning can be a happy choice we make for better lives for all!
She believes in low fat everything. Has she read the sugar content in all of this lowfat? This is a bit of a shift from all of the otherwise rationale nutrition thinking I have been reading about since I had my first diagnosis almost four years ago. She believes in egg whites mostly, rather than those very fashionable egg yolks that have caused me to buy four dozen eggs at a time from my local farmer (6.00 a dozen thank you very much) She believes that Super Splurge days aka cheat days should consist of an array of shitty candy and fast food which she gives the calorie counts for. Two tablespoons of m and m’s, 1 reeeses, 2 small Halloween candy size Hershey bars, 1 small Wendy’s chocolate shake. Even when I have done a super splurge BD (Before Denise) it surely wasn’t with m and m’s. And even if it were, does smiley Denise think I am the type of woman who would eat only two Tablespoons of m and m’s? As I said though, I am going to give this a try to see if all of the promises deliver. The one thing about me is when I park my mind on a new food plan, three weeks is easy. Who knows, maybe I will be fifteen pounds lighter, thinner hips and flatter tummied. I don’t think a diet is going to make me more confident, though, I think building my own business empire, buying a 3900 square foot historic building on my own, three breast cancer surgeries in three years, not to mention two fabulous new tits, have secured my place in the confidence checklist.
Suicide, heroin overdoses, cancer. This year so far seems to be the year of exits. Is it just because I am getting older and life is just happening at a more expedited pace? Or is everyone just getting sicker and sadder needing to depart from this place sooner than planned? I have no idea, but what I do know is that it is wicked sad. I am wicked sad. I am tired of grief. Weary of grieving and feeling teary eyed. I am drained from worrying about whether cancer will return in my own body because I just want to drink wine and eat ice cream and stop the madness of concern that every non organic, non clean food item that enters into my mouth and down my throat is an irresponsible decision that will affect my life later down the road.
Gretchen died. A vibrant and disciplined woman I had the pleasure of working out behind for well over four years died after an almost year long battle with serious cancer that started in her breast and had a party on her bones and everywhere else. She was given not more than a few months and said a loud and bad ass Fuck You All making it to her niece’s graduation, I’m guessing her personal carrot, a place to get to, a goal to make it past. Strong heart from all of that working out and eating clean kept her heart alive and strong while the rest of her faded away around her.
Gretchen was young and healthy and I loved working out around her as she had the most incredible hair, wore the coolest workout clothes and looked great in them. She was one of my role models for increasing weights as she was always using the heaviest weights and while I was recovering from my surgeries I squatted and chest pressed in awe of her ability. She was a pint sized powerhouse, had the kindest of smiles and a loving warmth in her eyes. Some may even call her a gentle spirit. She was the type of person who you would describe as someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly.
When she first got her diagnosis I offered her some of my stash of medical marijuana stash. She was in a lot of pain and I recognized her descriptions from when my brother was first diagnosed. This is when she likely thought that all of the poison and protocols that would be offered as the doctor version of Hope in a Jar had the magic outcome the drugs claimed. She looked me square in the eye and told me she had been sober for years and didn’t do drugs. This was before. Before the pain got so bad that years of sobriety likely went out the door because all of that sobriety didn’t really help her health in the end. I hope she had a nice big glass of Brunello before she was too sick to drink it, I hope she had a triple scoop banana split from Newport Creamery and a big fat medically prescribed joint as she faced her very uncertain future.
All of her yoga, her weight training, her kindness, her clean eating, her light- though it mattered to the people who were lucky to know her, it mattered greatly to her many siblings and nieces who loved her, it didn’t matter to Gretchen because in the end, she died. Another superchick gone. I don’t know about you but I am fucking sick and tired of trying to see the bright side of things. After my workout today with my fellow chicks who all knew her and worked out with her too, I am guessing the majority of us are having a big glass of red tonight and probably a hot fudge sundae because all of this is out of our control. For those of us who think we have some control over the simple fact that not one of us gets out alive, we are kidding ourselves surely. So tonight if you see me out and about, I’m the one with the sassy chip on my Proseco glass. I am honoring the chicks we have lost this week by doing what I want. A glass of bubbly, a kickass pizza and a hot fudge sundae. To Gretchen. May your bright light be as lovely bad ass wherever you have landed and may we continue to feel your presence all the days of our lives.
Besides going to the beach as often as possible, riding my bike and gardening are two of my favorite extra curricular activities I enjoy as soon as the temperature climbs over fifty. After watering and transplanting little zinnia shoots into some pots because even though I know I am supposed to thin out the seedlings, I can’t bring myself to just throw them into the compost, I admired the progress of my garden so early into this early June. Lavender, thyme and rosemary abound, as do numerous other herbs. All of these years later after my first romance with herbs in 1990 when I used them at my wedding, they still make me smile at every turn.
I wake up eagerly and throw on my gardening dress and red rubbery plastic Birkenstocks, throw my hair up into a pile on the top of my head and make my way out with my Life is Good coffee mug to inspect what miracles have transpired in just one evening away. It is miraculous and even though I know things are going to grow with mostly predictable regularity, I am still in awe of everything that does.
The same is true when I get on my bike and I witness cardinals singing to me and I look up over and over and see him in multiple trees, almost like he is following me reminding me like he always does that yes, Alayne, you are on the right path. Keep going. Michael C. and I decided to head out for a lengthy bike ride yesterday as the original beach day plans were kiboshed because the Sunday early june weather can’t seem to get the message that it is ok to be a beach day. The air was cool, cloud covers helped keep the path from ever feeling anything but comfortable and we started our pedaling on the East Bay Bike Path with no destination in mind. No money, no cell phones, no time limit, just a couple bottles of water and some long sleeve shirts in case we got chilly from the unseasonable cooler breeze.
There is great freedom in just picking up and going with no destination in mind. Would we do the entire bike path or just ride to Barrington and turn around? Would we venture off the path and do the Rumstick loop as the sign at the corner of the bike path and County Rd. suggested on its neat little blue lined map? No idea, but between the enormous quantity of nature at every pedal, we just kept pedaling.
Swans and their babies in the far corner of Brickyard Pond that you could miss if you were busy not noticing, geese teaching their babies to waddle like their mamas up ahead in the clearing on the right. A deer in an open space trying to find some chow looking quite vulnerable and lost. A cat hunting for mice on the prowl with a red metal tag around her neck so no one would confuse her with a feral cat and try to rescue her from the wild. Then there were not only the Osprey nests, but the majestic ospreys themselves standing proud and high feeding their babies always taking my breath away at their size, their prowess and their squawking sounds. We kept pedaling never checking in with each other, taking it easy and slow as the extreme bikers flew by us kindly screaming “on your left!” warning us not to make a sudden veer to the left that would cause a bike path pile up ruining an otherwise perfect Sunday.
East Bay Bike Path is for most of part flat and easy. (http://www.dot.ri.gov/community/bikeri/eastbay.php.) It runs for 14.3 miles making a round trip of almost thirty miles. Every single time I am on it’s flat trail and I am on it a lot, I am never bored because the plants change, so does the perfume of them, so does the color. Nature never disappoints and nature is even brighter without the distraction of a cell phone close by. The sights and sounds of the people riding also never changes. All shapes and sizes, all forms of dress, helmets, no helmets, runners, walkers, roller bladers, dog walkers, training wheels, first time family rides, first time bike pathers and everything in between, the bike path is a welcome Sabbath from a busy week of work, play and volunteering that made up my last week.
A good old fashioned bike ride on the East Bay Bike Path that is less than a half a mile from my house is a perfect Sunday on a day that is not a beach day. One I needed for my body yes, but one I needed more for my soul. As we continued to ride and kept riding I could feel the pull of the end as our destination and Michael and I realized that we had both only done the entire bike path once or twice. As we made our way to India Point Park in Providence, we realized we could have continued on and ridden to Alforno or the East Side without having to cross 195 because of the brilliant path allowing us a safe journey over it. We didn’t have our wallets so we instead, just found a place at the park on a bench, gulped our water and rested. After a few moments, a kind gentleman visiting from Atlanta wandered over and asked us about great places to eat Lobster. He was planning on taking the ferry to Newport the next day and was looking for some recommendations. He hit the lottery with the two of us since Newport and Bristol are our self proclaimed expertise and we began singing the praises of our beautiful East Bay. After a lengthy discussion, we realized that we still had a fifteen mile ride back and the wind was against us giving us a little extra resistance for the ride back.
We had plans to celebrate our long and fulfilling journey, a good cold glass of white wine for me and an IPA for Michael, some fried oysters at Christians. After that we made our way back to the front porch for a cup of tea and some dancing and in bed by nine. Sleep and whatever else came our way was a perfect way to end a perfect Sunday. As I reflected on my day, my weekend, my life to this point, I once again felt humbled and happy with everything that has happened to me to lead me to this present moment. #LUCKYINDEED.
I wish I were the type of person who could easily have just one glass of wine or one brownie or shop for just one pair of shoes. I wish I were the type of cool chick who could stay on a consistent budget or stick to one goal I set for myself and just make it a lifestyle change because I feel so frickin good when I do. I wish I were the type of woman who had the discipline to stay focused on one idea and completely execute it from beginning to end.
But I am not. And this is who I am. And I accept myself for who I am. And I am wondering if any woman I know actually is this type of person. Where does the notion of all of this start to finish and completely following through on all of the ridiculous amounts of goals I set for myself even come from?
“You’re too hard on yourself,” my friend who is also the manager of my Providence location said when I was telling her that I wasn’t drinking (again). Of course she is of the French variety- stunning, thin, and eats chocolate and one, or more likely two, glasses of wine every day since I have known her for about thirteen years. I am too hard on myself- always have been. The good news is that I completely recognize this in myself. The upside of this trait is that it propels success. In business and in so many other facets of my life this invisible driving force makes me jump out of bed in the morning and carpe fucking diem pretty much 365 give or take a few.
I have a lot of energy and I really rely on my daily inner compass to set me on a path for the day. I may wake up one day with a plan and look outside and end up doing something totally different. This is one of the many luxuries of owning my own business- I don’t have to answer to anyone except my beating heart. This works for me most of the time.
My pattern with eating and drinking and spending money though comes from a long line of women before me and around me who have struggled with these three hot buttons. Like Pavlov’s dog I have found myself in auto pilot for most of my life trying to lose weight or see how long I can go without eating sugar or shopping and when I just can’t do it anymore, I splurge. Go big or go home type splurging. Almost self defeating on purpose and I know that this sounds absolutely crazy. But here I am. No Cape. Stripped and Bare. Open and Honest. Fucking Pure Raw Annoying Truth. But as I get older and head towards my sixties which still seem so far off but really less than seven years away, I am getting more comfortable with the ebb and flow of alayne’s brain. What I am curious about each and every time I set some off on some new plan is that despite the fact that I feel so good, great actually, I wonder what makes me do the slide backwards into almost manic shopping, eating or drinking.
With the wisdom of retrospect, I do know what causes the downhill slide and each time it happens I get closer to the realization of where its momentum stems from. But seriously, how much can I blame my mother? I am a grown up and I haven’t lived with her for almost forty years. It is too easy to blame external forces when the work that needs to be done always is the internal ones. I think that when a mom button gets pushed though even when it is not from my mother, but the essence of behavior that is familiar, this is when the dive down is usually the cause. In this case it is because of a major change in what I thought was a deep and solid friendship and this sad shift has created some apparent need to go rogue on myself. And this time around I have consciously allowed it to take its hold and just have fun with the escape. This is an interesting turn for me because in the slide south this time, I knew what I was doing in the middle of it and I just went with it trusting that it is what I needed to care for myself. Knowing that the jump in with both feet doesn’t have to sink me. I can come back up to the surface for air and swim out, dry off, get dressed and feel refreshed from the plunge. This is a unique shift for me as in the past when I have unconsciously and recklessly shopped till I dropped, (often a car purchase, which I know sounds completely insane) eaten sugar with total abandonment and every other carbohydrate that I had previously deprived myself of had lead me in a downward spiral of irritability and slight depression, this is no longer a part of who I am. I am so in tune with my body and my mind that I know myself inside these days. Emotional eating and shopping is definitely my nemesis as it is for lots of women I know. I write about it openly because I do think that the conversation helps us know we are all part of the same party. It is the awareness of the triggers and how the triggers show up in my behavior that is most evident in my quest for constant growth. It is like I am my own science project and I am constantly researching what makes me tick.
We all have our ups and downs, I have learned how to lasso the downs with a little more frequency and poignancy, but more important patience. I have always said that grief is important. We can not circumvent it, we must go through it. When someone dies, grief comes more naturally, but grief shows up as a force in many other life experiences. Loss of friendships must be grieved too. Downs are a part of life; Life coming at us as my dear man likes to frequently say is part of the life we live. When the dearest of friendships leave us without so much as a goodbye, I think it is good enough reason to buy five pairs of shoes and let the boxes lie at my feet as I spoon hot fudge sauce on my ice cream and drink a glass of proseco with a tear in my eye. After all what is chocolate and bubbly for anyway?