Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What's Your Pleasure?

Mine happens to be a fully restored, very cha-cha, antique red velvet sofa. I refer to it simply as “The Velvet.”

I am one of the least materialistic people I know. “Things” hold no charm or great value to me. I live in a modest little home furnished with hand-me-downs, yard sale bargains, and do-it-yourself pressboard furniture. Each piece is clean, in good condition, and serves whatever it’s intended purpose is, but none of my furniture was purchased “new”at a furniture store, none of it is heirloom quality, and none of it is what you’d call “chic.” Don’t get me wrong, I take care of my things and appreciate what I have, but none of it screams “HOUSE BEAUTIFUL.” So, why the very Zsa Zsa velvet sofa amid the rest of the bargain basement specials?

Basically, the answer is this: The Velvet is a sensual delight. That’s right… I said it’s a sensual delight. When you come home from work at the end of a work day, be it a tough day or not, what do you want to do? Collapse? Maybe have a drink? A hot shower? Five minutes to yourself? No matter what your “unwind of choice” is, it’s a sensual experience. And quite frankly, we all deserve to indulge in sensual experiences every single day.

Most people, I find, limit their sensual experiences in life to just a few garden variety things. Sex and food seem to be the two biggest ones, and most people I know don’t have sex every day. And, unfortunately, many of us, due to schedules being out of control, don’t experience food as a sensual experience every day, either. Food and sex are great sensual experiences, but, are you aware of the sensuality of other aspects of life? Things like textures, scents, colors, shapes, and sounds; how do these things affect your thoughts, moods and sense of sensuality?

When you come home and you’re stressed out, whatever it is that you do to shake off that stress should be a true pleasure and it should recharge your batteries. It should put you in touch with what life is really all about, as opposed to meetings and deadlines and adhering to political correctness all day. When you walk through the door of your home, whether it’s a tiny apartment or a spacious five bedroom house on a two acre lot or anything in between, you should be able to indulge in something that reminds you that you’re human. Human beings have five senses, and those senses should be fed, and fed well, every single day.

Take the time to reacquaint yourself with how simple things like the feel of the sun on your skin affect you. How sensitive your taste buds are to your favorite flavor. How does the smell of a wood fire on a crisp day make you feel? Notice the colors of things, the feel of fabrics against your skin, the scent of your soap or the way the water runs over your body when you stand under a hot shower. Feel things. Notice things. Be aware of all of your sensory experiences in everyday life. It’s what we’re here for.

Think about what you really love. What brings you pleasure? Among my many pleasures… I happen to love soft things like blankets and pillows. I love rich fabrics and jewel tone colors. When I saw The Velvet, I knew I had to have it. It is the one item in my home that was a financial splurge, and I don’t regret it. The fact that it’s an “antique” … bah! Who cares? It’s there to feed my sensory pleasure and I use it every day. I lie on it to take naps on the weekend. I entertain guests on it. Ultimately, it’s an inanimate object and I don’t obsess over “not ruining” it; instead, I celebrate it. You really should never save anything “special” for a special occasion, because life is a special occasion. I can’t bear to think of The Velvet in some stuffy sitting room never being sat on, enjoyed, appreciated, and loved. It’s beautiful, curvy, soft and warm… it’s made to be treated like a lady: with respect, admiration, and appreciation for it’s ability to feed your need for sensuality.  

So... What's your pleasure?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Does Money Grow On Trees? No... But It's OK, You're Already Rich.

 “The money tree is said to bring good luck and good fortune to your home or business. Its positive energy will eliminate the stagnant chi in your Feng Shui home.”

At least, that’s what the tag on the little Pachira Aquatica said. Since it was my first home, I thought I could use all the luck I could get. The mini tree was about a foot tall when I bought it, and since I had a bay window, it seemed like a cool thing to give myself as a housewarming present. That was six years ago.

In the time that this little plant has been in my window growing into a four foot high tree, many things have happened. For example, my Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Fortunately, and I don’t use that word lightly at all, it was caught early (thank the Good Lord that he was vigilant about getting his tests when he was supposed to) and he was able to have surgery and is fine now. If that were the only thing I felt fortunate for, it would be enough, believe me… but there’s more.

Not the least of which is this horrible recession we’ve been in for what seems like forever. I also went through a divorce and took over home-ownership on my own. There have been times when I’ve been so broke that I didn’t have groceries, or enough gas to make it back and forth to work for the entire week without humbly having to ask for a loan from a relative, friend, or co-worker. Countless people have lost their jobs around me. Toyota put out tons of safety recalls, causing panic and fear in so many Corolla drivers… and I happen to have a Corolla, too.

Luckily, though, I did not get laid off from my job. I did have to forfeit overtime and absorb some additional work – but I still considered myself privileged to be employed. I never missed a mortgage payment. My car wasn’t part of the recalls. Although I had to ditch cable TV and change my cell plan, shut off my long distance calling on my home phone, give up Martial Arts classes, not use my clothes dryer anymore and stop going to the hairdresser, nothing BAD has happened.

I haven’t starved. I haven’t lost anything like my home or my car. I managed to find some ways to make extra money and cut back my bills in order to survive the economy as it has been. I’ve been extremely fortunate to get help when I’ve needed it from family and some incredibly good friends. Do I attribute these things to my plant? Well, no, but over the years that I’ve had it, this little plant has grown and grown, been repotted twice, dropping the odd leaf here and there, and eventually gone from barely visible in the window to over-filling the entire bay. Today I had to take the plant down from the window sill and prune it. It had been getting so tall and wild that it was starting to look unkempt. I felt a little nostalgic for it as I cut off it’s upper-most branches in order to force it to fill in wider rather than higher. I reflected on all that’s happened in the time I’ve had it. All that I’ve been through has been nothing more than mildly inconvenient compared to what some people are enduring, and I’m acutely aware that I am blessed.

Did my plant bring me a million dollars? Of course not. Do I believe it’s good luck? Probably not… but if you look at things from a practical stand-point, I guess it’s all about your perspective. I've taken good care of my little friend the Pachira Aquatica, and it's flourished. Has it provided me with "good fortune" in return? Well, I may not be rolling in cash but, plant or no plant, when I look at all the things that could have happened over the past six years, there’s no doubt that I’ve had incredible good fortune. I’m extremely thankful.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

No, I'm not "on a diet."

We’ve all heard that annoying line “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change.”  This is true, but don’t you get completely fed up with over-used statements like this? Especially when you’re trying to lose weight and all you really want is for it to happen, and to be able to keep eating the foods you like in the process? I mean really, who wants to give up their favorite things? Pretty much nobody, as far as I can tell.

I also get really sick and tired of television ads for diet programs, exercise equipment, or DVD’s promising you incredible results “with just 20 minutes a day every other day” with teeny little fine print that says “results not typical” at the bottom of your screen. Believe me, I would love nothing more than to make 5 easy payments of $19.99 and wake up tomorrow morning a buff, toned, size 2 but the fact is, that just doesn’t happen. And if you think any of those people with six-pack abs standing by the pool with their arms around each other’s waists were ever as doughy and soft as Homer Simpson you’re really kidding yourself. Trust me, they looked that way when they were hired to do the infomercial; they didn’t get that way in four weeks with a little plastic machine every other day for 20 minutes a day.

As for “diets” … please let’s just not get me started. Anybody who tries to tell you to cut out a food group should be ignored. In fact… anyone who tells me to cut out a food group can just exit my earshot post-haste before they get hit with a flying shoe. And please don’t give me any crap like “no eating after 7:00 pm” or “drink 6-8 cups of green tea a day” or any other such ridiculous nonsense.

There’s so much “information” all over the place about diets and exercise and what is or isn’t a healthy body weight or how to achieve one… it’s just craziness. Anyone who really needs and wants to lose weight is going to become discouraged almost immediately trying to figure out what “the right thing to do” actually is. So what IS the right thing to do? I hate to say it, but the fact is, you can’t “go on a diet.” You have to make a lifestyle change. Awful thing to say, I know, but brace yourself because I’m going to spout off a bunch more completely over-used statements, too! Bear with me, though, because all of what I’m going to say actually worked for me, and none of it is all that difficult. The main thing, above and beyond any advice that anyone can give you, though, is simply this: MOTIVATION. Without that, you won’t actually do anything. Get motivated and stay motivated, because we only live once and you deserve to be happy and healthy.

After that, the right way for anyone… ANYONE… in my opinion:

Step #1: Don’t look at is as “losing weight.” Look at it as “getting yourself healthy.”
The best thing anyone can do for themselves is attempt to be healthier. Maybe you don’t feel unhealthy. Maybe you just don’t like the way you look, or maybe you just want to fit back into a favorite pair of jeans. But just like all of our teachers used to tell us: You can always do better. (*You see what I did there? Another totally over-used statement. Told you!) The fact is, if you made healthier food choices and added more movement to your lifestyle, whether you intended it or not, your weight and shape would also change. Consider the “weight loss” just a happy side-effect of getting healthier and feeling better.

Step#2: Tailor your “lifestyle change” to your own specific needs.
Nearly every single diet or exercise plan has the disclaimer “See your doctor before starting this or any other (diet/exercise)plan” … another one… but honestly, I actually did go get a physical when I decided to make “big changes” and it really did give me a jumping off point. I found out that I have slightly elevated cholesterol. Maybe you don’t. My blood pressure is just fine. Maybe yours isn’t. I wasn’t at risk for diabetes. Maybe you are. I have some arthritis in my joints. Maybe you don’t. Some people may have a vitamin deficiency or anemia… you see what I’m getting at? Get a physical and find out where you, personally, are in the grand scheme of things and what you need to work on in order to make positive changes. There are any number of things that can contribute to how you need to adjust what you are or aren’t doing in order to get healthier, which brings me to my third piece of advice.

Step #3: Educate yourself.
After you find out what your specific needs are, do some research. When I got my blood tests back and they indicated that my cholesterol was high, the doctor’s office told me that they’d send me an eating plan via snail mail. Naturally, I never got any such thing. But no matter, I have a brain and I’m more than capable of finding out what it is I need to do in order to help myself. So are you. The research I did on high cholesterol took on a kind of snowball effect, too. Finding out about how the body processes foods and manufactures cholesterol kept opening up other areas for research. I just kept going. I read about all different kinds of foods, about chemical additives, about the food industry… anything that seemed like it might provide me with useful information. I read voraciously, always keeping in mind that you can’t believe everything you read. The great thing about being human is that we can make up our own minds about things. We can think for ourselves, we can apply logic and reasoning, and we can decide what we think is best for ourselves. In any area of life – always do this. Just don’t be a sheep! (Ok, that’s a post for another day…) Really, though, there are endless resources out there and you’ll be surprised at how motivated you get when you’re armed with knowledge about your own health. And, don’t expect your doctor’s office to send you that eating plan. If they do, that’s fantastic, but the reality in this country is this: Our primary care physicians are completely over-run with appointments and can hardly keep up. Do yourself a favor and be proactive about your own health.

Step #4: MOVE IT!!!
Oh…. Nike says it best. Just do it. Any form of movement is better than no form of movement. But, the key to exercise is to find something you actually enjoy. I’m baffled by people who go to the gym, and say “I hate going to the gym.” Uh… then why do you do it? There are a billion ways to get exercise. If you have dogs, walk them. Play Frisbee with them. If you have a bike, ride it. Maybe you have an old Jane Fonda VHS tape hiding in the closet that you used to love. Nobody has to know! Honestly if anyone had told me ten years ago that I would become hopelessly addicted to martial arts and cry a river every Tuesday and Thursday night for MONTHS after having to give it up (for financial reasons) I would have laughed hysterically in their face, but it happened. Mom always said: You never know what you might like until you try it. I found out that I love lifting weights. I love punching a heavy bag. I also found out that I hate jumping rope. Do what you like to do. Try lots and lots of things. Try things you think you won’t like. You might be shocked. I never would have thought I’d like yoga, but I tell you, if you have any kind of back or joint pain get your butt into a yoga class ASAP. It’s an odd combination of relaxing and challenging at the same time and BOY OH BOY does it alleviate pain. Even within yoga, there are many different styles that you can try in order to locate one that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be the treadmill unless you really like the treadmill. Get yourself an mp3 player if you don’t already have one, and put your favorite music on it and just get moving. Even doing the simple things like parking really far away from the store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator DO make a difference.

Step #5: Make good food choices.
Yeah, I know… “DUH!!” Really, though, this is probably the most argued portion of “health” that I ever discuss with anyone. It’s something I am really, really passionate about, as well. When I say to “educate yourself,” I beg you to educate yourself in this area, as well. Food is something very personal to everyone. If there’s one thing I could never, ever do, it’s allow someone to say “Here’s your shopping list and menu plan for the week, this is what you will eat.” And then look at the list, see 50 things I either don’t like at all or would not get any enjoyment out of eating, and stick to that for the simple sake of winding up in smaller pants. When it comes to food, it doesn’t take a genius to know that a Big Mac is not health food, but kale is really good for you. We’re not idiots. We all know that a salad is a better choice than fettuccini Alfredo, but I hate salad and I love fettuccini Alfredo. We also all know that portion control is a major factor in what we eat, but if you’re currently eating double or triple portions, it’s really hard, if not impossible, to cut back to proper portions just because you decided “I start on Monday.” My advice where your food choices are concerned is this:

Don’t torture yourself; Do educate yourself.

For me, the food choice portion of my life is not difficult because I am not hard to feed. I’m not very picky; I like just about everything. My choice, after all my research, was to cut out fast foods, fried foods, processed foods, massed produced “junk foods” and to consume as much organic food as was available to me. This might not work for you. I’m not suggesting that you do what I do. But, I will explain why I chose to go this route.

For one thing, the research I did on food additives and preservatives just plain grossed me out and made me mad. I could dedicate an entire blog just to that. Secondly, by cutting out the items I mention, I was pretty much on an eating plan that would lower my cholesterol without even trying. Thirdly, by purchasing organics with the same food budget that I had previously been spending on much lower cost “processed” foods I was able to control portions simply because, for example, if you only have 6 eggs for the week, you aren’t going to have a three egg omelet every day of the week.

Pick nutritious foods that you like and eat correct portions. Don’t try to starve yourself and don’t try to force yourself to eat things you don’t like. If you go to a birthday party, have the cake. Maybe you don’t finish the whole piece, there’s no law against that. But torturing yourself is not the goal here, and it won’t get you results because eventually you’re going to say “This is awful, I am unhappy living like this” and you’re going to blow off your plan. Read up on nutrition, read food labels, and try new things. Hang out in the produce section. It starts to look really pretty and mouth watering.

Step #6: Get your required amount of sleep.
This is actually really, really important. The amount of sleep is different for all of us, but we all need proper sleep. Some people only require six hours, and some people require as many as nine. I have discovered that for me, the magic number seems to be seven hours. This is based on the fact that no matter what time I go to bed, if I allow my body to wake up naturally (as opposed to with an alarm clock) it is virtually always after exactly seven hours. When I was younger, I required nine. I’m not sure when it changed, but I am always at my best now when I’ve had my seven hours. Figure out what you need, and if you have to, go to a sleep lab and get tested if you have sleep issues. It’s really not a big deal to go, and it makes a huge difference in how you feel and how you function.

Step #7: Be patient!
It’s very true: Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have all come to expect instant results in life. I know I am sometimes guilty of standing in front of the microwave screaming “Hurry uuuuuup!!!!” I get frustrated when I’ve “been good” and don’t see the scale move for a few days, and it’s hard to not lose motivation sometimes. But if you keep reminding yourself that the goal is to get healthy, and if you concentrate more on how you feel rather than how you look or what you weigh, it’s much easier to be patient. The weight WILL come off. It’s a scientific certainty. But as you move towards getting healthy don’t concern yourself with bathing suit season or the class reunion coming up or any other event that you may have to attend. Just concentrate on how you feel, and how you want to feel as a result of making positive changes in your life.

Remember: Healthy, happy, confident, and energetic are sexy as hell. Make THOSE your goals. It’ll show, I promise!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Can you be a babe at forty?


When I was just an awkward pre-teen, I read an article in a women’s magazine that said that women shouldn’t expect to look like Sophia Loren at 40 if they hadn’t looked like Brooke Shields at 14, Farrah Fawcett at 20, and so forth. (Of course, at the time Sophia Loren was in her 40’s. I have to say, even though that was many years ago, she’s still someone to look at and say “Damn, I hope I look that good at her age!”) The point of the article was that your bones are what they are. Your frame is your frame. Your shape is your shape. You aren’t going to suddenly get taller, or grow longer legs, or have a smaller pelvis. You can’t give yourself more prominent cheek bones or an entirely different shape than you ever had through some fad diet or exercise program, but you can sure as hell be the best that YOU can be at any age.
As time passed and I developed into a teenager and then into a “woman”… I was pretty smoking hot if I do say so myself. I was blessed with good genes and I was pretty darn happy with what I saw in the mirror. I never felt jealous of other women. I was perfectly happy being ME. Maybe that sounds conceited or arrogant… and maybe it is… but it’s the truth. I really did like my body, and I really was happy with my looks.
Around the age of 25, I crossed that line we all cross where I realized that I wasn’t 17 anymore and actually had to watch what I ate or I would begin to gain weight. Even at that, it was only my 20’s and I was still easily able to drop a few pounds. Barely an effort and the extra weight would just drop away. (Oh, to be young!) I was pretty active, working retail and not sitting on my butt all day. I could just add a simple walk to the end of my day and drop five or ten pounds in no time.
Then, I met my ex-husband and we settled into a comfortable routine. Before long, bills piled up and I left retail to find a higher paying office job. I also stopped taking those walks, and stopped going out dancing with girlfriends on weekend nights. I stopped doing lots of things that burned calories and swapped that “single” lifestyle for cooking big dinners for my husband and his daughter. Meals which contained things I never ate on a regular basis before. Tons of red meat, Pillsbury biscuits, and “side dishes” smothered in heavy sauces. It was what wives did, wasn’t it? Cook meals for their families? Bring home their share of the bacon and fry it up in the pan? Maybe, but before I knew it I had packed on over 50 pounds.
I say “over 50 pounds” because that was the point at which I stopped weighing myself. I mean, what was the point? Every time I stepped on the scale it just went up a few more pounds. It didn’t happen overnight, but the torture of watching the number creep up every time I got onto one was enough to make me stop stepping on. It didn’t really stop me from eating, though. I mean, those meals were DELICIOUS to me at the time.
Anyway, by the time I was ready to get divorced ten years later, I was so over-weight, out of shape, and unhealthy that I didn’t think I could ever feel good or look good again. I thought maybe I could lose weight, but I didn’t think it was going to make a difference other than maybe making it easier to climb a flight of stairs or carry the groceries into the house. I was dead wrong.
For completely unrelated reasons I ended my marriage. The first thing I did after that was toss the high calorie, low nutrient foods. I literally tossed everything in the kitchen out and went shopping to replace it all with REAL food. You know, fresh produce, whole grains, lean proteins, etc, and as much of it organic as I could get my hands on. Within a matter of weeks the heavy meals I’d been making for my ex now seemed repulsive to me, and the “back to healthy” regimen renewed my love for “real food.” (Is it wrong to say that I LOVE my own cooking?)
I also started working out and putting my health first. It was a lot of really hard work, but I managed to lose 35 pounds. Thank God muscles have a memory, and within less than a year I had a feminine shape again. I wasn’t perfect, but I had a waist and I could see my feet. Aside from pounds coming off, the healthier eating and the exercise also cleared up my skin, solved a bunch of digestive issues, and made me feel human and happy again. Thank goodness for endorphins!
As fate would have it, though, the economy crashed out and in order to make ends meet I had to give up a few things. One thing I gave up in order to save cash was Martial Arts classes, which I had become hopelessly addicted to. I also had to cut back on the organics and eventually I had to stop buying multi-vitamins, and pick and choose one or two produce items per shopping trip rather than buying a wide variety of fresh produce. Money was so tight, in fact, that there were weeks when I couldn’t grocery shop at all. Then, to frost the burnt cupcake, I went through a horrible break up with someone I was hopelessly in love with and became almost irretrievably depressed.
Slowly the pounds started creeping back on. A pound here, a pound there… until I speak to you today having gained back 15 pounds. It doesn’t sound like much, but considering I had only lost 35 and really probably needed to lose close to 60 to begin with, those 15 are a huge setback. I have nobody to blame but myself, and I know this. Sure, there are factors outside of my lack of effort that contributed to the pounds finding their way back onto me, but ultimately, I am the master of my body and my destiny, and I allowed myself to give in when the going got tough.
Now I look at myself in the mirror and think: “What happened to you? Where did all your energy and drive disappear to? Why are you not doing everything in your power to maintain your health and happiness?” Well, for several reasons, but none of them are good enough to warrant the fifteen pounds. And certainly none of them are good enough to warrant my feeling like complete crap. Now there is the prospect of taking my clothes off in front of someone new in my future, and the thought of it has motivated me to head back into the gym and turn from the dessert tray. But, even that has not been enough to truly give me back the mental edge I used to have when working out.
As luck would have it, I found myself staying at a friend’s house for a week recently to do some pet-sitting. Now, I don’t have cable television at home, so I was happy to park my unmotivated behind on her sofa for a week and watch movies and shows I usually don’t get to see. One of the movies I caught was The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei. If you’ve never seen it, you should, especially if you’re 40-ish and thought you were hot shit in the 80’s. It’s very humbling. Anyway…
I’m not one to be put off by nudity, and back in the day I was never very shy or modest… I loved my body and would have dropped my laundry in front of anyone. I mean, why not? I had nothing to be ashamed of; I was SMOKING hot. But those days are gone, and now I see only a shadow of myself when I’m in my birthday suit. Maybe seeing this film was fate? In The Wrestler, Miss Tomei plays a stripper past her prime. Now, when My Cousin Vinny was in theatres, Marisa and I had pretty much the same body, except I had bigger boobs. Now, I found myself looking at this woman, many years later, and she was so beautiful; still slender, toned, and sexy as hell despite her age.
I looked her up on and discovered that she’s actually six years OLDER than me. Which means, at the time of filming, she was 45. Here I am at 40 feeling like I’m not capable of looking as good, or at least close to as good as I did when I watched My Cousin Vinny. Well guess what, baby? You ain’t dead yet… and according to that ridiculous article I read when I was 11, if I was once a show-stopping hottie then I have no reason on earth not to be again. After all, your bones are what they are. Your frame is your frame. Your shape is your shape. You may gain and you may expand, but when you lose, if you are healthy about it and if you’re sensible and take proper care of your body – guess what? Your body is going to be the body it always has been underneath all that blubber. I mean, I don’t expect to look 17 years old again, but dammit, why should I settle for looking… well… quite frankly… anything less than “stunning for my age?” Why should any of us?
Obesity has been called an epidemic in this country over and over. We’ve all got high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and tons of other health issues due to the fact that we’re not taking good enough care of ourselves. Well, that stops here for this chick. 40 isn’t fatal. It’s a lack of taking care of yourself that can be. So, I say we get off our butts, drop the laundry in front of the mirror, take a good, long, sobering look at ourselves and decide we’re not going to settle for just “ok.”
Health first, people. And for the record, when you’re healthy on the inside, you’re smoking hot on the outside – NO MATTER WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE. Confidence, energy, and happiness are sexy as hell. Get to it! I’ll see you at the gym.