Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lisa's fat camp

So I don't have $10,000 for fat camp, or the inclination or time to stop my life and do some fad thing. I've decided instead to put myself on a strict food/exercise program and have that be my top priority. I am just finishing up my eighth week and am pleased with my general downward climb, slow and steady as it may be.

Here's the plan: I am back on Weight Watchers. I stick within my daily points limit and don't use much if any of the extra weekly points. I aim for 30 activity points a week. (For non-adherents, how WW's current iteration works is this: You're allotted a certain number of "points" to eat a day based on weight, age and activity level. My daily point level is 23. It will decrease as I lose weight and as I age. If I took a job entailing heavy physical activity, it would increase. Foods are assigned points value based on calories, fat and fiber. Roughly, 50 calories equals 1 point, though higher fiber reduces points and fat increases points. In addition, you are allowed to eat 35 points more over the course of a week, though I have less success when I eat many of the extra points.) In addition, you "earn" activity points by exercising or engaging in strenuous activity. Activity points can be swapped for food points, but I think only after you've used up your additional 35 weekly points, which I never come close to doing. So I never swap them.

A lot has been written/said about Weight Watchers. While it has its down sides, I personally really like the program. It's fairly easy to follow. If you follow it, it works. It takes a lot of the figuring and guesswork and game-playing out of weight loss for me. No foods are prohibited, so if I really want something that's high in points, I just figure out how to fit it in or I eat a small portion or I take a hard look at myself and realize that really I don't want it because it's not worth the points to me.

My exercise plan, like my eating plan, has been to take it one day at a time. I have been doing something just about every day -- sometimes more, sometimes less, but something. I generally walk Bandit, when I get up, on the little dirt road that we call Fishwick down in Ganther Hollow. It's 1.8 miles roundtrip, and sometimes I detour up into the woods. It's about a 35-minute walk at a moderate pace. Then, I either go to the gym and swim 40 or 50 laps or I go for a longer walk without the dog. The longest so far was walking from my house in Baldwin to PNC Park on the North Side, a little more than 8 miles, with a lot of hills. It took me just under 3 hours with a few stops to get some water and rest my feet. I hadn't had much sleep the night before or I would've enjoyed it more but I couldn't complain. The weather was perfect -- cool and a little misty rain near the end of the walk. I love walking through neighborhoods and seeing all the little diners and bars and daycares and churches. Pittsburgh has a lot of character and generally people are fairly friendly. Some of the neighborhoods were pretty trashed -- Beltzhoover in particular stood out as rundown and depressing and really needing some street crews out there picking up garbage off the streets.

I ended up at the Pirates game and they looked awful. I did get a free T-shirt and was amused by the bleacher bums -- a guy in a gorilla suit and another guy dressed as a pirate. They let no bad play by the Bucs go unnoticed and the comments were often vulgar and funny. Still, I got freezing cold and hadn't brought a jacket. So I left just as the 7th inning was starting and drove home for a shower before heading back to work (Lou had driven the car in that morning for me and parked it in the lot at the Clark Building, where I work).

I kind of have it in my head, punishing as that walk was, to do it every time there's a T-shirt Thursday throughout the season. I wouldn't mind company for the walk though I was fine by myself too -- lots of time to think, and accompanied by my old college roommate and friend Carol Curtis singing her CD "Pink Cafe" on my iPod. I was pretty darn sore sitting at my desk all night after that walk on concrete and had to take the next day real easy -- just walked Bandit and left it at that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

priorities, priorities

So, Lou is gone for a week and I am trying to keep myself in high gear.

I kicked butt this last week on the exercise front -- walked South Park, end to end plus extended the route through the woods a bit (5 miles). Walked to PNC Park for T-shirt Thursday, including surmounting Knox Avenue, which looked like a mother fucking Alp when I thought I had finished all the hills, and turned off Brownsville just to see that Monster of a Mountain looming ahead of me (8 miles). Did an Ohiopyle scrambling hike with the Pittsburgh Hiking Meetup group -- not horribly far but a fast pace for a short person like me, over a lot of rocks and roots, and in my rush I twisted my ankle badly near the beginning and struggled with it the rest of the way (6 miles). Plus two other days I swam -- 40 laps the first day; 50 the subsequent time. And I was very careful with food, especially careful not to overcompensate for the workouts. I was real pleased with my effort.

And then I got on the scale at weight watchers and had lost a whopping 0.6 pounds. Yup, six-tenths of a measly pound in a kickass week. I didn't let myself get too down about it -- as long as I'm in this for the long haul, I know overall it will contribute to my success. And I'm sure it'll show up at the scale next week. And if not, eventually. As long as I can keep pushing myself. That makes 7.8 pounds in seven weeks, which is not Biggest Loser rate (ridiculously fast) and a little slower than I would like. But still, I'm OK with it. I feel a ton better than when I started.

This is how it goes with me. I am on and it is really fairly easy to keep with it; or I am off and it's a daily struggle. And I have been on this time for 7 weeks and that feels great. But I am nervous about all the traveling over the next eight weeks -- Chicago, Florida, Maine/N.J., Chicago. It is harder for me to stay on track when I am not in my routine. But if I can keep my exercise level high and be strict about food without being obnoxious to myself (I am going to eat that kosher prime rib at Dad's that they serve every Saturday night. All of it. It may be all I eat all week. I may do the treadmill three times that day so I can have it. But I will eat it, and love it.) then I will be OK. Then I will get back here and surface in mid-June, and hope I have lost another 8 pounds. If I have I'll be nearly at my first big 10 percent goal. And that would be sweet.

Next time: priorities. Funny, I didn't get to it this time...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

i like my pittsburgh gray

I like my Pittsburgh gray
like silver with grit
bridge gray
steel gray
river gray
rain gray

the gray at the bottom
of bottomless
old coffee
gone gray with milk
explain that to the hapless fly
who thought it was liquid sky

The gray of the face of age
that answers the door
invites you to tour the knick-knacks
collected on off-season road trips
to the Outer Banks
to Pennsylvania's not-as-grand canyon
to the Maple Sugar Festival in Somerset
with the eighth grade in the '50s
whose alumni meet every ten years
at South Park or North Park or the edge of wood
behind the Eagles lodge
and wear pictures of themselves as teenagers
around their necks
like cutout dolls of historical eras
they read of and forgot
the thin gray smile
of been-there

Friday, March 26, 2010

4th Annual Yearly Commemorative Goofy Ass Post

OK, I admit, I can't get it together to write more than once a year or so. Life is bursting full and, much as I pretend in the back of my brain that I am a writer, I must not be, because, well, I don't write.

But I do have many ideas. Many, many ideas.

I want to write about the quirks of Pittsburgh, about the row of vinyl library-style armchairs outside the abandoned warehouse in Hazelwood and the old guy who sits in one of the chairs next to his dog, sitting in another, and how the two of them spend hours watching the trucks groan past, breathing in the smoky black crap the rigs spit out. I want to write about the Buena Vista Coffee Shop that opened on Buena Vista Street in the Mexican War Streets and the earnest owner, Brent, who never gets a day off and got roped into opening the coffee shop by his wife, who bakes all these amazing baked goods, even the biscotti; and how he wonders earnestly why, when he tells people his wife bakes all the amazing baked goods, all of us respond, "Even the biscotti?" I want to write of the entrance interviews of dogs conducted by doggie daycare centers; of great walks up and down staircases in great gritty neighborhoods; of Pirates opening day and the grand old tradition of cutting school to go to opening day and how it is that must be the only day of real hope in a Bucs fan's year.

That is not all I want to do. I want to write my "How to Cook Without a Cookbook Cookbook," where I lay out a general cooking guide for people who think they can't cook or need a recipe to make a cup of tea. It will contain the inspiration, the genesis of the idea that I got thirtysomething years ago, when my friend Roma (the eventual bridesmaid in charge of cigarettes) was broke but wanted a birthday cake for her boyfriend Ballistic Ed. Thank God Ed didn't make the cut eventually. But so when Roma says, "I don't have money to buy a cake," I say, "Why don't you make one," and she goes, "I can't bake," and I say, "Here's a recipe and all the ingredients," and she says, "But I don't know how," and so I read her the recipe, step by step, without embellishment, and she bakes a cake. And it turns out, yeah, fine. Except that it was for Ed, which is enough to sink any birthday cake and deflate any birthday balloon. It will contain the "add an egg" rule, the "add diced tomatoes" rule and I will have to spend days and weeks and months cementing the recipe ideas so they are reliable and yet not chalky and heavy like cement tends to be.

And I want to write kids' plays for schoolkids to put on, kind of plumped-up fairytales with wisecracking mice wearing shades and sucking on grass blades. And "Knit One, Curl Two: Combatting Sedentary Knitinaction with Good Eats and Ass-Kicking Workouts," a collection of knitting patterns matched with complementary healthful yet related recipes and Ass-Kicking exercise.

I want to publish Rob's "(my made-up title deleted so as not to leak the contents)" amazing book, and Cory's "Brave Little Tailor" play from when she was 12 and wrote it for PALS Players to put on so we wouldn't have to pay royalties. And Lou's book of Math Mysteries. And Riki's first book of poetry. And collections of Red-Eye Theatre Project's 24-hour plays.

And then there is Knitting and all the great Unfinished Projects.

And then there is Embroidery, and then Sewing, and all the great Unfinished Projects in this best of all possible worlds.

And so I say to you a goofy ass good night. We will see, we shall see, if I make any of my dreams come true.

Friday, June 12, 2009

exploring new horizons in stitches -- part one

as usual, as i do with everything, in early may i serendipitously opened a door into machine embroidery that has changed the course of my life -- or at least cost me an ungodly amount of money. i prefer to focus on the curative and spiritual rather than strictly pecuniary aspects. ok it's less painful -- even carthatic -- that way.
so here's how it went down:
me: no sleep. disconsolate on parkway at 6 a.m. dropping child no. 1 off at airport for overseas adventures i don't get to participate in, except vicariously. traffic looks horrendous across the median/my return route. to avoid traffic, and to console myself for sad feelings accompanying said child's departure, i spend a few hours in airport coffee shop commiserating with mom of child's friend, also embarking selfishly on overseas adventures we can't share.
jo-ann fabrics/robinson: beckoning upon my return.
what can it hurt? i stroll in, figuring to while away some time cruising the yarn aisle and allow traffic to disperse. so what if i drop a ten- or twenty spot on some vanna's choice?
in every jo-ann's, the yarn is in the back left aisles of the store. believe me, i have conducted extensive market research and this is true throughout this great land of ours.
accessing yarn mecca requires me to pass by the sewing machines.
brief footnote required: i have ... well ... a thing for sewing machines. as i do many machines. there is not room enough here, or anywhere on god's grand earth, to analyze the genesis of my thing for machines. i dig machines. they separate humans from beasts. the women from the girls. they embody raw power, masculinity at its most virile, femininity at its most creative. they're louder than hell; and like a baby or a spouse, if not yours, more annoying than you can tolerate. they surpass our ability to create, to craft, to mold by hand. they marry mind and physical resource. they are inscrutable, testosterone-driven, estrogen-inspired, marvels.
and sewing machines, perhaps the finest, the most-approaching perfection invention of modern times. weeks and months of arduous, if heartfelt, labor reduced to minutes and hours; redactive, reductive; abstract, constructive. true love.
a machine that, when brought in for share time at the preschool co-op in Oakland, Calif., turns brash, destructive little boys into compliant, polite automotons eager to please for a chance at the wheel of the machine. four rules i invented when sewing capes, GI Joe sleeping bags, Transformer knapsacks with the pint-size monsters: keep your grubby little fingers out of the way of the needle. don't go until I say go. stop when i say stop. keep your grubby little fingers out of the way of the needle.
and so it is not surprising, not unwarranted, not out of character that i stop to browse the machines enroute to the yarns.
truthfully, i could use a new machine. i haven't realized this until just this moment; but my current sewing machine is in cobwebs in the basement, victim to a broken spindle, the misplacement of the ridiculous discs required for specialty stitches, the waning interest precipitated by my fairly newfound knitting addiction.
truthfully, i could use a new machine.
so i accost the sewing machine lady. she is, it turns out, jan. smart. patient. fair-minded.
i am not really in the market, i say right out at the outset. perhaps i might be interested in your least-expensive machine, but really i could go to wal-mart. i bought my last machine at wal-mart. tell me why this machine is better than wal-mart.
as i said, jan is patient. this least-expensive singer machine, which yes they have at wal-mart, is perfectly fine. for a cheap machine. if that is what you want. a cheap machine.
it will do what it says it will do. it is a fine, fine cheap singer machine.
i am sold. for a hundred and nineteen dollars, why wouldn't i go home with a machine without cobwebs, with a fine intact spindle. even if, until this moment, i hadn't considered the $119 expenditure. it all makes sense. it is a fine, fine cheap singer.
but, as i always do, wielding the comparative shopper move that drives my youngest crazy, i ask the next question: so what's the difference between this machine and the next one up? why would i pay an extra thirty dollars for this next machine?
jan is patient. through the next machine, and the next. and the next. she explains, at each stage, the relative strengths and weaknesses of each choice, the decorative stitches, the automatic sensors, the fix buttons, the programmable features, what it is that separates the deluxe from the basic, the peak from the valley, the paragon from the primal. at each progressive stage, sold as i am, i know that i am playing with jan, and she is teasing me. we both know i will leave here empty-handed. maybe, we think, i will leave and head to wal-mart. more likely, i will go home and sleep it off, this sudden inane insatiable sewing-machine lust.
Next installment: the pick, the roll, the Husqvarna Viking with embroidery attachment.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sick and tired and knitting nonetheless

I can count on two needles the number of days I haven't knit a stitch in the two-something years I've been a knitter. For me, it's a rough-and-tumble contact sport that tackles me, outwits me and leaves me crying softly in a heap on the floor for my dearly beloved to walk pityingly past at the ungodly morning hour when he is waking up and taking off and I haven't yet dragged myself and the remains of my dignity to bed.

I knit for better or for worse, in sickness and in health; and if heaven is as it should be, I will knit into eternity, the endless magic loop. Natch, an argument could be made, given my frequent, outrageous and generally unforgivable knitting sins, that I'll end up heading south instead of north; but it wouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine that any personalized hell would likely doom me to knit forever with a bitch of a yarn that I despise, like chenille, or pair me with an infernally tangled yarn that I love, like handpainted suri alpaca or Malabrigo or Noro Kureyon, or leave me stranded in the afterlife with a pattern written in cyrillic or some language I can't decipher. Knit one, curse two.

And so, even though I am sick and tired, and my daughter has pneumonia and my chest is wheezy, and it is late and I worked all week till the wee
hours, still I must pick up the mosaic baby hat for Bret's newborn, that I know already will fit a doll better than the baby, and I must make some stitch-by-stitch progress. Because that is how I measure my days, that is my value added, my herculean Susan Boyle effort.

Monday, March 23, 2009

improvisations in malabrigo

So I owe my middle kid a shawl/afghan/big project because I have been promising for a long time and it is way past her turn (if you ask her). And I have attempted a few times but something has always gone wrong -- last time, I tried a ruana like my old knitting bud Elise made her mom (from Cheryl Oberle's "Folk Shawls") with about 40 different yarns but I wandered away from the original color concept and went from elegant and subdued to "interesting" to outrageous to, really, unwearable, even by my standards, which are fairly, um, loose.

Now I have decided to make a rebozo, also from the Folk Shawls book. But of course I wasn't even mildly following the pattern. I instead was melding the idea (big wide rectangle with big wide stripes) with a Stephanie Pearl-McPhee stitch pattern for a scarf -- kinda garter ribs with a twist (K2, Kbl, P). And knitting as always mostly asleep at 4 a.m., I fell victim to bad math/early onset dementia. And so I ended up figuring that 5 times a 5-inch scarf would be wide enough; and I duly cast on the requisite 130 stitches and knitted away for about 10 inches before realizing the shawl seemed a little ... narrow. So I check back with the book (oh right, I forgot I was doing a real pattern!) and the width is closer to, ahem, 90 inches, not 25. You see, my stripes mistakenly go up and down instead of sideways; and that would really look like an overgrown scarf (like I made my mother-in-law) instead of the drapey flow of the traditional horizontal rebozo.

Seriously, though, isn't 90 inches obscenely wide for a shawl?

Fortunately, my knitting is nearly as imprecise as my math (I do live in a skewed parallel universe where up is sideways); and the 25-inch width is closer to 36. So here's how I plan to fix this particular travesty: I will make a 72-inch wide rebozo (give or take 10 or 20 inches), by casting on another 130 stitches and replicating what I've done so far. Then I'll seam the two and knit on happily at 260 stitches.

Problem solved!

Except for being about 900 yards short of Malabrigo. But within 5 minutes I was able to find what I think is the right batch (worsted Azalea 127 in this gorgeous purple/red/blue variegated) online in Tulsa (god, I love the Internet) so I ordered another 600 yards and I'll make do.

Off to the gym!