Tuesday, December 13, 2011

coming out of hibernation

Just to say that we are, again, praying a novena through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II, for our lovely Susan Niebur, a beautiful and lovely little girl who has cancer, and others in St. John the Evangelist Parish and friends who are ill. The novena runs through the 21st of December. Give the gift of prayer to those who need it.

Link to post containing the novena prayer is here:

storming heaven

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's Crunch Time

I know Jamie Oliver is not everyone's cup of tea. Personally, I think he's kind of cute, and he's a family man, which endears him to me. Even his working class Brit accent and affectations don't bother me -- neither does his cute little lisp (it's an official crush, I guess). His Food Revolution initiative and television show have given my husband and me a lot to talk about lately. This morning, the Food Revolution email I received even made me smile and feel proud of my girlhood home, Carroll County, MD.

The Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County received a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Foundation to implement a program encouraging school children and their families to eat more fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sugar. L.E.A.N. Carroll is a program designed to help families encourage healthy Lifestyles, promote Education and Activity, and improve Nutrition for both children and parents. A pilot program, It's Crunch Time, was carried out in two elementary schools in Mt. Airy, MD and, by all accounts, was quite successful. Those nice folks at the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County have even made their packet for It's Crunch Time available on the web as a pdf. I'm sure they won't mind if I snag it for home use, even if I don't live Carroll County any more.

Thanks to all at the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County for a fantastic and inspirational program.

Some success

Saturday was my WW weigh in day. I'm happy to say that I lost 1.8 pounds since last week. We'll see what next week brings. We are in week 2 of the "no eating out" phase of our lives. My husband has posted a "what we need to save each month to send the kids to school the year after next" reminder chart on the fridge. A big incentive to open up that door and do some cooking magic. Last night's dinner was Curried pan fried cod, with rice and broccoli on the side, with strawberries and yogurt for dessert. Yummy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Making Sure We Get Milk

I'm not a milk drinker. I'm sure osteoporosis is in my future, since I have trouble taking calcium pills as well. I have trouble remembering to take pills, period (thus, no vitamins, no calcium, so Yeast Cleanse, etc.). My kids are water drinkers, with milk at meals, and my husband consumes enough gluten free cereal with lactose free milk (Yay Celiac Disease!!) to ensure that his bones are good and strong. So, I'm really the problem. Most days I forget to drink anything at all, except for hot tea, without which I can't get through the day.

But, for the sake of argument, I'm going to pretend that milk consumption is a family problem. My latest idea is to get canning jars and a paint marker and, each morning (or evening, if I am prepared!), to put the (next) day's allotment of milk into a personalized jar for each person. That way, I'll know at a glance whether I, or one of the children, has not had enough milk. I'll have to take a picture when they're done...

Last night's dinner was very good, BTW. I love the Food Revolution cookbook, especially the 20 minute meals. Last night's meal was Spicy Moroccan Fish Stew with Couscous (rice for my husband). It included diced tomatoes (canned), white fish (I used tilapia), shrimp, cumin seeds, garlic, cinnamon, lemon juice, basil, and a red pepper. The couscous preparation couldn't have been simpler -- put couscous in a bowl with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and then cover it with boiling water, put a plate over the top and let sit while the fish cooks (10 minutes). We all liked it, even though the kids were a bit freaked out by the "spicy" (i.e., lemony) couscous. Chickadee #2 ended up eating some smoked turkey because she couldn't handle all the "mixed together" stuff. But the rest of it liked it -- Chickadee #1, when biting into the fish, said, with a huge grin, "Cod!!! Yummy!"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Did I tell you I'm a great starter?

Last week, my husband and I had our periodic budget discussion. It's not pleasant -- he's the type of person who analyzes a Target receipt to figure out how much (including taxes) was spent on the separate categories of groceries, the children, the household; I'm the type of person who loses the Target receipt. But, one thing we both agreed on was the disgusting amount of money we spend on food -- eating out, buying groceries, and throwing leftovers away.

Our discussion (okay, argument) came during the last fifteen minutes of the latest episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution . The fact that it became an argument probably has to do with the sorry fact that I could really identify with Denny, the father of two who feeds his kids out of fast food joints. Although we don't frequent McDonald's and the like eight times a week, we do eat out A LOT more than I would like. And we don't eat out at McDonald's either. On Monday, we went to Black Market Bistro in Garrett Park out for my husband's birthday -- 60 dollars down the drain. Oh, and we got pizza from Mamma Lucia's for the kids and my parents -- delivered -- 40 dollars down the drain. One hundred dollars -- in one two hour period. On food. If you add in the spontaneous, "Let's go to dinner" on a Sunday afternoon, the "I don't really like what you made for dinner, honey, I'm just going to get carryout from Ruan Thai), and the "Mommy, can we stop at Wendy's for a fruit punch?" after school occasions, it starts to add up... and up... and up.

As we discussed our horrendous habits, my husband said something to me that really stuck -- he said, "Look, I know you. I've seen how you operate. You planned our wedding like it was a commando operation -- every detail was perfect. If you decide to do something, you decide to do it well. You just haven't decided to do this (the eating properly thing) well." Wow. That hurt. What the hell have I been doing all these months?

Truthfully, spending a lot of money and not a whole heck of a lot else.

  • Yes, I'm tracking points almost every day and giving WW membership money.
  • Am I drinking the recommended 64 ounces of water a day? No, I drink SOME water and lots of hot tea. But I do sometimes drink Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, to excess.
  • Am I eating the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day? Some days yes, some days no. Okay, most days I get close, but no cigar.
  • Am I weighing and measuring each morsel of food or drink that passes my lips? No. I had been guesstimating. Did you know that a serving of protein is the no bigger than the size of a deck of cards (in all three dimensions) -- compare THAT to the size of the average chicken breast.
  • Am I having the recommended servings of dairy? Yes. (Whew -- finally got one!)
  • Am I having the recommended servings of healthy oils per day? Does using only olive oil in cooking count?
  • Am I taking my multi-vitamin? No. I can't get past the fact that I choke on those horse pills.
After going through that mental inventory and coming up so much the loser, I proposed the radical notion to my husband that we are both pretty intelligent people, that we both agree that our eating habits are problematic for a variety of reasons, and that we should surely be able to come up with a solution that we could live with, instead of coming back to the same stupid discussion time after time. He agreed and we started to brainstorm. Here's what we came up with:

Be Ready--
  • I won't run errands in the late morning (my preferred time), but instead do things either right after breakfast or right after lunch. And no more acquiescing to "Can we get a treat, Mom?" Instead, I will start carrying healthy treats with me. If errands at mealtimes are unavoidable, we'll pack a picnic, as we did yesterday -- I had an 11 am doctor's appointment in DC, so the kids and I brought sandwiches, veggie chips, and fruit and had a picnic in a nearby park, followed by a stint at the playground.
  • We will do weekend cooking for my husband's lunches - making 8 serving batches of gluten free food he likes, then freezing it. In two weekends, we'll have 32 potential lunch dishes waiting to be grabbed as he walks out the door (he is a "I don't want to think about it" kind of eater -- very hard when you have celiac disease).
Be Realistic --
  • Recognize that my middle name should be Entropy. I want to go with the flow, especially when I'm stressed (all the time) and overtaxed (ditto). Resolve to swim against the tide of entropy.
  • Don't make meals my family won't eat -- even if they are "good" in some gourmet and/or nutritional sense -- I'm a pretty good cook, and I like to try new things. My husband is not adventurous (he described not knowing what to expect for dinner as "one more stressful thing I have to deal with" and my kids are just like him.
Be Ruthless --
  • So you don't like veggies, family? Too bad. So sad. Guess you will go hungry tonight.
  • I said to my husband, "Just so you know, if we do this, our lives are going to change. Completely. So be prepared." I proposed getting microwavable freezer containers this past weekend so we could start pre-packing his lunches. I think he's scared -- he wants to "think about how we are going to do this" first. My take-- what's to think about? Just do it, okay? My idea is to get these, paired with these, so he can grab one as he walks out the door. But we'll have to relocate the chest freezer to the front entry for that to work, I guess.
  • The WW scale is now resident on my dining room table. Chickadee #1 asked me last night, "Mommy, why are you weighing everything now?" as I weighed (8 oz), then cut (3.8 oz) my chicken breast (marinated in rosemary, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, cook at 350 for 20 minutes, turn on broiler then top with 1 oz feta cheese. Serve with Greek salad and homemade dressing. Yummy.)
Educate the children --

  • We printed out information from USDA's new Choose My Plate website and have it posted on our fridge. You can tailor the plate based upon your age, sex, weight, and goals. It's a much better mnemonic than the food pyramid it replaced and the kids really seemed to get it. When we looked at it, we concluded that we are pretty much a protein and carbohydrate family. We need to become a fruit and veggie family.
  • We need to start buying better food -- for example, my husband likes only Red Delicious apples. Since I'm not picky when it comes to apples (they're not my favorite fruit), I don't really care what kind we buy. But face it, Red Delicious are the least tasty of all the apples available. Yesterday, I bought Pink Lady apples from a local fruit stand. Chickadee #1 (who didn't much like the Greek delight dinner I'd made) ate 3 for dessert. She said they were the best apples she'd ever had. Sad thing is, she is probably right!
  • We need to go for resources and support to sites like Jamie Oliver's foundation and Rachel Ray's Yum-O.
Now it's a challenge. I don't think my family knows what's about to hit them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 3

I'm currently in Day 3 of the new Weight Watchers plan. I survived a birthday cake (my own), a St. Patrick's Day party, and a Confirmation Party over the weekend, with my sanity intact. I did pretty well, and I actually tasted some really yummy food -- including an incredible cake made by a German pastry chef -- think delicious, moist cake, raspberry jam, buttercream icing, and slivered almonds. It was beautiful -- I could have done with a piece half the size, though -- left me feeling slightly sick.

I am really liking the fact that (most) vegetables and fruits on the new WW plan count for 0 points. It's a reminder to me that, when I am hungry and need a snack, it's better to go for a banana or some carrots and hummus than a cereal bar or yogurt. So, we'll see if I have any weight loss at the end of this week. I have to survive a birthday lunch (my mother and sister are coming today -- in fact, I'm waiting for them to arrive as I type) and going away for the weekend with T. Thankfully, we'll be in a house, not a hotel, so we can have more control over the food we eat and don't have to frequent restaurants 3 times a day. I'll have to remember to pack my scale, though, and hope for internet connectivity at the house -- otherwise, I'll have to lug the laptop to a Panera (dangerous) or someplace similar to log in and record my food.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Starting again. T. and I talked this morning. He is really concerned about all the pain I am having and continuing to have. He accurately diagnosed that it began in earnest after Chickadee #2 was born, when I just couldn't seem to lose the baby weight (plus). I hadn't lost much baby weight after Chickadee #1 either -- but that was easy to blame on T.'s schedule, my stress, the miscarriage, our incessant eating out because it was 'easier'. With #2, I gained weight (not much, but some) but I had started at such a high level that it was hard to take comfort in that. I tried WW meetings, which were always difficult for me because I had either #1 or #2 with me (WW meetings are not exactly welcoming to children, in my experience). WW was also difficult for me because I have heard it all before, being a WW veteran. Remembering that WW considered me considerably overweight when I was at a scale number that I would actually be extremely happy with now and at which I felt good, beautiful, and healthy made me jaded with the whole WW approach. Additionally, every several years, WW revamps its approach so that all the materials you might already have no longer "apply" and you have to go out and spend more money and enthusiasm getting in sync with the new program.

And yet.... WW is an effective way of losing weight. And boy do I need effective. T said several things to me today that really made me think. The first was that he doesn't want to see me become the old lady in the scooter who can't walk at all (and believe me folks, some days I am not far from that). The reason it struck me was that last night, we had gone to dinner for my birthday at a famous local seafood restaurant. We had parked across the street from it, but had to walk up the block, across the 8 lane road and then down the block again. My feet hurt so much, I was hobbling and lurching. And, I actually had a vision of myself in a Hover-Round. That is not the life I want for myself or my family, but I know that if I don't get better all around, that is where I am heading.

The second was that he thought I just had to decide that this was the most important thing in my life and just do it. That reminded me of when I actually finally decided to quit smoking, years ago. I'd picked up the nasty habit in the last years of college, and going to Ireland for grad school solidified that habit into something I did as a matter of course (everyone I knew in Ireland smoked, except for the children). I thought for years about quitting, vowed to quit several times, tried to quit several more. Then, one day, overcome by disgust by my inability to conquer an inanimate object's hold over me, I just stopped. I threw away my pack of cigarettes and just stopped. I only tried cigarettes twice after that -- once when visiting a college friend and once at a particularly stressful time. In both cases, I threw the cigarette away before finishing it and honestly couldn't see the point or figure out the attraction these things had for me. I never had withdrawal symptoms, never felt jumpy or sad, never really missed them.

Now I have to figure out how to feel that way about creme brulee.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Mystery of Prayer

As many of you know, our church community, and many people around the world recently finished a novena asking for God's grace and mercy through the intervention of Blessed John Paul II. Specifically we asked that Susan of Whymommy fame be healed from the cancer that just won't realize that it's up against a too formidable foe. Throughout the nine days of the novena, my mind and heart kept circling the same, central question -- do I REALLY believe in miracles? Do we understand what it is that we are asking for? And, if we do, do we dare to ask for it?

Van Morrison, echoing my beloved W.B. Yeats, calls prayer "the inarticulate speech of the heart." Prayer is inarticulate inasmuch as God doesn't need our fancy words or formulae to know what we need. He knows the deepest cries of our souls, the most profound depths of our need before we do. Similarly, it's impossible to adequately describe or to summarize such a profound spiritual experience as the novena was for me and, I think, for all those who participated. For one thing, it's easy to sound trite or silly when talking about such things. In another way, I'm wary of even trying to talk about what the novena meant for me -- after all, this fight is not my fight; I am not the protagonist here -- I am simply a bystander, even one filled with love and hope.

On the other hand, I know that many people from all over the world joined in our chorus of prayer for our friend. One may know Susan personally, as I am privileged to do, or one may know her through her writing-- writing which is so immediate, honest, eloquent, and luminescent that it regularly inspires a shock of recognition, a thrill at the sheer beauty of her words, or a profound grief in the face of her suffering. In some ways, I feel that I must attempt to provide some insight into what the novena was like, from the standpoint of one of those praying, in order to solidify and make manifest in words the circle of love and caring and, oh! just ardent desire and longing for God's grace and mercy.

So -- some images:

  • One friend calling me the first day of the novena to ask whether she could come if she wasn't sure she believed in the power of prayer, and the reply that bubbled out of my mouth without any forethought -- "you believe in the power of love, though. Please come." And she did -- for all nine nights.
  • Being asked later whether I believed that a miracle could happen and shocking even myself with my answer -- "Absolutely." The ferocity of that answer startled me so much that I immediately felt I should qualify it with all sorts of explanations and rationalizations. But that was just fear talking -- fear of being seen as weird, fear of being wrong, fear. I actually DO believe that miracles are possible and that a miraculous healing is possible for Susan.
  • Encountering signs of God's presence throughout the novena that spoke to the situation -- I call them "Godsmacks" -- when you realize that He really is talking to you, in your particular situation. They're exceedingly rare, in my experience -- maybe because I'm not such a good listener. But during the novena, again and again, I and others experienced these Godsmacks
-- One night, I opened the missalette at random and found the story of Jesus curing the ten lepers.
-- Another friend, on another night, opened the same missalette to another random reading and found the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
-- On the last day of the novena, I opened my Magnificat to the the story of Jesus arriving in Gennesaret and the people all around bringing Him their sick, carrying them on mats and placing them in His path, in the hope that they would be able to just touch His cloak, believing that just that would bring healing. And it did.
  • As I was meditating on this story of Gennesaret, I kept repeating the phrase "we're bringing Susan to you on our mats, oh Lord. Please heal her." This struck me, and frightened me. I realized that we are asking that God set aside the natural order of things. That He actually come into the world in a material, immediate way and DO something amazing. That's a scary thing to ask. I really had a hard time with it, but then I looked at the Tabernacle in the chapel and I thought, "This IS something I can ask. God DOES make Himself manifest ALL THE TIME. He's actually HERE, right NOW. So ASK without fear."

  • And then, on perhaps the most devastating night of the novena, a woman whom I have never before seen came into the chapel in the middle of our silent prayer. Afterwards, a friend and I were in the little vestibule outside the chapel, talking about what was happening, when this woman appeared beside us. She asked about the purpose of the novena. When my friend explained, this woman said that she was gifted with visions. And I thought, "Oh no! She is "one of those" Catholics." I am sorry to say that I was embarrassed because my friend is not Catholic and I didn't want her thinking that Catholics were all crazy.
  • But my embarrassment quickly changed to wonder when this woman explained that she had been given a special prayer while on a pilgrimage to a church in Philadelphia. Another person approached her and told her that "The Lord told me to give this prayer to you."
Our interlocutor then told us that she had prayed this prayer intensely for the healing of a friend's sister, who was suffering from lung cancer and metastatic brain cancer. During a surgery to remove four tumors, we were told, our storyteller told us that she had prayed this prayer, which she gave to my friend, unceasingly for hours. In a post-surgery call to her friend, she was told that, despite a pre-surgical MRI showing four tumors, the surgeon could not find them. The cancer had been healed -- both the brain cancer and the original lung cancer. The woman is alive and well -- in fact, our friend said, "I just talked to her yesterday." Then she said, looking keenly at us:

"God can do anything."

Such conviction. Such sureness. It put me to shame. She related another story of a miraculous healing. Again, she forcefully said:

"God can do anything."

So this is the question: Do we believe that God can do anything? Or will we try to corral Him, confine Him to our understanding of the way the world is? Will we be embarrassed to believe in miracles, to ask for miracles, to let our scientific, post-Enlightenment, non-mystical way of looking at the world convince us that miracles are not only rare, but actually impossible?

I don't know.

I am certain, however, that I am praying for a miracle. I don't know what the will of God in this situation is -- I don't have an out-of-universe, eternal, omnipotent viewpoint. I do know, however, that God IS working a miracle in Susan. She herself, as I've told her, is the miracle, and the gift. And when I see how much love shines through her, again I say:

God can do anything.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Storming Heaven

Friends, today is the first day of the novena for our beloved Susan (aka Whymommy). Starting tonight, and continuing for a full nine days, we will be storming heaven with our prayer for Susan's complete and total healing. We are told that all we need to do is to ask for all we need. Well, we are asking. The link to the novena prayers and readings, suitable for printing at home, is here. This novena is adapted from one I found on the web which was written by a priest at Texas A&M.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fighting Together, with Prayer

In my posting on Lymphedema Sleeves, I talked about my friend, Susan Niebur aka Whymommy, who is currently participating in a clinical trial to battle a locally metastatic cancer, her fourth cancer in as many years. Susan is an amazing person. She shines with love. She radiates joy. She makes you want to be a better person. In the short time she has been part of our church community, she has drawn so many people to her, just like moths to a flame. It might be her cheery smile and her ability to see the goodness in life; it might be her obvious love for her husband and children; it might be her wit, her intelligence, her kindness, her gentleness. I'm not sure.

What I am sure of, however, is that many people have expressed to me the desire to pray as a community for Susan. And, as a result, we are joining together starting next Monday, January 31, to say a novena (communal or private prayer, said over nine days or hours). We will say the novena in our church chapel and we are inviting those who cannot be there in person to pray with us between the hours of 8 and 9, every night from January 31 through February 8.
If you are not the formal prayer type, we invite you to send all positive thoughts and vibes, expressions of caring and love, and aspirations of hope out to the Unknowable Universe over this period. We also invite you to pray formally in the style of your own tradition for this intention if you are more comfortable doing that.
We will be praying through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II -- intercessory prayer is like asking a beloved older brother or sister to talk to Dad (intercede) for us. It is a type of prayer that has a long history in Catholicism, and which makes perfect sense if you believe, as Catholics do, in the Communion of Saints -- that is, in the spiritual unity of all in the Christian Church, those on earth and those who are with God. All members of the Communion of Saints are members of a Mystical Body, with Christ as the Head, in which all members contribute to the good of all and share in the welfare of all.

We are working on the details right now -- when we are finished, I intend to post the novena prayers here so that anyone who wishes to can pray the novena with us. If you do so, please let me know so that we can let Susan know the breadth and depth of love for her, both here in her immediate community and around the world.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Surrendering Hunger

Have I told you about my fantastic sister, L? L. is older than me by 18 months and 2 weeks. All of my life, I've looked up to her as a trailblazer and a leader. We never went through much of the sisterly anguish that many people do (aside from the time I smeared black fingerpaint all over her beautiful picture in kindergarten (I was attending with her for the day). But hey, she wouldn't let me play with her and her friend, Sherry, so she deserved what she got, right?)

Last year, L. decided to lose weight. And guess what? She did. She, an aunt of ours, and I used a book called Your Whole Life to try to address some of the reasons that we were overweight. My sister threw herself in whole heartedly into this new way of looking at being overweight. She went from "Couch Potato to 5K" and, by the summer, was running an hour every other day. Today, L. is stronger than ever. She radiates good health and vigor. She gave me a book called Surrendering Hunger, which is a companion to the Your Whole Life book. The idea is that, after the initial 12 week program, Surrendering Hunger will provide a year's worth of meditations to help you persevere in your attempts to lose weight. I haven't opened it yet. But I will.

There are a few things I've learned over the past year, after quitting Weight Watchers and going through Your Whole Life, and joining a gym:

Finding a way through being overweight is my personal cross to bear. No one else developed the habits of eating and of (non) exercising that have led to this condition. No one else can help me change those habits.

My huge (no pun intended) problem is that I don't pay enough attention. I am not organized enough. I can't figure out a way to integrate the life I want into the life I actually have. Maybe I'm too distracted. Maybe I'm too lazy. I'm not sure. It just struck me this weekend that I haven't had my hair cut or colored in almost a year. Most days I pull it into a ponytail and forget about it. That seems to me to be emblematic of the problem I have.

So, I'll go home (I'm currently in an airport in the great American Southwest, coming home after attending the funeral of a dear friend's father) and pick up Surrendering Hunger and Your Whole Life and I'll try to figure out how to translate the words on the page into action in my life. Again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lymphedema Sleeves

My dear friend and cancer survivor Susan of ToddlerPlanet has posted today about a new effort to help breast cancer survivors who have had a mastectomy or axillary dissection of the lymph nodes due to breast cancer. Many of these women develop lymphedema, or swelling of one or both arms, as a result of surgery. In order to help deal with this condition, they need to wear lymphedema sleeves, which are like compression stockings for the arms. However, this pricey and medically necessary "medical device" is not covered under Medicare or most insurance plans. Women who cannot afford the $200 to $500 for the two sets of compression sleeves and gauntlets can now apply to a nonprofit organization founded to help breast cancer survivors. Please read Susan's blog post to find out more, and to donate if you can.

And while you are there, please say a prayer for Susan, who today is seeing her oncologist about some hot spots that showed up on a recent PET scan. They're in the middle of her chest and may indicate a recurrence. Susan is a fantastic woman, the mother of two small boys, the wife of a lovely man, and a space scientist who works on contract to NASA and promotes the idea of women in the sciences with her blog Women in Planetary Science. She is also a three time cancer survivor, and an advocate for others who have had cancer through her blogs, ToddlerPlanet and Mothers with Cancer. Please say a prayer for her and for her family.