Weighty Matters

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Travel Difference

I’m back in Florida a short 28 hours after I left. Before I tumble into bed I have a few observations about traveling The whole process is simply a helluva lot easier when the only baggage I have to haul is a suitcase on wheels.

Having now lost 130 pounds, I no longer feel like I’m on an endless march of pain and aggravation. It was fun to get on the plane and realize I could walk straight down the aisle without having to twist semi sideways. I’m much more comfortable in the seat. Not only can I buckle the seatbelt, there’s some room to spare.

Considering that I’m flying direct to Hawaii in a couple of months, knowing I’ll be much more comfortable is a blessing.

One drawback, and it’s relatively minor, is that I need to make sure that I don’t wear clothing that’s too loose.  This is a bit of a challenge as my clothing sizes rapidly change.  Yesterday I had on a pair of denim cropped pants that have become a bit loose in the waistband/stomach/hip region.  When I went through TSA and the body scanner machine, the scan reported some “anomalies in the groin area”.  I had nothing my my pockets, mind you.  I asked and they said it could be that material bunched up some.  Whatever the case, I had to go to a private room with two female officers and get a full body pat down.   The woman did her best to be sensitive to the fact that she was touching parts of me that strangers normally don’t and, of course, it was a lot less invasive than a gyno exam, but still not high on the list of experiences I want to repeat.  I think for the Hawaii flight I’ll wear yoga pants — comfortable but not “bunchy”.

All in all, this trip was a great experience, made so by the weight reduction.  Those of you who might have cut back on travel but are now losing weight, I hope this gives you something to look forward to. It absolutely does get better!

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Former Food

I’m at the airport for a 24 hour trip home. Typing this on my iPhone so please forgive sentence fragments and typos.

I was hungry when I arrived and surveyed the restaurant choices to supplement the cheese wedge I brought. I’d planned for this and only needed a little chicken or turkey.

While in line I couldn’t help looking at the array of pizzas at one place. Pizza was always a big binge food for me. On my worst days I could plow through an entire pie. I’ve had it maybe three times in ten months under very controlled conditions.

Looking at the platters of pies tonight I was amazed at the hugeness of the portions. A single slice looked twice as big as I remembered. My stomach turned just thinking about it.

Then I remembered that previously a huge slice wouldn’t have stopped me. In the past, I could and did eat that much, washed down with soda and followed by dessert. Now I get full just by looking

I walked away still thinking about it and then wondering about the calorie and “nutrition” data. The guy in front of me ordered a stuffed pepperoni slice.

You can google almost anything these days. So I did. Almost 1000 calories with some ridiculously high fat count. Sodium was off the charts too.

More than I eat in a day hit that man’s stomach in a few minutes.

Tonight I am incredibly grateful that I’m not eating like that ever again.



As discussed over the weekend, I’ve begun to write down my food for the day first thing in the morning.  By “write down” I mean that I type it into the Notes feature of my iPhone.  I did this yesterday and today and have followed the plan exactly as, well, planned.  It’s a wonderful thing to not deviate.  Even when I opened up a desk drawer and saw the emergency cheese cracker package in there, I didn’t grab them and open them up.  I stayed the course.

It’s amazing that some days can be a constant struggle to stay on track and other days are as easy as breathing.  All in favor of more easy days, please raise your hands.

After a few days of no struggling, I can honestly feel how much I was battling my compulsion in recent weeks.  To great degree it was like someone flicked the switch on my motivation and shut it down.  Now the switch has toggled back to the “On” position and I’m doing better once more.  I know this is not meant to be a sprint, but I don’t like thinking of it as a marathon either.  I want to embrace it as a daily journey and not a race of any length.

That’s an important mindset for me to continually cultivate and reinforce.  My effort doesn’t end when I hit goal weight, whatever weight that ends up to be.  Changing one’s life means transforming ourselves and then maintaining the transformation for the rest of that changed life.

In OA and other 12 Step Programs, we learn that we do this all one day at a time.   Success isn’t about tomorrow, or a week from now.  Two months from now don’t matter as much as right now, today.   For today, I am grateful to have regained my motivation and to have enjoyed several “easier” days.  I abstained from compulsive eating today.  Tomorrow when I wake up, I will commit to abstaining again.

I can do this.  I am rejuvenated.




Victory in Da Feet

First the detox-cleanse final report.  I made it through, perfectly, for all three days.  This morning I woke up feeling terrific emotionally and physically, and then stepped on the scale to discover I’d lost seven pounds.  That’s a heck of a lot in three days.  I lost even more than Dr. Oz lost, but I’m bigger than he is to start and he probably didn’t do Zumba two days in a row when he did the detox-cleanse.  Whatever the case, my system feels flushed and I’m happy.  I don’t know that I’ll do a three day detox again, but I noticed on his website that he has a 48 hour one, too.  Maybe I’ll try that next time.

Over the months of this journey, I’ve seen so many changes in my body, most of which I’ve mentioned here.  My collar bones have emerged.  When I lie down I can feel my ribs.  I’ve lost a couple of chins.  Even my forearms are thinner.  I’ve dropped several sizes in clothes.  Today I experienced something completely new!  I have to make a quick trip up to New Jersey this week.  Seriously quick, as in I fly up one night and fly back the following night.  I was going through clothes today to check the outfit that I plan to wear when I’m up there.  My sister-in-law got a number of pairs of pants and capris from a co-worker who recently lost a lot of weight.  I’m grateful because they’re in the next two sizes I’ll fit into.  Living here in the Florida Keys, I usually only wear pants that actually reach all the way to the tops of my feet when I go home to the Northeast or off to a writers conference.  The rest of the time, I’m in capris, shorts, cropped pants and so on, with flip flops, sandals or sneakers on my feet.

I had one of the pairs of pants recently hemmed, specifically so I could wear them this week.   I thought it would be good to try them on again tonight (Size smaller!) with the shoes I intended to wear.  I haven’t worn these shoes since April.  I put them on and realized that they are wayyy too big.  So big that I can’t keep them on when I walk.  My feet slide around and the heels slip off.

I’ve lost weight in my feet!  How cool is that?  I don’t know why I didn’t realize it before.  The only thing I can think of is that I didn’t notice a change in my sneaks because I wear sweat socks.  I assume that the thicker socks fill in any extra space right now.  I’m probably pulling the laces tighter, not realizing that I’m compensating.

Amid my excitement, I also had an “oh shit, what do I do” moment.  I wear, or wore a 10 1/2 double wide.  This is not a size regularly available at most stores and we don’t have “real” shoe stores anywhere close to where I live.   I could have been in serious footwear trouble but I rummaged around the closet and found a pair of ankle-height boots.  I’ve never worn them because they were too tight last year, but I forgot to return them for a credit.  Good thing!  They are a little big now but because they lace up and aren’t “broken in”, I can tie them tightly and wear them without a problem.  Whew!

If these boots can get me through this trip and my vacation at Christmas, I won’t need close-toed shoes until the end of April.  By then I will probably be down to a shoe size that isn’t likely to change on me again.  I can’t describe how terrific this feels.  All of my life, getting shoes has been a challenge.  Finding shoes that fit and don’t look like they should be worn by someone in their 90s is even more difficult.  Reducing my foot size even a little bit will definitely open up more footwear options.  It’s a wonderful NSV and I’m psyched!


Still Serene

I’m winding down the last day of the three day detox-cleanse.  It’s been another good, serene day.  I started with a Tai Chi class this morning and then went down to a local crafts-arts fest and picked up some pretty holiday gifts.  I also saw a friend there for the first time since February.  (She only lives part of the year in the Keys.)  There’s obviously a big difference in my weight since the last time she saw me, so you can imagine her reaction.  Her first words after, “Oh my God, Mary!” came as she hugged me.  “I can put my arms around you.”

That really touched me – literally and figuratively.  I know what it feels like to have lost more than 125 pounds.  I experience it countless ways every single day.  Today was the first time I thought about someone else experiencing the difference in a way other than just by what they see.   I have to say, it’s pretty cool to think of being able to share better hugs with people I care about.

In addition to booths of pretty, hand-made items, the festival had several food vendors.  The whole, “stick to the written plan” approach worked.  While I would have loved some souvlaki or a bit of baklava from the Greek vendor, and the crispy thick grilled cheese sandwiches with shot of tomato soup looked damn appetizing, I just shrugged them off.  Nope, food, not for me today.

I’m on a roll.

I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost with the detox.  On the Dr. Oz show, people lost between three to five pounds.  I’ll find out tomorrow morning.  It will be nice to see few pounds come off quickly, although that wasn’t my main reason for doing this detox.  Honestly, I don’t know if I’m supposed to feel super great and energized or what.  (TMI alert!)  I have to believe that the toxins are being flushed out of my body because I’ve had to pee at least three times as frequently each day.  If my kidneys were sentient, I’m sure they’d be positively gleeful.

Did I talk before about incorporating some of the ingredients into my regular food plan?  It looks like unsweetened almond milk has fewer calories and carbs than skim milk and no cholesterol.  I think I’m going to start using it in my daily morning protein shake.  It has fewer grams of protein, but I’m also going to add a tablespoon of ground flax seed which will not only help the protein count but will also add a few more grams of fiber.  I realllllly need to get more fiber into my daily diet. (Second TMI alert!)  Constipation continues to be an issue most days.  Since I continue to eat mostly protein and not a whole hell of a lot of vegetables, I need to work on a solution.  I already add a fiber supplement to my morning protein shake, but I guess I can look into other places to add it.  Every gram will help!

Can you tell that I’m in general musing mode?  That’s probably because I’m still pretty serene.  It was a wise decision to arrange this long weekend for myself.  I’ve had great “me” time, done a few things that I wanted to and not much else, worked in daily naps, and, in general, enjoyed peaceful quiet.  This has all been important because I have a very busy week ahead, including a 24 hour round trip to New Jersey.

Starting tomorrow morning I’m going to pre-plan my food choices for the day, which will give less things over which to stress.  If things get hectic and crazy, I’ll look back on this weekend and remember the healing power of serenity.


The Serenity of Not Obsessing

It’s around 9 p.m. and I’ve effectively completed my second day of the three day detox-cleanse.  (www.doctoroz.com)  I’m finishing off with a last cup of hot green tea and soon will go in for the nightly epsom salt bath that is recommended as part of the program.   The process continues to be a whole lot easier than I expected.  I got up, blended the ingredients for the breakfast drink, and drank it slowly.  Then I went off to another Zumba class.  It’s the first time that I’ve done Zumba two days in a row.  This morning’s class was a “Gold” variety so it was a little less intense but still beneficial.

After my manicure appointment, I lingered over the remainder of yesterday’s lunch drink.  I think it’s deliberate that the mid-day drink has the most solid ingredients.  It really was a lot.  A few hours after lunch, for the “snack” drink, I mixed up a less-packed version of the mid-day recipe, mostly to use up the rest of the green apple before it turned brown.  I got some work done around the house, caught up on some class discussions, and then treated myself to a nap.

Naps can never be overrated.  Since I didn’t sleep later than usual, I consider being able to take a little “lie down” in the afternoon a wonderful treat on a day off from work.  When I woke up, I played with the dogs, then settled in to chat on the phone with a friend and savor the dinner drink.

This all sounds like my day revolved around my food intake, but honestly, it didn’t.  There’s a difference between devising and then executing the plan and constantly obsessing about food.  Trust me, I am a champion obsesser when it comes to food.  I know whereof I speak.  When I am at my best with abstinence, I don’t constantly think about food.  (By abstinence, I mean abstaining from compulsively eating or binge eating.  It doesn’t mean that I’m abstaining from food itself.)

Because I committed to doing this detox, the entire decision process was completed before my first day even began.  I’d read the plan, purchased everything I needed, and only had to execute when I woke up yesterday.  For each liquid meal, I simply had to pull out the right ingredients and follow the recipes, then consume the blended drink.   I didn’t need to figure out before each meal what I was going to have.  I already knew.   The only decision was whether to stick with the plan or not, and I’ve been strong in my commitment.

Those of us who have an eating disorder face a challenge that addicts with other drugs of choice do not.  I think I’ve said this before.  An alcoholic does not need liquor to survive.  Neither does someone hooked on drugs.  When they first get clean, they need to cope with breaking the physical addiction and, God knows, that’s a battle, but once it’s over their choice at any given time is: drink or don’t drink; dope, don’t dope.

Compulsive overeaters do not have that choice.  We have to eat food every day.  Several times a day, for most of us.  In OA, we used to call it letting the beast out of the cage.   Please understand that I’m not minimizing the struggles faced by any other addict.  One addiction isn’t worse or easier than the other.  It’s just different.  My choice with every meal isn’t eat or don’t eat.  It’s “I’m about to eat, but what and how?”

Over the course of a lifetime, some of the diets that I did the best on were the ones that greatly restricted my choices.  Take Optifast, for example, when I didn’t eat solid food.  I just drank the drink.  I did great for a period of time and lost a good chunk of weight — until I stopped and went back to eating actual food.  In college I was on liquid protein for several months.  Noxious, horrible tasting stuff that I knocked back like a shot of liquor.  When that is the only choice, it’s an easy choice to make — until the need to chew something becomes overpowering.

Back in the early 1980s when I lost 100 pounds, I ate real food, but only protein and a half cup of vegetables a day.  I ate so much broiled chicken and turkey that year, it’s amazing that I didn’t cluck or gobble like human poultry.

Okay, I’m digressing.  Sorry.  Back to today and my point.  Doing this detox reintroduced me to the serenity that comes when I don’t have to obsess about my food choices.   My brain has not been under attack by a gagillion thoughts of food.  I’m not beset by cravings for things that I can’t have for these three days.  I can be around foods that aren’t on my plan and ignore them.  I’m not warding off a barrage of “want want want”.

This is so much easier on my mind and emotions.  I’m relaxed and at ease, and I know this is how it must feel most days to people who don’t have eating disorders.  The contrast is staggering.  I realize that for the last couple of months, I’ve been back into obsession mode.  No wonder I’ve had trouble.  When I think so much and so often about food, it wears down my resolve and makes me susceptible to the cravings.  Then, nearly unconsciously, I’m working in a few carbs here, a little extra serving there.

Since I can’t always live on a liquid diet of blended fruits and veggies and, honestly, don’t want to, I really thought about this.  I’ve been good over the last 9 or 10 months about having the foods I can eat readily available.  I make lists for the grocery store.  I take my lunch to work.  These are all good, effective tools.

I started thinking about the years when I first went to OA.  I didn’t “diet” per se, but I followed a food plan.   Every morning, I wrote down what I would eat that day.  I physically created the plan and committed to it that morning.  As long as I followed the plan, I could count myself as having been “abstinent” that day.  I believe that made the difference.  By writing down the plan in the morning, I determined my choices.  From that point on, I didn’t have to think about different foods.  I only had to execute the plan.  Without consciously dieting or eliminating specific foods, by following that practice one day at a time, I lost 50 pounds.

I haven’t been doing that step.  I’ve logged foods into My Fitness Plan after eating so that I could track calories, protein, carbs, etc.  However, that’s not the same thing and doesn’t have the same effectiveness.

Allow me a moment for a eureka, “a ha” moment.   I’m going back to thinking about my progress in terms of abstinence.  I get to count yesterday and today because I have the printed plan from Dr. Oz in front of me and have been following it.  That represents having it written down.  So, I have now been abstinent for two days.  I will follow the plan again tomorrow.  Starting Sunday, before I eat or drink anything, I will write down my food plan for the day.  Although I will have a wider variety of foods from which to choose, I will plan each food choice and not deviate.

This works for me.  Even with more variety, the choice becomes “be abstinent or not”.  Believe me, that’s easier than, “what food when”.   That guards against my own compulsion and relieves me of obsession.  This paves the way for serenity.  With serenity comes greater success.



In a short while I’ll pull out the ingredients to make up the “dinner” drink on the detox cleanse plan.  For those of you who haven’t seen the Dr. Oz thing, there are three different drinks consumed each of the three days.  All have combinations of fruit and vegetables along with other ingredients like coconut water, coconut oil, almond butter, almond milk and flax seed.  Not all of the ingredients are in each drink.  The recipes vary.

The morning drink was pretty and good.  The lunch drink was very green and, holy wow, a lot!  Even spreading it out with sips over an hour I couldn’t finish it all.  My stomach just won’t handle the volume, despite it being liquid.  Four stalks of celery, half a green apple, a cucumber, a cup of pineapple and some kale — even liquified, that’s too much.  I finally gave up and put the rest of it into the fridge for tomorrow.  Tonight I’m going to reevaluate the ingredients and see if I want to do slightly less than the amount called for.  I might even leave out the quarter of an avocado since avocado is not among my favorite foods.

So, for today, I’ve had two cups of green tea and two healthy, generous smoothies.   I could have had three at this point since we’re allowed an afternoon snack smoothie but, honestly, I wasn’t hungry.  I’m sure that I’ll be satisfied with the dinner drink.  Calorie wise I’ll hit around 900 for the day and, unlike the way that I usually eat, I’ll be higher in carbs and sugar because of the fruit, and lower on my protein.

In no way would I plan to follow this for any more than three days.  I need more protein.  However, it is a detox cleanse so that plant matter has a job to do.

I went to Zumba class this morning, which means that I’ll pretty much be at a net of 0 or negative calories for the day too.   I probably should have consulted the doctor before deciding to try this but, again, three days aren’t going to kill me and if it ultimately does my system good and resets my metabolism, so much the better.

Here’s the key thing that I realized this afternoon when I was savoring that green smoothie.   I wasn’t obsessing about these drinks and being limited to them for the entire day.  I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t experience cravings.  I didn’t sip smoothies and fantasize about grilled rib eye or crisp, perfectly salted french fries.  I didn’t dream of turkey, stuffing, mashed rutabagas, gravy and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

When I realized that I wasn’t obsessing, I immediately wondered, “Why the hell not?”   I am pretty motivated to follow my food plan and move ever closer to my weight loss goals.  However, on a daily basis I experience either physical, mental or emotional cravings for foods that are definitely not on the plan.  That happens on days when I have more choices.  If I bring yogurt to work for lunch, invariably I wish for something crunchy, crisp and savory.  If I prepare that perfectly seasoned, grilled piece of rib eye for dinner, I can’t help but think that a baked potato would go great with it right then.

So why was today different?  I’m not done pondering, but here are some possibilities.  I geared up for this detox.  It was a big switch from normal routine.  I got it in my head last week that I wanted to do it, even talked about it with a friend, and planned it out.   It’s kind of like last January, two weeks before my weight loss surgery, when I had to go on the “full liquid” diet.

What’s similar about the two events?  The only things I can think of are that they’re both liquid plans for set amount of time.

Maybe this is why the recent weeks of my “normal” food plan have been more challenging.  I’ve been following that plan for several months now and whether it’s boredom or something else, I don’t wake up every day with the same “Let’s do it” attitude.  This is disturbing since I still have a good chunk of weight to lose.  Now is not the time to slow my progress.  I know that, eventually, I’ll transition to a maintenance plan where more carbs are included but, until then, I need to be vigilant.

Further pondering reminds me that it’s also normal for the super fast pace of weight loss to slow a little as the body grows more accustomed to the routine, so I shouldn’t beat myself up about this.  Goal-motivated people need rewards and if the returns have diminished a little on my effort, it’s harder to maintain the super motivation.

Here’s my happy realization for the day.  I can still do it.  Clearly if I’d lost all drive and desire, I wouldn’t have gotten through today.  I’d have grabbed a cracker or piece of cheese or something.   So, I’ve learned something important that reassures me because, honestly, I was getting a little worried.

Maybe in addition to cleansing my body, these three days will also clean my head.  If I can gear up for a three day liquid smoothie detox, I can gear up again for a protein-loaded/miniscule-carb food plan.   When I’m back to eating meals and not drinking them, I’m going to remember that I absolutely can resist cravings and stick to the plan.  The motivation switch has not toggled to “Off” in a locked position.


Cleansing Breaths

I’m not doing Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.  I could have shared a meal with friends, or invited people here and cooked a feast but, honestly, neither option appealed to me.  I’m thankful every day and I see my friends pretty much every day , so the holiday isn’t such a big deal to me this year.  I’m sure the fact that it was always a holiday with a license to gorge and I now have a non-gorging stomach probably has something to do with the mind shift.   All in all, I just know that I’m looking forward to not having any real plans.

Except for Zumba.  My friend, who is one of the instructors, asked last week if people were interested in a morning class.  Hey, if she’s willing to go and lead it, I’m willing to go.  After that, no plans other than to read, do schoolwork, watch parades and football, and so on.

I’m also going to detox and cleanse my body.  I was home one day in time to watch Dr. Oz and his show was all about the benefits of detoxing our bodies from time to time and cleansing our systems of impurities, toxins, etc.   He also said that it could help reset my body and metabolism.

For the longest time, I’ve felt sort of stuck.  I think my body hit a set point and my food plan hasn’t worked as effectively.   Without falling off the information highway into the ditch of TMI, my system’s sluggish.

Anyway, while watching the show I had the thought that a 3 Day Detox Cleanse would do me good.  I’m off work for the next four days, so I can blend up all of the ingredients required for the four drinks the program requires.  I like most of the ingredients, with the exception of raspberries and cucumbers and they all agree with me, except for the avocado.  I substituted strawberries for the raspberries and decided that I can bit the bullet on the cucumber and avocado.  Actually, I think the other ingredients will mask the taste.

For the rest of it, what’s not to like about things like almond butter, blueberries, coconut oil, green leafy stuff  and so on?  (Nineteen ingredients in all.)

Along with the drinks, the multivitamin, probiotic supplement, and omega 3 supplement, I’m to drink a morning cup of green tea.  At night, I’m supposed to take a Detox Ultra Bath with epsom salts and lavender oil.   Just thinking about it all makes me feel healthier.

I got some of the stuff at the health food store, and purchased the rest on Monday.  I decided that my individual smoothie blender wasn’t strong enough or big enough to handle the ingredients, so today I bought a new blender.

Oddly enough, I’m psyched to try out this detox cleanse thing.   I feel empowered.  To be honest, a devilish part of me also relishes the thought of sitting here sipping my uber-healthy drinks while many people are stuffed on turkey and side dishes, groaning on their couches.  That sounds a little mean, which wasn’t my intention.  I guess that after a lifetime of indulging in a Thanksgiving Day carb-feast to the point of exploding, I’m happy to do something different.


Emotional Choice

This morning when I was getting ready for work, I had a random thought.  Is happiness a conscious choice?  I almost immediately discounted the notion because next thought was that I couldn’t imagine that someone would choose to be depressed, sad or otherwise not happy.   Then I thought about clinical depression as an illness and decided that happiness couldn’t very well be a non-illness.

Then I decided that I’d done enough deep thinking in the first 15 minutes of being awake and, perhaps, I should hold off until I’d had a cup of caffeine tea.

I had a busy day today with some ups and downs.  I knew ahead of time that we would most likely head out for a manatee rescue.  I love manatees and hate that they frequently are hit by boats. I relish that this work is part of our mission because, hey, how many jobs are there where one can say that they are directly helping an endangered species?   This morning I pinballed between opposite emotions.  I was sad that there was a manatee that had been hit, happy that our team was going to help, sighing because I’d be out of the office all day on the rescue instead of tending to the list of projects on my “To Do” list, happy because I’d be out of the office today helping a manatee.  Later on I was happy because we were successful (The little guy is already at a place receiving treatment!), bummed that it took most of the day, happy because we got photos and video out to the news, wistful that we didn’t get the true “money” shot.

I also didn’t get done early enough and had to miss my Tuesday evening Zumba class.  Even though I fully accept what the priority needed to be, this made me mega cranky.

How did all this emotional variety affect me?  Well, on the way home I really, really, really wanted chocolate.  I didn’t give into the temptation but drove home, let out the dogs, and changed into my pajamas.  Not only are these garments, cozy, comfy and nurturing, but I’m also a lot less likely to go through the hassle of changing back into my clothes and going out for a sugar rush.

While that is a positive check in the successful strategizing column, the good control has not alleviated my crankiness.    I just asked myself, “Now what?  Are you going to be pissy all night?”

That is the question.  I’m back to the pondering with which I began this morning.  Is happiness a choice?  Honestly, I don’t think so.   It’s not like I can toggle the switch and go from cranky to happy with a single flick.  I can, however, be willing to work toward it.  That’s the choice I can make.  Here’s how I’m going about it.  I made a cup of my favorite green tea (Tazo Zen).  I’m going to stretch out in my recliner and watch some television for awhile and not dwell on the more “downer” aspects of my day.  I’m going to choose to have a better attitude for the rest of the evening and then treat myself well with a relaxing hot bath.

Maybe there’s no guarantee, but it has to be better than dwelling or doing nothing.


Exhausted in a Good Way

I haven’t posted since Thursday because I was away for a three day “leadership” weekend.  The group of us went off into the Everglades to learn more about the environment, how it is connected to and impacts the Florida Keys, and experience a number of different activities.  The weekend started at 6:30 a.m. on Friday when the woman with whom I was carpooling picked me up and ended at around 6:00 p.m. today when she dropped me off home.  In between, we traveled by bus all over the place with our group (26 people).  Here’s a summary of the things we did together:

Toured the Aqueduct Authority where all of the fresh water supply for the entire Florida Keys originates and learned all about where it comes from, how it’s filtered, treated, and pumped down the system from Point A to Key West, more than 120 miles away.  This involved significant trips up and down stairs, across walkways and between different buildings.  We heard about the issues, triumphs and challenges and came away with a thorough understanding of what has to happen for each of us to open a faucet and fill a pitcher or wash our hands.

Visited a famous fruit stand for fresh, yummy smoothies.

Traveled a couple more hours to a state nature preserve for a walk that lasted more than a mile and a half.  We split into teams and competed to locate and identify as many plant and animals species as we could along the way.  We saw a barred owl, several species of heron, two different species of woodpeckers, and more different ferns, trees and bushes than I can count.

Went even further down the trail to Everglades City, an old town with a population of fewer than 500 people where we ate dinner and went to bed early.

Got up and out the door by 7:30 a.m. for breakfast and a trip to Shark River Valley National Preserve, part of Everglades National Park.  The Park superintendent gave us a special talk, after which we embarked on a two hour tram tour where we saw alligators, a snake, anhingas and herons.  We learned about the ecology of the Everglades, how they developed, what happened to damage them, the massive restoration efforts, and the ongoing problem of invasive species like pythons.  This included a trek up a lengthy, curving ramp, to a huge observation tower.

After lunch, we moved on to an old time attraction with a small wildlife sanctuary, air boat rides and swamp buggy tours.  More walking to see a Florida panther, a pair of tigers, a wolf, a bob cat, a lion cub, some American crocodiles and close to 100 alligators.  The tigers, lion, wolf and bob cat were all rescued from private homes and would have been put down had this place not taken them in.  There was something strangely fascinating about watching a lone man go into a large enclosure with all of those alligators, carrying a bucket of raw chicken.  The gators knew him really well and, amazingly, did not rush him when he appeared.

From there we walked over to the docks and clambered into the airboat for a speedy fun ride.   Our next step was across the road and up the ramp to a high swamp buggy for a hilarious, fun tour through the wilderness.

At that point, I would happily have gone to the hotel and straight to bed.  However, alumni from previous classes in this program had come to the Everglades to provide us with dinner and a party.  A Toga Party.  I’d come prepared and gamely wrapped myself in my toga and went off to the festivities for a few more hours.  When my brain began to click off at 11 p.m., I went to bed, knowing that we needed to be packed, checked out and read to board the bus again at 7 a.m.

Today we finished with a visit to a marine lab where we learned much more about the ecology of mangroves, sea grass and the coral reef and how important each of these ecosystems is to the Florida Keys.  Wow, was this interesting!  After lunch we boarded boats for a trip to the backcountry where we learned even more about the various critters (like sponges, sea stars, nudibranchs, etc.) that populate the mangroves.

Now that definitely would have been enough, but we had one more thing on the itinerary, a mostly-driving guided tour of a very wealthy, exclusive gated community at the top end of the Keys.  How exclusive?  Well, while there are some condos that sell for $100,000, the purchase price is the least of the expense.  In order to enjoy the amenities like the fabulous pools, restaurants, golf courses or tennis courts, one must join one of the “clubs”.  I believe the initial membership fee is around $200,000 and the annual dues are pretty exorbitant.  By the way, the least expensive houses are little two bedroom/one bath models for a million bucks.  The most expensive homes are in the 40 to 50 million dollar range.  I won’t be moving to this community when I retire. 🙂

After this experience, we returned to our original starting point, unloaded our stuff from the bus, gathered in various cars and headed home.  To say that I am mentally and physically exhausted is an understatement.  Five minutes after I publish this blog post, I’ll be in bed, but I had some realizations that I wanted to share.

A year ago, I don’t know that I could have done all of these things in a three day time period.  If I’d managed, it would not have happened without a great deal of physical discomfort, over the counter pain relievers, and a walloping heap of stress.  I’d have fretted all of the time about my inability to keep pace on the walks, and the agony of climbing all of the stairs.  I would have worried the whole time about whether I’d have been able to get in and out of the boats or onto the swamp buggy.  For that matter, I would have hated every moment on the bus, imagining that I was squishing my seat partner.

My desire to be a full participant would still have driven me to don a toga, but the whole time I’d have feared looking fat and ridiculous.

This year, I had none of these concerns or stresses.  I didn’t have to worry about whether my super obesity would interfere with either by abilities or my enjoyment.  Instead I could just throw myself into the activities just like everybody else in the group.  At the end of our action-packed weekend, everybody was exhausted — which was completely understandable.  This was exhaustion in a good way.