A Birthday and A Milestone

I’ve been more or less absent from this blog for the last 3 months.  I’d apologize, but we all know how it is:  Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.   I’ve been busy – I’m sure you can all relate.  Besides, being busy is good, and there’s no reason I won’t continue to post at least a few times a month – I still have things to talk about and recipes to share, even if they’re a little different from those I’ve posted over the last 4 years or so.

At any rate, today is a special day.  First, my brother turns 44 (Happy Birthday, Only Brother!).  Second, I’ve reached an important milestone in my life.

My mother died of heart disease 70 days after her 51st birthday.  A heavy smoker, Mom was also a yo-yo dieter, suffered from PCOS, a rabid sugar addict, extremely sedentary and constantly stressed about something.  She loved butter, but cooked almost exclusively with industrial seed oils, and was a huge fan of prepackaged convenience foods – I don’t think either I or my siblings ate any rice or potatoes that weren’t “instant” until we moved away from home and began cooking for ourselves.  Tater tots and canned cream of mushroom soup were staples in Mom’s kitchen, and fresh fruits and vegetables almost unheard of – everything was either canned or frozen.  She didn’t like seafood, so the only fish we ever saw was canned tuna and she never served us shellfish.  The only time we saw sweet potatoes was at Thanksgiving, and then they came from a can and were covered in marshmallows.  We ate a lot of Cap’n Crunch, white bread, boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, potato chips and those cheap, iced oatmeal cookies.

As I approached the age my mother developed an aortal aneurysm that burst and necessitated emergency surgery (46), I began to become increasingly worried I was heading down the same path and that I could go the same way she did, and at the same age, if not sooner.  My diet was marginally better, but there was a lot of room for improvement.   I still smoked, and drank too much and exercised far too little.  I pretty much felt like shit all the time – and I was very, very scared.

I smoked my last cigarette on my 45th birthday, six years ago.  If you’re a long-time reader here, you know that we drastically changed our diet in 2010 – switching to grass-fed beef, pastured pork, chicken and eggs, wild game, sustainably caught wild seafood, locally grown seasonal produce and purging industrial seed oils, prepackaged convenience foods, and refined sugars and flours from our kitchen.  For the last couple of years I’ve been distancing myself from stressful, negative people and relationships, and have finally left a job I hated and have begun one that I like much, much better.  Over the last year, I’ve cut out alcohol almost completely, and we’ve made another shift in our diet that has me feeling better and finally losing weight again.  (I suspect the exercise will be one of those lifelong battles, but that, too, has improved somewhat and hopefully will continue to do so.)

Today is 71 days after my 51st birthday, and I have officially lived longer than my mother did.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to blog about it being 71 days after my 61st birthday and you’ll all be here to celebrate with me.

It’s always good to have a goal.

The Mom Show

It’s Friday and I’ve got a great big load of…nothing.  Sorry, I’m just all blogged out this week.

However, this week’s Spin Cycle is all about “Mom” in honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday.  It’s been awhile since I posted this, so for those of you who might not know, my mother was on The David Letterman Show in the late 80s.  She died of a heart attack 15 years ago at the age of 51; I wish I’d known then what I know now about healthy diet.

If you want to know the story behind this video clip, click here.  And have a great weekend, y’all.

Fatty Fat Fat Fat

As you may or may not know (or care, and I could hardly blame you), I had (shell)fish for dinner the night before last – salmon and scallops with a lovely green chile sauce, accompanied by some yellow summer squash, zucchini and onions sauteed in butter.  It was wonderful, and I couldn’t finish what was on my plate.  Nor did I wander around the house right before bedtime, grousing about how hungry I was – because, frankly, I wasn’t hungry.

Yesterday for lunch, I had fish, too, and chicken:  Beloved and I shared some sushi, chicken teriyaki and seaweed salad.  By mid-afternoon, we were both hungry; by the time we got home from work, we were ravenous.  What did our seafood dinner have that kept us from being hungry, but our lunch did not?

In a word:  Fat.

A lot of people are afraid of dietary fat – heaven knows I was for a very long time.  We’ve been conditioned, over the last 30 to 40 years, to be so…and it’s all been so wrong.  I won’t go into they whys and wherefores of how the American public was bilked into following a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet here (I suggest you read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes for an in-depth explanation of that), but bilked we have been.  And while we’ve been made paranoid about dietary fat in general, we’ve been made absolutely terrified of saturated fat in particular.

Silly us.

My mother died from heart disease at the age of 51.  I believe two factors came into play there – Mom smoked like a chimney and she ate a low-fat diet for the last 25 or so years of her life, which means she consumed a lot of grains, starches and refined sugar – particularly high fructose corn syrup (Mom looooooved her Coca Cola).  Well, she was a yo-yo dieter, too – Mom’s entire adulthood was a roller coaster of losing a lot of weight, only to regain it (and more) afterwards – and there’s ample evidence that that kind of behavior is every bit as unhealthy, if not more so, than simply being overweight.  And unhealthy it was – she developed an aeortal aneurysm at 46 and had a fatal heart attack two months after her 51st birthday.

I’m the eldest of Mom’s four kids (by quite a bit; the next oldest is 5 1/2 years younger), so I’ve gotten to deal with facing the age she became ill before my sibs, and it has been a sobering experience, I have to tell you.  Determined not to drop dead as a relatively young woman, I quit smoking for the very last time the day after my 45th birthday – I’ll have been completely smoke-free for thee years this December.  This is the year I’ve gotten a handle on my diet, and thanks to the enthusiastic cooperation of Beloved and The Young One (who has not complained once about the fact that the candy bowl no longer holds a never-ending supply of chocolate or that Mt. Dew, frozen pizza and boxed mac ‘n’ cheese have become a thing of the past), it has been easier than I ever could have hoped for.

If you had to peg what kind of a “diet” we’re on (although, as Beloved frequently points out, it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle), it’s somewhere between a paleo and a traditional foods diet.  It’s not a traditional foods diet because we’re not eating starches or grains at all (well, except for the ear of corn we had when the Ohio sweet corn came in this month), and it’s not a paleo diet because we’re still eating (full-fat) dairy – and it’s working really, really well for us.  Because we are losing weight, experiencing more energy, and are never hungry – which is nothing short of amazing, considering how much we both, but Beloved in particular, used to snack.

While we’ve cut starches, grains, refined sugars, soy and vegetable oils from our diet, the biggest change we’ve made is to increase the amount of fat we eat, particularly saturated fat.  Coconut and palm kernel oils, which are solid at room temperature (and an excellent, healthy source of medium chain fatty acids) have replaced shortening; lard and tallow have replaced vegetable oils for cooking; nut and avocado oils adorn our salads in the way of homemade salad dressings; and, of course, butter and olive oil remain favorites for sauteing and flavoring many of the foods we eat.  We are reveling in our diet of pastured dairy, chicken and eggs, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish and ethically-raised pork – all full of wonderful fat.  Add in the seasonal, locally grown fruits and vegetables to the mix, and we are pretty happy campers.

Have I mentioned we’re losing weight?  Or that we have not changed our basic lifestyle at all?  We have not taken up jogging, or Pilates, or yoga, or, indeed, any exercise program at all.  We have not given up alcohol (although we’ve realized we are drinking less than we used to – we just don’t feel like it any more).  We haven’t given up coffee, and Beloved still drinks diet Coke (although a lot less than he used to). We still work long hours.  And in 3 months he’s lost 25 pounds, and I’ve lost 17.  I have a friend who is on a low-fat diet and is jogging miles and miles several times a week and is completely frustrated with her inability to lose any weight at all.

Are we killing ourselves by consuming all of this “artery-clogging” fat?  I’m sure I will get comments that say, “Yes!” but I’m afraid I must disagree – there are more and more studies coming out all the time that find dietary fat is not only not bad for you, but actually good for you and implicates sugar, grains, starches (especially of the refined variety) and vegetable oils as the culprits behind what many experts are calling an “epidemic” of obesity and diabetes.  Now, think about that:  since the 70s, when the government took a stand and started recommending diets low in fat and high in carbohydrates (thank you, George McGovern), obesity, diabetes and heart disease have reached epidemic proportions. Exactly the opposite of what that kind of diet is supposed to do.

Makes you kinda stop and think, doesn’t it?  At least, it’s made me stop and think – mostly about the lovely steak and salad with lots of fat-laden dressing I’m going to have for dinner.

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

It Would Appear So

I grew up in a very matriarchal household.  My mother was, shall we say, of a very strong character.  She was blunt and loud and had very little filter between the brain and the mouth.  Very much a child of the 60s (Mom was barely 17 when I arrived in December of 1962) she was uninhibited in many ways, but she also had some oddly conservative views when it came to my behavior (although she’d done a complete 180 by the time my youngest sister, ten years my junior, became a teenager).  She could cuss like a sailor when she was angry, but I was not allowed to and the word “Fuck” was absolutely verboten, even in her vocabulary.  She was honest and forthright when asked about sex, but when she found out that I was sleeping with my boyfriend at the age of 18, she was not at ALL pleased.  She had to work, and work hard, all of her life but I spent my teenage years listening to a litany of “find a good man to take care of you.”

(One of my biggest regrets in life is that my mother never met Beloved…I don’t know if they’d have adored each other or spent all of their time trying to bitch-slap each other into next week.  Either way, it would have been extremely amusing to watch.)

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my love of all things Anne Taintor is because her stuff reminds me of Mom.  As far as she was concerned, you could – and should – think what you want, but you better be goddamn careful how you express those thoughts and even more careful about the appearance you presented the world (sometimes I wonder why Mom and The Ex didn’t get along better).  Not that she was the kind of woman that wouldn’t leave the house without makeup or perfect hair – she wasn’t sloppy or slovenly, but pearls and heels definitely weren’t her thing – for Mom, appearances were all about the kind of person you were and the kind of life you led.

Or, considering she the fact that she liked nothing better than toking up in the evenings after work (in the bedroom, so we wouldn’t know what she was doing – yeah, right), it was all about the appearance we presented to society.

It’s really no secret where the idea that appearances mattered came from.  My mother grew up in a very matriarchal household, too.  My grandmother was the epitome of the Genteel Proper Southern Lady, but my grandfather personified the Strong, Silent Man Who Left the Child Rearing to His Wife.  And although my mother had been Rebellious Growing Up, she absorbed a great many of my grandmother’s values which, like so many of her generation, centered around “What would the neighbors think?”

Oh, how things have changed.

Every week, my immediate family has two questions for me:  Are you doing a Random Tuesday Thoughts post and What’s the Spin Cycle about? This week, I’ve been laid up with a fairly nasty bug (as of this writing, Wednesday evening, I’m feeling a little better, but still pretty crappy), that has pretty much hindered the progress of this post.  Because trust me, I begin thinking about it the minute Jen hands out the next week’s assignment every Friday morning.  This week when The Young One asked me what the subject of the Spin Cycle was and I told him “Appearances” he naturally asked (he is, after all, a teenager), “You mean how you look?”

“Sure,” I said.  “In fact, some of the bloggers who are participating have written excellent posts along those lines.  But I think mine is going to be more about how the world perceives us.”

He looked a bit confused, so I said, “When my mother was growing up, and even more so when my grandmother was growing up, it was very common for people to worry about what other people thought of them.  If something bad happened to them or their families, they often didn’t talk about it – sometimes they went to great lengths to hide it.”

I regarded the incredulous look on his 15-year-old face, and considered the fact that he is living in the age of Jerry Springer and YouTube and 24-hour news channels that seem obsessed with what is going on in the lives of Tiger Woods and Sandra Bullock and apologies being issued by the Vatican.  In a world according to Nancy Grace, nothing is private.

Some very ugly and traumatic things have happened to me and those close to me in the 47 years I’ve been on this earth, and I don’t for a minute excuse the way some members of my family have glossed over and out-and-out ignored those ugly and traumatic things, but I also strenuously object to how every detail of our lives has the potential to become public property.  Does it all have to be on the evening news and/or splashed all over the internet?  Aren’t we allowed to say “Yes, we’re human with all the faults and foibles that humans possess, but we should be allowed to work this out in private, with some sort of dignity?”

What do YOU think?