24 January 2015

A call to radical self-love

"Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen"
Marge Piercy "The seven of pentacles"

According to the societal standards of beauty, I am an abject failure. For years, I walked around, beating myself up in my head because of my fat body. Every day I looked in the mirror and was never satisfied. I obsessed about everything I ate, especially when eating in public. Unlike many fat women, I don't have any horror stories of ill-treatment from strangers, or potential romantic partners, or employers, but we know these exist for many, many obese men and women.

When I look around me at women on television, in movies, in magazines, in advertisements, and in almost every representation, I see more benchmarks of beauty that I do not meet. That I will never meet -- not because I am slothful and uncaring -- but because they are meant to be unattainable.

Long, thick, glossy hair. Wrinkle, blemish, and pore free. Perfectly proportioned body, boobs and booty. Cellulite free. No "excess" body hair. "Naturally" beautiful. Artfully applied makeup to look like you are not wearing makeup at all.

Our culture tries to sell women, and to a lesser extent, men, an image that we must always be striving for. This is why you hear women who are regularly held up to the world as "perfect" and "beautiful" spend so much time in interviews hating on something or other about their bodies. She must talk about her weird nose or too-long neck or how she can never gain weight or her bizarre repressive diet and her military exercise routine or some other such nonsense. She must remind us that at 10 she was skinny and gangly and didn't date in high school or whatever to show her imperfections and insecurities. A woman must never, ever, ever express in public the idea that she is satisfied with her looks. She is okay with her body. Comfortable in her skin. She must always be striving for that glorious ideal of perfection. (If you doubt me, take a gander at some the press Gabourey Sibide has amassed over the past few years as she talks about herself in confident, body-positive ways.)

When I hear women talk all the time about how disgusting their bodies are and how they are x amount overweight, even when they are friends, I think, what must they think of me and my obese body? I must be so incredibly disgusting to them. (Not that I think everything's about me....but if people put themselves in other people's shoes, there are so many things that just come across as painful and destructive.)

Just when you think you're good, and you feel comfortable in your skin....blam. New standard. New goals. New ways of shaming you and making you feel like shit about yourself. Finally got the BB cream into your skin care regimen, oops, now you need the CC cream...then it will be the DD...etc. etc. Shape your eyebrows this way. Wear your hair that way. Use this shampoo. No, that one! Eat this not that! Juice cleanse. Make home-cooked meals for your family every day. Never feed yourself or your family fast food. Schedule every minute. Take time to stop and smell the roses.Excel at your job. No, stay at home with your kids. Home school. No, charter school. No, wait, private school...or is it public school? It's exhausting.

And frankly, I'm tired.

If you can't come from a place of love, what's the point? If you want or need to lose weight, want or need to change your schedule, or improve or change any area of your life, you can't come from a place of hate. You have to do it because you love yourself. How do you do that when you live in a culture that's reinforcing self-hatred and low self-esteem at every turn, in every possible way?

Ok now, here's the radical part. What if we just stopped?

Stopped feeling shitty about ourselves?

Stopped endlessly thinking and talking about diets and what we eat?

Stopped comparing women with each other and to photoshopped advertising?

Stopped talking trash about how other women dress, their hair, their makeup?

Stopped judging women for how they discipline their kids, or don't have kids, or stay at home, or go to a job somewhere?

Stopped feeling bad about cellulite or the size of our butts (or ankles, thighs, boobs, neck, stomach, etc.)?

Stopped thinking we have to be a certain size?

Stopped feeling like a failure because of the numbers on a scale?

Stopped injecting ourselves with toxins and foreign substances?

Stopped talking about "bikini bodies" and "getting in shape for the dress"?

Stopped obsessing about what foods are "good" or "bad"? (Unless you actually have celiac disease or a life-threatening allergy...then you can obsess all you want.) Eat without justifying it to others. Eat in public without shame.

What if bodies were just bodies? Each one uniquely shaped and sized.

What if we stopped demonizing and shaming fat?

What if we stopped making thin women feel less "real" because they don't have "curves"?

Why can't people be lumpy?

Why can't we be shaped and sized differently?

Keep buying and doing all the stuff you do now if you want, but don't do it because you're trying to meet some mythical standard or you feel bad about how you look. If you buy into that cycle, you'll never win. You will be stuck forever on a moving sidewalk going nowhere.

Instead of viewing your body with loathing, view it with compassion. Think about how strong you are and what you can do with that body. Or how weak you are and how you need the help and compassion of others to make it through the day.

Think about your brain and intellect.

Think about what kind of person you are and what kind of person you want to be.

Live as if you like yourself -- your whole self, so-called imperfections and all.

And maybe, just maybe, you'll begin to actually (really, truly, madly, deeply) like yourself.

17 January 2015

This is my life: Six Songs

Like so many of the “personality inventories” that roam the internet, this is one I saw in a magazine somewhere, I know not where, but it intrigued me enough to sit down and think about mine. Music has been a part of my life always – before I knew what it was, before I knew my own affinity for it, music and songs were there.

“You Light Up My Life” Debbie Boone (1977)
This is not the first song I remember; that would be John Denver’s “Country Roads” (1973? 74?) which I have a vivid memory of hearing (and maybe singing?) while playing on the floor at my grandparents’ house in Wellsboro, PA. “You Light Up My Life,” which was a monster hit, all over the radio, was the first song I remember deliberately trying to learn the words to, to sing the tune, and to understand the meaning. I remember sitting on the swing set in my parents’ backyard at the house on Irvine Place and singing the words over and over again until they were committed to memory.

“Ode to Joy” Beethoven
This theme from the 9th Symphony was one of the first pieces of classical music I learned to play when I began playing the violin – so I probably learned it sometime in 1979 or 1980. It, along with Hayden’s “Minuet” and Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” is ingrained so deeply in my brain that I often hum it unconsciously, I finger the left hand when I’m trying to calm down or take my mind off something stressful, and now that I am older and know the hymn ("Joyful, joyful we adore thee) associated with the tune as well, it resonates deeply in my soul (as does Beethoven’s 5th Symphony). When I die, I want this hymn sung at my funeral, and I want to imagine that heaven is full of music beyond all comprehension.

“Flowers on the Wall” The Statler Brothers
The family vacation, all of us and all our stuff piled into the station wagon, heading south (sometimes north) and listening to the radio….One of the station wagons our family owned had a new-fangled 8 track tape deck in it, and we carried along a small selection of music – and the one song that sticks in my head forever is this one….we played that tape over and over and over (or so it seemed to me) so that we all hated the song. (This was just before cassette tapes and branching away from the AM gold into FM pop radio.)

“I’m on Fire” Bruce Springsteen
In the fall of 1984, I began high school and immediately crushed on a foreign exchange student. As girls are wont to do, I shared all my crush-worthy dreams with my best friend, telling her how much I “liked” him and never daring to do anything about it (story of my life, mostly). One day, sometime that fall, she asks me to sit down in the lunchroom and says she needs to tell me something – over the weekend, she’d “made out” with my crush at a party to this song, and knowing my feelings for him, she wanted my blessing? approval? permission? to go ahead and date him. I said yes, of course, because I was all about people-pleasing, and then I cried a lot. I've long since forgiven her and know I dodged a bullet with him, but this song still pains me and I’m 14 again, twinging deep in my soul, reminding me of the bittersweet crush and betrayal of a best friend.

“Moondance” Van Morrison / “Could I Have This Dance?” Anne Murray
The summer between high school and college, I watched two little girls in the afternoons so that their mom could go back to work. They were like three and 6-8 months old, so they napped a good portion of every day and after I’d done the dishes, there was not much for me to do except read or watch television, and I got hooked on soap operas. I’d watch “All My Children,” “One Life to Live” and “General Hospital.” Then I discovered “Santa Barbara,” which was way more romantic and sweeping, and I would then flip back and forth between it and “General Hospital.” This was the summer of the romance between Eden’s sister and Cruz’s brother (I have no idea of their character names, nor of the actors who played them) but I remember them being shipwrecked, I think, on a deserted island, maybe, and a romantic dancing/kissing scene with “Moondance” playing in the background.
I've only once been asked to dance at a wedding (and I've been to a bunch of weddings over the years) and it was to Anne Murray’s song (that I've always liked), at Becky and Guy’s wedding, that Jimmy (a guy from church who I’d known forever) asked me to dance. It ranks as one of the best moments in my life (and I’m sure he had no idea). Anyone who wants to romance me need only put one of these songs on and ask me to dance.

“Walking on Sunshine” Katrina and the Waves
No matter how old I get, how many songs I hear, I will always be a child of the 80's, and this song will always make me happy. It just does.

02 January 2015

The Christmas card I didn't send, 2014 edition

I did not send Christmas cards this year.

Parent and sibling exceptions. They got special cards.

Oh, I purchased them -- boxes of adorable sparkly cards at Target -- and I already had some that I've squirreled away for future use in a box at home, along with a cute package of make-your-own cards as well (mostly all purchased at some after-Christmas rock-bottom sale price). Oh, and some nice free cards that came in the mail from some organization or other.

I love getting cards, especially from friends and family, even those that are just pictures. I'm one of the last relics who also sends cards for birthdays and babies and sympathy and just because. Not many people reciprocate, but that's fine; I don't send cards in order to get more back. I like the old-fashioned and tactile nature of cards.

This year, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak, and I was totally exhausted from the semester's end and still needed to do Christmas shopping. Something had to give, and cards were it. So here's the letter that would have gone out with the cards I did not send. Only, since it's online, I can include pictures too!

The Berrys wander through 2014

We rang in the new year on a train with contraband beer and hard cider somewhere between Chicago and Washington DC. We were supposed to be on a train between DC and Savannah, but due to the high volume of freight traffic on the Empire Builder line, we left Minneapolis 2 hours later than expected (not a bad thing, we got to sleep a little more), got into Chicago 6 hours later than expected, then got sent to the Swissotel downtown to spend the night in a king size bed with our own bathroom (a total luxury after spending so much time on a train. We'd left Savannah on December 16.) I won't bore you with more details because you can look back on the blog for pictures and more information.

Sunrise from the train, 1 January 2014

A rainbow over Love's Seafood, 11 January 2014

We got to spend New Year's day with Gary and Paula in DC (and although I felt like total crap, having picked up some nasty cold somewhere) as they picked us up at Union Station and took us for a marvelous meal at Founding Farmers. It was so good to spend time with them. We headed out for home 2 and a half hours later than expected (train travel is fun but not speedy) and spent the last 12 hours in coach, both of us now coughing and drugged up with antihistamines. We picked up my mom, who'd spent the last 16 days at our house caring for the grandpets: Shadow, Tyger, Lucky, Grafiti, and Greylegs, and headed off to breakfast.

The rest of January was a blur, with illness, a new semester, and a short trip to Jacksonville to visit Emily filling our time.

Highlights: a celebratory night downtown at the Inn at Ellis Square for our month-aversary and two old movies at the Lucas Theater. Also, a "snow day" after being sent home from work and a late start the following day....only in  Savannah....no, we did not have any snow, or ice, or anything, just cold.

February brought binging on the Olympics and a visit from my dad and Elaine.

Ice on the camellias

First blooms at the end of January
March was a marvelous month, beginning with my mother-in-law's 88th birthday on the 1st. We met her friend Dixie for lunch at Sweet Potatoes and had a nice visit. Alzheimer's allowed her a semi-good day, and we are thankful for any time in her company. On the 11th, I was offered a full-time job for the following school year -- just a one-year position, but I was totally thrilled to accept it. On the 16th, Scott turned 54, and we celebrated by going to the gun range and then having dinner at Vincenzo's. My birthday, 44 on the 20th, was celebrated at Pearl's Saltwater Grille with the Beenes and the McCarthys and a marvelous chocolate mint torte from Lulu's. Also, a new macro lens for my camera. Friends from North Dakota arrived on the 22nd, my mom arrived on the 24th, and we ate out a lot and took in as many shows as possible during the Savannah Music Festival.

Highlights: Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Kristina Train and Pokey Lafarge, Vince Gill, Asif Ali Khan, Ladies Sing the Blues with Catherine Russel and Charenee Wade, Avi Avital, and all the rest of the performers we saw during the most wonderful explosion of music every March/April in Savannah.

Smallest church in America, just off GA 17, taken in March

Wisteria in March

In April, we saw Nickel Creek and were visited by friends from Elmira who now live in Missouri. I finally ate at Lady and Sons. It was good, and I would eat there again, but I still like Johnny Harris's fried chicken better.

May began with girlfriends and a Mandisa/Brandon Heath concert at Calvary Baptist. We Presbyterians can get down. The spring semester ended with its usual mass grading and chaos, but we also took in a Sand Gnats ballgame (with Shadow....Bark in the Park) and spent our month-aversary at the Forsyth Park Inn.

Lucky awaits my mom's arrival on the freshly made guest bed.

Iris from 23 May 2014 bouquet

Courtyard cottage entrance at Forsythe Park Inn
In June, Scott and I celebrated 7 years of marriage. Now, I know that's not a long time, but for two people who never expected to get married, it's a great milestone. We spent a few days out on Tybee Island, where we continue to make improvements to the apartment and make it more of a home away from home for us and any out-of-town guests.

Grafiti posing

Fireworks at the Sand Gnats game

In July, I abandoned my husband for my annual road trip to Elmira, visiting with my Mom and Bob, seeing dear old friends, gathering beer to take home to Scott, eating King Kone and Pudgies and Elbow Room, and Southside Sub Shop (basically, ignoring all my good eating habits for a week). I kidnapped my mother and brought her south with me, stopping to visit Gary and Paula in DC and meandering our way through Virginia on the way home. Once back in Savannah, we all went to the ballpark again for the Gnats, this time for an Armstrong Alumni event and fireworks! The following week was Vacation Bible School where I told stories and floated around doing whatever else was needed. Sent my mom back home then took off with Scott for Asheville, NC. We had a lovely time there, including checking out a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives restaurant, the Beacon Drive in in Spartanburg, SC and a craft brew festival, as well as a lovely brunch with the Clan Marciniak, who drove all the way over from Charlotte to spend time with us! We left Asheville and took the Blue Ridge Parkway about 45 miles and found a gem in the woods, the Balsam Mountain Inn -- old school, historic charm, no phones, no internet, fantastic food, and one night turned into two as we completely relaxed.

Scott and Mom, drenched and waiting at AJ's Dockside on Tybee Island

Scott in Asheville, co-operatively posing.

Upstairs porch at Balsam Mountain Inn

From the switchback driveway, Balsam Mountain Inn.

August brought searing hot temperatures and lots of orientations and meetings for me as a new full-time employee at Armstrong State University -- my schedule ballooned to five classes with an overload and I braced for the onslaught. Whoo boy, what a semester. Work has basically consumed my life since then, with five classes, 90 students, 1200 essays and weekly writings and response papers to grade. Add to that the Common Read Committee, a Faculty learning community and a Faculty Book Club....and well....good thing Scott took up the laundry (or we'd not have had clean clothes) and the grocery shopping (or we'd not eat....) and was willing to eat out more than usual to pick up my slack -- oh, and of course I got sick too -- so did Scott, some sort of respiratory crud.

Highlights of the fourth quarter of the year: Clan Marciniak came to Tybee, I took an NRA pistol training course (birthday gift from my gun-loving husband), Lee Child at the Lucas Theater, Keb' Mo at the Lucas and graduation from the Savannah Presbytery's School of the Laity in October.

Most of the Clan Marcinak and us at Marlin Monroe's on Tybee
Shadow waits patiently for a treat

Lake at Unicoi State Park

A foggy day in December, Tybee Island
We spent the week of Thanksgiving (thankful for a full week off from classes) in a cabin in north Georgia at Unicoi State Park. On Christmas, we volunteered with the Trading Places project and served dinner the Union Mission in the afternoon and helped out at the Ronald McDonald House in the evening. We rang in this new year with a quiet dinner at Troy Restaurant, five minutes from our house, and vegetating in front of the television.

We lead a pretty quiet life, just us and the critters, and we consider our lives much blessed. "God has done great things for us, and we are glad" was the verse from Psalm 126 printed on our wedding invitation, and this year has been full of great things, from good meals to time with friends, laughter, great music, books, movies, and even television.

We look forward to hosting visitors in 2015, so y'all come :)

Much love to you all,
Renee (and Scott too)

06 March 2014

Letting go

"Sometimes the best way to hold onto something is to let it go" Unknown. (Yesterday's quote on my page-a-day calendar.)

The season of Lent began yesterday, and I stumbled through the day, breaking almost all of my own rules by the end of the day. This year, I am endeavouring to be disciplined in my approach, yet still listening to the Spirit.

To back up a hair, I've been on a self-improvement project since November of 2012. Like most projects, it's a long and complicated process with plenty of bumps and disasters along the way, and I am not even close to being done. I'm not putting an end-date to the project because I don't know what that end looks like. It's not just the weight I need to lose, it's also the need to be fat, the reliance on food for reward or comfort, and the building of an active life where there has been minimal activity in the past.

It took me six months to not talk myself out of the gym at least once a week, calling in with excuses and lateness and sometimes even genuine sickness and sadness. The next six months, when I began to see changes in my body, slow but steady, I began to see the benefit of the activity and even, occasionally, that endorphin high from working out. The past four and a half months have seen me actually looking forward to going to the gym and trying to add more days of activity into my life (that's been super hard, but I keep trying). I feel like I am being lead to making more changes, this time in my way of eating -- not a diet. Diets don't work. It's a lateral change to healthier eating habits.

I am not generally an impulsive person (there are some exceptions), and it takes me a long time to think about things and make decisions, so I felt like the Spirit was moving in my life to help me make beneficial changes -- not without fear, but with faith that I can accomplish my goals.

One of the factors drawing me toward these changes is the growing conviction that eating organic, locally sourced products, and fewer chemicals/artificial whatnots would be better for both me and the environment. Lots of reading and movie-watching have convinced me of this. Again, it's a slow change, like turning around a freighter with a tugboat, but it's slowly becoming a habit. I've eliminated almost all fast food -- still have a Chick-Fil-A or Arby's occasionally, but that's it. I've eliminated soda almost completely and really don't miss it at all.

I felt like it was time to make the next step. I started looking at juice fasts at the beginning of the year. I want to do a three-day one, and I am going to begin on Monday. I'm going to try to use a local source, but I may also end up using some products obtained at the grocery store. I am not buying a juicer. Too much for me right now. My trainer and I talked about the Daniel Fast, and when I looked at the information, I was intrigued, but once I dug a little deeper, I knew that it was too radical a shift for me -- hard-core vegan -- and I needed to do something do-able. (Otherwise, I will not stick with it.) So here's what I am fasting from during Lent:

  • caffeine (I will miss my occasional coffee and my frequent unsweetened iced tea)
  • bread (sigh. I will miss ALL bread permutations.)
  • deep fried food (I've been eating less and less of this, but I will miss my fries, fried seafood, etc.)
  • beef and pork (cheeseburgers and bacon...need I say more)
  • sugar (literally, my favorite thing in the whole world....this will be tough.)

Part of this discipline to to write about my day and to meditate as well. I've been slowly working my way through a book Forty Days to a Closer Walk With God, and I am going to pick that back up tonight and start over again (for the third time, I think.)

So, to account for yesterday -- I did have bacon and toast (two pieces of each) for breakfast -- to be fair, my hubby made the meal and he didn't know my guidelines, so I ate what he made (and savored my last bacon and toast). Dinner was at another church before the Lenten service, and I had a delicious vegetarian taco soup and a large salad, oh, and a corn muffin and a homemade brownie. Ah well.

Today was generally good, although I realized I'd made a mistake after I began drinking the Bolthouse protein drink -- Mocha Cappuccino -- and discovered that they use actual coffee...I'd already opened the container and begun drinking, so I finished it. Then there was the dilemma of the granola bar I'd packed for lunch (along with my Green drink, banana chips, hummus and pita chips). I did not eat the pita chips...will substitute carrots next Thursday...but I did eat the TLC dark chocolate mocha bar. I think, technically, a violation of the sugar prohibition....but dinner will be good (in a few minutes) -- marinated baked snapper, canned peas, garlic quinoa and brown rice. Popcorn later if I am still hungry, and meditation before bed as well.

Today's calendar says "Like a new bud, each day unfolds in splendid beauty." It might not have been beautiful outside today , but bit by bit, I am working on my inner splendid beauty.

19 January 2014

Planes, trains and....buses?

Yikes. Has it really been more than two weeks since we returned to Savannah on January 2, both of us sleep-deprived and hatching nasty respiratory junk (which we are both still fighting...ugh). Yes, it has. Well. Between sickness and getting ready for the new semester, which started this past week, and leaving this post on my tablet...things just got lost in the shuffle. Here's the final post I wrote on the trip, and I will write a new blog tomorrow (yes, I really will.) 

Written 30 December 2013

The year grinds to a close and we are once again boarding a train, leaving behind the Twin Cities, the Mall of America, and the midwestern branch of the family. Last night, in the frenzy of stuffing all our things back into the bags (why is it that there's MORE each time I pack? Perhaps the Mall of America and the Sportsman's Guide have something to do with this phenomenon...must investigate further)....anyway, we get an email from the helpful people of Amtrak letting us know that there are issues with our trip the next day and it might involve "alternate transportation." Hmmm. This does not bode well. Hubby gets on the phone and discovers that due to probable lateness (hah! Probable....) we might be riding a bus to Chicago. Although it has been and still is colder than hell here, I think we might have just crossed over into a circle. So we (meaning I) continue to pack.

I am a firm believer in not worrying about things I cannot impact, although for sure, my sub-conscious does not always go along. So I set the alarm for 6:15 and try to sleep. Both iphone users in the house have downloaded the Amtrak app (which lies like a rug) and it says that the train will be on time. It is -8 outside. -11 on a bank on the way. Ugh. So glad to be heading back to "winter" in Savannah. After a drive-thru breakfast, we arrive at the station, no train or buses in evidence, and find that the train is scheduled to arrive at 8:15, just a half-hour or so late. We make our way to the sleeper car lounge, which I have to say, as an aside, makes me feel like we're celebrities, whisked into a private enclave with comfy couches, coffee (free) and a tv, while the huddled masses crammed into the oh-so-comfortable bucket chair conglomerations look at us with a little bit of hate. My dad hangs for a little bit. Train now arriving at 8:45. Now 9:15. Now 9:40. Dad heads home and we hunker down to wait.

Great! No bus trip to Chicago. The connection will be tight, but we will make it. We finally board around 9:45, find our roomette, hubby pulls down the top bunk and I steal the blanket, unable to get warm today, and settle into the seat.

The tracks are cold, which is problematic. There is freight traffic too. We make s l o w progress across Minnesota, into Wisconsin (yay cheese) finally stopping for good twice. The first time we sat for maybe a half-hour while some repair was made. The second time, just minutes from the Wisconsin Dells, it's a two plus hour wait, complete with bags of snacks and lots of apologies over the PA.

We are finally on the move, but it is clear we will not make our connection (which is scheduled to leave in about 10 minutes) and this will screw up our lunch date with my brother and sister-in-law in DC,  but we will see what comes next....stay tuned.

Brrrrr. Cold, snowy day on the train.

Dateline: Chicago 31 December 2013

Each delay we've experienced, teaching us lessons in patience and equanimity, has worked out in our favor. This one is perhaps the best. We arrive into Chicago's Union Station three and a half hours after our train to DC has left and as the other option is boarding. With no guarantee of a roomette, we take our carryons over to the long line of people at passenger services, where we are provided with a voucher for $44 and a room at the Swissotel on East Wacker. After a slushy cab ride, we arrive at one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed at, upgraded to a king sized bed, a huge bathroom, plugs galore and a view of the iconic skyline for the night. From the window by the elevators, there is a view of the Navy Pier and Lake Michigan. For a little more money, we arrange a late checkout, walk to a local restaurant, Eggy's, where we have a stellar breakfast and are able to relax before heading back out into the snow and cold.

See the pictures for our constantly changing weather....

Night time from our hotel room 30 Dec 2013
Day view, morning 31 Dec 2013
Day view, early afternoon 31 Dec 2013