I Quit Sugar!

Larson’s Bakery, just down the block from where we stayed in Seattle, is full of fresh, sweet treats. Cookies, cakes, donuts, tarts, the delish local Norwegian pastries. We stopped by every day; it was hard to chose just one treat, so lots of times I’d get two. Or three. Yummiest vacation ever.

I’d already bought clothes in a larger size for the trip. Most of my jeans were in a pile headed for a donation box, and many of my cute tops were on the way to the same pile. I kept my rings on the entire vacation, as they were hard to pull off my puffy fingers. I thought I’d need to get them re-sized soon.

None of this bothered me. I’m 64. I’m not going to worry about dieting at my age. My grandkids love me just the way I am. They’re still too young to attach labels to people based on looks. My husband, too, loves me for me. He still sees the slim young woman he married, or at least he’s never mentioned my weight or made me feel ashamed of it.

On the long flight home to Detroit, we bought sandwiches for the plane and chocolate too. After I ate my Snickers bar, I craved some of those M&Ms Al wasn’t eating. Al loves sweets, but he’s not addicted. When I asked, he handed me the M&Ms. He wasn’t happy about it, as he knew I had a bad sugar habit, but he indulged me. Then we got home and I looked at my calendar, just to get my bearings. What did I have going on in June besides Al’s birthday?

There it was, at the end of the month. An appointment with the doctor to test my blood sugar. I flashed to what she’d said two months before: if my numbers didn’t go down, she’d be putting me on medicine to control my blood sugar, and probably something for cholesterol, too. I had been in denial for the past two months. Maybe I subconsciously believed that having to take meds would be the thing that finally made me quit sugar. But now that the reality of sugar addiction was looking me in the face, I wanted to fix it.

I’d gone off sugar before. I’d done no carb, even. Those were the happiest numbers my doctor ever saw. She said “I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep it up.” That was about ten years ago. I was afraid to tell her I was doing South Beach. It could not be healthy to consume that much meat and dairy. Plus I was so sick of eggs and bacon for breakfast! Over the next several years, I tried to eat more healthfully, became vegetarian and then vegan. My sugar numbers slowly but surely crept up again.

My solution to all problems is to read up on it. I needed a book that would help me quit sugar. I found Sarah Wilson’s “I Quit Sugar” and read a lot of things I already knew. Like that processed foods contain sugar. And I learned some new things. Like that a whole wheat hamburger bun has more sugar in it than a candy bar. Or maybe that was from “Wheat Belly” the next book I read.

Ten years ago, I didn’t have the health problems I am now confronting. Insomnia. Excema. Lactose intolerance. Caffeine sensitivity. The inability to eat a healthy vegan diet because beans and legumes made my stomach churn and worse. Pretty much, I had IBS. And it is not pleasant. The last thing on the list of food items that are thought to cause IBS is wheat. And I had saved that as the last thing to eliminate from my diet, because I just didn’t want to know.

Then one day after my morning cereal, I made the familiar rush to the bathroom. No doubt about it, on top of being addicted to sugar, I had a problem digesting wheat. However, the two books had shown me a path forward without sugar or wheat. So two weeks ago, I decided to try to quit sugar. I cleaned out my pantry, getting rid of most of the offending foods. Both books had simple recipes. Sarah’s even has a shopping list.

My new diet is part South Beach, part vegan/vegetarian. Veggies are of primary importance, so those years as a vegetarian and vegan were not a total waste. It’s not a weight loss diet. It’s a diet that breaks sugar addiction, including the sugar in our modern genetically modified wheat. It might be too late to impact my sugar numbers this round of blood tests, but I will continue to eat this way anyway. If I do have to go on medication, I will soon be able to get off of it if I don’t eat sugar or wheat.

I’ll let you know how this latest diet goes after I hear from my doctor. Meanwhile, I’ve not had any wheat or sugar for two weeks. The IBS that started five years ago and has progressively gotten worse is gone. My bloated wheat belly has settled down into a regular pudgy tummy. Most of my jeans zip again. The rings on my fingers slide easily on and off. Best of all, I have no sugar cravings. None.

Writing Motivation

Trouble comes to every writer. Even writers with lots of published books. Before I sat down to write this, I looked up my old posts on the topic. None of them fit my current situation, but it was fun to read them because they reminded me of how far I’ve come and that I’ve successfully solved this problem before. Here’s the thing, what used to work doesn’t anymore. I thought for a long time about not writing novels anymore. I can get my writing fix here on the blog and in my morning pages. But I’m in the middle of a book and I hate to leave things unfinished, so I put time and thought into the decision.

It took awhile for me to decide not to trash the WIP. That process of thinking through if I wanted to keep doing this at least until I finish the current project is what led to my current motivation for continuing. I figured out that my old goals weren’t working any more. For so long my goal was “get published” then “publish a book” then “publish a novel” then “switch genres” then…nothing. I’d done it all. Every single one of my writing dreams had been achieved. I’d met all my writing goals. I could die happy. (Really. This becomes an actual thing at my age.)

Eventually, with a lot of help from morning pages and a pointed question from a friend, I figured out that in order to motivate myself I needed a new goal. None of my old goals would suffice. I had reached the top of my personal book mountain. But come to find out at the top of my writing mountain, I saw the bottom of another mountain. I could continue the climb if I was willing to do the work to reach a new goal. Right away I decided that of course I was going to try. Having a goal in life (about anything, not just writing) helps me keep moving, remain upbeat, and continue striving. I don’t think about goals that much, but I need them.

I’m 64. I started writing when I was 14. That’s 50 years of always writing, always finding another mountain to climb. My supply of enthusiasm and energy for the book biz has diminished. It was bound to happen on such a long road with so many obstacles to overcome, so many wrong turns and happy detours. Diminished doesn’t mean extinguished, though. I’m not finished quite yet.

What I know now that I didn’t know before was that as long as you’re alive, you can reach higher than your biggest dreams. My new goal in finishing this novel and making it great is modest. My husband is retiring soon and we want to travel and spend more time with our grandchildren. That is the golden goal. My motivation to finish this novel and make it my best effort is to send the book to an agent a friend says is perfect for me. After that, it’s out of my hands.

When I was younger, I had many goals and dreams. What I learned then is that goals are different than dreams. Goals only work 100% when you have control over the outcome. (Dreams are another post.) I don’t have control over what the agent will say about my book. And that’s fine. I already had an agent who couldn’t sell my book and I ended up with a perfectly fine publisher anyway. That was many books ago. I’m thinking submitting to another agent is worth a shot. And it does something else: it gives me a good reason to finish this novel and make it fabulous.

What We Keep

I am the only daughter of an only daughter. For this reason, I have inherited many precious items: jewelry, china, crystal and antiques. I now own the century old hope chest that had belonged to my dear granny since she was a girl. My mother was sitting on that hope chest the day she met my father.

Mom’s older brother had a new friend named Bill. When Bill saw Marge sitting on the hope chest, he flipped her necklace, a delicate cross with a diamond at the center, and said “Hi there, little girl.” She was only two years younger than he, so she felt insulted but also excited. More than that chest she sat on was full of hope.

When Granny and my grandfather moved to the countryside north of Detroit, she painted her hand-carved hope chest. Her parents had bought it new for her for her trousseau and now, fifty years later, it had pride of place in her foyer. In 1965, Granny remade her chest in a new  “antique” style finish. I loved the swirly ornate style of the chest and the way Granny’s paint glinted with hints of gold over the decorative façade.

The hope chest was the first thing my mom gifted to me as she began the process of clearing away a lifetime of things Granny had collected. Next came the china, then the crystal, and the jewelry. My mother is not a collector of fine things, but Granny was, and I am, too.

Now, as my husband and I plan a permanent move to Florida, we talk about what to keep, what to give away. Of course we’ll keep our family photos and my first edition book collection. He’ll want his tools, but will likely pare down his collection of a hundred or so baseball caps. We’ll sell or give away the furniture.

Thinking about our lovely furniture, collected over many years, piece by precious piece, gave me pause. My china cabinet. My favorite chair. My writing desk. Our lux king-sized bed. Yes, I could let it all go. Everything except Granny’s hope chest, which holds more than just things. It holds the story of who I am, how I came to be, and the ones who came before me.

I’m a grandmother now. My grandsons call me Granny. My granddaughter, not even a year old, hasn’t yet called me by any name. When I think of the future, into a world my grandchildren will inhabit long after I’m gone, I wonder if she will keep something of mine, if she’ll say “this was my granny’s.” Perhaps she’ll even say “and her granny’s before that.”











Life Among the Couples

Long Bayou held a dance for Valentine’s Day last night. Earlier, I’d gotten most of my hair cut off but left the  silver at the roots. I am growing into that silver just as I am learning to face my many fears alone. The stuff I’m afraid of could fill a book, but the little six inch lizard that found it’s way into my home seriously freaked me out. I called my husband even knowing he could do nothing for me in Michigan. He didn’t answer the phone.

I used ant spray on the slippery little creature and swear his beady little eyes looked into mine asking “Why?” before he disappeared under the door to the heating and cooling unit. Then I went to the internet and found out these guys are harmless and also everywhere in Florida. Even inside houses. They climb walls and hide behind picture frames. Still, I chose this place to live and I have to make peace with its ways.

I applied courage like a third layer of mascara and put on my party clothes. My friend came upstairs for a drink before the dance. She peered in the closet with a flashlight, but there was no sign of my tiny intruder. Just one more thing I’m going to have to get used to here. That’s another long list of stuff: what I need to adjust to, what I need to figure out, what I must endure alone.

I texted my absent husband then went to the dance. The band was musically proficient but they played mostly romantic songs so the couples could slow dance. Karen and I sipped our wine, danced a little bit, but mostly looked on. We left early; I went up to my condo alone. I looked around for the lizard. I looked at my phone. No text from my husband, but on the plus side, no sign of the lizard, either.



Coping with the Holidays

My beloved Granny died on Christmas day many years ago. I remember going to the hospital in the morning, as we were visiting Al’s family later than afternoon. I walked into her room and she wasn’t there. I’d seen the flowers I’d sent out at the nurse’s station, so I had a foreboding feeling, but not trusting my intuition I asked a nurse if she’d gone for tests. Although there were no more tests and we all knew it. Granny was DNR and under hospice care.

Driving home, I wondered why I hadn’t gotten a call from my mom. I told Al I couldn’t face a party and he stayed home with me. We tried calling everyone in my family but nobody was answering phones. We went to my grandparents’ home, where there had been so many wonderful Christmases, and my grandfather answered the door. He looked dazed but stoic. Before we left that day, I had a much better understanding of how far his dementia had gone. Granny had kept that to herself.

Since then Christmas has been hit or miss for me. Some years it’s wonderful and some years it sucks. This year it was more better than bad. I saw all my grandchildren. I saw my kids and my folks. I had trees in Florida and Michigan and Al was with me. He’s had most of the month off, saving all year to have this vacation time together with family. I could not have done any of it without him. My anxiety for whatever reason goes into hyper mode during the holidays. As much as I love them, I can’t navigate them alone near as well as I can with Al handling the tough stuff.

I’m blessed and I know it. But I’ve had awful Christmases alone and with others so I think about those people who may not be doing so great, for whatever reason, this season. I can’t speak to the horror so much of the world has to cope with right now, I can only tell you how I lightened a dreary mood upon my return from Florida. This is something anyone who has a tree, holiday decorations, and ornaments can do. It really helped me and maybe, when you start taking down your wreaths and angels and candles, it will help you too.

A few years ago there was a wildly popular book about the magic of tidying up. That might have been the title. I didn’t read it but I heard about the premise: take each item you own and hold it while feeling the emotion it evokes. Does it bring you joy? Is it useful? Keep it. If it doesn’t, donate it. I did that in a small way with my tree ornaments this year. We didn’t have any on the one in Florida, just lights. Then the kids came and we got two very special ones. I decided I wanted every ornament that went on my tree to give me joy. (Much easier than doing with every possession you own!)

So over the course of two days I whittled my 300 ornaments down to less than a hundred. What I found was that joy didn’t come from expensive ornaments. They didn’t have to be shiny or beautiful. Joy came from remembering who had given me the gift. My granny gave me an ornament one year when I first started teaching. When I held it, just as I held the ornaments from my children and grandchildren, I felt joy.

I donated the rest of the ornaments to Salvation Army in the hope that someone will find joy in all the dazzle that just didn’t spark for me anymore. And that’s my recipe for a little Christmas magic. It doesn’t work half as well if you just put the joyless ornaments in the basement. You need to give them away. Only then will your joy be complete. Until the next disaster. We all have them. But this year, I hope your burdens are light and your joy shines.