Home again.

When I was 13, my family underwent a restructure of sorts.  Upper management felt that it was best for everyone if the organisation split off into two directions, and owing to financial constraints, both parties relocated.  Ergo, the home I grew up in was no longer my home.  I thought my heart would break.  It didn’t.  But it was a difficult time.  We had lived in that house for 8 years, and I had also gone to the same Catholic school for all that time.  Public high school was looming, and though I had a terrible time in my elementary/middle school, I didn’t know anything else, so I was more than a little apprehensive about what was to come.  It was the end of so many things and I was frightened; it was also the beginning of many wonderful things, but when we’re fixated on the past, it’s very hard to turn our attention to the future.

Three years later, across a continent and over a rather large “pond”, C, having recently discovered basketball, was being discovered himself.  It’s not every day in France you find a decent 6’7″ 16 year-old baller.  And so it was that he was recruited to a team near Saint Etienne and moved away from the home into which he was born.

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Turn and face the strange.

Some time ago, in the midst of one of my many (many) existential crises, I happened upon a series of books called The School of Life.  The premise of all these books is that sometimes the things we aren’t overtly taught via the many institutions to which we belong by choice, default or force, could really use some basic instruction.  Some titles include How To Connect with Nature, and How To Be Alone, as well as News: A User’s Manual.   One of the books proffered is How To Find Fulfilling Work, and whilst I have been engaged throughout much of my adult life in fulfilling work, at the time I found that book, I very much was not fulfillingly employed.

This, unfortunately, remains the case.

You see, whilst I do love language, and I do love teaching, I do not so much love teaching language.  I never envisaged teaching English; teaching English was something I never foresaw falling back on, and that happened to save my arse when I did indeed fall.

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In closing. Or, the chips will sometimes be down.

I think it’s possible that I’ve said more or less all I’m qualified to say in terms of this particular subject.  But first:  It wasn’t that one day I woke up and said, “Right – that’s it – I’m going to lose all this pesky weight!”  It was more like there had been too many days on which I’d woken up and said, “How did this happen…again?”  And there’s sort of a gazillion reasons why any of us find ourselves in a situation we really hate and somehow feel responsible for, even if we’d never have wished it upon ourselves in the first place.  And if that situation is of the downward-spiral variety – i.e., feeling bad about it makes us perpetuate it, ad infinitum – well, it’s tricky at best and downright agonizing at worst.

Finding myself clinically obese was the result of a lot of different factors.  I had a bad injury that put me on crutches for 6 months.  That wasn’t so bad, because crutches are damn hard work and so my weight was well within control during that period, but as soon as I had to put weight on the injury, the pain was debilitating and I was afraid of the pain.  I was also working quite a lot in a very demanding job and volunteering as much as possible, and my living situation wasn’t ideal, as we were in London and so sharing small flats with friends where no one really had enough space.  So I was stressed, frustrated, tired, and filled with all sorts of self-pity…which created the perfect environment for me to indulge in unhealthy behaviors like eating too much and too often and almost never the right things.  This was of course compounded by my pain and fear thereof, because I obviously wasn’t moving nearly as much as I should have been.  I’m willing to bet anyone struggling with their weight has undergone a similarly complicated set of circumstances.

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What’s on your plate Part IV: Dinner

As the evenings grow dark earlier here, dinner is becoming a less festive time of day for me, which is a bit of a bummer, because there’s something about the melancholy of autumn I find quite lovely, and because I feel like mother nature affords us a little respite from the grey via the vibrant changing leaves, and all the lovely new fruit and veg the season proffers.  I just miss the sun. But I do appreciate all the afore-mentioned goodies…Around here, it’s all about apples and pears, walnuts and chestnuts, potimarrons, butternuts & pumpkins (though the meatier European variety – awful for jack-o-lanterns but lovely for all sorts of edibles).

Autumn and winter food just feels like dinner food for me, because as an American of Anglo-Germanic traditions, dinner is the most comfort-driven meal of the day.  It’s the part of the day when I’m typically most hungry (though this is changing as I get older), and it’s definitely the part of the day when I feel I’ve earned a big, hot sit-down meal that fills my belly.

Thing is – that’s often a terrible idea.

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What’s on your plate Special Edition: Salads.

Life in terms of food in the Philippines wasn’t so bad, and it could certainly have been worse.  Where we lived, we had good access to a decent array of fruits and vegetables, and we eventually found a couple of places we could buy tofu (as it’s a common foodstuff, but not found in the supermarket) and learned how to make mungo beans.  But there were a few things we had to go without.  For C, I think the hardest of these was (what we consider good) bread, but he finally bit the bullet and started baking his own, which was awesome for both of us.

Some foods we couldn’t compensate for, though most of these were no big loss:  apples, oranges and grapes were on offer but out of the question.  The apples were tasteless and powdery, the oranges were juiceless and neither sour nor sweet, and I never got around to sampling the grapes…but I wasn’t bothered – we had mangos and rambutan and lanzones and jackfruit and like 4 kinds of bananas (though I’ve heard there were once hundreds of varieties in Mindanao, but due to monoculture there are only a few now – and there are far worse consequences, but I digress).

Something we absolutely never bought, though – except for that first time out of sheer naivety – was lettuce.  The lettuce was awful.  It was hard and bitter and dry…the climate just isn’t conducive to growing the stuff.  So upon arriving in France, I was ecstatic about salad.  The French love salad.  Most families serve it with every dinner and sometimes lunch, too.  The only problem is that for them, salade is the word they use for “lettuce”.  Which is to say that they eat lettuce with their meals, with dressing of course.  But rarely anything else, unless the salad is the main dish, which is typically only for eating out.  Not having lettuce in the Philippines had forced us to learn to love a whole bunch of other raw vegetables, and lettuce and sauce just didn’t cut it for me anymore.

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Weight loss hygiene Part III: The company we keep

When I was at university, I had about a hundred different jobs, one of which was tending bar in a karaoke bar that sat alongside a Chinese restaurant in Oceanside.  We had these two regulars, who I’ll refer to here as Dave and Sam.  They came in absolutely every night.  The nights I worked, the nights I didn’t – they were there.  They always sat at the end of the bar, about two seats apart, Sam nearest the exit so he could go out and smoke.  My boss was this knock-out Filipina single mom in her late 30s, and I’m pretty sure they and every dude in that restaurant were head over heels for her.

Sam was really smooth – almost like something out of a movie.  He smiled, but never too much, and was only really nice after he’d had one too many, so usually quite late in the evening, when he’d started buying rounds and killing my tips (he was a very bad tipper).  He was in his late 50s or maybe even early 60s by that point, and he was always well-dressed, in slacks and a button-up shirt, never jeans – I doubt he even owned a pair.  He drank something classic – martinis I think, or maybe old fashioneds – and he didn’t talk too much.  He’d go crazy when I’d sing “My Funny Valentine” – that was how I won him over, actually – and though he was reserved, he was a good guy.

Dave, however, wasn’t reserved at all.  He was one of those guys who just exudes generosity and kindness.  Dave was heavyset – probably weighed just under 300 lbs – and didn’t drink a drop.  He was in recovery.  He didn’t smoke, either, as he’d quit that not long after he gave up booze.  So nobody gave him any trouble for chowing down on as much deep-fried bar food as he fancied…Dave had already made some very difficult decisions in the name of his health and wellbeing.

Here’s the thing:  Dave was a recovering alcoholic who spent every single night (except meeting nights) at a bar, and never drank. Still, he was addicted to food – maybe before he gave up drink too – I wouldn’t know – but I imagine it got a lot easier to eat too much after he gave up drinking and smoking.  Meanwhile, Sam was also most definitely an addict.  Don’t get me wrong – he was very responsible with his addiction, always handed his keys over when he needed to and was never disrespectful to anybody.  But he was in that bar every single night. And every night he put back at least 4 or 5 of whatever highball it was he drank.

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