Friday, November 25, 2011

Italy On My Mind

Hey Readers!

Hope your Thanksgiving day was a memorable one! We kept it chill here ourselves, which was nice. Having just had our wedding last month, we didn't really have the funds to travel out to in-laws so we stuck to the homefront and counted our blessings here :-)

The air here is starting to turn icy, so in response I turn to my "armchair vacation" kind of books - I suppose any book could qualify as such really but I focus on travel writing or books in sunny locales specifically. It took me a bit longer than anticipated, but I worked through Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Wasn't quite as poetic as I was hoping. Mayes is a talented travel writer, absolutely, but for some reason I wasn't expecting quite such minute detail on construction projects on her Italian villa, Bramasole (which she explains translates to "to yearn for the sun"). I did realize when I started the book that it was about the renovation of the house for the most part but I thought there'd be a little more about the actual town the house was in and the people there. She does talk about them some but it's mostly her business interactions with them.

This book had an amazing run of 2 1/2 YEARS on the
New York Times Bestsellers List!
Mayes is mainly known as a travel writer
but has also written a novel entitled Swan

Parts of the book just came off a bit dry, not to mention the fact that she sometimes fixated on odd things and then went on for pages about some tangent thought (ie. towards the end of the book she has quite a long, not always clear rant regarding religions of the world that feels like it came out of left field with everything else going on). Well within her right, as it is a memoir and who's to tell you what you can't say in your own memoir, right? Some of the minutiae just wasn't my cup o' tea, that's all. Still, I do like her style when she does describe areas she visits in between construction jobs.

Bramasole - Mayes' villa in Cortona, Italy -
Mayes tells of the renovators using the phrase "Petra, Siempre Petra"
(Stone, Always Stone!) while digging up rock around the foundation and garden areas -
I can certainly relate to that problem in my garden! 

The nook for religious offerings described in Under The Tuscan Sun

Frances Mayes

Mayes said -- and I can completely understand
 as it took me time to learn myself - "I'm beginning
to trust that the gods are not going to snatch my firstborn
if I happen to enjoy my life."

For those of you who might remember the film adaptation of this book starring Diane Lane (one of my favorite actresses) - I'll tell you right now that while Lane "plays" Mayes in the movie, the movie bears almost no resemblance at all to the real life story of Mayes.  That being said, the film is still a beautiful movie on its own merits! Just don't expect an exact translation, 'cause it ain't even close - about the only thing they stuck to was some names and an Italian locale.

Cortona, Italy

Diane Lane & Raoul Bova in Under The Tuscan Sun -
In reality, Mayes did not have a quick fling with a hot Italian
 but was already very much with her husband Ed. 

Lane's on-screen adaptation of Frances Mayes
There were a number of cultural things Mayes mentions that I found interesting - she discusses the lives of saints quite a bit (I too have a fascination with them), as well as the local festivals such as Ferragosto and the various Sagra festivals. She mentions the ever-present Fiats (becoming oh so popular here in the States now) and the Alfa Romeos zipping along the countryside, the sight of Capuchin monks in brown robes and white caps (the inspiration for the cappuccino drink) and visiting the Basilica Santa Margherita - which, when I looked it up online, I discovered is STUNNING inside!


Alfa Romeo

The name "cappuccino" comes from the sight of Capuchin monks
 in brown robes and white caps. 

Interior view of Basilica Santa Margherita 

Mayes and her husband Ed spend quite a bit of time traveling to different towns around Italy, finding wines to stock in their wine cellar at Bramasole. I, myself, am not a huge wine afficianado, so my mind glazed over those descriptions but the way she made the buildings, ruins, even the dishes in restaurants seem so tactile was really impressive. Just on this quality alone, I am sure I will pick up her other Tuscany themed books one day. I did also read her memoir A Year In The World, in which she spends a year traveling to all her dream destinations. I enjoyed Tuscan Sun overall, but I got infinitely more out of Year In The World  but as far as discussing that book here, I want to break that one up into sections by the countries she visits, as there's a good bit of cool stuff there to talk about!

Friday, November 18, 2011

INO Not Really An Option For Me

I've had Secrets Of A Former Fat Girl by Lisa Delaney (a memoir / self help type book where she talks about how she went from plus size to a size 2... and you can too! ;-)  ) on my nightstand for awhile and finally got around to finishing it. Originally I picked up this book to maybe get some pointers on how to fit better in my wedding dress but my motivation to finish it fell by the wayside with the stress of wedding planning (much like my commitment to actually lose the weight lol). When I did finally delve in past the first few chapters, I realized it wouldn't have been much help to finish this book anyway.

Much of the book is Delaney drilling her INO (It's Not an Option) Philosophy into the reader. That was my first problem. I believe in moderation, not denial. Denial is partly what leads the winners / contestants of "Biggest Loser" to gain back all or at least a good part of all the weight they lost --- because unless you're looking at a food allergy (in which case, you wouldn't be eating it so that's not what made you fat anyway) it just doesn't seem realistic to me to say "I'm just never going to eat that ever again."

author Lisa Delaney before and after INO

Lisa Delaney

Delaney is very proud of the fact that she whittled herself down to a size 2, and she should be - she worked hard and she looks great - for her. I personally think I would look ridiculous as a size 2, not to mention I love having some curve to me anyway (as does my husband!). I would be devastated if I lost my boobs! The one happy point of gaining weight in life is hey, boobs got bigger, sweet! Once I star to see myself as looking a little too much like "People of Walmart" then I tone back on the happy - size portions.

Now Delaney doesn't say you HAVE to be a size 2 to look amazing, she means for you to take what she's learned and customize it to your life. And she DOES  offer some good pointers! She offers some web sites to refer to -- places to find support and tips on how to get started with your transformation. I think my favorite of the ones mentioned in the book is the National Weight Loss Control Registry, a forum for those who have lost 30 pounds or more and have kept it over for over a year. At the Registry, these people share their stories, tips and tricks and support for those working their way to that poing. Pretty motivational stuff! You can also go on, where they have forums set up in groups divided by how many pounds you want to lose (ie. 10-15 lb group, 25-50 lb group, etc). Delaney also mentions the difference between low density and high density foods, which I found particularly helpful.

It was the stuff in between these helpful pointers that made me scratch my head - first it started with what seemed like Delaney trying too hard to write that "quirky and funny" type self-help book. Then there were (what seemed like to me anyway) the somewhat bizarre anecdotes she shares in an attempt, I'm guessing, to make herself relatable:

~ talking about how in 1978 she went into Taco Bell and ordered not one but TWO items off the menu, to which I thought "yeah... so? I've walked out with a BAG of menu items from there before after a night of binge drinking" (this was back in the day ... I'm a respectable married lady now lol ;-) )

~ she exercises to R & B? Like Teddy Pendergrass / Marvin Gaye kind of R & B? Alicia Keys? I guess whatever works... just doesn't seem like it would keep you amped enough

~ she keeps herself from gorging on chips in Mexican restaurants by only eating the ones that are folded over .. that part I didn't have a problem with, it was the other part - she says she has no problem fingering all the chips to FIND the folded chips and if that's a problem with whoever she's eating with, they don't have to eat with her again... C'mon! SERIOUSLY?! Nobody wants to eat with that person at the table who flips through all the bread pieces before picking one or licking serving spoons and putting them back into communal dishes (I've been to dinner parties where this is done btw) - you can't honestly think the problem is the other person - it's a matter of hygiene!

~ Speaking of hygiene, in a way, she also mentions that if you have extra birthday / holiday party goodies, extra Halloween candy, that sort of thing then you should not just give it to someone at work (which is what I typically do) or just put it in the trash... oh no! Delaney says you run the risk of eating the stuff at work or, worse yet, you may dig the food out of the trash and eat it! Can't say I've ever been THAT desperate for a final piece of cake... THAT, readers, is why I don't like to deny myself and say I never ever again eat a food I'm particularly fond of. I'd rather just carry a few vanity pounds rather than have that moment where I look at myself saying "What THE HELL are you doing??"

Some of the most useful tools to get you to Former Fat Girl status that Delaney mentions  :

* Pick a regime you can see yourself sticking with 
* Find workout clothes that you feel good and confident in
* Be selective about who you tell your diet plans to (at least until there is noticeable progress). Friends and   family who are use to seeing you a certain size can unintentionally sabotage your goals with comments, resistance to support you, etc
* Find a trainer you click with, one that will keep you motivated and exercising, can give you technique advice, diet/nutritional information, and overall help you get the most out of your workouts
* Find someone to talk to who has been where you are and is currently at the level you want to be at. Have them share their stories, tips, support to keep you motivated
* Keep a Food Journal where you track weight loss / gain (so you can see progress or what made you fall back from your goal), what you are eating on a typical day, your feelings during your weight loss process - it will inspire you to stick with it

And my favorite:

* Keep one of your "skinny outfits" out where you can see it - either something you wore in the past that you want to wear again OR something you bought that you look forward to fitting into.If you don't have a particular outfit, you can cut out a picture out of a magazine of what you would ideally like to look like (just make sure it's reasonable to your body size / height - If you're 5'9 or something you probably don't want to go for some 95 lb weight goal obviously). Delaney says seeing the physical representation of a goal is more motivational and effective than just having a general number in your head. 

She also mentions using a program such as Weight Watchers as a sort of method of accountability. Pay someone to MAKE you go to meetings where you either work to make progress or suffer the embarrassment of having to say "I fell behind a little this week". For me, this method doesn't work simply because I don't do well with having to answer to someone else -- but it is a good idea in general if you really need the help. I'm dealing with a few vanity pounds myself but not what I would call obese by any means so I'm not going to beat myself up about my weight at this point (at least not outside of my own internal Debbie Downer that whispers in my inner ear some days lol)

Most of the book seems to be geared more toward people who are looking to lose a significant amount of weight and who have little to no self-will when it comes to food. Maybe like having a AA sponsor I guess (it is addiction - just in a different form), this book may help if you're to the point where you need someone to stay on you and make you accountable for your actions.

The biggest thing that bothered me was a portion where Delaney suggests if you're not a cook then to look at low-cal tv dinners because many are "low cal AND tasty now". As a person that's battled hypertension my entire adult life - even when I was a size 6 - I can tell you this is a VERY bad idea... even the low cal options are often loaded to the max with sodium! Delaney mentions checking the fat content on food because of the risk of heart disease in women, but nowhere does she mention the importance of monitoring your sodium intake. If we're gonna talk about heart disease -- even if you're not hypertensive, you still want to monitor your levels so you don't stroll into pre-hypertensive and THEN hypertensive states. It's a bitch of an illness that leaves you tired, drained, in vayring degrees of pain every day, feeling like you have weights on your chest all the time, so PLEASE PLEASE monitor your sodium folks!!

low salt cartoons, low salt cartoon, low salt picture, low salt pictures, low salt image, low salt images, low salt illustration, low salt illustrations

While Delaney's method isn't a perfect fit for me, she did make some good points as well as offered some handy tips and resources that I was either unfamiliar with or had only barely heard of. One little factoid in particular struck a chord with me with my 30th birthday coming up:

"The fact is, every woman's body loses muscle beginning in the early to mid-thirties. That contributes to a drop in metabolism of as much as 5 percent per decade after age thirty, which means that by age 35, you're burning about 75 fewer calories per day than you did when you were 25.  That means you stand to gain an extra 8 lbs a year if you don't do anything to prevent it."

 Now I'm not a huge fan of Kate Moss, but she did have a point when she famously said, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." I do love good food, but I also love those days my waist feels tiny and my ass looks great.  I believe my Nirvana is somewhere between the two.

Take it away, Eddie :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Life Wisdom Inspired By Man's Best Friend

Hey Readers,

Last night I finished up Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have To Do It, a short but impactful book by the actor / comedian and dog enthusiast, John O'Hurley. This book was an interesting mix of pet stories, memoir, self-help, philosophy, humor and letters-from-a-father-to his-son writings all in one. O'Hurley uses the premise of his elderly Maltese dog, Scoshi, writing notes to O'Hurley's then newborn son, William, and leaving them under William's giant blue stuffed animal. O'Hurley "finds" these notes (in which Scoshi discusses his observations on human behavior, offering life advice - from his perspective - that he thinks baby O'Hurley might find useful some day) and expands on Scoshi's thoughts with his own life experiences and lessons learned.

O'Hurley also mentions his Black Lab - Daschund mix, Betty here and there (and after first reading this description, my initial reaction was HOW is that even possible??? Only if the father is the daschund side, I'm guessing!)

O'Hurley with wife Lisa, son William (shortly after his birth in 2006)
and dogs Scoshi (white) and Betty (black)

There were so many good bits of wisdom and humor in this book, so for this post I was inspired to make some jpeg art around my favorite quotes. I definitely recommend this to any animal lovers out there (or anyone needing some good life advice!). I found O'Hurley's words pretty inspiring myself.  Enjoy:

Text on above pic:

I witness a sad and gradual homogenization of America. Great cities that once had specific identities are almost indistinguishable, made identical by layers of malls, restaurant chains, and civic centers. Small towns, too, with Main Streets, barbers and toy stores, surrender to the sterile inevitability of Wal-Mart. We are losing our precious sense of place. We are moving in to pre-packaged communities, where every home looks the same. If you can’t figure out how to decorate your living room, you can go next door and see how they did it. The humor in that observation makes me sad. The irony of this shift is that it is not, at its heart, ill-intended. I think people want ease of living and ease of thinking. It is indeed the ease of economics to move all the stores from Main Street inside the controlled environment of a mall, or to ease them out altogether with a more economical super-department store. It is the ease of economics that builds all the homes at once from the same template and calls it, ironically, a development. It makes more homes available to many. It is even the ease of economics to eat pre-fabricated food at restaurant chains. But ease comes at a cost, in my personal view, both individually and collectively as a culture. We can shop at the same stores and eat at the same restaurants. We can wear the same logos on our shirts and jeans. Ironically, the person whose name is logo-ed there doesn’t know who we are or perhaps even care, and yet we wear the name proudly as a badge…. As we submit to the synthetic, to the artificial, and to the prepackaged experience, I fear we are surrendering the chance to live authentically. And this is where I must, as a father, raise the flag of worry.

I am reminded of an area near the house in which I lived in West Hartford {Connecticut} when I was ten. It consisted of a series of empty lots that were never developed and left to overgrow. These several acres of bushes and trees were known by all as The Bumps…Every child in the neighborhood lived at the Bumps. Home was only where you went to eat and sleep. Almost every important moment of my life happened there that year. It was more than where I played. It was where I met my best friends, where I learned how to hide, where I got hurt, where I built a fort, where I learned to fight and where I learned to negotiate. The Bumps was a discarded place, but an authentic place because on any given day it could become anything or anyplace, whatever our imaginations demanded. How ironic that a site so neglected and so common supported so much life. The Bumps are gone today. I visited the area on a recent trip back to my hometown. A half dozen homes now stand on that hallowed ground. A perfectly paved road now cuts the area in half. There is no evidence of the field that was once there, and no evidence of the ghosts of youth that held it so precious. In today’s erosion of the authentic, places like the Bumps have become forgotten fields. Sadly, from what I have witnessed, they no longer seem necessary. They have been replaced, not by homes, but, in my opinion, Will, by video games – which buffer youngsters from any need for human contact, from any use of imagination, and render an authentic moment all but possible. The dungeons we created in the Bumps and the dragons we imagined were far more authentic than those on a video screen. I am reminded of the Bumps when I remember that while the authentic can be destroyed, it cannot be created. 

Text on above pic:

We tend to think of the inequity in life from the perspective of the have-nots rather than the haves. Sometimes we do get more than we deserve. I often wonder what life would be like if it were fair. What if we got exactly what we deserved? There would be no skunks or poison ivy. I would never have stayed after school. I would have been co-captain of my Little League team, along with a kid who had thick glasses and protruding front teeth. I would have gotten every role I ever auditioned for. I would not have lost so many friends to accidents and disease. But if life were fair, it would be a life without growth and perspective. There is meaning in suffering, as difficult as it is to endure. From it, we learn humility and persistence. There is appreciation in abundance. From it we realize that life is full of grace as well.
Much as we depend on gravity to provide weight, we need suffering and abundance to give life a sense of context. Without gravity, there would be no resistance, and everything would have the same weightlessness, floating aimlessly without distinction. A mountain grows tall and gives us a better and better view the more it moves against the resistance of the earth.

It is a pretty philosophy to regard suffering as an opportunity for growth, but it does not fill the stomach of a starving child, and I have no answer for that. I believe that God can do all things, but I have come to realize through personal experience that sometimes He does not. I believe there is a plan that is beyond my comprehension that allows a place for catastrophic human suffering for reasons that reason will never understand. If we accept that unfairness is inevitable as long as we are alive, we can shift our focus to the far more important issue – how do we cope with suffering, both our own and in our compassion for the suffering of others?

William, I hope you take to heart this piece of advice, as it has helped me cope with every instance of personal hardship: You are not your circumstances. I’ll say it again: You are not your circumstances. What happens to you, good and bad, is not the essence of who you are. Your circumstances are external to you; don’t invite them in. They are unwelcome guests; they will try to make a victim of you. You will paralyze yourself with fear and depression if you let the unfairness of life become a part of who you are. Conversely, you will become vain and arrogant if you become absorbed by the abundance and good fortune that life will also bring your way. I’ve often looked to Scoshi {the dog} , a pillar of self-possession in moments of both feast and famine, when attempting to gain perspective in life: Scoshi is grateful when a chewie comes his way and doesn’t dwell on it when I forget to give him one. He is the same sweet dog sleeping on my pillow as he is sleeping with the scent of skunk on a bathroom floor. He never becomes his circumstances. It is not what happens to us in life, my boy; it is what we do about it. And that is the second element of coping with a world that is inherently unfair. How you react to both adversity and prosperity will determine your character, and, in many cases, your circumstances.

Sometimes you will realize, as I have, that the unfairness of rejection is simply protection in disguise. I have lived with much rejection. I have been cut from teams because I was not good enough to compete. I have lost many roles as an actor that I was not ready to command. I have had my heart broken by people who were not good for my life.