Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Enchanting Challenge

One of the things I enjoy about my new healthier lifestyle is being able to do active things for the first time in more than twenty years. Just three years ago I couldn't even spend an hour shopping without having to stop and rest. Since my weight loss, I enjoy walking for exercise; although I must admit I don't do it as often as I should. Before Grandad got sick we were walking about two miles five times a week. He doesn't have the stamina for long walks now, so I walk without him. Over the long hot summer I have seriously slacked off. Okay, truth be told, I haven't walked more than three times all summer.

The last time I attempted a mid-morning walk, I was taking care of my grand-dog, Minnie. Now, if you know anything about Jack Russell Terriers you'll know that they have more than a little bit of energy. A daily walk and lots of exercise is the only way to keep them under control and Minnie loves her walks. If you even spell the word walk, she'll go get her leash and stand by the door. Seriously, she knows that W-A-L-K spells walk. She also recognizes that a walk might be in store if you just put on your tennis shoes. This dog loves to walk.

Fast forward to the middle of June when Grams took Minnie for a walk at around 10 o'clock one morning. As usual, Minnie was excited. She started out prancing down the sidewalk and straining at the end of her leash for Grams to walk faster. By the time we had walked two blocks, her gait had slowed and she was not so excited. As we walked our third and fourth blocks, Minnie slowed significantly and even stopped any time we came to a shady spot. In the fifth block we came to a yard with a huge shade tree. Now, I'll be the first to admit that it was hot and the shade created by the tree felt really nice. Minnie seemed to agree, because she just walked into the grass, plopped herself down in the shade and would not take another step. Seriously, she was hot and tired and would not be moved. After standing there holding the leash for a few minutes, Grams realized that Minnie was done and was not going to walk another step. So after a few minutes of tugging on the leash and coaxing, Grams ended up picking Minnie up and carrying her the five blocks back to the house. Minnie spent the rest of the day sleeping on the sofa.

Since then Grams has not been able to muster the energy to walk during the scalding hot days of this South Texas summer. But starting tomorrow, October 1, Grams will be back on the streets.

Tomorrow, I start training to accomplish one of my long time goals. On Sunday, October 18, Grams is going to hike Enchanted Rock, a granite dome located between Fredericksburg and Llanno with Katy + Travis. I have wanted to hike it since Grandad and I visited there about five years ago. I have heard my kids talk about hiking there for several years now and always thought it was something I could never do. But now I can.

I have been assured by K+T that they will slow down enough to hike at my pace. I have been instructed to find a hilly place to train. Remembering that I'm a flat-lander, for the next two weeks I'll be spending my mornings at Hilltop Nature Trail and Hazel Bazemore Park, the nearest things to hills anywhere in South Texas.

I can't wait until I can post that "Grams Made It" all the way up Enchanted Rock.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Choice for Life

September 27 is a fairly uneventful day in history. In 1540, Saint Ignatius Loyola founded the Jesuits; in 1903, the wreck of the Old 97 occurred; in 1938, the Ocean Liner Queen Elizabeth was launched; in 1954, The Tonight Show debuted; in 1964, the Warren Commission released it's report on the assassination of JFK; in 1997, communications were lost with the Mars Pathfinder.

Famous people who celebrate their birthday on September 27 include Avril Lavigne, Wilford Brimley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shaun Cassidy and Meat Loaf.

Grams celebrates September 27 as her re-birthday, known in the weight loss surgery world as my "surgiversary." On September 27, 2006 I had RNY gastric bypass surgery by Dr. Nilesh Patel at Innova Hospital in San Antonio. I am 3 years post-op, 115 pounds lighter and immeasurably healthier.

There were a number of things that led me to the decision to re-route my guts as a way to lose weight. I had recently been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. I had been taking medication to control my blood pressure for more than 15 years. I was faced with looking for a job at 52 years old and 300 pounds. But most of all I was tired of failing. I had tried every diet known to mankind. Just to name a few of them I had been on 1,000 calories a day, diet pills, Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, Cabbage Soup, liquid protein, low carb, high fiber, and so on and so forth. Now it wasn't that these diets didn't work, because they did. I lost weight on every single one of them. But I could never keep it off for more than a few weeks. Mentally, I was a failure and I couldn't take it any more. I had completely given up dieting and was gaining weight at an alarming rate. I could not let myself fail again.

After my father-in-law's funeral, I had the opportunity to visit with a friend who had already had RNY Gastric Bypass surgery. He looked great and seemed healthy for the first time since I had known him. I owe T.J. a debt of gratitude because he opened up to me and answered all my questions. He helped me overcome my fear.

Contrary to what anyone may think, weight loss surgery is not the "easy way out." There's nothing easy about it. It's a difficult decision that forces dietary and lifestyle changes. While it does "re-plumb" your digestive system, it doesn't "re-wire" your brain. Just because you shouldn't eat large amounts of sugary and fatty food doesn't mean you don't want to. It just means that when you do it's going to make you sick. That's right, WLS patients who don't learn to eat right are in for a lifetime of "dumping syndrome" which includes such fun things as sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, shakiness, fainting and heart palpitations. Does that sound easy to you?

And trust me, there is a definite learning curve. About 8 weeks after surgery, I ate a meat pizza dish, which is an Atkins Diet recipe, and proceeded to vomit uncontrollably. I vomited so hard that I ruptured blood vessels in my face and got two black eyes. And, once, I absentmindedly ate a big piece of homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and spent the next 2 hours laying on my neighbor's couch when I should have been playing bunco. There have been other occasions where I don't even know what made me sick. Something that's good today, might make me sick tomorrow. You just have to learn to know the signals that your body gives off.

Today, I weigh 184 pounds. My post-op low weight was 175. I regained about 15 pounds, which is totally normal. I have now lost 6 of those pounds and hope to get down to 150 pounds. I have not had any diabetes medications since surgery. The dosage of my blood pressure medication has been cut in half. I can walk more than 2 miles without any problem.

The reason I have been successful at this new lifestyle is the support I have received. My family has been amazing in their support. My husband, daughter and son have supported me unconditionally. They've been there for me through thick and thin. Pardon the pun.

For about 18 months I attended a monthly support group offered by my surgeon's office. My friends have been encouraging and supportive as well. Not one person has been disparaging about my decision to make this change. Even extended family has encouraged and supported me.

Shortly after surgery, my surgeon told me about an online support group at These women (and a few men) have made a huge difference in my life. Most of them are also post-ops. We have answered each other's questions, commiserated with each other, shared our stories, told of our failures and celebrated our victories. I turned to them for support when my husband was sick and my mother was dying. They are a great group of people from all walks of life who all share one thing in common. We were all morbidly obese, had weight loss surgery and found a new life. This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet many of them in person for the first time at an Obesity Help conference in Dallas. It was an exciting, educational, fun and renewing experience. This photo shows just a few of the OH Group who were in Dallas this weekend.

This picture will give you some idea of what I looked like pre-op. This is Grams and Grandad at a party celebrating our son's graduation from Texas A & M University. I weighed approximately 300 pounds.

This is a photo of Grams with her surgery twin, Terry, celebrating 3 years of post-op life. We had surgery on the same day in 2006; Terry in Alabama and me in Texas. We found each other at on the Texas Message Board shortly after that.

These are my roommates from the 2009 Dallas OH Conference. From left to right: Grams, Dee, Sarah and Melanie. All post ops ranging from 10 days to 3 years. Dee and Melanie have only had surgery within the last few week.

Weight loss surgery isn't for everyone. It's hard work and you can never change your mind about the lifestyle changes. When you choose it, it's a choice for life, in every sense of the phrase. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Grams made it ... to a healthier and happier life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

They're Supposed to Leave

Many years ago, when we were new parents we had to take a class before our babies could be baptized. In one of those classes, a very wise priest gave us some valuable advice. Here is the gist of it. Being parents is important and will be all consuming for a long time. Never forget that some day this child will grow up and leave you. That's what they're supposed to do. The relationship that must survive is the relationship with your spouse. Be sure you take care of that relationship. When this child grows up and leaves you, and it will grow up and leave you, make sure you still have a relationship with your spouse.

You may have guessed by now, Grams and her Darling Husband, aka Grandad, are empty nesters. Our two chicks flew the coop long ago.

We started our family about 4 years after we married. Our eldest was born in 1979 and our baby in 1981. In 1984, when our oldest was about to start school, we moved to Calallen because we knew they had great schools. Our little neighborhood is located at the very back of the subdivision and there is only one way in and out. Many of us have lived here for more than 20 years. It was a great place to raise our kids. They could never do anything that the neighbors didn't tell us about, usually before they got home. We all watched out for each other's kids. My sister says Calallen is like Stepford for people with kids. We're all wrapped up in our kids' school and extra-curricular activities. We love that aspect of living here.

For the next 20 years we wholeheartedly embraced raising kids. If our kids were involved in anything, we were there. We coached youth sports, we sat through hundreds (maybe even thousands) of practices, we taught religious education, we joined the PTA, we were officers in booster clubs, we worked concession stands, we sold candy and raffle tickets. We went to hundreds of basketball games, football games, baseball games, soccer games, track meets and kickball games. Whatever they did, we did. You get the picture. Our kids were our whole world.

Fast forward to 2000 when our baby left for college. When our kids left home, so did our social life. Everything we had been involved in was finished. Couple this with the fact that our best friends, who coincidentally were married to each other, got a divorce at about this time. We literally had lost our best friends. We sat down in the living room, looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. What do we do now?

We've never had what I would consider a lot of friends. Most of our friends were people we knew through our kids. Basically, we have always done everything together as a couple. After a few weeks of feeling sorry for ourselves, we realized that something had to change and, if it was going to change, we had to change it.

It took a while, but we overcame. We re-instituted date night. Once a week we go out together. On Friday nights, instead of the football or basketball games, we go out to dinner with a group of neighbors. Thursday night has become pizza night. We either order delivery or go to a local pizza place with friends. Sunday after church we often go out for brunch with family. And we've become movie fanatics. Most weekends will find us, often with brother and sister-in-law, at our local movie theater taking in the newest release.

I won't kid you. My kids leaving home was one of the most difficult things I've endured. I cried all the way home from UTSA when we took our oldest child to school. I wept like a baby when I scraped the He-Man and Rainbo Brite stickers from the windows in their bedrooms. I miss going to high school basketball games. But I've grown to love it. That's right, I love my empty nest. It definitely has it's advantages. I've converted one of the bedrooms into my own sewing, craft and computer room. I've remodeled the kid's bathroom for myself, complete with a crystal chandelier. Having no kids at home has many advantages. Grandad will eat whatever I cook with no complaints ... and I hardly ever have to yell at him to turn the stereo down.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Can't Wear Your Pajamas to Starbucks

Grams is a Starbucks junkie. I'm addicted to the "nectar of the gods" that they serve hot in a paper cup with a plastic lid. When we travel, I have an uncanny sense that will locate a store anytime there is one nearby. I've been known to drive many miles out of the way just to get my fix.

Not only do I love the way their coffee tastes, I enjoy the whole Starbucks experience. I usually opt to go inside rather than use the drive through. Given the time in my schedule, I sit down and drink my coffee right there. I like the communal coffee experience. It's fun to check out the other customers as they rush through or linger over a newspaper or book. All in all it's enjoyable. I love the way it smells ... I enjoy the friendly interaction with the baristas ... I like the music they play ... I like to look at their retail items ... I even like to peer through the glass case at their pastries, although I rarely eat them since they recently dropped their "no sugar added" banana bread. Now, all their pastries have too much sugar. But I can suffer through the lack of pastries that fit my eating plan, because that's not really what I'm there for anyway.

The only problem I have is that it's approximately 22 miles from my house to the nearest Starbucks. Try as I may, I just can't justify a 44 mile round trip just to get my daily Grande Nonfat-2 Splenda Latte. So, unless I have a reason to head across town, I have to either make coffee at home or go to McDonalds or a gas station for a coffee fix. Both of those are sadly inadequate substitutes for the Starbucks experience.

I'm thinking of beginning a campaign to lobby for a Starbucks outlet in Northwest Corpus Christi. I know that it seems like there's a Starbucks on every corner, but sadly, not in my neighborhood.

Enter the Keurig One Cup Coffee Brewing System. My darling husband got this little jewel for me as a Mother's Day gift a couple of years ago. I don't know how I ever lived without it.

It's a coffee maker that uses K-cups that are available in many different brews and flavors. You just drop in the K-cup, close the lid and push a button. Like magic you get a perfectly brewed cup of coffee every time in less than 3 minutes. It's not Starbucks and there's no communal coffee experience, but it's a good substitute and a good cup of coffee. And did I mention it's significantly less expensive than most gourmet coffee. Each cup is less than a dollar.

Thanks to this little jewel, I can now stumble into the kitchen and make myself a cup of coffee while wearing my pajamas, something I'm pretty sure even the friendly people at Starbucks would frown on.

So, when you're in the neighborhood, drop in for a cup of coffee. Grams made it!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Air Smells of Promise

I love it when the season changes from summer to fall. It truly does give me a feeling of promise and hope of better things to come.

We woke up this morning to a cloudy sky and the promise of the first cool front of the year due to arrive late this afternoon and expected to bring with it a lot of rain. The first cool front of the year is a highly anticipated and much prognosticated event here in South Texas. Our local celebrity weatherman, Dale Nelson, has been talking about this predicted front for more than a week. Anticipation is high. The whole town is excited about the possibility of cooler weather.

Now, if you're reading this from somewhere north of Austin, Texas, you probably won't really appreciate the fact that today at 4:30 p.m. my outdoor thermometer reads 74 degrees. The promised rainfall has yet to materialize, but it is thundering now, so I'm still hopeful.

This nice cooler weather has me thinking of all things autumn ... soups and stews ... pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns ... falling leaves ... Friday night football ... and cool nights of sleep with the windows open. Okay, I know it's a long shot, but a girl can dream. This is still South Texas and by the weekend it's bound to be in the nineties again.

For most of the year, living in South Texas is somewhat akin to living on the face of the sun. This summer was particularly hot and dry. We had no rain for months on end and more than 35 days with the temperature above 95 degrees. There was at least one day when my outdoor thermometer actually showed heat over 130 degrees. I know, I know, that's in full sun and it's not accurate like the weather service measures temperature. But any way you look at it, it's still pretty darn hot.

So I'm embracing fall, even if it's just for today. I've got a huge stew pot filled with The Soup Nazi's Mexican Chicken Chili simmering away on the stove top. I'm even considering opening my windows and letting some fresh air in. After all, it's officially fall and "the air smells of promise." And Grams made it ... through another long hot Texas summer.

The title of this blog is from a poem written by my friend and former colleague Allen Itz. He writes at least one new poem every day. They are published daily at Blueline Poetry. Take a look.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weekend Update

The weekend was great. Grams spent lots of quality time with our little princess, Ezra, and her parents. Along with that we spent Saturday afternoon with my brother, Charlie, his wife, Sandy, my sister, Bylinda, and her husband, Mack. Even my nephew Eric found a little time to drop by Gruene Hall for a short visit.

Our little princess, Ezra, has changed so much in the few weeks since we saw her last. She's sitting up on her own now with no assistance. And we were there on Friday evening when she figured out the whole crawling thing. That's right, no more rolling around on the floor to get what she wants. Now she just crawls right over. Minnie, the family's Jack Russell Terrier is in for a whole new world now that the little princess can chase her around the room. I even saw Ezra eyeballing the doggy door a couple of times right after Minnie went through it. I know it's only a matter of time until she follows Minnie right out into the back yard. It's just going to be too tempting.

We spent Saturday afternoon in Gruene where it was Gruene Market Days. We enjoyed a stroll through tents full of hand-crafted items and sampled some very tasty wine. And no trip to Gruene would be complete without a stop at Gruene Hall. We stopped there where the men enjoyed a cold beer while most of the ladies just stuck with ice water. It was much hotter than we had hoped it would be and by the time Hal Ketchum's band tuned up, we were exhausted and ready to leave. We headed back to San Antonio and stopped for dinner at Chuy's -- delicious.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Headed for the Hill Country (Edited)

Weekend plans call for a trip to San Antonio and New Braunfels. Grams is very excited about the opportunity to spend some time with my brother and sister-in-law for the first time since last November. Also included in the plans is a trip to Old Gruene Market Days which features hand-crafted items and artisanal foods. It should be a great day in the outdoors with fall-ish weather predicted for the Texas Hill Country.

Of course, the highlight of the weekend plans for Grams is an opportunity to spend time with our little princess and her mom and dad. And no visit from Grams would be complete without a nifty gifty for said princess. In anticipation of the trip, Grams stitched up a little something. Here's a sneak peak at today's creation. Grams made it today!

This post has been edited to include a photo of our little princess, Ezra, modeling Grams' latest creation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

If I Only Had More Time ...

I remember many times when I was working full time I would think to myself, "If only I had more time I would (fill in the blank)." After all, I had worked full time since 3 months after graduating from high school in 1972, most of those years for the same local nonprofit. It was a demanding job that often required early morning meetings, evening receptions and weekend special events. It was stressful and demanding and I loved it.

For quite a while after I lost my job I was simply overwhelmed and in shock. I spent a lot of time doing nothing. Well, to be honest, I was feeling sorry for myself. But after about six months, I woke up one morning and realized that I now have time ... time to sew ... time to scrapbook ... time to clean ... time to organize ... time to cook. Time to do almost everything I've always wished I had time to do. So I've set about doing them.

One of the things I have always loved is making baby items, particularly baby girl clothes and summer weight baby blankets. As luck would have it, about six months ago I became a grandmother to a beautiful baby girl. Since then, I have dusted off my sewing machine and gotten creative. Now, with the encouragement of my children, I'm wondering if I may be able to parlay this love of making baby girl clothes into a little bit of cash.

Here are some samples of items I've made for our little princess. I'm working on a few more. Once again, Grams made it!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

When I developed an interest in the culinary arts, I quickly realized that fresh herbs were essential, yet hard to come by and expensive.

Grams lives in South Texas, home of H-E-B Grocery Stores. While I really like shopping at some H-E-B Stores, especially their Central Markets, I'm not a fan of my local store. This store leaves a lot to be desired. I dislike the Calallen store so much that I drive 22 miles each direction to shop at an H-E-B Plus Store. Specifically, they don't stock many of the items that recipes call for. And don't even get me started on the quality of their produce. When I recently approached them about stocking Greek yogurt, which I eat almost daily, their response was that they would be happy to order it for me if I would buy the entire case. Seriously? A case of Greek yogurt?

On the up side, trekking 22 miles to the grocery store forces me to be organized and to plan ahead so as to limit my drives across town. On the down side, it severely limits my access to such short-lived items as fresh herbs.

I've always puttered in the yard in the spring and early summer. I grow beautiful roses and have a gorgeous succulent garden. But once the temperature exceeds 90 degrees, I'm done with gardening. I just don't like to be outside when it's that hot.

For the past several years I have tried, with very limited success, to grow my own herbs. I planted some in between my roses and some in a separate bed in the back yard. This year has been particularly hard because we've had the worst summer on record, more than 35 days of temperatures over 95 degrees and zero rainfall for months. Our yard is decimated. There is very little grass left and it will take a long time for it to recover. But it did finally rain. We've had about 7.5 inches in the last week.

I found a great location for growing my herbs. This summer, I planted them in pots along the front sidewalk. This puts them in the shade under our big oak tree. They get very little full sun, but they've done beautifully there. (The accompanying photo was taken at noon on a very sunny day.) I've had fresh basil, thyme, chives, parsley, spearmint and peppermint all summer. The only thing I planted there that didn't thrive was dill. I'll try another location for that next spring.

This access to fresh herbs makes it even more fun to cook something up in the kitchen so I can say "Grams Made It."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Martha and Rachel Taught Me To Cook

That's right. I've learned to cook. And I learned from watching daytime television mavens Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray.

When I lost my job at 52 years old, I had very little cooking experience. Seriously, I was the most spoiled working woman ever. My darling husband did all the cooking. I never had to do it, so I never learned.

In the early 90's when my kids where in high school and middle school, my father-in-law had a heart attack. This led to my husband staying several days at the hospital with him. I dutifully came home at night and attempted to make dinner, usually spaghetti sauce from a jar, etc. Anyway, on the third day when the kids got home from school they asked if I would take them to the hospital. I was very touched and thought to myself "How sweet is that ... they want to visit their grandfather." So I took them to the hospital. Upon arrival in the cardiac ICU waiting room they both made a beeline for their dad. The first thing I heard them say was "Dad, you have to come home. Mom's been cooking!" At that stage of my life, even opening a jar and cooking spaghetti was a challenge and I didn't know how to do anything else.

When I lost my job I spent many, many days just sitting in front of the television. Finally, after the shock wore off, I realized that the only right thing for me to do was to take over the running of the household. That meant learning to cook.

I watched Martha Stewart every day. Martha teaches proper technique. If you want to know how to do something right, watch Martha. What I learned from Rachel Ray is that anyone can do it. Rachel just jumps right in and does it. She doesn't worry about cutting everything to exactly the same shape or size. She'll tell you "Just run your knife through it and chop it up."

Basically, Martha taught me HOW to do it and Rachel made me realize that I COULD do it. Thanks Martha and Rachel!

Today when I say "Grams Made It" I may be talking about dinner.