Southern Festival of Books: Saturday Schedule

SFB Final Update RESIZED FOR WEBThe 29th annual Southern Festival of Books kicked off in Nashville today! I’m heading over early tomorrow morning (sad to miss some great panels today, including my friend Beth Ann Fennelly talking about her new book Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs at 1 p.m. today) where I’ll be on a panel for my novel CHERRY BOMB, and also hope to make it to several others. It’s been five years since my first panel at the Festival, back in 2012, for Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, with Wendy Reed, Jennifer Horne, Marshall Chapman, and Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Can’t wait to get back there!

Here’s my tentative schedule for Saturday afternoon and evening: (full schedule for the festival on Saturday is HERE)

12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. – “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” (Basquiat is featured briefly in an MTV video I reference in my novel CHERRY BOMB, since my protag is a graffiti artist). I’d love to hear this panel and buy the book….

1:30 p.m. – Conroy Center Porch Talk – live podcast taping with Wiley Cash

3:00 p.m. – Youth in Search of Hope: Two Middle Grade Novels features my fellow highschool friend (from Jackson, Mississippi) Corabel Shofner and her book, Almost Paradise. I’m hoping to be there for the first half of the panel, before heading to my panel:

4:00 p.m. – The Path to Publishing: Tennessee Debut Novelists (Susan Cushman and  James E. Cherry) where I’ll be talking about my novel CHERRY BOMB, as well as my journey to publishing three books in one year, with three different indie publishers. We’ll be in the Special Collections Room of the Nashville Public Library.

5:00 p.m. – I’ll be signing copies of CHERRY BOMB at the signing venue.

6:30 p.m. – Authors’ reception!

8:30 p.m. – Literary Death Match (Beth Ann Fennelly is a contestant!)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

The Afternoon of Life

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In Monday’s post I wrote about three seasons of life as I saw them in Petula Clark’s song, “Fill the World With Love,”—the morning, noon, and evening. Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend (who is in her eighties) over coffee at her kitchen table and I said, “You know, I think I may be in the afternoon of my life. Surely I am past the noontime and not yet to the evening.” She agreed and encouraged me that the afternoon of our life holds much that is wonderful.

At home later in the day I found an email from her with a quote from Jung, so I Googled the topic and found this article which reflects on Jung’s wisdom about this season, “Enjoying the Afternoon of Life: Jung on Aging.” There is much wisdom in this article, but I especially like this part:

Jung called the elder years—those from c. age 56 to c. 83—the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the Sun through the sky from morning to night. Youth was “morning,” noon corresponded to mid-life, and night was old age, while the sixth and seventh decades see life energy wane, much as the Sun’s warmth declines as it sinks lower in the sky. Just as we need the full cycle of the Sun to support life, so we are meant to live out the full cycle of human existence, and Jung recognized this. More than just living, Jung urged us to enjoy the “afternoon” of life….

So how are we to enjoy these years, where so many of us “Baby Boomers” find ourselves? I see many people trying to stay young—those with money chasing the elusive fountain of youth with personal trainers, expansive wardrobes, makeup routines (and plastic surgery), and behavior which denies aging. While I want to remain active, I don’t want to compete with younger generations. My body won’t let me, and I want to be content, to actually enjoy the afternoon of my life. But the article at the Jungian site describes a lifestyle I’m not ready to completely embrace:

The interval between age 60 and age 80 is the time most people retire from full-time participation in the work world. Generally in this interval children have grown up, gone off to college and set up their own families. This means there is more leisure, fewer family demands, and minimal restrictions in daily life due to the demands of work. Ambitions and desires tend to decrease, and oldsters often feel relief as they “downsize” into smaller homes, condos or collective living arrangements. There may be relief also in the realization of no longer having to keep up with new technologies.

Since I never had a “career” (I was a stay-at-home mom most of my life, other than running an aerobic dance business and doing some freelance writing) I’m not “retiring” at age 65…. I just had two books published and have two more in the works. I’m just getting started! And yet, I’m doing these things without the restraints of a mother with children still at home, and yes, with more leisure. I can choose what to do with my time, which is a great gift for which I try to remember to thank God daily.
I guess my main “complaint” in the afternoon of my life is the limitations placed on me by my body—although those limitations are mostly my own fault for not taking better care of it. The weight gain, the daily aches and pains (many from the car wreck three years ago), the sagging chin and drooping eyelids, all scream at me and make me yearn for my youth. But do I really want it back, with all its anxieties? No!

Today I will move forward, learning to enjoy the afternoon of my life. I will even allow myself to take a nap when I need one, or read a book or watch a movie in the middle of the day. But I also realize that my privileged leisure comes with a responsibility to others. No longer my mother’s caregiver, and with my grandchildren 2000 miles away, it’s easy to become lazy about reaching out to others. And to feel guilty that I’m not doing more volunteer work. I talked with my octogenerarian friend about these things yesterday, and she encouraged me that I have a gift to offer—my writing—and that in order to do my art, I will need to go inward and not spread myself too thin doing multiple “good deeds.” I’m still thinking about that, and trying to consider my writing as a full time job. That and taking care of my body. I’m so lazy when it comes to exercise, which will greatly help the aches and pains and weight management.  So how do I move forward?

Jung felt the older person had the opportunity to re-imagine him or herself. Approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality, the oldster can improvise more, with less need for perfection and more boldness in affirming his/her uniqueness. No longer feeling the need to honor the past, no longer needing to honor dysfunctional family patterns, the oldster can even dare to be outrageous, to adopt the persona that feels right, rather than conform to what society expects.

I love what this says about no longer needing to “honor dysfunctional family patterns.” I’ve struggled with issues from the past for 65 years. Many of those issues have fueled my writing, but as I begin a new novel (yes!) I want to move on, to leave those issues in the past, and to “dare to be outrageous,” whatever that might mean for this season of my life. Hopefully I can tell a new story (one that has been percolating for only a few weeks) without those shackles. Here’s to the afternoon of life!

My Body

33025569I’m reading my fourth and fifth books of 2017 simultaneously, as I often do. Especially when they’re so different. That way I have choices: which book to read with my morning coffee? What am I in the mood for with a cocktail in the evening? Which one will I take to bed with me?

One of my current reads is Angela Doll Carlson’s Garden in the East: the Spiritual Life of the Body. Two years ago I reviewed another of Carlson’s books, Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition. There was so much I could relate to in that book, so I was excited to see her book on the body. See, I’m a bit obsessed with my body. Always have been. Maybe because of my childhood sexual abuse. Maybe because my mother always told me I was fat. Maybe because I couldn’t stop comparing myself to the beauty queens on the Ole Miss campus when I was a student there in 1969-70. If you’ve been reading my blog very much, you know that I always struggle with weight. I worked so hard to lose 17 pounds in the last few months of 2015 and early months of 2016, only to gain back most of it last summer. I’ve been stuck with it ever since, and it sends me into bouts of depression and self-loathing on a regular basis. Not to mention the discomfort of my clothes not fitting. I don’t know what I’d do without my extra large yoga pants.

This morning I went to my annual physical exam—my first since turning 65. I am so grateful for my wonderful internist. She’s (1) smart, (2) communicative, (3) energetic, and (4) non-judgmental. I bubbled over with an apology for the weight gain before she could even bring it up, and she made no comment at all. No lecture. She knows that I will do something about it when I can. Or I won’t. But her words won’t make a difference.
But Angela Carlson’s might. Using the metaphor of our body as a garden, she writes about the importance—and the joy—of tending that garden. Of loving it. These words remind me of how I feel when I remember that I could be dead or paralyzed after my wreck in 2013, which left me with pretty continuous aches and pains (broken neck, leg, and ankle, all full of permanent hardware):

In my best moments, I am grateful to be walking around, upright and active. In those moments, I am not noticing the forward jut of my head, misaligned form age and bad postural habits built up over time. I am not worried about the creaking of my knees or my elbows. In my best moments, I am thinking about deep issues like world peace and schoolyard bullies and what’s for dinner.

Oh how I love those moments when I am not obsessing over my body! For me, those “best moments” usually involve writing, editing, reading, or watching an excellent movie or television drama. Sometimes they involve music. Or taking in the beauty of a spectacular sunset, at the Mississippi River (three blocks from my house) or a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. I can easily pour out my love and appreciation for these things and places that bring me joy. So why can’t I express that same love for my body, my garden I’ve been given to tend? Carlson says:

This body is a garden and it is mine. I am responsible for its care. I am responsible for the words I use when I describe it, even to myself, even when I’m alone.

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Carlson continues the garden metaphor, even laying out for us parallels involving loving and caring for both, which includes the way we speak to our garden. I’ve never been much into growing things, and I’ve certainly never spoken to my plants. But I used to talk to my cat all the time. And the tone in my voice told her she was loved, just as the tone in our voices sends a positive message to our children, our spouses, our friends. So how should we speak to our bodies? Carlson says we should tell our body that we love it. That it is good and strong and beautiful—an amazing mystery created by God and given to us to cradle our spirits and allow our souls to grow and be happy and at peace.

Maybe if I learn to talk to my body, I’ll eventually learn to love it. Or at least not to hate it.

It’s Always Going to Be About the Weight

Kate and TobyI’ve been watching the new show, “This is Us,” on NBC. It follows a family with triplets (well, two triplets, since the third died in childbirth, and the parents adopted a third baby who had been abandoned at the hospital) and the daughter has a weight problem. Shown as a girl of around eight, she was already a little chubby, and her mother was encouraging her to eat fruit when her brothers were eating sugary cereal for breakfast. Then there’s a discussion between the two of them where the mother says, “You know I love you. I’m just trying to help.”

Those scenes take me back to my own childhood—well, actually my adolescence—when I gained weight too quickly and my mother started in on me. But she wasn’t as gentle as the mother in the TV show (played by Mandy Moore). So I’m watching to see how their relationship changes as the daughter gets older. (The show goes back and forth between decades, showing their childhood and later the kids as adults.)

2016-0818-ThisIsUs-ChrissyMetz-1050x1050-CVIn the scenes where the “triplets” are adults, “Kate” (played by Chrissy Metz) is seriously overweight. In one scene in Episode 2, Kate meets “Toby” (played by Chris Sullivan) at a therapy group for people with weight/food issues. Toby is attracted to Kate and convinces her to go on a few dates, but as he pushes for intimacy, she is obviously afraid. There’s this one scene that tells it all for me, when Toby asks her to go somewhere with him where they can just be themselves and not think or talk about food and weight issues. He says something like, “Life is not just about being fat.” She replies, “For me, it’s always going to be about the weight.” As Avery Thompson says in Hollywood Life:

It invades every aspect of her life, and she just can’t change what she feels in her core. Her confession is an honest one. Not many people have the guts to talk about what really troubles them deep down in inside so openly.

I felt her pain in my gut a she said this. And I understand that it’s “what she feels in her core.”

There’s a slim young woman in Kate’s overeating therapy group who has body-image distortion issues. I also identified with her, from back when I was running an aerobic dance business in the 1980s and weighed 116 pounds. I would look in the mirror—in my spandex tights and leg warmers—and still believe that my thighs were too fat. (Of course I’d give anything to weigh 116 again.)

So when Kate says it’s always going to be about the weight, I worry that I’ll never be free of this obsession. I worked so hard to lose that 15 pounds last fall, winter, and spring, and then so easily gained back 10 of it this summer, and now I’m ready to start losing it again. But the prospect of having to focus on everything I eat (again) isn’t a happy one. I’m tired of this lifelong battle. Of course when I share this with people, I get lots of suggestions about different diets and lifestyle eating choices. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate people trying to help, but I’m pretty well informed. But “knowing” is only half the battle, if even half. For me, it’s about waking up every morning and as part of my morning prayers asking God (and Mary of Egypt, my patron saint, and my guardian angel and Mary the Mother of God) to help me that day to be disciplined in my eating and exercise habits, and to please help me lose weight.

I’ve been praying that prayer almost every day since I was a teenager. I’m sixty-five years old. And now I’d really like to lose 25 pounds, which sounds like moving a mountain.

Anne Lamott said (in an article for Oprah Magazine in 2009) that one thing she did to become the person she was meant to be was “…whenever I could, for as long as I could, I threw away the scales and the sugar.” She makes it sound so simple… to quit caring about her weight, but also to quit eating sugar. Neither is something simple.

And so I begin again. Today. I’m going to try to talk to myself as a kind, sweet, supportive, non-judgmental mother would talk to her daughter. As I know my own mother thought she was doing, God rest her soul. I’m going to try to quit blaming her. I’ve already forgiven her, which is a big step, but taking responsibility for my own actions and leaving her out of it is much harder. Today I’m going to focus on my writing projects (three!) which I love—proof-reading galleys for one book; working with an editor on the manuscript for another; and honing marketing plans for a third—and hopefully the joy this work brings me will flow over into a more positive focus on food and exercise. Deep breath. Here goes….

Mental Health Monday: The Summer of My Discontent

The Summer of My Discontent by Melissa Pynn http://www.elfwood.com/u/lissapynn/image/fcf50b10-254b-11e4-8293-7393fb7fed06/the-summer-of-my-discontent

The Summer of My Discontent by Melissa Pynn

Today I am declaring the summer of my discontent as officially over. Three long, hot, hard months of weight gain, depression, grief, sloth, lack of exercise, over-eating, over-drinking, and over-thinking are OVER today. Labor Day seems like a good time to turn this ship around.

Of course it helps that I’ve got such exciting news on the publishing front and plenty of work to be done to get those two (and maybe three) books birthed in 2017. There’s definitely a correlation between my depression lifting and those emails and phone calls and meetings with publishers the past couple of weeks.

Today’s post might seem to be as much about physical as mental health—and it definitely is—but for me, the battle is always as much mental. After watching the Olympics in August, and now the U.S. (tennis) Open, I’m reminded over and over again how much success in athletics is a mental thing. My two favorite sports to watch are tennis and golf, and I’ve seen many a seasoned athlete lose, not so much to other players as to himself. We beat ourselves when we let stress and negativity overwhelm our efforts at success, in any area of our lives. So today, I’m focusing on one of those areas I’ve neglected this summer—exercise.

Aerobic Dance Instructors at Phidippides Sports, Jackson, Mississippi, 1985

Aerobic Dance Instructors at Phidippides Sports, Jackson, Mississippi, 1985

During my years as an aerobic dance instructor (1982-1991) I worked out regularly and never really thought of it as exercise, because it was fun. I love to dance, and I love to teach. (And yes, I even loved the cute outfits with the leg warmers and headbands back in the 1980s.) But when I quit teaching in 1991—twenty-five years ago—my battle with exercise began. I tried taking aerobics classes, but found it hard to motivate myself when I wasn’t the instructor. I had temporary success with Curves (circuit training) in 2001 (when I was recovering from surgery for cervical cancer) but that was the last time I participated in any kind of organized exercise program.

Breaking my neck, leg and ankle in 2013 greatly hindered my efforts at exercise. Walking on hard surfaces (outdoors) hurts. I can’t do yoga. Pilates hurt my back. Swimming takes too much time (okay that’s my excuse, though I may have to get over that one day). And so I’ve pretty much been limited to the elliptical machine for the past four and a half years. And it’s right here in my office, with a view of my flat screen TV. In the air-conditioning. How difficult can that be, right? (I’m trying to take inspiration from Venus Williams, who is ranked #6 in the world at age 36, in spite of having Sjogren’s syndrome. Makes my arthritis and other aches and pains seem insignificant by comparison.)

Older-woman-holding-weightsWith new information encouraging us that 150 minutes a week is good enough, and that those minutes can even be broken up into 10-minute intervals, I should have no problem hopping on the elliptical once or twice a day and logging those minutes. Which I plan to start doing again. Today. (And I’m trying to remember that exercise isn’t just about weight-loss.)

I’ve gained back 5 of the 15 pounds I worked so hard to lose over the past year, so I want to lose it again and another 10 or 15 more. I know it won’t be quick, and I know success will depend upon overcoming my eating disorders and committing to exercise. And not just for weight loss—I realize I also need to start doing some strength training to build muscle and bone. Haven’t figured out a plan for that yet. Today, I’m all about getting back to the diet and exercise.

Happy Labor Day!

Mental Health Monday: Mind, Heart, Body

So, after almost nine years of posting on my blog three times a week, this morning I forgot about it. First. Time. Ever. Hope this isn’t a preview of coming distractions. I was about to leave the house on errands around 11 a.m. when my son sent me the new banner he and his wife designed for my web site, and when I went to the site to see it, I remembered that I hadn’t written a post for Mental Health Monday.

Maybe the best thing I can do for my mental health is not overreact. I did other good things this morning: I exercised 20 minutes on the elliptical. I ate ¼ cantaloupe. After splurging a bit this weekend, my weight was back up a pound. I was so hoping to lose another 5 pounds before our trip to Paris (May 6) but at this rate it’s not happening. Trying to think like a French woman of a certain age and eat tiny, tiny servings, even of really delicious food. But here’s what happens:

MIND: I know what to do.

HEART: I want to do the right ting.

BODY: I ignore my brain and heart and eat more than I should.

Okay, Body, today we are going to listen to our mind and heart. Let’s go.

And thanks for the new banner, Jason and See!

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Mental Health Monday: Joie de vivre!

Susu beachA number of years ago I discovered the wonderful book French Women Don’t Get Fat (published in 2004). The author’s simple but revolutionary (for Americans, anyway) approach to eating—and to life—is something I find myself returning to over and over, at each stage of my life in which I find myself needing a radical return to a mindful lifestyle. It inspired my efforts when starting a 1000-1200-calorie “budget” last fall. Basically it encourages us to enjoy excellent food in very small amounts (tiny, for those of us over sixty) and to exercise regularly and drink lots of water. Simple to understand. Very difficult to execute, at least for me it is.

And so now I find myself six months into this new attempt, having lost 17 pounds and gained back 2 of them, “stuck” as Winnie-the-Pooh was when he ate too much honey and couldn’t get his fanny out of the hole in the tree. My “goal” was to lose 33 pounds (or more—I’ll know when I get there) so I reached the half-way point and hit several walls. Family emergencies. Travel. Holidays. Boredom. Anxiety. All things that can easily derail a diet or any healthy initiative.

Forever Chic coverEnter Tish Jett’s book Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance, which jumped off the shelves of The Hidden Lantern Bookstore in Rosemary Beach, Florida, when I was there last week. My husband and I are going to Paris in May (bucket list item) and I’ve been doing some related reading. A few weeks ago we went out to dinner with our good friends who are going on the trip with us. Tim asked each of us what we were most looking forward to during our ten-day immersion trip in Paris. Some of the answers from the others included art museums and galleries, food, local markets, and the must-see tourist attractions. My answer? French women. I want to sit at a sidewalk café and observe them—their bodies, their hair, their skin, their clothing, the way they walk. This book confirms my interest, and I’m taking in the wisdom from the American author who learned it as she lived in Paris for years and became herself a femme d’un certain age.

I’ll share more from the book in future posts, but for now I’m focusing on some words of wisdom from the first chapter, especially because of my “stuckness” with weight loss right now. And while I want that je ne sais quoi that French women seem to have, losing fifteen to twenty more pounds is in the forefront of that dream for me. Jett reminds us in this first chapter that “discipline will set us free”… and that need for discipline increases with age:

… the difficulty factor has amped up as the forces of the elements, our hormones, and life in general throw additional challenges at us. One of the nutritionists I interviewed noted that menopause requires cutting two hundred fifty calories from daily intake just to keep weight stable.

But French women aren’t thrown by reality—they are pragmatists. As Jett says, “Frenchwomen eat well, drink little, and take the time necessary to perform their serious daily toilette, the ritual ablutions of skin, hair, and body care” (more on some of that in future posts).

So how do French women deal with binge-eating, backsliding from their healthy routines? It seems that American women tend to get depressed and go into self-loathing and more weight-gain when this happens. I find those wolves at my door right now as I have grown a bit weary of my low-calorie routine. I gained another pound while at the beach last week. So how should I look at my situation? Jett says:

And no, discipline does not preclude the occasional flight of fancy. Even the most disciplined Frenchwoman wanders off course from time to time. It’s part of enjoying life to the fullest. Remember that other famous French expression, joie de vivre? How could one possibly have joy in her life if she didn’t allow herself chocolate cake and champagne Exactement.

chocolate fonduExactement! My friend and I walked an hour to an hour and a half each day at the beach, so we got our exercise, and we enjoyed excellent meals and drinks every day, often sitting outdoors at lovely cafes along 30-A, the Gulf coast’s Champs-Elysées, soaking in the fresh air and sunshine along with the martinis, wine, seafood, and yes—chocolate fondue at La Crema, an amazing tapas and chocolate bar in Rosemary Beach. And that was after brunch on the porch overlooking the green at The Pearl—a lovely boutique hotel just across the street. The weight gain wasn’t because of the excellence of the food, but the amount. We were on a four-day vacation, enjoying a month’s worth of food and fun! Now that I’ve returned home (and, interesting timing, entered into the season of Great Lent with its prescribed fasting regimen) I should be able to get back on track, right? And yet I’ve been eating junk—potato chips and Cokes especially—and not enjoying it at all. Jett’s book is reminding me that discipline will free me from this plight. Discipline and joie de vivre!

And so I begin again. With more advice from Jett:

The smallest effort has major rewards, everything from setting a dining table with care—every day—to getting up, getting dressed, and getting out there to see what adventures the new day holds.

When I read those words with my morning coffee, still in my gown and robe, I got up and got dressed and came to the computer to write this post. Next up? Elliptical. Then I’m getting “out there” to run a few errands before driving down to Oxford this afternoon for a 5 p.m. reading at Square Books. My first cousin, Johnny Jones, is editor of a new book about forced integration in our high school in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early seventies. Watch for a future post about Lines Were Drawn, and read this interview with some of the editors. Meanwhile, I’m going to see what adventures the new day holds!

Mental Health Monday: Oh Crap, She’s Up!

backsliding-580x400Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today, “Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward,” was just what I needed to read this morning. Although his writings are more of a spiritual than mental health nature, I don’t think we should separate these two important elements of our selves. In fact, I believe our mental, spiritual and physical health are tightly intertwined. So today I’m writing about two steps backward in my ongoing weight-loss journey.

After losing 17 ½ pounds over a period of five and a half months (and wanting to lose at least 15 more) I’ve come to see my “diet” as a new lifestyle. As my metabolism slows (and sometimes seems to come to a halt!) I need to learn ways to care for my aging body so that it will serve me in what I hope will be a couple more active decades.

This morning the scales showed that for the first time since I began this journey, I had gained weight. Two pounds. This didn’t surprise me—I’ve slipped back into old habits of mindless eating for the past few days. But thankfully I’m not letting it plummet me into depression and despair, as I once would have done. Instead I’m trying to learn from these “two steps backward.” Why/how did I let this happen? And how does Rohr’s lesson—which is really about how Holy Scriptures help us in our spiritual journey—apply to my backsliding experience?

Rohr says that three steps forward are like “moving forward toward the mercy, humility, and inclusivity of Jesus” whereas our steps backward are like “regressing into arrogance, exclusion, and legalism.” I can see God’s mercy in the weight-loss success I’ve had so far, especially given my history of sexual abuse and eating disorders. And I’m learning humility as I struggle to submit myself to a calorie budget on a long-term basis. And yes, when I slide backwards into mindless eating, I can feel the legalism clipping at my heels. The voices saying “bad girl, you broke the rules” or “see, you can’t really do this.”

crap shes upAnd so I begin again today, my spirits lifted by the reminder that it’s all grace, and that God wants me to succeed in this endeavor. To take care of the temple which is my physical body. And in the process—or maybe an important part of the process—to care for my mental and spiritual health. I’m actually looking forward to eating less and exercising more today. I feel better already. (This quote is taped to the lamp by my computer.)

Faith on Friday: Just Do It!

Icon Corner_edited-1I have read dozens of books about prayer—including my favorites from the Orthodox spiritual tradition, like Beginning to Pray, Courage to Pray, and Living Prayer, by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom. In recent years I’ve enjoyed books on prayer from more diverse sources, like Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow and Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal.

As an Orthodox Christian, I have a “prayer rule.” My spiritual father helped me set it up about twenty-five years ago. It includes a number of “set” prayers in the Orthodox tradition, and also a time for repentance, and for supplication for others. For several years when I was more attentive to my prayer life, I stood before my icons and prayed these prayers every morning and night. And I made efforts at practicing what is known as “The Jesus Prayer” during the day.  And then I went through a dark period, spiritually, during which I didn’t pray very much.

After my car wreck in July of 2013, I began to pray again. For several months I could only pray lying in a hospital bed in my office at home. It took a while before I had the strength to pray standing before my icons again. And now—since I’m “recovered” to what I call my “new normal,”—I have the strength to stand and pray, but I find myself following this practice only in the mornings. Somehow by evening the day has worn me down and the bed (or sometimes the TV or a good book) calls to me more strongly than the prayer corner. And I’m not making much effort with spontaneous prayer throughout the day.

Recently I had an experience that reminded me of the power of prayer. Especially the power of having a mindset of awareness of God’s presence. I was dealing with a frustrating situation in my writing life (which still isn’t resolved) and I found myself so anxious about it that I lay in bed one night this week thinking about the issues involved until I realized that I had not prayed about it. At all. And so I turned my thoughts towards God and told Him all about the situation (as though He doesn’t know) and how anxious I am. And then I began to pray for the other people involved—for their minds to be open and their hearts to be soft as we continue working through the situation. And finally I asked God to please give me peace within the situation.

An amazing thing happened. I felt less anxious. I slept peacefully and have continued to deal with the situation in the following days with a still heart and more clarity of mind.

PapawRunningWhy are we always surprised when we do the right thing and it brings good results? My husband (and my father, who died in 1998) is the kind of person who just does the right thing, almost intuitively. He’s very disciplined, as was my father, who ran marathons into his late sixties. Mom and Dad owned Bill Johnson’s Phidippides Sports in Jackson, Mississippi, from 1982-1997. Initially they had an exclusive contract with Nike (before Nike broke the contract and began to sell their shoes in discount stores) and I remember that my Dad loved Nike’s slogan: “Just Do It!” It was while I was working for Mom and Dad, running the aerobic dance studio at their store, that I learned to put that slogan into practice and lost weight and got into good physical shape for the first time in my life. Here I am twenty-five years later trying to get my 64-year-old body back into shape by eating less and exercising more. As I work out on my elliptical machine in my office at home, I find myself looking at the large watercolor picture on the wall in front of me for inspiration. It’s a picture of my father running in a marathon. When I’m tired of exercising and want to quit, I listen for his voice. There it is: “Just do it!”

Mental Health Monday: Dealing With a Weight-Loss Plateau

weight-loss-graph-plateau

It’s been almost three months since I started this diet. (See “Counting Calories” from August 31.) The good news? I’ve lost 12 pounds. And I’m learning things about myself every day as I continue this 1000-calorie discipline I’ve chosen.

The not-as-good news? I’ve hit a weight-loss plateau. Without going over my calorie budget more than one or two days (and then only 200 calories over) I can’t seem to keep those pounds coming off. Thankfully, I haven’t let it send me into a serious funk, which always leads to binge eating or drinking. But I’m ready to see those scales move again.

So today I did a little research, and the article I found most helpful was “Getting Past a Weight-Loss Plateau” from Mayo Clinic. It seems that I’m burning muscle along with fat… muscle that keeps my metabolism going. What do they recommend?

To lose more weight, you need to either increase your physical activity or decrease the calories you eat. Using the same approach that worked initially may maintain your weight loss, but it won’t lead to more weight loss.

Not what I wanted to hear. The article went on to say that they don’t recommend going lower than 1200 calories, which is what I’m actually eating, since I subtract 200 calories for every 20 minutes I spend on the elliptical machine. Here’s what Mayo says about that:

Rev up your workout. Increase the amount of time you exercise by 15 to 30 minutes and possibly the intensity of your exercise to burn more calories. Adding exercises such as weightlifting to increase your muscle mass will help you burn more calories.

So, as I’m approaching the 3-month mark in my diet, my plan is to work out on the elliptical for 40 minutes/day rather than 20. Just long enough to watch a one-hour TV show without commercials. I see a Law & Order SVU marathon coming on!

turkey going to beachOnly problem is we’re headed to the beach for Thanksgiving… no elliptical machine in our condo. So my alternate plan is to walk for one hour/day on the beach. And enjoy fresh seafood instead of cornbread dressing and desserts. It helps that I’m not cooking all my favorite dishes this year. Have a great week everyone!

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