A Winning Year on the Loser’s Bench

smallermugJust like me, two days late and 96 pounds short.

Still getting used to the last part of that sentence.

Sunday, Jan. 15, was my “surgiversary” – meaning that a year ago, I decided to save my life and had gastric sleeve surgery. Part of my stomach was removed and what was left made into a nice little “sleeve” that doesn’t hold much more than 3 ounces.

Buffets are a waste. “All You Can Eat” is a joke. When I have a drink, it’s one and done.

I have become the cheapest date in town.

I promised I would share my journey with you, the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears. I figure a year out was a good time to bring you up to speed.

Let me get a few things out of the way first.

  1. Yes, it is pretty wonderful to feel good and have energy again.
  2. img_3430No, even though I look like E.T. (see before and after pictures at right), I am not planning on having my loose skin removed. There are a few reasons for this:
    1. Getting “sleeved” is a tiny bit painful, but you get over it quick and I have been told by people who had skin-tightening surgery that it hurts like hell.
    2. The only person who matters (and the only one who sees me naked) is my beloved husband and he loves me no matter how I look.
    3. There is a reason that God invented Spandex.
  3. No, I don’t miss soda or fried food. I do miss rice and pasta just a little. And salad a LOT.
  4. And despite all the ill-informed people out there, weight loss surgery is NOT an easy way out. It requires commitment, sacrifice, holding yourself to a new standard and keeping your promises to yourself. And realizing that there are a lot of stupid people out there. With each pound I released, my (mental) skin got thicker and suffering fools became a lot easier.
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All I really wanted to do was show off my cowboy boots, but the size 14 dress helped The Girls show off too…..

As the weight came off over the last year, I went through a lot of mental changes too. When you’ve always turned right to go to the “women’s plus size” section at Kohl’s, it’s hard to make yourself walk straight or turn left and go to the junior or normal size section. It’s also hard not to scream with sheer joy and amazement when you take a size 14 bathing suit into the dressing room at JCPenney and it actually fits.

If I try on a pair of pants and they don’t quite fit around the hips or middle, my inner bitch still tells me I’m fat. Body image is one of the nastiest demons anyone can deal with and unfortunately, this operation doesn’t touch that. Using the tools gained from pre-surgery classes, I’m trying to stifle that voice, but I have a much better understanding of the struggle as my metamorphosis continues.

I do, however, miss The Girls. I mean the ones that gave me cleavage and the comfort that, even if I had been pudgy in the middle, at least I had a decent balcony to perform with (don’t laugh, I thanked them for an acting award I received because they provided comic relief). I am finally to the point where I’ll be shopping for a smaller sized bra, with padding no longer optional.

I have collarbones and hip bones and ribs and ankles that I haven’t seen in years. I touch them with the wonder given a favorite toy brought out of hiding. I have batwings that I flap proudly. I’m still trying to get used to all this “activewear” that shows off my progress. I have donated more than half of the clothes in my closet to charity and, despite worrying that I’d want to keep and have some sentimental favorites altered to fit my smaller self, I have learned to let go of the baggies. My shoulders are not as broad and I actually have a waist I’d like to show off. New, more flattering clothes are slowly replacing the ones that camouflaged.

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Out watching people eat just before my surgery date with Sadie and my SisterOutlaw and PartnerInGrandmoming
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A year later, we both look better! And that little squishy on my lap is walking and talking and keeping us busy

It’s been a year of big changes. As things get smaller, some things got bigger. Like my hot flashes. I thought menopausal ones were bad, but they were few and far between. These come on in groups and knock me on my ass. I asked my doctor about it and he said it’s because estrogen lives in fat cells and when the fat cells leave, the hormones go batty. And burps? I used to be rather demure and polite, but now they’re three-dimensional, often with an introduction, first and second act and big finish.

I get asked a lot “what can you eat” – and my answer is “food” – but on the healthy side. Protein is a priority and I dine on a lot of steak or chicken strips, ahi tuna, cheese, almonds and Greek yogurt. It’s kind of the opposite of Weight Watchers – where they have an emphasis on filling up on lettuce and vegetables and fruit, we have to be careful about  “filling up” since we have a much smaller space. Having sleeve surgery is like giving the crankiest restaurant customer a seat in the kitchen – if they don’t like it, it gets thrown. Sometimes up. Gone are the days of giant salads, rice bowls (you don’t want to know), bagels (yikes) or heaps of pasta. I can eat a small salad, but I definitely have to prioritize what goes in first – meat, cheese, vitamin-rich veggies or fruits. And drinks are non-carbonated, low-sugar things like water, tea, water, coffee and more water.

morning-collageI’m a big picture person and every time all my kids are home, we have a family portrait session. I’m talking an hour posing in various parks and other rustic locations in the hopes of preserving our brood in a moment in time. We had a terrific session just before my surgery, but I was so unhappy with that, I asked my photographer pal (jokingly, of course) to photoshop out my double chin and all the extra me that was crowding the frames. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with how I looked, even though the rest of the family looked fabulous. Once the weight started falling off, I felt compelled to have another photo session, but just for me. One morning in downtown Newhall, a few changes of clothing and my spirits soared. The new pictures made my heart sing and gave me inspiration to keep working hard. Pardon my indulgence, but you have to do whatever works for you.

I do spend a lot of time reassuring servers in restaurants that I am happy with my food, especially if I have only eaten a quarter of the food on my plate (restaurant meals usually turn into three or four after-meals for sleevers). I often have have to hide my look of amazement when I see plates go by laden with so much more than we (and I mean all of us, sleeved or not) NEED to eat at each meal – the amount of food just floors me at some places. Not only is it hard for me to believe that I used to consume exactly that same amount of food – and often, dessert – but it’s also hard for me to understand why people don’t eat healthier because I feel so much better now.

My dogs are thrilled with the new me because, not only am I bringing home boxes from restaurants that often mean it’s snack time, but also because I will make a meal and sit down with what I think is a perfect portion that I am unable to finish. They lovingly and conveniently sit at my feet, because they know they will soon be feasting on the excess. We make sure they get plenty of exercise to work off their “treats,” and so the vet stops calling Gracie “the round one.”

Along with the dietary changes came behavioral changes – I actually enjoy getting outside and moving, and try to walk on a regular basis in the mornings with friends. I have a few angels who make the time and keep me company (and keep up with my non-strolling pace) and I find myself doing a lot of things I wouldn’t – and couldn’t – do a year ago. Just yesterday, I went out in the back yard, cleaned up a lot of doggie doo, pulled up some dead vegetation along with some weeds, moved furniture and swept, staying active for a couple of hours. My dogs were in shock, because in the past I never went out, let alone worked, outside.

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Summer, 2015. I was Number 1 all right – Shoes didn’t even fit, and I had a great appreciation for elastic – and lots of fabric
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September 2016. A year after that nightmarish flowered dress shot. Just got a new corset for my Voodoo Queen costume. I’m trying to think of excuses to wear it for more than Halloween!

I still love to cook, I just consider it more performance art than participation sport. I love feeding people and baking (I baked more this Christmas than in the last 10 years) and savoring the best part of the dining experience – enjoying the company and really tasting the food instead of just filling up and pushing away from the table. Believe me when I tell you that three bites of the best part of something is WAY better than 10 bites to clean a plate!

Because my job involves spending a lot of time on social media, I have to give a shout out to members of two Facebook pages dedicated to those considering or who have had gastric sleeve surgery. You have become my friends and supporters and I get so much encouragement and support and answers and camaraderie, I feel it’s an honor to give it back. You made room for me on “The Loser’s Bench” and I am proud to sit at your side.

And the best part of all, I have the energy and better health so I can keep up with my inspiration, Sadie Jane. I plan on seeing her grow up, graduate from school, get married and maybe make me a great-grandmother. She’s holding up her end of the bargain, it’s up to me to stay the course and make this life change work.

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And she’s worth every little bite.

 

Photocollage and head shot at the top by the amazingly talented Sarah Krieg. Please visit her website at www.SarahKriegPhotography.com

Dear readers –

If you have questions about Gastric Sleeve surgery, please feel free to comment or message me – I am all about education! And if you find this blog helpful or funny or inspirational or just a good positive change from some of the nasty dreck on the innerwebs these days, please share it generously. Thank you!

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

These boots are made for Rockin’

CarolwowmugHoly cow, it’s been a long time.

A lot of things have changed. For the better, I might add.

For one thing, I’m down 75 pounds from that day last spring when I was seriously depressed about my cowboy boots not fitting anymore.

As you can see from the pictures, those babies fit again.

And I am one happy cowgirl.

It has been a really busy four months. Since having the gastric sleeve surgery Jan. 15, mealtime has been very different for me. I’ve learned to slow down and focus on enjoying what’s on the plate instead of trying to finish it in record time. I’ve gotten more in tune with that little voice in my head that says “I’m full,” especially since its backup singer, my highlighter-sized stomach, is sometimes louder, with the familiar chorus “STOP!”

We also had family visiting, numerous trips to The Park (you know, that Disney place) and I worked the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival as an emcee. Oh yeah, and my freelance work.

“Sorry, been busy” should be my new tattoo.

Don’t worry, it’s not all traumatic. It’s just been a big learning process. I never realized how much attention I would have to pay to what went into my mouth.

Some habits die hard. My fridge and freezer are still packed. Even though the kids are gone and our family of five has dwindled to one hungry husband who loves my cooking and two eager pitties waiting for what I can’t finish, my mindset is still “shop for a crowd.”

But to answer those wondering “what can you eat?,” let me offer this:

Gone forever: carbonated drinks. I don’t miss soda, but I do miss Perrier. Water or iced tea for me, thanks very much. And, of course, coffee. Without coffee, adulting is really hard.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 9.29.44 PMAlcohol is on vacation until November, when I’m going wine tasting with my girl gang – although I know that I’ll be stopping at one glass instead of the “several sips, then why not get a glass or two or three” of the past. I will learn to choose wisely.

Fried foods are verboten. They are so bad for you on so many levels and over my lifetime, I’ve already consumed enough of them to be content with the memory.

Bread, traditional pasta and rice (especially rice) are history. I haven’t had a sandwich since December. Tried once. When you have this procedure, one try is all you need to give you an unforgettable reminder that sandwiches are not your friend. I am discovering the joys of quinoa and farro, some more protein-friendly whole grains. I still need fiber in my diet and they are delicious.

ahi_tuna_pokeAhi tuna and poke have become my new addiction. Chicken breasts and a good steak (gristle makes me very cranky now) or some tender brisket are my go-to. Keep the sides.

If I’m a guest in your house, don’t hide the cookies or cake. Just be prepared to share. I’m seriously good with one bite, just to enjoy the flavors. That’s really all I want.

Two trash bags of clothing have already gone to the Assistance League’s thrift shop and I’m working on the third. I have to find a dress to wear to present scholarships this week and I’m hoping that one or two of those I kept aren’t too big. Isn’t that crazy? Maybe I should wear pants and the infamous boots.

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I’m still walking near the Iron Horse Trailhead at least once a week. I move a LOT more around the house, getting out of my office chair at least once an hour. Walking around Disneyland is a daylong adventure that ends when I want it to (around the 10,000 step mark) instead of gasping and sweating and wondering if they would deliver a scooter to Frontierland so I could just make it to the parking lot. When it gets a little bit warmer, I’ll be back in the pool for water aerobics. I tried Pilates, and I don’t think that’s a good fit; the difference is that I’ve made a deal with myself that if I don’t do the Pilates, I must do the pool. That feeling is definitely new.

SadiekissOf course, my favorite exercise is “weight lifting” and dancing with my 18-pound granddaughter. On one of my support pages, a woman posted a picture of her grandchild, saying that she was the reason she had the surgery. I posted Sadie’s picture and wrote a similar sentiment. Other sleevers (yes, we have a name) did the same and I realized that I was in great company with grandparents willing to make changes for the better to keep company with these little ones for a long, long time.

When everybody was home for Christmas last year, we took family pictures. They were wonderful and captured our unique spirit. But when I saw the pictures, I saw how much more there was of me than there should have been. I vowed that after I lost a good chunk of the weight, I would have head shots done, justifying the effort because I can use them for my blog and other marketing purposes.

I did that photo shoot a couple of weeks ago (with the amazingly talented Sarah Kreig, who also did our family shots) and I cannot tell you how much seeing those pictures gave me confidence and boosted my self-esteem. Even after all the doubt and self-examination and “could I have done this without the surgery?”  – I knew I did the right thing and I was so glad I would be able to share that with the world. Sarah did more than just headshots, she shot from top to toe, making sure to capture the slimmer middle, the fewer chins and included my Eight Second Angels with the hearts and scrollwork.

The boots fit. Now it’s up to me to take them in the right direction.

morning collage

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

On mayonnaise and coming full circle

Consistency.

A word written on a piece of paper and stapled somewhere on my “Do this” wall.

Sometimes I feel like I should turn in my Writer card when I don’t sit down at the keyboard and open a vein on a regular basis. I mean, it’s not like I’m not writing press releases for clients or publicity for one of my nonprofit groups or answering emails every day.

I mean, my fingers still know which keys are where. It’s just that the whimsy is often put aside for practicality.

And then there’s that “what should I write about?” conundrum.

So today, I’m going to talk about the value of a mayonnaise knife.

I drive my kids crazy. They say I keep too much stuff (but have never accused me of being a hoarder), which I defend by using the sentimental value tactic.

Memories come in all shapes and sizes

My kitchen counter is crammed with essentials, including three crocks holding utensils – spoons, strainers, whisks, tongs, skewers, ladles, spatulas – and one crock specifically for knives. All of them are very crowded, especially the knife one.

My kids went through the knife crock not too long ago and asked why I was holding on to knives that had cracked, weathered handles. There is one knife that they wanted to throw away, since it doesn’t cut very well any more. They urged me to simplify with better, stronger cutlery.

I countered that my mom used to make sandwiches using that knife. It’s more than 60 years old, as dull as butter and shows its age with a handle so bleached it’s nearly white, but it fits in my hand perfectly when I’m making sandwiches and spreading the condiments. The strength of the blade and its response when I’m using it to frost a cake or get the mayonnaise to every corner of the bread has a good, familiar feel.

I still hear my mom’s voice from long ago, when we’d be standing at the cutting board and making lunch. When I would be applying mustard and mayo to a creation, she’d advise “use twice as much of this” (meaning mustard) “and only half of that” (mayo). Nutritional guidance at the hands of utensils, offered with love.

There are other items in my too-shallow kitchen drawers (don’t believe the home improvement store when they sell you the standard kit, they’re NEVER deep enough) that open the memory floodgates. The pie server with the etched vines and the yellow and red-checkered handle – I see it holding my dad’s favorite, apple pie. The crazy whisk that looks like a spring gone bad at the end of a metal stick that my mom told me to bounce up and down when I helped beat the eggs to make French toast. The long metal spatula that reaches further and is my go-to tool when something sticks. Yup. Mom’s.

It bothers me that I lost the knife my grandmother used to teach me how to pit an apricot using only one hand. She could do it standing on a rickety ladder in the orchard. I try with newer, sharper models, with mixed results, standing in the safety of my kitchen.

I do visit foodie Nirvanas like William-Sonoma and Sur le Table and enjoy perusing the fancy new “must haves” that our kids take for granted. But those new blades or peelers or scoops just don’t bring back the mirepoix of my youth, the foundation on which I built my kitchen skills and those fleeting moments when I remember from where I came.

Another thing about that knife: we lived on a main road into what used to be a small town in Northern California. Transients (called “hobos” in those days) would mark the trees in our orchard because they knew my mother would always make them a sandwich. Guess which knife she used? Her belief was that no one should go to sleep hungry. I work with our local food pantry to make sure that doesn’t happen here. And when my kids lived at home, their friends knew that all were welcome for Sunday dinner. Still are. Mom taught me well.

Consistency. Like the home-cooked meals I make for family and friends. I’ll work on that.

Ignore them and they’ll go away – or will they?

Visitors from Kansas were given a friendly NIMBY greeting Sunday morning
Visitors from Kansas were given a friendly NIMBY greeting Sunday morning

Does a tree still fall in the forest if there’s no one there to hear it?

Logic tells us that it does, but the skeptics would like us to consider otherwise.

Last Sunday, a small contingent from the Westboro Baptist Church, which is famous for promoting hate, homophobia and opinions that usually shock people’s senses, visited our town on their way to the Oscars. They stopped at four churches, where they intended to proselytize to the attendees as they left their respective houses of worship.

Upon hearing the news that they were coming, several local residents decided to greet them and counter the Westboro message with one of love and tolerance.

By various accounts, there were six people from Westboro and 200 locals.

That is a lot of love. No incidents were reported and I saw only one mention of the Westboroians making it to Hollywood and Highland on a prominent website.

We struggle with that fine line between reporting the news and rewarding bad behavior. One of the newsroom fights of my career included a discussion of whether or not we would cover the Westboro folks when they were rumored to be enroute to the funeral of a fallen local soldier. I said we should cover them if an incident occurred, management was of the opposing opinion, wanting nothing to appear about them at all.

In other words, don’t reward their offensive nature, it’s only a way to give them the attention they crave.

I reluctantly agreed, reserving the right to report if one of them threw a punch. Fortunately, that never happened. In my recollection, they didn’t even show.

A few days after the recent love fest in the church parking lots, someone posted online about “Passages,” a traveling exhibit from the Museum of the Bible that features the Green Collection of biblical artifacts, which is owned by the founding family of Hobby Lobby, that will open in April in the abandoned Orchard Supply Hardware space that Hobby Lobby will take over some time in 2017. The conversation was spirited, as emotions in the community are mixed about the controversial craft store, which was singled out by the US Supreme Court for its stance on employer-supported birth control.

In other words, there was a little hate in the mix.

We protest intolerance, yet practice it in online forums. Is the keyboard mightier than the picket sign? More importantly, has this replaced sitting around the kitchen table, face to face, and working out differences that can be resolved?

Speaking of protests, remember when Albertsons closed their market on Lyons Avenue in 2005 and Vallarta Markets moved in? Nearly 100 angry villagers – neighbors surrounding the shopping center at Old Orchard Road – filled the City Council chambers to protest Vallarta’s opening, contending that it didn’t “fit in” with the community. I got calls from people who told me that drug dealers and (gasp!) THOSE PEOPLE (Hispanics? Mexicans? People who liked to cook and appreciated a wide selection of fresh foods?) would overrun the center and surrounding apartment complexes and neighborhoods, surely causing property values to plummet. It was one of the ugliest displays of racism since Signal publisher Scott Newhall faced down the Ku Klux Klan in Saugus back in 1966.

Conventional knowledge says that if we ignore something, it might go away. Operative word: might. Another theory is to keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. That’s the same logic that gives us pause when we’re tempted to unfriend or block someone on our social media pages, because we might miss something that we want to react to later. I believe it’s also referred to as one step away from stalking, but that’s another blog.

The good news is that in our crazy quilt of community, there are people willing to stand up and offer the best they have to give – love and tolerance – in the face of adversity, whether they are a group on Facebook or a sea captain who would not let the bastards keep him down. The Westboroians left, Passages will be open to all, a second Vallarta opened in our city just this week (the parking lot was packed, as it has been in Newhall for the last 10 years, by customers of all races, ages and creeds) and people have the freedom to spend their money at a craft store the size of an aircraft carrier – or not. Their choice.

Remember that.