2018 and the struggle endures. The never-ending battle, the fruitless quest for weight loss (well, not entirely fruitless….after all, raisins are the subject of this blog).
Speaking of “fruitless” — and getting off on a tangent before even addressing the question of raisins — most diets do allow fruit now. My last round at Weight Watchers permitted it “until satisfied”, dangerous words for us emotional eaters who don’t really get the meaning of “satisfied”. Does “emotionally satisfied” count? And I’m sure they didn’t mean dried fruit, like raisins or papaya leather.
Like others, I’ve tried diet after diet, exercised until I’m blue and hurting, jogged and walked, joined Jenny Craig, TOPS, and Weight Watchers multiple times, achieved “goal” weight, then put it all back on again and then some. Now I’m older and facing knee problems and phlebitis, neither of which responds well to my extra poundage and both of which prevent me from exercising as often I should. I’m caught in a Catch-22 situation: will gain weight if I don’t exercise but can’t exercise because of my weight.
I ask you…is this fair?
No, it’s not. It’s not fair that food should be allowed to kill me like this, despite my best efforts and my total lack of self-pity. I mean, a total lack.
So I’m angry. As angry as Father Mulcahy when Hawkeye reamed out poor Radar in an episode of MASH. The gentle Father really lost it: “I am incensed! I am outraged! I’m acrimonious!”
My doctor told me years ago, in an attempt to scare me into action, “Losing weight gets harder as you age.” Turns out he was right. Those extra pounds cling to hips and thighs like limpets to rocks in the sea.
But I keep trying.
These days I use an online calorie counter called LoseIt, which I like because it’s free, for one thing. Also, it allows me to log my daily food and find restaurant calorie counts. So I can search for “McDonalds Chicken Chipotle wrap” and get the exact calorie count. Not that I would ever buy one of those. Oh no. The app will also find “Starbuck’s Carmel Macchiato, Almond Milk”, which, I’m pleased to note, contains twenty fewer calories than the regular variety. And who knew that IHOP’s blueberry pancakes were only 350 cals for two?? Very reasonable. We won’t discuss the syrup that goes on top.
Which brings me to the 19 raisins. It’s the allowable number for a serving, aaccording to this app. Not 20 raisins, mind you, but 19. This strikes me as odd. Why not round it off?Anyway, I use raisins daily on my muesli (half cup=170 cals, so I have three-quarters of a cup; more filling). At first, I actually counted out 19 of the little guys. Then, when I grew familiar with the visual, I just stuck my hand in like a carnival digger and pulled out a few.
“There! 19 raisins,” I told myself gleefully, pleased to have beaten the system in at least this one small way.
Summary: In 1953, when I was five and my brother was three, my father proposed that our family move from Vancouver to a remote logging camp on Vancouver Island where he and my mother had been offered teaching positions. This admittedly out-of-order chapter marks the start of our 3-day journey there.
My brother and I quivered with excitement on the morning we left Vancouver. We had never sailed on a ship of any kind, and now here we were, standing at the foot of the gangplank in Canada’s largest port, ready to board the steamship SS Catala.
“Do we really get to sleep overnight on this boat?” I asked, looking up at my folks.
“We really do,” laughed my mother. “We’ll have our own private cabin. The ship doesn’t arrive at Englewood until noon tomorrow!”
This was a thrill beyond words for two small children who had never before travelled out of the city, let alone slept on a real ship. We could hardly contain ourselves.
The Catala looked huge from where we stood. It was a steel, twin-propeller passenger freighter with 20 cabin berths and a cargo capacity of three hundred tons. Called the SS Catala, it formed part of the Union Steamship Line, a cargo and passenger line which serviced remote communities along the northern BC coast.
“See how the bottom is painted red and the upper part is black?” said Dad. “All the Union Steamships are painted the same way. They were all built in Scotland and brought over here in 1925. That’s more than 25 years ago, kids!”
We clambered aboard. Soon our heads were full of wooden decks and chunky, white portholes. After standing at the rail for some time and watching huge crates being loaded by crane into the hold of the ship, we climbed to the upper deck.
Everything was new to us. We discovered a covered deck halfway down the ship with shuffleboard pitch painted onto its wooden planking. We found discarded chairs, stacked in a corner and covered by heavy tarpaulins. We craned our necks at the huge, black-and-red funnels towering above the steep, “crew only” staircase. We peered excitedly at the lifeboats and ran our hands along thick ropes and polished, wooden railings.
An hour after we’d boarded her, the steamer pulled out of Vancouver harbour and headed west into Burrard Inlet, past the docks of the North Shore, where loose piles of bright yellow sulphur towered skyward like inverted traffic cones. The morning sky was cloudy, with the kind of misty overhang unique to the west coast. There was a chill in the air that made our noses run and defied any sweater or coat, but we were used to this and didn’t give it much thought. We hugged close the notion of sleeping overnight on this great monster, and this was enough to keep us warm. Having toured the ship, we kids were as ready as the other passengers to watch the Catala negotiate the narrow passage under the Lions Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge similar in appearance to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco, only much shorter.
As we approached the bridge, everyone clambered onto the upper decks. We had travelled across the bridge many times in the family Ford, but to see it from below was a rare treat and not one to be missed. In our collective minds, there was always the danger that the ship wouldn’t clear the bridge.
“What if those tall chimneys scrape the bridge and come off?” I asked, meaning the tall, red-and-black smokestacks. “What if we tip over?”
Dad laughed. “Lots of room!” he said. “It just looks narrow from here. Not to worry.”
I wasn’t convinced, still believing the funnels might scrape along the bottom surface of the span and scuttle the ship. Pleasantly horrified, I held my breath as the distance between the Catala and that great ribbon of concrete narrowed. Would we make it? To my untutored mind, it was a case of irresistible force meeting immovable object.
People got out their Kodak box cameras. Suddenly, the huge cables of the suspension bridge drooped and swooped above us like streamers at a birthday party, forcing heads back to watch the unfolding drama. At the very moment of potential contact, there was a tense silence on the decks. Then we were under with buckets of room to spare! It seemed incredible to us that such a large ship could pass through such a narrow space, but of course, ships even larger than the Catala sail under that bridge today. It was a fine lesson on the tricky optics of perspective.
I felt immense relief. Reassuring, too, was that immediately after the bridge, the channel widened out. We passed the endless beach of Spanish Banks on our port side and the Point Atkinson lighthouse on our starboard side. Calm returned to the passengers as we watched the pale, yellow lighthouse blinking in the distance.
“Wanna hear a good lighthouse story?” said an older man standing near the rail on our side. He wore a slicker and a canvass rain hat. “This here ship had quite an adventure fifteen years ago, up near Prince Rupert.”
“Tell us!” we cried.
“Well, farther north, the ship sailed past Egg Island, in Queen Charlotte Strait. Noticing that the lighthouse was strangely dark, the Captain tied a rope around his waist and swam to the Island.”
“He swam?” our eyes were agog.
“That’s what they say. Anyway, he found the lighthouse’s usual keepers missing and the remnants of their last meal on the table. After resurrecting the light, he came across two overturned fishing boats and suspected that the lighthouse keepers had been drowned. They were never heard from again.”
“My goodness,” said my father. “Is that a true story?”
“Yep,” said the stranger. “I should know because I was that captain!”
He sauntered off, smiling at our gaping mouths. It was difficult to believe that anyone would jump into these cold northern waters voluntarily. My mother was skeptical.
“I think he just made that story up,” she whispered.
Soon, however, we caught sight of the Point Atkinson lighthouse on the starboard side.We watched its light wink on and off, then we swivelled around to watch the headland of Point Grey pass by on the opposite side, where the university sat atop some sizable cliffs. On the beaches below, one or two crumbling gun emplacements and submarine watchtowers still sat, remnants of home defense efforts during WW II.
We had truly left Vancouver and soon floated in the vastness of the Georgia Strait, with low, brontosaurian humps of land visible in the distance on either side. The chill wind continued to cut through our clothing, so we decided to head inside to our cabin.
The day Jody broke her ankle, we’d walked the King Kong fence twice each, but only one side. Our legs already ached, but we’d wanted those shorter runs to prepare for the real challenge.
“Let’s do both sides now,” said Jody at last, wiping a sweaty brow with her sleeve. Her freckles stood out like brown glitter and her homely face shone.
“Ok!” I said. “You go first.” I knew at the time that it should have been me, as the more athletic one, but my politeness got in the way. I would soon regret it.
Jody’s family boasted the highest log fence in Camp. It rose six feet high opposite my own home. If we sat on the wooden stairs at my u-shaped house, we saw only that massive log fence in front of Jody’s place. A dirt road separated the two houses, but nothing travelled on that except cats, bikes, or kids. Once a month, Marcel’s one-ton truck rumbled by, delivering crated groceries shipped up by steamer from Vancouver.
The year was 1956. Wewere eight, and we loved to scramble up slats in the gate to the top of the first log and then wobble along, stepping from one perch to the next with arms outstretched, like high-wire performers.
Composed of D-logs — whole logs cut flat on one side but still round on the other– the fence loomed in our eyes like the fortress in the movie King Kong. It stood impenetrable, strong. All the kids wanted to climb it, walk it, master it. It called to us in our dreams and at school. That fence tested the outer limits of our physicality. Gollum’s ring held no greater temptation; that fence begged us to walk it, and walk it we did, despite dangers or warnings.
Now, flushed with excitement, Jody stuck a foot in the lower gate hinge and hoisted herself up the gate slats once more. I held my breath and hoped for the best. Could we make it around two sides without falling off? Adrenalin pumped through us; we always started with the side bordering the dirt road, then moved on to the second stretch, which faced a windowless side of Jody’s house. That way, we couldn’t be spotted by Jody’s mother.
She had reached the third log when the sun split the clouds to brighten the way. I craned my neck, walking nervously below, skirting the large sandbox built for the Yaroslavs’ four kids, Jody’s two sisters and a brother. Jody moved slowly as I watched, carefully balancing her small frame. Now a wobble on the fourth log, but she righted herself, pausing until her equilibrium returned. Only ten more steps to go. She made it to five, then six, then wobbled on seven. She paused again. Now eight and nine. Soon she was at ten, ready to make the right turn to head down the second length. We both felt triumphant.
“Here I go!” she trumpeted. “Hey! I can see the train yards from here!”
“Be careful! Don’t fall off!” As if it was her plan.
Swivelling like a gymnast on a balance beam, Jody faltered a bit but bent forward to compensate. Her arms flailed and I saw her tip slightly sideways. She looked so small that I wished all the more that I stood there instead. My heart lurched, but she righted herself once more and set out along the final leg. One step, two steps, three steps. My neck began to ache from staring up. I felt sweat trickling down my back.
At the sixth log, two things happened. Mrs. Yaroslav opened her front door to let the two dogs out. They were friendly Labs, but they came out barking because Mrs. Boseman from next door chose that precise moment to clatter at the fence gate, coming in for morning coffee. She couldn’t see us for the trees and bushes dotting the yard.
This untimely confluence of events proved too exciting for the two dogs, who bounded toward the gate with barks and howls. Poor Jody turned too far to look over her shoulder.
“Jody! Don’t look!” I warned. As if she could prevent herself.
It was too late. Jody lost her balance and fell at the sixth marker. I ran forward to try to catch her, with no luck. She landed mostly on her feet, but the impact proved too much for her tired legs, and one ankle went out from under her. A small cracking sound caused her to shriek in pain. Then her ankle began to swell. She lay on one side, holding her leg above the break and wailing like a banshee. I rushed to her side.
“Jody! Are you okay?” My voice was tearful, joining hers.
The two mothers came running out of the house at the sound of Jody’s shrieks and sobs.
“Oh my gosh!” said Jody’s mother. “She’s broken her ankle! You kids and that fence! Honestly!”
“I’ll run to the Dispatch tower!” said Mrs. Boseman, seeing the crooked bend in Jody’s ballooning foot. “You get some ice. She’ll have to be flown out.” And off she dashed.
The Dispatch tower had walkie-talkies and telephones. It was the communication centre for the camp and the outside world. Being “flown out” meant being taken by float plane to Alert Bay, the only hospital site in the area. Woss Camp had a medic, but not for serious injuries.
Luckily, Chuck Yaroslav’s speeder hadn’t yet left the train yards for the bush, due to the lateness of Speeder 121. He arrived home by foot twenty minutes later. Jody’s ankle, now bathed in ice, was lifted with the rest of her and rushed back to the Dispatch Tower by several neighbours. There she was deposited onto a two-passenger speeder and borne three miles south to Woss Lake, where a float plain awaited. Chuck rode along, muttering reassurances. We later heard that the painkillers kicked in about halfway there, and that Jody enjoyed the flight in a foggy haze.
Back at Camp, kids came running from all directions, keen to hear the gory details of Jody’s fall.
“What happened?” cried Gary and Sammy from down the road.
“She was almost across the second side when she fell! It was the farthest she ever got, but then the dogs came out and scared her! You should have seen it!”
“What happened?” shrieked school pals Mary and Leslie, arriving two minutes later. Then we’d have to explain it all over again. Not that we minded. While sympathetic to Jody’s plight, everyone secretly enjoyed the shivers of shock and horror experienced upon telling and hearing the tale. It was the most exciting thing that had happened in Camp for ages.
Jody returned all smiles the next day, hobbling on crutches, her foot immobilized in a white cast and signed by hospital staff, railway engineers and loggers. She became an instant heroine, all the kids clustering around to hear about the Great Fall and the float plane to the hospital in Alert Bay. Everybody wanted to sign her cast. There wasn’t a kid in Camp who didn’t envy her that plane ride. And, of course, we all got fresh lectures from our folks about camp safety.
As a result of all the fuss, at least three weeks passed before any of us dared to walk the King Kong fence again.
Three whole weeks! That was a feat as amazing as walking the fence itself.
I enter the elevator, heading for the writers’ event in an Arts District studio. More than my anticipation of hearing live authors, I’m thrilled to find a lift, since my heart – not to mention hips and legs – had quailed at the prospect of a long, slow climb up the two sets of stairs which had thrown themselves at me as I’d walked in the door. There they’d loomed, gleaming in a metallic, cobalt blue, an industrial-chic effect not totally lost on me despite my dismay (I’m a writer, after all, and ergo, a keen observer). I’d detected them in the blink of an eye, noting the droves of cultured young things scampering up and down them like springbok.
Were I to attempt the ascent, I would have to first grip the handrail like a drowning person grasping at rope around a lifeboat. Then I’d place one foot heavily on the bottom step and pull up the other one to join it. I’d move the gripping hand along and repeat the arduous process for the second step, and so on, twenty times. Stairs, for my age and weight, are no longer to be taken lightly. Indeed, the physical layout of a venue becomes a central concern, far more important than the event itself. Ben Heppner or Pavarotti would take back seats, as ’twere.
In the elevator, I stand near the door. Behind me is a gaggle of young women, laughing and shrieking. Not one or two, but six! It’s like a frat party in that cramped space. I’m just about to turn around and frown them down, old-lady-like, when one voice rises above the others.
“Yes, it’s true! They can’t start without us, even if we’re a bit late.” More squealing laughter.
I’m stunned. This is clearly the event’s welcome guide and the gaggle of gigglers are – incredibly – the writers! She-who-spoke has that welcome-guide look about her; older than the others, with a commanding presence. She may even be in her forties.
I do a reality-check.
“Are these the writers?” I ask, all my preconceptions blown.
“They are,” she replies.
“All of them??”
She cocks her head, brows furrowed.
I don’t mean to be rude; I’m just incredulous. These young women certainly hadn’t been acting like writers, or the way I imagined serious writers would act. Is this how being a thirty-something writer manifests itself? To my aging eyes, the group is barely discernible from a herd of millennials at the mall.
Seemingly, my preconceived notions about writers is entirely false. I’ve noticed before that my 68 years hamper me from distinguishing between ages 20 and 40. This group may as well have been teenagers, so young did they seem. These days, I feel the same about groups of off-duty young teachers. Or nurses. Or lawyers.
Hearing their guide’s louder voice, the young women take the hint and settle down. Most of them make eye contact as their guide speaks with me, but three avert their eyes. Am I just another overweight old lady to them, with pretensions to literature? Have I ever written anything in my life? Can I even read? Do I adore Danielle Steele at home and Hello magazine in the beauty parlour? (um….I do like that last option).
As we exit the elevator, I stand aside to let the giggling herd pass. I have excellent seats in the front row of the small theatre, but somehow it doesn’t matter. The event feels ruined for me, and I make a plan to leave early. I cannot imagine what this group of young people can have yet experienced that would be of interest to me.
Turns out I’m wrong. Their books are brilliant. I stay on and even buy one of the novels on the way out. An autographed copy.
When one is eighteen, who thinks the elderly know anything? Very few, and certainly not me. Turns out they do know a thing or two. But back then, I looked askance at the aged. And because I didn’t listen to my dear old aunt, I now have terrible posture, muscle pulls and occasional neck problems.
“Such a lovely girl!” she would say to my mother, while pressing her fingers deep into into my lower back, “Stand up tall, dear. You’ll be sorry later on if you don’t. There now! Tuck in that tummy!” She herself stood ramrod straight and wore elegant below-the-knee pencil skirts with matching jackets. She also wore “fascinator” hats, high heels and clever little mink stoles, the kind with pointy faces and beady eyes still attached. She and my uncle lived in the then-very-elegant West End, among chock-a-block apartment buildings (highest density in Vancouver). He was a dredging foreman until he retired, at which time he played cards for money once a week (He once played poker with Elvis Presley….no lie!). Auntie always made sure Uncle was well-turned-out, and in her copious free time, maintained an avid membership with the “ladies who lunch” set. An elegant pair, to be sure.
But about posture, she was right. Now 68, my spine curves where it shouldn’t, stemming from years of unregulated slouching, and my sciatica flares up like a brush fire. And since computers, the slouching has only worsened. Because I didn’t listen, not only do I have bouts of sciatica, but I frequently get a pulled hamstring from weak core muscles. Why not? I’m not using them to maintain good posture, so of course they go slack! In fact, I figure the only reason I can still walk is that I swim several times a week. The time it takes to dress and undress at the pool, to shower and shampoo, to pack and unpack, drive and organize….all this is bearable only due to the increased sense of well-being I feel after pounding out 20 or more laps (er….lengths, I’m told, not laps. There’s a difference). Not to mention the glory of the hot tub afterward and the blasting of strong water jets onto that sciatic devil nerve. I come out of the pool feeling supported. My legs feel strong and foundational.
Still, I’m a champion sloucher in the off times. Never gave it a thought when young – never had to. I was athletic, enough said. That seems to have changed a tad. Now I must counter the effects of my bad slouching habit. Every morning I must ease my aching bod onto the floor and coax those hamstrings into relaxation; I must stretch those quads, work the adductors and build those abs so that I may be afforded the great privilege of continuing to walk. And believe me, at 68, it IS a privilege.
The idea of protective household deities has been around since the Romans, but my mother created a twist on the concept that I use to this day. Instead of relying on “household gods” for blessings, protection or other positive outcomes, she saw them as mean little devils, forever confounding her attempts to perform the most routine household tasks. I think she was right.
We all have household gods. Drop the bread, butter side down? Dribble beet juice on a cotton shirt during dinner? Miss the garbage can with a careless paper toss? Trip on a floor mat and do a face plant? Bust a gut trying to open a jam jar?
It’s those pesky household gods.
How maddening to know they lie in wait, sitting back to laugh when they screw us up. And it happens every single day. When we drop a pill on the kitchen floor and it rolls under the stove or the fridge, that’s proof these gods exist. Never does anything tiny roll to a stop in plain sight, lying starkly visible against a contrasting tile floor. No, no! It’s axiomatic that a stray coffee bean, jelly bean, navy bean, Mr. Bean or Orson Bean, will all roll under the fridge or stove as if drawn by magnets.
And consider the constant home gadget failures. Can openers that won’t can-open, felt pens that dry up just because you left the top off. Food processor blades that will NOT detach after use, not even after you finally locate the parts diagram in some obscure cupboard and pore over it for clues. Other tricks the gods like are vacuum cleaner hoses that detach at the slightest pull when you’re halfway down the hall from the canister and have to trudge ALL the way back to re-hook the thing. Sometimes it’s a full 20 feet!
All this is mischief caused by household gods.
And what about those over-zealous refrigerator ice machines that miss your cup and spew ice onto the floor? I hope we’re not still persevering with those.
The list of small, daily catastrophes is endless, and there’s a special place in hell for the digital cadre of household gods. Don’t even get me started on them! I could write a book.
Maybe it’s my age, but I’m noticing a new celebrity phenomenon. Sort of a personal non-phenom, actually. What I mean is, suddenly there are stars going viral (as ’twere) – stars of whom I’ve never heard (er..never heard of). Like Seth Rogen. I kept hearing his name, over and over. “Who IS this person?” I asked myself. Finally, curiosity got the better of me and I googled him. Turns out he’s “a Canadian actor, screenwriter, comedian, producer and director.” He began in standup. Now, of course, he’s titanium, what with his part in The Interview and all. Not that I’d ever see it, North Korea notwithstanding.
I do try to keep current, going to movies, watching the AMAs, the Academy Awards and Emmys, listening to pop radio. Some of the stuff is excellent, so it can’t be my age. But it keeps happening: Seth Meyers (another Seth!), Zac Efron, Patrick Dempsey, Colin Farrell, Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Lautner. These are all stars I’ve had to Google. How sad! Once I knew them all as they reached mainstream fame. Now, thanks to niche movie-making, there are whole genres whose names are Greek to me. I don’t discover the young hotties spawned and developed only for teen flicks. For example, to know Trevor Lautner, I’d have to watch TheTwilight Saga. Yikes. To get acquainted with Colin Farrell: Fright Night and Horrible Bosses. Double yikes. To recognize Seth Meyers: SNL , The Office and The Mindy Project. Yikes x 3!
So I guess it makes some kind of sense. Movie audiences get younger and less sophisticated; so do their movies. The celebrities go along for the paycheque. It’s the New Way of Things.