Category Archives: Food for Thought

RESOURCEFULNESS AND CREATIVITY: VISITING WITH JOHN AND BETH CLARK

Last Saturday, we visited with our friends Beth and John Clark in Hartland, about an hour from where we live. They had invited us over to their home for dinner and afterwards we went to a community play in a nearby town. Before dinner, we sat in their cozy living room, made even cozier by a pellet stove, and John told us about his new book-selling venture as we ate cheese and crackers.

A bit of backstory first: John is the town’s librarian, and while there are volunteers, I believe he is the only paid employee. Hartland is small and poor, and not surprisingly it doesn’t have much of a budget for the library. Has this deterred John? It has not. He has a knack for acquiring inexpensive books and DVDs, which he either adds to the library’s collection or sells online so that he can then buy something for the library. He acquires the books and DVDs in a variety of ways—through donations and through scrounging at the town’s transfer station (aka the dump). John has become so well known at the transfer station that the workers now set aside books they think he will want. At a very low price, John also acquired the collection of an entire library, which was closing, but that is a whole story in itself, and I won’t be going into it here.

Because of John’s resourcefulness, Hartland library has a decent collection of books and DVDs, and the library has become a real hub in a community that has seen more than its share of hard times. (John has also made the library a welcome place for people just scraping by, who need his help in a variety of other ways.)

After years of scrounging and selling second-hand books for the library, John has decided he likes it so much that he has started a little part-time book-selling business for himself, which he will expand when he retires. (I want to hasten to add that John is still devoted to the library and does all that he can to enhance its collection. He has plenty of energy for both himself and the library.) For his own business, he and Beth go to thrift shops and book sales, looking for items to sell online through Amazon. They make a great team. John has acquired the knowledge of what sells and what doesn’t, and Beth is organized and methodical and conscientious. John has such faith in Beth’s abilities that he gives her money, and on Saturdays off she goes by herself to sales to scout for books while John is working at the library.

Now, the point of this piece is not to brag about John and Beth, although I am very happy to do so. The point is to illustrate how creative resourcefulness, hard work, and team work can enhance the life of a community and a family, and, by extension, the world. (In their thrift store/book sale forays, John and Beth even find children’s books for their daughter Lisa, who teaches in the Bronx.) It shows how one might thrive in a world of finite resources and an ever-growing population, in a world of peak oil and “peak everything.”

Books and libraries are just one example, but John and Beth’s approach can be applied to other aspects of life. Let’s take food, one of my favorite subjects. In a household, a frugal, creative cook can do a lot with basic ingredients and scraps saved from previous meals. I have used the bones of barbecued chicken to make a mostly-bean soup with a zesty broth. Last night, I saved water from cooking broccoli to use as the base of a soup that will include leftover pasta, tomatoes, white beans, and rosemary.

On a broader scope, there is gleaning of fruit and vegetables that would go to waste. On a walk this fall, I went through a little apartment complex with an apple tree, and there, on the ground, were bunches of rotting apples. Perhaps they weren’t good eating apples, but they would have made good jelly. Another way to conserve resources is to make use of slightly outdated food that is still good. There is plenty of room for improvement here, which I have discussed in previous posts. Despite our country’s hard times, we are still a wasteful nation. However, my town’s food pantry and the Hot Meals Kitchen does use food that would otherwise have been thrown out. And, yes, I admire the dumpster divers, who retrieve perfectly good food.

To my way of thinking, the heroes of the 21st century are not people like Steve Jobs, however admirable he might have been. Rather, they are people like John and Beth whose careful and creative use of resources show us an alternative to heedless waste and consumerism. They show all of us that there is a better way to live, and we would do well to follow their examples.

 

ON BEING FAT: PART V—CONTROLLED CHEATING

In my past posts On Being Fat, I have briefly explored our country’s current history of obesity, and I outlined my struggle with being overweight. I covered—again briefly—the ups and downs of will power and the reaction an obese person’s body has to losing weight. Now the time has come for the cherry on the sundae, so to speak, where I write about a diet regime called Controlled Cheating, which was created by a man named Fats Goldberg. I came across this regime in a very roundabout way.

Fourteen years ago, my friend Barbara Johnson and I went to the Brunswick Library’s book sale, which is renowned in central Maine for the high quality of its books. People get there long before the doors open, and first in line are the second-hand booksellers, who snarl at each other as they jockey for position. When the doors open, the crowd stampedes for the books, and woe to anyone who falls in the rush.

Fortunately for me, the section I am drawn to—the pinhead literary section—is not one that attracts the booksellers, and I was able to browse freely without fear of having a book snatched from my hands. Even then, I had long been a fan of the New Yorker, and when I came across Calvin Trillin’s American Stories, into the canvas bag it went.

American Stories is a collection of Calvin Trillin’s essays, and most of them were originally published in the New Yorker. Many of the essays are quite dark, detailing the rather sordid underbelly of American culture. But not all of them focus on “crimes and misdemeanors,” and one of them profiled Larry “Fats” Goldberg, a friend since high school. Trillin jokingly refers to himself as Fats Goldberg’s Boswell, and indeed Trillin seems to get great pleasure from following Fats Goldberg around and recording what this legendary eater could dispatch in a single sitting. (A lot!) But for me, the really interesting thing was not how much Fats Goldberg ate—although I admit I was somewhat in awe of his Falstaffian appetite—but rather how Fats Goldberg managed to stay slim and yet eat so much.

Apparently, it wasn’t always this way with Fats Goldberg. When he was in high school, Goldberg weighed over 300 pounds, and even then he was a legendary eater. When he was a young adult, one day, for no particular reason he can recall, Fats Goldberg decided he had had enough with being fat and decided to lose weight. He devised a system called Controlled Cheating because he noticed that sooner or later, most people cheat on their diets, and when they do, it is a downward spiral until all the weight that has been lost is regained. (How right he is about that!) Fats Goldberg reasoned, if everyone cheats on their diets, why not build it into the system? And this is what he did. Six days a week, Fats Goldberg ate so well that he would have made Alice Waters and Michael Pollan jump for joy. Goldberg’s diet included the usual things people eat when they want to lose weight—fruit, fresh vegetables, lean meat, all in limited amounts. Then, on the seventh day Fats Goldberg would rest, allowing himself to eat anything he wanted and as much as he could hold. These days came to be fondly known as “cheat days.” However, there is a qualifier that must be added: an hour of vigorous exercise every day. No exercise, no cheat day.

Not only did Fats Goldberg managed to shed half his weight with controlled cheating, but he also kept it off for over 40 years until he died at age 69 from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.

After reading Trillin’s essay, I was impressed with Fat’s Goldberg’s method and success. As an adult, I had had spotty success with dieting, losing weight and then putting it right back on. A few months of dieting wer all I could really manage before I fell off the wagon and began cheating my way back to what I weighed when I started. I had tried all sorts of methods, but never Controlled Cheating. “Why not give it a shot?” I asked myself. “What’s the worst that can happen? You won’t lose weight. Nothing new there.”

So I tried it, and it worked. I lost about 60 pounds and was the thinest I had been in a long time. I biked and walked. My blood pressure was that of an athlete’s, and my blood sugar and cholesterol were equally as good. I was trim, and I felt great. Six days a week I was a virtuous eater, and I allowed myself 1,500 calories a day. Like Fats Goldberg, my noncheat diet consisted mainly of fruit, vegetables, and low-fat protein. My cheat day was Saturday, and it was the day I lived for, planning it in exquisite detail—donuts, fish and chips, chocolate, ice cream sundaes. What a day!

During my noncheat days, whenever I felt myself flagging, I would picture cheat day in all its glories, and I was able to press on with my diet. However, despite the success of this method, it required a lot of mental energy and constant vigilance. On noncheat days, there was never a time when I could just relax and not monitor what I ate. I had to be on guard all the time, and I had to exercise faithfully for an hour every single day. I was hungry most of the time, and I always thought about food.

For two years, the longest I have ever stuck with a diet, I was able to keep the weight off using this method. But, as I mentioned in a previous post, life took an interesting turn. My husband and I began publishing a literary magazine called Wolf Moon Journal, and it had a full-time staff of one—me.  While I enjoyed working on the journal, it sapped both my time and my energy to the point where I could no longer focus so intensively on my diet and exercise. Slowly the weight came back on, until I gained every bit of weight I had lost.

Two years ago, my husband and I stopped publishing the journal. I still write regularly, but my duties are nothing compared to what they were when we were publishing Wolf Moon. Nevertheless, I continued to overeat. Last May, when I went for my physical, I was alarmed to find I had gained 13 pounds over the winter.

The doctor didn’t lecture me, but I lectured myself. “Keep this up, and you’ll be a candidate for the show Heavy.” (Hugely obese people are shipped to a spa where they diet and exercise until they are ready to drop.) Time to return to Controlled Cheating, which I did not long after that May physical. Because I am post menopausal, I’ve had to go to 1,200 a day to lose weight instead of the 1,500 of my younger years.

Since last May, I have lost 45 pounds and feel so much better. I have dropped two sizes and hope to go down another size or two. People tell me how great I look, but it’s hard for me to judge. I look at myself and see a fat person lurking underneath. (Fats Goldberg mentioned a similar phenomenon, and this seems to be quite common for people who have been overweight.) In truth, I think I look relatively “normal,” although by modern American standards I am plump and probably always will be.

But to heck with modern American standards. If I can get down to a size 14, I will be content.

Just as it was when I went on Controlled Cheating for the first time, every noncheat day is a struggle. I am constantly hungry; I’m always thinking about food. Gum is a lifesaver. So is fruit and peppermint tea. And that shining day, cheat day, is always just around the corner, that one day when I can relax and eat whatever I want.

One more day to go.

 

ON BEING FAT: PART IV—YOUR BODY REALLY DOES WANT TO HANG ONTO THAT FAT

“Nobody wants to be fat. In most modern cultures, even if you are healthy…to be fat is to be perceived as weak-willed and lazy. It’s also just embarrassing.” –Tara Parker-Pope, the New York Times

Over the holidays, I met with a friend who has struggled with her weight for nearly as long as I have. Right now, she is close to her ideal weight, and she has worked hard to get there. As we were talking about weight and dieting, she told me about an article in the New York Times“The Fat Trap” by Tara Parker-Pope. (I started this On Being Fat series by linking to it.) My friend also mentioned how discouraging the article was, but that she was going forward with an optimistic attitude about her own weight, and I said I would be doing the same with mine. (I’ve lost about 45 pounds since May.)

This is exactly what we should do, but let’s face it, the odds aren’t in our favor. My friend and I both have a long history of losing weight and then gaining it all back, and we aren’t alone in our struggle with fat. According to MSNBC, “more than 80 percent of people who have lost weight regain all of it, or more, after two years.” My own patterns of gaining and losing certainly verify this, and the same is true for many people I know.

Why should so many of us who really and truly want to be trim gain weight back after losing it? Parker-Pope provides some answers in “The Fat Trap.”  In brief, studies indicate that genetics and hormones make it difficult for many people to lose large amounts of weight permanently. It seems our bodies don’t like shedding pounds, and when an obese person loses weight, his or her body pumps out a hormone called ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite. At the same time, the dieting body will produce less of peptide YY and leptin, which suppress appetite.  “A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels.”

Parker-Pope notes: “For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped.”

She movingly recounts how her mother struggled with being overweight, and how, as her mother lay dying, “[i]t was her great regret that in the days before she died, the closest medical school turned down her offer to donate her body because she was obese.” In turn, Parker-Pope struggles with her own weight, and by her own admission, she is at least 60 pounds overweight.

Parker-Pope then goes on to describe some people—the happy few—who have indeed managed to keep their weight down for many years. Readers, I have bad news that will come as no surprise to those of you who have a history of dieting. It takes constant vigilance and will power for a formerly obese person to maintain a healthy weight. Such people can never not think about food, how much they have eaten and how much they will eat. It also requires exercise—at least an hour a day, seven days a week.

Is it any wonder people just give up? I have done so many times in the past when I have just plain gotten tired of always monitoring every bit of food that has gone into my mouth.

However, I do have some good news. I have found a system that has made losing weight and keeping it off a little easier. (Not easy, mind you. Just easier.) I stumbled across it by accident fourteen years ago, and I had more success with this method of losing weight than I have ever had with any other system. Unfortunately, after keeping off the weight for two years, I gained it back, and the reason is fairly simple. My husband and I started a small literary magazine called Wolf Moon Journal, which occupied so much of my day that I couldn’t focus on keeping track of everything I ate, and I no longer had time to exercise.

Two years ago, we stopped publishing the journal. Over a year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was told not to diet during radiation treatment, and it was open season on chocolate and sweets, my weaknesses. Last May, after radiation treatment was over, I went for my yearly exam, and I found I had gained 13 pounds over the winter. I was at my heaviest. Yikes!

The time had come to take another shot at losing weight, to return to the system that had worked so well for me 14 years ago. That system is called controlled cheating, and in my final post On Being Fat, I’ll describe the system and the roundabout way I came across it.

ON BEING FAT: PART III—WHAT’S UP WITH WILL POWER?

When it comes to weight, there are various types of people. First, there are the people who are naturally slim and have been since they were children. They can eat like truck drivers and never put on a pound. My sister-in-law, Rose, falls into this category, and she is as pretty and as trim now as she was 20 years (or so!) ago when she married my brother. I sincerely hope that naturally slim people start each day giving thanks that they don’t have to worry and obsess about every single mouthful of food they eat. They hit the jackpot with body metabolism, and while I don’t exactly begrudge these people their good luck—all right, I’m a little bitter—I’m certainly envious.

Then there are the people who have small appetites. Somehow, they just don’t want to eat that much. They get full very fast, and their bodies seem to have an internal gauge that prevents them from overeating. These people are a complete mystery to me, and I have watched in astonishment as small-appetite friends have left half their desserts uneaten. (Guess who often eats the other half?) People who have small appetites don’t appear to struggle with portion control. It just comes naturally to them, and like their sisters and brothers blessed with fast metabolisms, I hope those with small appetites start each day giving thanks for this gift.

Next come the people with will power. They like to eat, but they are firm with themselves. One friend, in particular, comes to mind. She is well into her 60s, and what a terrific figure she has. She likes to cook, she likes to eat, and she has a good appetite, but she knows how to say no to herself. It’s not that she won’t eat dessert or chips; she just doesn’t eat them very often. I view this friend with something like the awe that I would reserve for a Zen master.

Finally—and I know the above list is not all inclusive—there is the majority, I think, people who love to eat and who have bodies that love to put on weight. Will power is touch and go; sometimes we have it, but often we don’t.

What’s up with will power, anyway? In the New York Times, just in time for the new year, John Tierney wrote a piece called “Be It Resolved.” The piece is about New Year’s resolutions in general and will power in specific, and there is good news and bad news. I always like to begin with good news: Those who make resolutions are much more likely to “make improvements than someone who hasn’t made a formal resolution.” It seems that a statement of intent really does make a difference. Here’s the bad news, which will come as no surprise: “By the end of January, a third will have broken their resolutions, and by July more than half will have lapsed.”

It all comes down to will power, to staying on course and not giving up. But according to Tierney, here’s the fascinating thing: Social scientists have come to believe that will power is not just a metaphor but rather “a real form of mental energy, powered by glucose in the bloodstream, which is used up as you exert self-control.” And “ego depletion” is what happens when you “exert self-control” over an extended period of time. In other words, you just plain get tired. (Doesn’t anyone who has ever dieted instinctively know this? You just plain get tired of keeping track of every single thing that you eat and of constantly saying no to yourself.)

But there are ways to deal with flagging will power—“ego depletion”—and Tierney suggests “that the way to keep a New Year’s resolution is to anticipate the limits of your willpower.” It seems that people who  have the best will power arrange their lives so they are not constantly tempted by their favorite things. “They play offense, not defense, using their willpower in advance so that they avoid crises, conserve their energy and outsource as much self-control as they can.”

As Tierney notes, this is especially relevant for dieters. The more people diet, the less glucose they have in their systems, which, in turn, affects their will power. It really is a nasty cycle.

Tierney goes on to list a series of strategies to deal with the problem of will power, and, among other things, they range from setting a clear, single goal to precommitting yourself to finding ways of rewarding yourself when you reach a goal.

Tierney’s article is thought provoking, and it illustrates why people often fail to achieve the goals they really and truly want. Even for those who have never struggled with such things, the article is insightful, and I highly recommend it as I have only touched on its key issues in this post.

As for me and losing weight—I have adopted a strategy that instinctively takes flagging will power into consideration. But before I describe “my” system—actually it was developed by a man named Fats Goldberg—in the next post On Being Fat I want to write about another pitfall of dieting that science has recently shed light on—that is, how the body doesn’t like losing weight.

 

 

 

 

ON BEING FAT: PART II—A LITTLE MORE PERSONAL HISTORY

In my last post, I gave a brief history of being fat in the United States, and I also included a bit of personal history. I’d like to expand on the personal history before moving on to biology and will power.

I went on my first diet when I was 10 years old and was decidedly chubby. It was a 1,200 hundred calorie diet, and I bought a little book that listed the calories of commonly-eaten food so that I could make my very own food diary and keep track of how many calories I had consumed. Lo and behold, it worked! I lost weight and continued dieting all through my teens. At one point, I lost so much weight my shoulder blades stuck out. When I had the flu, I was delighted. More weight lost. In retrospect, I can see I was on the edge of anorexia, but I was too much of a foodie, even back then, to stay that way for long. I gained some of the weight back, but because I was such an active teenager, my weight stayed within acceptable limits. Then I had children, and ever since, I have swung back and forth between being overweight and being less overweight. How many pounds have I lost and gained over the past 30 years? Hundreds of pounds, I am sure, and the guilt of not being able to keep those pounds off weighed on me as heavily as the pounds themselves.

What was the matter with me? Why didn’t I have enough will power to eat sensibly and maintain a healthy weight? Spurred on by the literature of the 1980s and 90s, I was convinced I had some deep psychological issues, and this made me feel even worse. I got counseling, but the worst thing I could come up with was that food was a big deal in my family—my parents loved to eat and to cook, and grocery shopping was a joyous event in our house. Not so very bad, especially when compared with physical or mental abuse or deprivation.

Around that time, I was discussing dieting and losing weight with a friend of the family, who also struggled with being overweight. I suggested that there must be some underlying psychological disorder that prevented me from losing weight and keeping it off. She said, “Laurie, those theories are all very well and good. But let me tell you something. I just love food, and I love to eat. Plain and simple.”

At the time I dismissed what my friend said. Surely it couldn’t be that simple, that people just loved to eat. But as our country headed toward the 21st century and more and more people became obese, it seemed that my friend had a point. While there would be a certain percentage of the population that was overweight because of psychological issues, there were simply too many people putting on weight for this to apply to the majority. Unless, of course, we were afflicted with a national neuroses that was making the country fat. Possible but not probable. And with obesity spreading to countries that are becoming more affluent, there is even more indication that being fat is not just the province of a select group of neurotic women.

As scientists and food writers have studied food and human evolution, they have discovered that, in fact, people are prone to eating until they are really, really full, and the foods they are drawn to can jokingly be referred to as the true food groups: fat, salt, sugar, and carbs. (Chocolate, perhaps, should have its own category, especially for women.) While eating until very full does not make sense in the context of modern times in our country, with its supermarkets stuffed full of chips and donuts and cookies, it does make sense from an evolutionary viewpoint. It’s only recently that food has been so abundant. For most of human history, people had to work hard for the food they ate, and that work entailed lots of physical labor. Sometimes crops would fail, and people would face hunger and famine. In that context, it was very sensible to eat as much as you could whenever you could. I would also like to posit that people who gained weight easily had an advantage when hard times came. They had a surplus of fat that thinner folks did not have, which perhaps came in handy when food was scarce. (I want to emphasize this is my own supposition.)

As for fat, salt, sugar, and carbs—these are things that the human body needs—albeit not in the amounts we consume today—and once upon a time they were very hard to get. Again, from an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense to feast on them whenever you can. However, in almost a blink of an eye, modern society has skunked evolution. Fast food as well as stuffed supermarkets beckon from every corner, making it difficult to resist what our bodies naturally crave. Even worse, government subsidies go to supporting those industries that produce such a surplus of high-fat, high-caloric food.

Are we slaves, then, to our own evolutionary biology? No, but it’s important to realize how normal it is to want to eat until you are really full and how difficult it is to override this tendency. Bodies truly don’t like losing weight, and Parker-Pope’s “The Fat Trap” sheds even more light on how hard it is to keep weight off. More on that in a post next week.

But take heart! There are strategies that can be employed to convince the body to shed weight. It still isn’t easy, but there is at least some hope, and I will be writing about this as well.

 

 

 

 

 


ON BEING FAT: PART I—A BRIEF HISTORY

A few weeks ago in the New York Times Magazine, Tara Parker-Pope wrote an excellent piece, “The Fat Trap,” which is, of course, about being fat, a problem that plagues many Americans and seems to be spreading to other countries as well. As I have dieted off and on since I was young a girl in the late 1960s, I was keenly interested in what Parker-Pope had to say. Because I have been dieting for so long, I have been able to observe, first hand, the developments that have unfolded around being fat in the 20th and 21st century. (That’s one of the benefits of aging; it certainly gives you perspective.) Therefore, the next few posts will examine being fat, being thin, and how hard it is to lose weight and keep it off, and I will be referring to Parker-Pope’s piece. I have recently lost 40 pounds, using a technique called “Controlled Cheating,” which not only works—albeit with a lot of effort—but which also seems to make biological sense, and I’ll be writing about that, too.

First, a brief history. In the United States, being fat started becoming a real problem in the 1960s, when the ultra-thin Twiggy became oh so fashionable. Before that, being a little “fleshy,” as one of my aunts would have put it, was considered not only acceptable but also sexy. (Marilyn Monroe and her generous proportions come to mind.) After Twiggy, that all changed, and for women, thin was in, so to speak. Nobody wanted to be fat, and dieting became the norm for most American women and girls. Ironically, in the following decades, although thin continued to be in, many woman’s bodies blossomed until they went past Marilyn Monroe’s voluptuousness to become truly fat. (Men, too, have put on weight since the 1960s, but a thin man is not considered as sexy or as desirable as a thin woman. Buff, yes. Thin, no.)

All sorts of theories developed as to why women couldn’t be as thin as they desperately wanted to be. They were weak; they lacked will power; they had psychological issues; they were compulsive; they were food addicts; they couldn’t control their appetites. (And is there anything worse than a woman who can’t control her appetite?) All these theories created a lot of guilt, and much shame and scorn was heaped on overweight women. The feminists, bless them, sensing that something was rotten in the land of being thin, claimed that fat was their issue, and to hold women to impossibly thin standards was damaging both physically and mentally.

The older I become, the more I am aware that life is full of contradictions, and in this country, being fat is rife with them. Women are held to impossibly thin standards, and fat is a feminist issue, although perhaps not in a straightforward way. (Can it be a coincidence that the thin craze began at around the same time as the women’s movement and the advent of birth control pills? It could be, but I don’t think so.) Yet women, and men, have indeed gone beyond being fleshy to being truly fat, and children are fatter than they ever have been in our nation’s history. We are an obese nation, despite our almost crazed obsession with being thin, and with this obesity come real health problems, ranging from diabetes to strokes to joint problems.

Here’s another contradiction to consider. Back in the supposedly repressed 1940s and 1950s, when it was acceptable to be a little plump, men, women, and children ate cake, cookies, and other sugary treats with a guilt-free abandon that we in the 21st century can only marvel at. But on the whole, they were thinner and healthier than we are today.

There are several hypotheses for this: more home cooking, less commercially processed food, less high-fructose corn syrup, less fast food, more time spent outdoors, and less time in front of a screen. Who knows? Perhaps all these things play their part, and maybe over time there will be a definitive answer.

One thing is certain: fat is a complicated issue as well as a feminist issue. Will power is also an issue, but in an unexpected way. Perhaps even more surprisingly, it seems that our own biology and how we evolved as humans play a big role, and in upcoming posts, I’ll be writing about how will power, biology, and evolution have influenced obesity.

 

 


 

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

On New Year’s Eve, I thought it would be fun for the family to come up with some New Year’s resolutions, which I would then duly record in my calendar book so that when 2013 rolled around, we could see how well we all did. Yes, I know that New Year’s resolutions have a bad reputation. How easy it is to disregard them after a month or so and to keep making the same resolutions year after year. (I have certainly been guilty of this.)

But another way to think of them is as “challenges,” which, if approached with the right spirit, can add zest and excitement to our lives. I do realize that if approached with the wrong crack-the-whip spirit, challenges can drive us crazy, too. But this is the new year, so it is perfectly appropriate to view challenges in an optimistic light.  And if we fall short, well, there’s always next year.

I’m not going to share the family’s challenges, but I will share mine. I came up with three, but there are a couple more that are simmering, and if all goes well, then who knows? Perhaps I’ll tackle them as well.

First and foremost is to finish Maya and the Book of Everything, the children’s novel I have been working on for the past three years. As I am truly coming down the homestretch, I made a really, really optimistic resolution to finish the first draft of Maya by the end of February. Definitely a poke to get going.

Second is to reach my goal weight by the end of the year. Since May, I’ve lost 40 pounds, and I’d like to lose another 40 pounds or so.  I’ll soon be writing more about this in upcoming posts.

I got the idea for my third challenge from my friend Jill Lectka. She wants to bike up the Winthrop Street hill starting from downtown Hallowell. It might be wrong to call this hill the mother of all hills, but it is very long and very steep, and it would take a fair amount of training to be able to pedal to the top of this hill. Somehow, though, when Jill mentioned she wanted to bike up this hill, I couldn’t get the notion out of my head and found I wanted to bike up that hill as well.

Lucky me! I live in Winthrop, where there are hills galore, and some very challenging ones, too. Perhaps not quite as challenging as the Winthrop Street hill, but challenging enough for plenty of training opportunities.

Another resolution, but not recorded: Bike and walk more; ride in the car less. This can be difficult, especially in the winter and especially with a daughter and son-in-law living in South Portland and another daughter living in New York City. We will visit them. That is a given. But perhaps we can cut down on local driving to make up for an occasional trip to South Portland and to New York. This one will take quite a bit of planning as well as keeping track of mileage. But each and every one of us is responsible for our carbon output, and, as the saying goes, talk is cheap. It is time for me to put words into action.

A longer-term goal, perhaps when Maya is finished, is to publish a cookbook for family and friends. Over the years, I have come up with some good recipes, especially for soup. Unfortunately, I am also a rather disorganized cook, and these recipes are scattered everywhere—in cookbooks as scribbled additions, in folders, on this blog, and sometimes even I don’t know where to find them. And though I am somewhat ashamed to admit this, I don’t always correctly translate my own scribbles. Anyway, it seems to me that the cookbook would not only be a nice legacy but also a way for me to become more organized, a goal and a challenge that I am always working on.