Oil and ashes

The southern point of Cozumel

I really love writing, and I love writing this blog. I have watched it fade over the last few years with chagrin. There was a time that I wrote many times a day – back in the Livejournal days of my youth. Then at least once a day. Then at least twice a week. Once a week. Once every two weeks is more or less my current schedule. There are many causes. Sometimes I think the longer form I employ on this blog is a mistake, since it calls me to be more thoughtful and write better. I am tired of my own autobiographical story: I went somewhere. I did something. The kitchen is dirty. The children are joyful. My friends fill my life with adventures. I prefer my own writing about thoughts – about the noticing of the world. I like the way my eyes work when I gaze at life on your behalf.


Today is Ash Wednesday. I sit in my high attic – the elevation makes the stars brighter and dims the noise of the city downstairs. Through these higher, unsullied windows I watch snowflakes like tourists lost in back allies change their minds in their dance between roofs. I’m listening to Russian Orthodox liturgical music, which captures Lent very well for me. I do not recognize the words, but the vast number of voices – so low and so high – sound very sincere, and as though they really know the darkness of Lent. The older I get, the more I love Lent. Maybe more than Christmas, or Advent, or even Easter. Many of the meaningful parts of the Christian calendar have been co-opted by culture. I love Christmas, but not as a Christian. I love it as a child reborn. I turn to Lent and to Pentecost for the depth of contemplation and the spirit of fire I need to bring even a hint of Christ into my secular life.


I was very diligent in getting and organizing my pictures from Cozumel. I did that the first day I was back. I was less diligent in sharing them with you. Probably because I intended to write a novella on the topic of Cozumel, but what somehow aware that would be uninteresting.

The pictures are here.

The summary is this: Such epic vacations carry with them a hope and expectation out of line with the fact that fallible humans will undertake them. I went to Cozumel primed for it to be imperfect, especially with children. I was gallantly rewarded with behavior better than I thought my children capable of, relaxation, love, laughter, snorkeling, adventures and joy. It more perfect than such things can be expected to be.

There was a moment when I went snorkeling with Grey. He asked me to hold his hand as we went out, and fighting against the hard current, I held it tight. Unsure of his courage in deep waters, we went further and further out – more aquatic wonders opening to our eyes – until we hovered above a sunken wreck. There I was with hot sun on my back, small courageous hand in mine and flocks of brilliantly colored fish swimming in uncannily perfect formations through untread stairways. And for a moment, my life was perfect.


How are you doing? Do you lament over the longness of the winter? Do you look forward to the quietness of Lent? Have you had a perfect moment? Do you miss me?

The Eastern coast

Seven weeks of constraint

Just over seven weeks ago, I wrote about how I was going to try this crazy diet, and work out for Lent. You know, to see how it went.

I tried the Four Hour Body diet, in combination with actually going to the gym multiple times. I was actually very compliant with the terms of the diet. I didn’t cheat. Visions of losing like 2, maybe 3 pounds a week floated through my head! For weeks not so much as a stick of artificially flavored gum passed my lips. (It probably would have helped if I’d actually read the book FIRST, instead of relying on blog posts and my husband’s interpretation, as I was actually more rigorous than required.) Annnnnnd. Nada. My weight stayed stubbornly right where it was, which is really frustrating after three weeks of egg & bean breakfasts.

So I took another look. And I decided that the key was that a high protein diet helped you restrict calories. In thinking I could eat as many calories as I desired as long as they were proteinaceous, I was mistaken. Instead, in order to assist in living with a 1500 or 1600 calorie diet without perishing of hunger, I needed to eat a lot of protein. I’d gotten my cause and effect mixed up. I found that at the end of the day, a 50/50 split between carbs grams and protein grams was effective, if the total calories were roughly 1500. That doesn’t allow you to eat much bread, or dairy, and stay full. But you can eat that few calories and not feel hungry if those calories are eggs, beans, lean meats and vegetables.

When I made that change, the diet DID start working. Last time I weighed in, I had lost 8 pounds – or about a third of my desired weight loss. YAY! I’m not sure it really shows (my wardrobe is not designed to reveal small fluctuations in weight) but it was progress!


Mmmm poutine

I had also burned through my available stock of willpower. I am not (NOT!) dieting on my vacation in Montreal, although I hope I’m not being so horrendous that I’ll have gained much back. Then again, I did have poutine for lunch, so… yeah. And I’m planning on caribou steaks for dinner! When in Canada, eh?

March Snow

If there is anything a New Englander can learn about March, it is that suffering is finite. Here we are, in the middle of Lent, and the skies opened and dropped 16 inches on us Friday – a far cry from the predicted tally. It was a stark contrast to the “Shut everything down a day in advance” that we experienced with Nemo, though. My son’s school was closed. But Boston schools carried on. We all shrugged and went to work and pulled out our well worn shovels and started shoveling. But not the frantic, precise shoveling of January, where every snowflake promised a near-permanent constraint of movement for the remainder of winter. But a lackadaisical, good-enough attitude far from the typical dour perfectionism of New England.

Not long after the last flake fell, the melt began. No matter how well or poorly you shoveled, the heat of the nearer sun wipes away the sin of a bad job like grace at Easter. The shlump of heavy snow falling persists. My sons wander around in shorts and tshirts to our various engagements, and I let them because it’s downright warm! Like 45 degrees! No matter the high drifts to left and right.

Death, thou shalt die. And snow, thou shalt melt.


In less existential news, I have been following the Four Hour Body diet with near-religious adherence for four and a half weeks. Many days, not so much as a stick of artificially flavored gum has passed my lips. I have waved away carbs and fruit. I got a gym membership, and have worked out with unusual consistency for me. I have eaten eggs and beans for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.

For my pains, I have… not lost any weight. It’s hard to tell, of course. There’s so much signal and noise with weight. Drink a huge glass of water, and you gain almost a pound. Weigh yourself in the morning and you’re down two pounds. But on my “cheat day” I weighed myself and my weight was back where it was when I started. After a full month, I consider this a sign that this diet does not work for me. Any of the modifications to the diet that I might try come back to calorie restriction PLUS food type restriction. In studies, 10+% of compliant participants fail to lose any weight. I suppose I simply have to acknowledge that I am in this minority and change methodologies.

So I have to decide whether I really want to lose weight, and if so what different methodology I should use. I’m thinking pure and simple calorie restriction is probably the best choice.


I’ve been travelling what feels like a lot for work lately. I was in Minnesota for two days last week. I found it particularly moving to watch the snow fall from a 20th story corner room. The city appeared and disappeared as the snow picked up, and the winds moved white drifts between the buildings. I found it hard to turn off the lights, remove my ability to see (contacts) and shut my eyes. It was fun to see the same storm twice.

I’m headed out again for almost three days in another week. I’m hoping that’s it for a while! At least the next trip is training, and in Tampa.


In other news, one son is reading. One son is building beautiful things with magnetic shapes. We have rejiggered our dining room to look like we live here and are not squatting in someone else’s house.

And it is March. Both Easter and Spring will come soon, and wipe the snow and cold away. And we will walk with bright hearts under a hot sun again.

Lent

Lent: The 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday until Easter observed by Christians as a season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter.

[Middle English lenten, lente, spring, Lent, from Old English lencten. See del-1 in Indo-European Roots.]

Lento: [It.] (Mus.) Slow; in slow time; slowly; — rarely written lente.

These two words have had a connection in my head for a long time. In my youth (ah dissolate youth!) I assumed they were linguistically related. Because, you see, they do go together.

Lent is a long, slow time of year. There are two periods of waiting in the Christian calendar. The first is Advent, in anticipation of Christmas. In Advent, there is music and sound and anticipation. We look forward to the birth of our savior, and to Christmas trees and presents and colors and lights. We have shopping and baking and cleaning to do, and cards to write to our loved ones. Christmas comes all too soon (or too long if under the age of 12), and every day of Advent is delightful.

Lent is the second. Advent lasts for 4 Sundays. Lent lasts for 40 days (not counting Sundays). In Lent, we anticipate the betrayal, beating, humiliation and death of our savior — the man whose babyhood we celebrated a few short months ago. We look forward to a quick change of fortunes, to a friendship sold for silver, and to an abandonment of our God in human form by those who loved him most. Where Advent goes by with the snap of a sap-pocket in a cheery pine fire, Lent is like gradual erosion of mountains of dirty snow.

The end of the Lenten story, though, is the one that makes both Christmas and Easter meaningful and worthwhile. After the humiliation, after death, after despair, after the end of hope, Jesus rose up from the dead. I really think that we forget how surprising — how shocking! a conclusion to the story that is. Imagine if JFK had come out of his final repose, cured of his gunshot wound, three days after that day on the grassy knoll? If Martin Luther King JR. had bestirred his cold body after three days in a coffin? If Lincoln, three days after the theater and the botched surgery, rose up to tell us that not only had he given us guidance during the days of his natural life, that now he was immortal and would be with us always. Jesus’ disciples probably hoped that he would be a political leader (see James and John, sons of Zebedee, sucking up to him the week before holy week hoping for what they probably thought would be material power), but his messiah-hood far surpassed just a political solution for Jews under the thumb of the Romans. It was a promise to all humanity that death itself is not final.

Lent anticipates this, but it focuses not on the triumphant celebration over death at Easter — it focuses on the nastiness of getting there. Being raised from the dead didn’t make dying on a cross any more a pleasant experience. Nor did it help as Jesus was paraded and mocked with his crown of thorns. These were very real and very painful experiences, for a man whom we believe to be God. And in Lent, we think about the love it took for him to do that for us.

The music of Lent is slow and mournful. Lento. Contemplative. The 40 days stretch long, cold, and seemingly hopeless across the span of late winter and early spring. They leave a dusty taste in the mouth, with a touch of New England despair that the flowers will never come, and the countryside will never again be green and verdant. But our dispair is misplaced. Spring does come, against all fears. And God does rise up from the dead, against all expectation.