Things I learned in the last two weeks

The threat of Christmas hung in the air, visible already in the fretful look of passersby as they readied themselves for the meaningless but necessary rites of false jovialities and ill-considered gifts. – Peter Dickinson

I couldn’t help myself.  Now that Thanksgiving is over, I must turn my attention to bashing the holiday I find the least appeal of them all.  This is only the beginning.  There are 28 shopping days left until Christmas.

I learned the last couple of weeks…

Source: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/hamlet-agnieszka-reichelt.html

…that group projects don’t suck after all.  Okay.  Perhaps that is being a bit overly optimistic.  Let’s try that again.  Group project, in general, suck.  However, there are rare occasions when you are grouped with a person who is a bigger overachiever than you are.  In Western Civilization last week, we were divided into four groups and instructed to develop an argument that was either for or against the Protestant Reformation and explain its impact on Western Europe.  The guy who sits in front of me is a devote Christian and….wait for it….an award winning debater.  SCORE!

…that I love Shakespeare’s Hamlet more this time around than I did last time.  I didn’t think it was possible.  But I always did love it when all the important characters die at the end of a story.  Is that weird?

…that hard drives will crash at the least convenient time possible.  It’s like they wait patiently, biding their time, for the most advantageous moment to strike.  Unaware of the treachery lurking, you spend the day writing and revising.  Just as the last word is written, the very last source properly cited, you make the fatal mistake of turning your back on the lecherous laptop – just for one brief moment – and BAM!  It’s all gone in the blink of any eye, never to be seen or heard from again.  Bastards.

…that my little old lady kitty, the one I thought was misdiagnosed, does indeed have a tumor.  The vet has offered to biopsy it for us.  I think I am going to decline.  We’ve spent a fortune the last few months with no real answers or solutions.  As sad as it makes me, I think it’s time to throw in the towel and allow nature to take its course.  She’s had sixteen good years of life and we are going to do our best to make sure the rest of her time with us is as comfortable as possible.

…that I should probably stop cursing my overly sensitive tire pressure sensor.  Turns out that my tire really was low, though not for the reason I thought.  My tire was fine.  My rim was not.  Apparently, somewhere in my travels, I hit a pothole lethal enough to crack my front driver’s side rim.  Rims for my car at the dealer aren’t cheap ($600 each), but the internet is wondrous place with many deals to be had.  My car is as good as new.  Well, almost.  I still have that door ding that irks me every time I see it, but that’s a rant for a different blog.

…that looking into the face of your child’s child is a strangely emotional thing, especially when the newborn baby girl strongly resembles her father.  It is even stranger and more emotional to see pride and love etched in your child’s face and he gazes at his own child.  Very surreal.

…that Black Friday is an atrocity that does nothing but feed on the greed and depravity that is overtaking our society.  Call me old-fashioned.  Call me a cynic.  I don’t care.  I remember when nothing – and I mean nothing – was open on Thanksgiving, people weren’t camped out in front of big box stores looking to snatch up flat screen TVs, Blu-Ray players, and laptops, and no one was “neutralizing” the crowd with pepper sprayed or getting trampled to death.  Yet another reason to ditch the holidays for a warm, sandy beach on an island far, far away.

…that – in keeping with my Scrooge-like attitude – nothing makes me want to throw the remote at my own flat screen TV like the intro credits to “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  I hate that movie.  Yeah, I said it.  I HATE THAT MOVIE!  If they are going to make me watch Christmas themed shows, the least they could do is make it “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  The original.  Not that “update” Charlie Brown mess.

…that jacket shopping with my daughter is worse than shoe shopping.  This weekend brought a blast of cold air to our little neck of the woods.  The coldest of the season and thus, it was necessary to replace the winter jacket my daughter had long outgrown.  She is a sweet girl with an easy-going personality, but she has very clear likes and dislikes.  She likes jackets with zippers.  She does not like puffer jackets.  She likes a little faux fur.  She does not like jackets that make noise.  She likes jackets with hoods.  She does not like jackets that are too long.  It was a long, arduous process.  We finally found one that was deemed acceptable at Macy’s, a store that I really don’t like all that much and only went into because I desperately wanted out of the mall.

…that my daughter is moving out of the kid’s department and into the junior’s department.  Have you seen some of the things these teenagers wear?  Scary prospect, indeed.  Just for the record, bedazzling the bum of jeans, regardless of the targeted demographic, is a bad idea.  Very, very bad idea.

…that the onset of the holiday season brings a whole slew of new faces to the gym.  The day after Thanksgiving was crazy.  I was predictably annoyed by the newbies who hampered my workout process with their ignorance, but I was also secretly thrilled.  I find a lot of my character inspiration at the gym.  There’s just something so special about those people.

…that Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 is grosser than the first.  I didn’t think they could top the “cheese touch”.  I was wrong.

…that I really liked the movie Fair Game.  It is Hollywood’s version of the Valerie Plame scandal.  I love spy thrillers and political conspiracies, so this one was right up my ally.  Of course, I am sure the story has been enhanced for the pleasure of the viewing public, but it was entertaining and gave food for thought on the far-reaching power of the White House.

…that since my last “Things I learned…” post I’ve sat and watched Pride & Prejudice on the Oxygen channel twice.  I’ve also watched Bourne Identity (my second favorite movie) twice – in the same day on Starz.  Don’t you judge me.

WARNING!  WARNING!

My pet peeve of the week is…

…that I can’t seem to get away from those radio commercials that swear that you can lose weight and keep it off simply by subscribing to their prepackaged “restaurant quality” meals.  No exercise or life style change required.  Is this company on crack?  Are people so desperate to avoid sweating that they buy into this crap?  Calorie in/calorie out people.  The weight may come off initially, but it will be back.  With vengeance.  Serious lifestyle change is required to obtain good health and certainly, if you want to keep it.  Believe me when I say it is easier, and less expensive, to just suck it up and get your ass moving.  [Okay, I shall step off the soapbox now.]

…and lastly, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a very over-ambitious hamster with eyes bigger than his stomach…or mouth.

Get in my belly!

Nutrition + College = Huh?

Nutritional health is something very near and dear to my heart.  As anyone who knows me can attest, I am very particular about what I deem worthy of ingestion.  I can give you a ballpark estimate of the caloric content of just about anything – within reason, of course.   I wasn’t always this way.  I used to feast unabashedly on anything and everything that caught my fancy.  Of course, one cannot overindulged for any length of time without suffering devastating consequences.  It’s that whole cause and effect thing.  It will bite you in the ass every time.  It certainly bit me in the ass.  Hard.  At my heaviest, I tipped the scales at 170 lbs. That may not seem like much to some, but put that much weight on my frame and, well, let’s just agree that it wasn’t necessarily my most attractive moment.  I’ve talked about my awakening before and the journey to meet my weight loss goals.  It wasn’t easy.  It took discipline, committment, lots of exercise, and constant calorie counting.  This may sound burdensome, but after a while the counting became second nature and part of my everyday life.  A true lifestyle change.  My new normal.

Losing the weight, however, was just one step in the journey.  The moment of truth would come in maintaining it.  It is something I am still doing and will until I take my last breath.  Hopefully, I’ve staved off the end by a few years with my due diligence.  Or maybe it will all be in vain.  There is always the possibility that I will get hit by a bus crossing the street, but the way I choose to look at it is like this:  I will not have to worry about looking fat on the medical examiner’s table when he’s cutting open my chest in search of which blunt force trauma did me in.  I say that alone is worth the sacrifice.

This bit of rambling nonsense brings to me to what prodded me into writing this blog entry instead of working on the next Man vs. Beast offering that my husband would rather be reading right now.  I am on the campus of a community college twice a week.  I come early in order to enjoy a bit of quiet time and finish up any straggling assignments I may have or work on some of my other writing endeavors.  Unfortunately, all this exertion of brain power makes me hungry.  Sometimes, I have the forethought to stick a couple of things in my bag to nosh on, as I run out the door in the mornings.  Sometimes I don’t.  Today was one of the days I didn’t.  By midmorning my stomach was gnawing at my spine, and I was forced to wander over to the poor excuse for a dining establishment this campus offers.

My husband would say that my disdain for this place is my elitist personality rearing its ugly head.  That I am spoiled and am expecting far too much.  I would say that I pay good money (cash, paid in full at the beginning of each semester) to attend this school, the least they could do is offer me a decent place to eat with some healthy, nutritional food choices.

How bad could it be, you ask?

Well, I’ll tell you.

My first semester on campus during the lunch time hour was last fall.  I naively went in search of a turkey sandwich.  I like my turkey sandwich – and every other sandwich, for that matter – simple.  Meat, wheat bread, a little lettuce, a tomato or two.  No condiments, no added fuss.  Easy peasy.  I gave my order to the unpleasant lady manning the counter and was horrified by what happened next.  She plopped some mystery meat down on a greasy griddle, slathered two pieces of white bread with an equally mystifying oil substance, and then promptly slapped them down on the griddle next to the meat.  This was the conversation that followed:

“What are you doing?”  I asked.

“You ordered a turkey sandwich.  This is a turkey sandwich,” she said giving me a look I can only describe as demonic.

“No it isn’t.  I just want a plain turkey sandwich.”

“Huh?”

“You know, a sandwich.  I don’t want anything grilled.”

“We don’t have that today.”

What?

It turns out that this very nasty woman was right.  There was no plain Jane turkey sandwich on wheat anywhere in that place.  Every sandwich listed on the “menu” is prepared in this fashion.  That’s when I took a good look around and realized that anything that could be remotely considered healthy was relegated to a tiny area next to the cash register.  The pickings were slim.  Yoplait yogurt – not the fat-free kind (insert eye roll here) –  a pre-packaged container of a handful of grapes, a few slices of apple and a couple of crackers, those little single serving cereal things, and some unidentifiable muffins.   Though muffins cannot really be considered healthy once you factor in their overall calorie and sugar content.

I left and vowed to never return.

The problem with making vows like that is that you often have to break them out of necessity or desperation.  Desperation lead me back into that diner from dietary hell today.  I perused the “menu” tacked just outside the door and decided that I would sacrifice some carbs and allow myself the pleasure of a bagel.  I took my place in line behind a young man who ordered a hot dog.  Not my first choice for breakfast fare, but you have to remember that these are young people who have yet to grow any common sense.   I have faith he will learn the error in his way one day.  As I stood waiting my turn, I watched the gentleman manning the counter pull a hot dog out of a refrigerated unit, slice it down the middle, opening it up butterfly style, and plop it face down on the greasy griddle.  He reached into a bread bag, pulled out a bun, slathered the inside with mystery oil, and slapped it down next to the hot dog.

Deja vu.

Seriously?

“Can I help you?”

I realize that this question is directed at me.

“I’d like a bagel, please.”

He gives me the look.

Uh oh.

He turns to consult with his co-worker.  After a few seconds of whispering, they both turn to me and inform me that they are out of bagels.

“An English muffin?”  I saw that on the menu, too.  No better or worse for my waistline.  The substitution was acceptable.

They shake their heads in unison.

Are you kidding me?

“I don’t want anything then, ” I said in a voice that was probably a lot bitchier than it should have been, but really.  Out of bagels AND English muffins, but the guy in front of me can get his fill of fried hot dogs?

Out of pure desperation, I settled on a cranberry muffin and a full fat yogurt.  More calories than I wanted to ingestion for breakfast, but I suppose that was my penance for not leaving the house fully prepared for the day.

Credit: Liz Hafalia/The Chronicle

I cannot help but wonder why, in this day and age of increased awareness in health and wellness, that this diner, or campus for that matter, would choose to provide sub-par food that lacks any significant nutritional value.  I understand that this is a public education establishment and there has been quite a lot of fiscal belt-tightening needed to keep up the level of services provided to the growing student body.  I also understand that a good number of my fellow students are young people who largely have no idea that the candy bar and soda they are consuming for breakfast every morning will cause them catastrophic health problems down the road.  Health problems that you and I and every other taxpayer in America will end up footing the bill for in higher insurance premiums.

Youthful ignorance is a wonderous thing.

However, these young people who throw dietary caution to the wind do not make up the whole of the student body.  There are plenty of people like me.  People who understand that they are what they eat, and who want a healthy alternative to a fried hot dog and greasy grilled sandwiches and fries.  I’m not saying that they have to get rid of this junk food.  I would certainly never want to deprive anyone of their sodium and fat fix, but why should this be the only thing available.  Why can I not get a salad?  A plain turkey on wheat?  A fat-free yogurt cup.  I’m not even asking for the healthier Greek yogurt.  Yoplait is sufficient.  I will even pay a premium price for these choices.  As would a large number of my fellow students, I’m sure, if they were given the choice.

I understand that with healthy food choices, the mantra “If you build it, they will come”, does not always apply.  There are many who are satisfied filling their bodies with junk.  However, I’d like to think that with the obesity epidemic that is plaguing our country today and the health issues contributed to such, that more and more people are increasingly conscience of what they ingest and are seeking healthier alternatives.  I believe this school’s dining facility is operating way behind the curve and has a lot of catching up to do.

So I’ve identified the problem.  What to do about it?  Simply bitching about the lack of choices will not bring about change.  I think a protest is in order.  A picket line?  Crudely made signs spelling out our grievances?  A sit in?  Perhaps we can chain ourselves to the legs of the pool table that sits right outside of the little cafe.

That all sounds very reasonable to me.  But then again, as I sit here in the library and scan the room, I see my fellow students drinking Big Gulps, chomping on chips, and snarfing candy bars.  Perhaps I am wrong.  Perhaps no one in this school wants to eat a salad but me.

Perhaps my husband is right and I am indeed an elitist snob who expects for too much from society as a whole.

I hate it when he’s right.