Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

Since I’ve been retired I’m finding time for all sorts of things I’ve wanted to tackle. Such as writing this blog, but also things like getting my food life in order. I’ve always worked at this off and on, but in a very distracted way. Work and social events involving eating, being too tired to fix real food, fit in on-the-run trips to the grocery store that left me with an assortment of unrelated ingredients and junk food.

During the past couple of years, I’ve been focusing more and more. I worked for a while with a holistic practitioner who gave me good advice about food and supplements. She said I needed to eat meat, especially beef. This is a dilemma for me, because I am not easy about eating meat.

And I began to read about food. OMG! I’m sure all these people writing healthy-eating blogs mean well, and I have picked up a couple of really good, go-to recipes. But… well, they have to have something to write about, preferably something that will get attention.

The more I read, the fuzzier I got about how to eat. Paleo, vegan (apparently just vegetarian has no cachet anymore), raw foods. And the prohibitions including a long list of chemicals plus big categories like dairy, gluten, all grains. I’ve struggled with weight all my life and have done many diets (hard-boiled eggs and grapefruit and Atkins stick in my mind. As they stuck in my throat.)

The past few days, I’ve been reading Michael Pollen’s Food Rules and feel that I am going sane. There is very little that I didn’t know, but it is refreshing to see it all laid out so simply. It is so doable. I’ve taken steps and am planning more. Some of the rules that I especially like:

* Pay more, eat less. After a long struggle, I admitted the naturopath was right: I do need to eat beef. Philosophically,I don’t like to, but I distinctly feel better if I eat it. So I buy a couple of small pieces of grain-fed, certified humanely raised and slaughtered. It costs a fortune, and I prepare and eat it with great respect and gratitude.

* Eat whatever you want – as long as you cook it yourself. Fried chicken, french fries, pineapple upside down cake – fine. But you have to make it. I like to make potato chips: slice potato thin, brush with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, bake in hot oven until brown and crispy. But I don’t much like to cook in general, so if I keep to this rule, there will be lots of things I won’t eat.

* There is a section on what basically is eating mindfully. He puts it in a number of different ways. Eating mindfully makes eating a spiritual practice. If I eat mindfully and pay attention to each bite, I want that bite to taste good.

Last year, I lost 20 pounds doing yoga – three or four classes a week and a daily practice (only 20 minutes at first). Even more important was the meditation practice I developed at the same time. And I practiced Yoga Nidra. The words mean ‘yogic sleep’. it is a long, deep meditative state led by a teacher using several techniques and allows you to drop to a level of consciousness not usually reached. The sessions got me in touch with my body and I began to practice body awareness throughout the day: whenever I was going to eat, when I wanted a snack, I took a couple of minutes to ask my body what it really wanted. The answer wasn’t always ‘ice cream.’ Sometimes I realized an orange would taste just as good. Not always. I am an ice cream addict and despite the many reasons for giving it up, I don’t think it will leave my life completely. But once in a while, in summer, I just plain want ice cream. So I get a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (I don’t mess with health food ice cream) and eat it. At one time, I would have eaten it at a sitting, now I eat it over several days and sometimes even forget it’s in the freezer.

It was learning to pay attention that let me cut down on junk food, and food in general, and lose weight. Exercise was limited to a yoga session most days (sometimes a very short one); I didn’t count a single calorie, and I didn’t restrict any food or kind of of food. I just paid attention.

My diet is way better than the Standard American Diet, but I’m no paragon of eating. Every day I eat things I’d probably do better not to eat. But I don’t have to be a paragon. I just have to pay attention.

A thousand tiny souls

This isn’t about abortion. It’s about flies.Last summer, they came. A huge black swarm of them took up residence in my home. I had seen flies, of course. All my life. I took the last picture of my uncle before he died. He was sitting in a lawn chair, his face creased and exhausted, holding a fly-swatter across his lap, ready to do battle. So maybe it’s a genetic thing.

But I had never seen them in such numbers, certainly not inside a house. It looked like a scene from a crime show, when the detectives enter to find a long-dead body.

For the past year, I have kept a fly-swatter at hand along with home-made fly spray: water, vinegar, a dash of hot sauce, and a few drops of Dawn detergent. It does kill flies (spray to immobilize, then swat), doesn’t smell horrible and, after the fly is swatted, you can easily wipe off the black spots that are left.

I’m thinking of making a swatter-belt with a holster, so the weapon is always at hand. In general, I’m not crazy about stalking my home with weapons of death. It doesn’t feel very Zen. But this is war: Me vs. Flies. Who will win? I’m bigger, but am outnumbered by a large factor. When I smash one, a dozen more take its place.

They surround me when I sit at the computer, buzzing around my head, landing on the screen. When you swat a fly on a touch-screen, interesting visual effects ensue, and increase when you wipe off the smear it left. Sometimes they land on the white wall above the screen. I wondered why they liked that spot, where they are such easy prey, then I learned why: they are feasting on the smears left by those that died previously on that spot. That doesn’t make me like them any better.

I’ve learned a couple of things along the way. Old wives tale: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Not necessarily. Maybe my flies are different. I tried an experiment: I poured a little honey in a saucer and left it on the counter, expecting to find a multitude of flies if not dead, at least in one place where they could easily be dispatched. Not a fly. I left it out for a couple of days. Not a fly. Recently, I accidentally left a cup with a little cider vinegar in it on the counter. I found seven dead flies the next morning.

I guess that’s really the only thing I learned. No, wait, one other thing. Fly-swatters are one of the simplest and most effective low-tech tools ever devised. Long wire handles to allow for a good strong swat. A flat plastic head full of holes that, I suppose, somehow distracts the flies from knowing that they are about to be annihilated. More deaths occur if I swing the swatter in a big arc and come at the fly from a good distance above.

And I just thought of a third thing: If your foot is badly bruised , a fly lands on it and you swat it, it hurts like (*^*. Instant karma.

Sometimes, I’ll come upon a pair of them, joined together and buzzing frantically. They’re either fighting to the death or having at it. Easy to get both of them in one mighty swat. It feels sad. Do flies enjoy it? If so, it might not be a bad way to die. Sometimes I swat one and it leaves a smear of yellow yuck. I wonder if she was pregnant. If so, I’m glad to have prevented more flies. But it still feels sad.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just culling the herd. Weeding out the weak and stupid ones, breeding a new, stronger fly.

What I wonder most is whether I’ll step into Bardo carrying the weight of a thousand tiny souls on my shoulders. Do no harm. Am I preventing still more harm? I guess I’ll find out. I have to say, my backhand is getting pretty good.

Coming home

I can still see it, still feel it, forty years later. Coming around a black mountain in a midnight snowstorm. It was my first glimpse of Albuquerque. We were passing through enroute to Arizona and we didn’t stop. But the voice said, “someday I’m going to live here.” That was 1973.

In 2003, I drove a thousand miles of highway with a carful of possessions including three cats in the back seat squalling in disharmony. My destination was the apartment I’d just rented in Albuquerque. The apartment was in a big complex. I’d never lived in such a place before but I thought it would be a way to meet people. I suppose I had pictured a sitcom with neighbors bonding into a big dysfunctional family. I was wrong. The people encountered walked in cocoons of privacy.

I had one friend in Burque, as I soon learned to call it. Jobs were nonexistent. I took temp jobs and haltingly made my way around the sprawling city to the handful of boring jobs that came my way. My money was running out fast.

I was exhausted, trying to fill my lungs with the thin air. Making my way up the flights to my third-floor apartment left me gasping. The cats, also oxygen-deprived and traumatized from the trip became quiet and docile, fighting over the corner of sunshine the tiny balcony enjoyed in the morning. That apartment was one of the few places in Burque that didn’t get sun. It was hard for all of us, coming from a flat, lushly green landscape to this harsh high desert.

But I was home. The place I knew from that first moment would be home.

A lot happened in between and since. I found a wonderful job: it didn’t pay much but it was a small office with wonderful people. I managed the New Mexico Chautauqua, booking speakers and historical characters all over the state. I have always had a weakness for talented people and our “stable” consisted of 70 of them. I held that job for ten years and recently retired, not voluntarily but due to funding cuts. I miss it, although I love being retired: I was born to be retired.

Burque is still home and it still holds its magic. The mountains to the east. To the west, the Mesa, with its petroglyphs and volcanoes. The Rio Grande marks the southern boundary and to the north, more mountains and Santa Fe and Taos. Albuquerque sits in a bowl in the Rio Grande valley, a center of spiritual power. The old gods still reign here and I learned to honor them.

Here, home, I made a life.

And that’s how I came to be jesinalbuquerque. Welcome to my world.