“We both really need to get out of the house more,” my sister tells me. We are both haunted by the example of our parents, whose worlds became smaller and smaller as they aged. It’s too bad Linda and I live 350 miles away from each other, because she’s the easiest person to hang out with.
And I finally bit the bullet and found a primary care physician near my house. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for the last four years (since I recovered from my hysterectomy, which means it has been that long since I’ve had a checkup).
I don’t like doctors. My late mother was something of a hypochondriac, and I went the other way. My philosophy is that if you never see a doctor, they’ll never find anything wrong with you.
Of course, that doctrine is dumb when you get to be my age. So I made an appointment and managed not to cancel it.
The Dreaded Scale and Other Medical Indignities
Prior to arriving at the clinic, I filled out a whole bunch of questionnaires. There was a freeform space where I could tell them anything I wanted. I told them I did not want to be lectured about my weight, that I’m aware it’s unhealthy, and I’m trying to get it under control.
Doctors never read that stuff.
The first thing that always happens at a medical office is they make you get on a scale. Some office staff are understanding when I tell them I DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE NUMBER (it’s always worse than my scale at home because at home I weigh myself first thing in the morning, before I’ve eaten. And at the doctor’s office, I’m wearing clothes -which we all know puts on an extra five pounds).
The second thing they do is take your blood pressure. Mine isn’t all that bad, but it could be better. I tell them it will improve after I lose the weight I don’t want to talk about.
I liked the doctor. She’s about my age and easy to talk to – even though she ignored what I wrote on the form and proceeded to point out my less-than-wonderful BMI.
“You should try Weight Watchers,” she says.
I’m on Weight Watchers, I tell her. I’ve been doing the digital WW program for three years. I initially lost 30 pounds, but then strayed from the program. I keep trying to get back on track, but my heart isn’t in it. Plus, it’s just impossible after Thanksgiving…
“You should go to meetings,” she says. It turns out, she’s a Lifetime member. “You’ll be more successful. If you find the right meeting.”
I’ve done the meetings before. My first time on the program, I was 18 and 130 pounds (which is my goal weight now) and my mom (who was a size 0) convinced me to try it. That was my first experience with weighing every little thing I ate and writing it all down, and I hated it.
But I especially hated sitting through the meetings: getting weighed in, listening to the leader give the weekly lecture, and trying to get us all to connect with one another. I was 18 years old. I didn’t want to connect with all those middle-aged fat women.
And Weight Watchers was slooow. It took me months to lose just five pounds. I eventually quit and lost weight on my own. And for the most part, I kept it under control for my 20’s and into my 30’s.
Middle Age Blues
And then came the inevitable metabolic slowdown, which wasn’t helped by having a baby one month before my 40th birthday. I’ve been yo-yo’ing every since. And so when I re-joined Weight Watchers, I actually was one of those middle-aged women. And I still hated it.
“We’re not joiners,” Linda reminded me. She’s right. I don’t know if that’s just our nature or the way we were raised, but our parents didn’t belong to any organizations, and I’ve never been comfortable with them, either.
And yet: The digital-only WW plan has not been working for me for a long time now, and it’s kind of crazy to keep trying something with no results. Also, it would be nice to be able to tell that doctor I gave it a try (even if I still get no results).
The marketing department at WW seemed to be reading my mind. Last week, they sent an email touting holiday “open houses,” where you could come in and just see how the meetings work these days. So on Monday, I drove out to one of these and gave it a try.
You still have to weigh in. You still have to listen to a leader give a lecture. You still have to track everything you eat, but there’s an app for that now (which I already had on my phone) and there’s a lot less weighing.
And you’re still encouraged to connect with the rest of the group, but now I feel like I have something in common with them. And it’s kind of nice to be among people who understand that the struggle is real.
Especially in December. If I can make it through the next three weeks without gaining weight, I’ll feel like it’s a success.
*Disclosure: Link to the Weight Watchers program is a referral link. If someone clicks on it and signs up for the program and sticks with it, I will get a free month tacked on to my program.
There was a time when Sunday night dinner for my husband and me could consist of bread, wine, and a selection of lovely cheeses. We had our favorites: brie, Humboldt Fog, an imported cheddar called Red Dragon, and maybe a fruited Wensleydale (this was around the time we were watching a lot of Wallace and Gromit with our toddler, so our choices may have been influenced a little bit).
It was an easy, casual meal that we both used to enjoy. And it’s one of those things I don’t do any more, which is a shame – because I like cheese.
I really, really, really like it.
The Problem with Cheese
I was reminded of this the other day, as I passed the cheese selection at a local supermarket known for such things. I no longer have to deal with a youngster who would hold her breath and complain about the smell of the stinkiest cheeses (she’s grown and flown). But these days, I’m more interested in finding foods rated 0 points on Weight Watchers.
I glanced wistfully at a beautifully prepared cheese plate that was the perfect size for an empty-nest couple: A small wedge of Brie, a log of goat cheese, six slices each of Manchego and something that could be a white cheddar. Plus a couple of sprigs of red grapes and handful of assorted dried fruit. A pound in all, which I concluded was WW eleventy-million points.
It actually adds up to about 30 points, which is 7 points more than my allotment for the entire day. And that’s before you add in the crusty bread (2 points per slice) or crackers (2 points for four of them). Or wine (4 points for a 5-oz glass), because why would I have all that cheese without a nice glass of Cabernet?
I wanted that cheese plate. I wanted it bad. And since I’m really good at finding ways to justify getting the things I want, I did a little research on the health benefits of cheese. And you know what? I found some!
Nutritional Makeup of Cheese
My mistake as a cheese lover is that after years of trying different forms of low-carb regimens, I circled back WW, which is the grandma of balanced diet plans. If I had chosen a ketogenic diet, I’d be able to eat a lot more cheese (but not the crusty French bread and probably not the wine).
Cheese is OK on a low-carb diet because it carries a power pack of protein: there’s a whopping 6.5 grams per ounce of cheddar – and hard cheeses like Parmesan contain even more protein, and even probiotic benefits.
Goat and sheep cheeses are higher in protein, lower in calories, and more tolerated by people who are sensitive to dairy products (so right there is my justification for eating a little more of that Humboldt Fog and Manchego).
Alas, if your diet is a more traditional, calorie-focused regime, you’ll note that ounce of cheddar translates to 115 calories. And 85 of those are saturated fat.
Here’s where the discussion of healthy foods gets dicey. For years, we have believed that consuming foods low in saturated fat translated into better weight management and cardiovascular health.
Advocate Trinity Hospital dietitian Dotty Berzy definitely subscribes to this theory. “If you like cheese, feta, mozzarella and Swiss are the most heart healthy,’’ she says.
Is necessary to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves.
It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
“For long-term health, some fats are better than others. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad ones include industrial-made trans fats. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle,” they say.
Generally speaking, the good mono- and polyunsaturated fats come from food sources (think avocados, and olive oils). Animal products like cheese contain saturated fats.
” A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol, and tip the balance toward more harmful LDL cholesterol, which prompts blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body. For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day,” says Harvard Medical.
Other studies indicate that eating some cheeses can positively affect the gut bacteria in your microbiome, introducing beneficial compounds like butyrate and spermidine (which hve both metabolism-boosting and anti-cancer effects).
That doesn’t mean I’ll be buying that cheese platter to enjoy on a weekly basis. But the next time my sister wonders if she should serve one at a holiday gathering (hint, hint!), I’ll tell her to go ahead – without guilt.
I used to have a little trick for lifting my spirits. No matter how I was feeling – whether I was going through a break-up, or a bad patch at work, or depressed over my losing battle with my weight – I knew that I could check in with a hairdresser, experience a little pampering, and walk out feeling somewhat beautiful.
And because I was blessed my mother’s olive complexion, I appeared younger than my years for a very long time.
There’s Nothing Graceful About It
Today, I look in the mirror and I see my mother’s face – and she passed away four years ago. I know I always vowed to grow old gracefully, but now that I’m in my 60s, I realize there’s nothing graceful about it.
I don’t just look older – I look OLD. A little while ago, I noticed a new sharpness to my cheekbones and thought it indicated that my latest weight loss regimen was working. But when I looked more carefully, I saw something more skeletal there and realized it had nothing to do with diet. I’m losing the fat in my cheeks due to age.
I’ve always fought dark circles under my eyes, but now they’re compounded with bags that will not go away. There’s just no amount of makeup that will conceal those black half-moons on either side of my face. And don’t get me started on the little lines that have become crevices on the sides of my mouth.
The thing is, I expected all of that stuff. The part that has really hurt has been hair loss that began in my 30s and is now progressed to the point of near-baldness at the hairline. It’s the reason I have worn bangs for the last 25 years (even though I HATE bangs). They’re my version of a combover. And the current bane of my existence.
I just got back from the hairdresser, where I dropped a pretty nice sum of money for color and a cut. I was in the mood for something a little different, so I went kind of red today, and I’m happy with the color.
I’m actually pretty easy about these things, but the one thing I don’t want to see is bald skin peeking out at the top of my head. I explain that. I explain it a lot. I let my hairdressers know that I don’t care if the resulting look isn’t fashionable. The only thing I really care about is creating the illusion of a full head of hair. And yet — I don’t think most hairdressers actually believe me.
The Inevitable Upsell
First, they try to sell me shampoos that promise to thicken the hair. Sometimes the sales pitch works. Always, the product proves disappointing.
Since these formulas really only add texture and don’t re-grow hair, they’re a waste of my money. So then I am asked if I’ve tried minoxidil. That was the first thing I tried to do when the hair loss began decades ago. It didn’t work.
I even once had a hairdresser suggest I get Topik — you know, the spray-on fibers they sell on cheesy TV ads at 3 AM,. I think the resulting eyeroll has prevented him from ever making that suggestion again.
Few hairdressers give me the bangs I ask for. Instead, of the thick little fringe of my dreams, I get left thin, spiky little strands that barely cover my forehead, and it doesn’t work. And maybe I’ve just gotten to the point of no return, where I need to invest in a nice wig or at least, a lot of cute scarves and hats (which sounds like it would be just ducky to wear during a hot San Fernando Valley summer).
That’s what today’s hairdresser gave me this afternoon and I made him re-cut the bangs. I wasn’t super happy with the result, but they looked better and I was tired. But by the time I got home and the effect of the blow dry had worn off, the fringe still looked… thin.
So I took the scissors into my own hands, combed more hair in front of my eyes and cut some additional bangs myself.
They’re not all that even. But at least, they cover my bald spot. And I (weirdly) realized that I now have something in common with Donald Trump, who surely wears his hair that way in defiance of his hairdresser.
I am useless until I’ve had my first cup of coffee.
I’m sleepy. I’m slow. I cannot focus. I start to do something and then drift off to do something else.
I simply do not function until I’ve used my coffee maker, and I tell people that all the time.
My family thinks it’s a joke, because they truly don’t comprehend how fuzzy I am until I get that glorious hit of caffeine – and that I NEED it. They make fun of me for guzzling it down and asking for another.
But thanks to the DNA analysis I got from 23AndMe, I now have a genetic excuse:
My Beloved Nespresso Coffee Maker
I’m telling you all of this so you understand the urgency I felt last Thursday, when I fired up my beloved Nespresso machine and Aeroccino… and went to pour my heated almond milk on top of my espresso…
…only to discover that my cup was devoid of its usual shot of coffee.
OK, there have been times when the machine has hiccuped. After all, I’ve had it for several years now.
The pod – which usually drops into receptacle designed for that purpose – was still in place. I tapped the brew button again, and this time, I watched as the machine went through the brewing process, but did not drip any of the precious coffee into my cup.
Instead, I saw vapor rising from the machine itself. All the hot water from the two brewing attempts had collected in the spill tray. I used oven mitts to grab the tray and empty it into the sink and drove to Starbucks.
I thought I remembered this happening before. “It just needs to be descaled,” I decided.
But I could not descale the machine as long as that pod was stubbornly stuck in there.
Nespresso vs. Keurig
I also began Friday and Saturday with a Starbucks visit. On Sunday, I settled for a lesser cup of coffee from the Keurig (a gift from my mother, which I keep because my husband thinks espresso cups are too tiny and lattes are too fancy, and he insists he’s incapable of making a pot of coffee with a drip coffee maker.)
(Note: That post on my original SoCal Mom blog links to a post on this site’s predecessor, InQuestOf – which no longer exists. So my review of the machine has disappeared. Suffice to say: it was a positive one.)
I have a lot of reasons for preferring the Nespresso to the Keurig:
I like to drink lattes, so I want an espresso base.
The quality of the coffee in the Nespresso pods is better.
Nespresso’s aluminum pods are fully recyclable, and Nespresso makes it easy to do by accepting the used pods by mail.
My husband enjoys a challenge, so he attempted to remove the stuck Nespresso pod. This task led him to Home Depot a European style screwdriver he could use to take it apart.
“Well, this thing is knackered,” he said, as he showed me the plastic parts that broke off when he was taking the machine apart.
RIP, my trusty Nespresso machine. It served me well.
My NEW Nespresso Coffee Maker
And say hello to my new and improved Nespresso Vertuo Plus. I ordered it immediately after learning that the old machine could not be put together again. It was delivered last night.
(Another note: I should probably mention that while my original review of my old Nespresso was a sponsored post, today I am neither an employee nor an affiliate of Nestle or Nespresso, and am receiving no compensation for writing about this now.)
My old coffee maker could only brew espresso in a couple of sizes. My usual morning cup of Joe was a latte that consisted of two shots and about 4 oz of steamed almond milk. But a few years ago, Nespresso put out new models that produce beverages in five different sizes.
And these machines brew the coffee in a revolutionary new way: not by percolating, or dripping, or pouring over – but with a built-in centrifuge. The result is a mug of coffee that has about an inch of foamy crema, (like a good espresso), and it’s so rich and foamy that you almost don’t need to add any milk.
The thick crema is what impressed me most about the newer Nespresso machines, and why I vowed that I would buy one when one of the old machines died. I always thought that would be the Keurig, but I hadn’t counted on having a mishap with a stuck Nespresso pod.
The Vertuo retailed for about $300 when it first debuted, but the cost has come down to the $150-$200 range. There were issues with water temperature on earlier models, but I’ve made two cups today and both were sufficiently hot.
Best of all, since this machine makes both espresso and regular mug-sized coffee, we can get rid of the Keurig and free up some counter space for another appliance.
Timing is everything, and the year our daughter was born, the Los Angeles real estate market was in a slump. It was the first time in my adult life that home prices had actually gone DOWN…
…and we took advantage of that by purchasing a bank-owned home whose previous owners had defaulted. The bank had made it move-in ready, with fresh paint and new carpets everywhere.
I remember thinking the house was perfect for our young family, and the only thing I wanted to change were the ugly bathrooms, which are small, featured 50-year-old formica sinks and counters, linoleum floors, and very little storage space.
That was 23 years ago. We never got around to doing anything about the bathrooms. Until this month.
The Sad Truth About Home Ownership
Let’s just say that during all those years I was lamenting on how tough it is to afford a house in Southern California, I never appreciated how tough it is to pay for the upkeep on one.
I now understand that homeownership is just a series of improvement projects that have to be taken one at a time, as your budget allows.
And the sad truth is – we often made hard choices that delayed home improvements until they were absolutely necessary. My husband’s family lives in the UK. Money that could have been plowed back into home improvements was instead used to visit my daughter’s grandparents.
I don’t regret that choice for a nano-second. My daughter is close to her grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins on both sides of the Atlantic. I call that a success – even if I’m ashamed to let anyone see where I live.
The Dreaded Ugly Bathroom
Several years ago, the shower in our master bathroom sprung a leak. The easiest way to deal with it was to simply stop using it. The shower in the guest bathroom tub works just fine.
A couple of years later, the toilet in the master bathroom broke, too. And then the plumbing in the sinks. The master bathroom became the place where we kept the cat box, and he was perfectly happy to have that space to himself.
This was not as hard as it sounds – especially after our daughter moved away, there were just the two of us. The only person who ever complained about it was my sister, who decided that a house with so many plumbing issues needed a second working toilet.
At one point, we did look into replacing all the broken bits and bringing the bathroom up to date.
We figured the project would cost about $10K.
The estimate came in at twice that amount.
For one thing, the entire room needed to be taken down to the studs. The space is small and the built-in vanity was about 5″ narrower than the prefab units on the market, and non-standard sizes cost more. New construction means bringing plumbing and electrical up to current building codes.
Half the cost of the estimate was for the demolition, so my husband vowed to do it himself. But he works long hours during the week, and when the weekend comes, all we want to do is relax. (This is one of those hard choices I mentioned earlier).
Before we knew it, another five years had passed.
Biting the Bullet
A couple of months ago, we came to the conclusion that we were never going to do the demo on the bathroom ourselves. We called a half a dozen contractors with 5-star ratings on Yelp and invited them in to bid on our bathroom project.
We had a rapport with one of them who gave us a quote we could live with. I spent the next several weeks obsessed with shopping for the components of a new, working, modern bathroom. Demolition commenced on July 8, and this last Saturday, we took our first shower in our new space.
I won’t show you pictures of the mess it was before (I was too ashamed to keep the evidence). And I’ll save the messy details of our renovation for a future post. But I’m here to announce that our ugly master bathroom is downright beautiful now:
We still have one more ugly bathroom to renovate, and I can’t wait. Hopefully, this time around, we’ll have the resources get it done sooner rather than later.