The Blog

I have this sick feeling in my stomach that Katie will be off at college again soon. I’ll be better prepared when the house is quiet again, though. I’ll know how much it sucks to have her half a country away, and nothing in the way of pretending otherwise will make it suck less.

Sometimes the only way to feel better is to let yourself feel even worse. Right?

Will remembering that help? Will I be more at peace with this new rhythm? And if so, will that shorten the grieving?

Will the crisp, fall air bring a renewed energy to my work -- with less boo-hooing over Katie’s absence in favor of only anticipation at seeing her again soon?

We’ll see!

One reason I’m writing more about my diet on this blog is how many questions people ask me about it. A question I got recently was the same one I entertained more than five years ago when I contemplated this change to begin with: “How did you possibly know you could give up, say, donuts for the rest of your life?”

The answer? I didn’t.

That’s one reason when I set out on this experiment, it was only going to be for a year. It wasn’t a life sentence. I didn’t know if I could give up donuts for life. I didn’t know if I’d want to. But I was sure I could give them up for a year, and I wanted to see what would happen when I did.

What happened was that after only two months of eating clean -- really clean -- I felt clear in a way I never had before. I’d given myself a chance to see how I felt without artificial sweeteners and God knows what else running through my system, and it was amazing.

Had I only eaten this way for a week or two or even a month, I wouldn’t have known. Had I not committed to a year of eating this way, I wouldn’t have made it to the two-month point.

Things take what they take. You might decide after two weeks this is how you prefer to live. You might decide after two years, no way.

To each his own.

Just make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to make a good decision. In statistics I think they call it a large enough sample -- eh, Katie?

Since giving up junk food almost five years ago I’ve been eating from a pretty short list of foods. Discovering a new way to combine those is like discovering a new continent.

The other day I discovered a continent called Dove Dark Chocolate with Grape-Nuts. I’ve been adding a teaspoon or two of Grape-Nuts to my oatmeal to give it the crunch I crave. I’ve also been dipping bananas in it, to keep them from boring me to death given how many I’ve eaten over the years.

The other day I melted a square of Dove dark in my mouth and instead of reaching for a teaspoon of walnuts to toss in with it the way I usually do, I substituted Grape-Nuts. Oh, my. You should try it. Right now!

Nothing in the way of a blog post could communicate the delight.

I’m sure of it.

“Something to do, someone to love, something to look forward to.” The secret to life distilled into a sentence, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I didn’t realize how important the “something to look forward to” was until Katie left for college. Every day we woke up with her in the house was filled with things to look forward to. Now we have to scrounge those up. As the friend of a friend once reported: “Biology will get you to midlife. After that you have to make up reasons to live.”

The way I reward myself for working out with weights in the morning is with a blank screen. If I start writing before I work out it’s even more of a struggle to talk myself into that. Dinner before dessert, as it were.

Speaking of dessert, I’ve discovered a new continent -- foodwise. That’s on the menu for tomorrow!

I loved the foreman in charge of our construction crew the summer I helped repair a stretch of highway near Grand Island, Nebraska. Part of the reason I loved him was his truck. When I saw his truck off in the distance, heading our way, I knew it was almost time to put down my shovel and call it a day.

Once in a while he’d take us into town for lunch in that truck. We’d pull into the A&W and eat in the shade. Now I ask you. Is there anything better than a frosted mug of A&W root beer when you’ve just spent four hours shoveling concrete on a hot, windy stretch of pavement with nothing to distract you except the thought of using a portable bathroom where dozens of grasshoppers are bouncing off those walls?

I didn’t think so!

I haven’t had A&W root beer for almost five years -- but the memory of those first few sips on a hot summer afternoon will sustain me forever.

What’s your comfort food?

The summer I worked construction there was a bad accident on the stretch of highway we were patching. We’d diverted the eastbound traffic into one of the westbound lanes, and had lots of signs warning people not to pass -- in addition to the two solid lines of bright orange tape.

One morning during a safety meeting we got the news. Someone hit another car head-on as he attempted to pass, killing that driver -- a mom, whose kids were in the car with her.

“Someone was impatient,” our foreman told us, “and now those kids don’t have a mother.”

I don’t like to drive on two-lane highways, especially at night, given how many fatals I reported on when I worked in news. But this accident is always in the back of my mind, too. I could be crawling behind someone going forty in a fifty-five mph zone for an hour, and never feel the slightest urge to pass -- if conditions aren’t perfect, that is. It isn’t worth it.

That’s why I’ll never, never understand people who text and drive. The accident I referred to in my last post? I’d bent down to retrieve a sack lunch on the floor of my car. I took my eyes off the road for -- what? -- two seconds.

Bad things happen. They can happen to you. They might happen no matter how careful you are. Why beg for it?

Stay safe out there!

Darrell and I were walking by the information desk at the library on our way upstairs to look at the newspapers recently when he cracked up. The gal working the desk looks almost exactly like her sister, who happens to be married to a friend of ours. She looks so much like her I gave her a nickname that amused her as much as it did Darrell: “Not Gary So and So’s Wife.”

So when Darrell started laughing, I knew why. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Every time we see her it calls up the silly, the same way every time we hear a train whistle it calls up a dreamy family vacation to the Pacific Northwest by way of Amtrak.

Where did my obsession with finding the perfect nickname come from? My best guess? The summer I worked construction. I wasn’t Maureen for those few months. I was Sally. One of my pals from college who was on the crew christened me Sally the minute he realized we’d be working together. He was so cute and so much fun I couldn’t help but bask in the attention. Within days no one knew me by my real name. Months later, when another pal was trying to extricate me from the car I’d just crashed into a guardrail -- and was worried he wouldn’t get me out in time -- he let rip with a terrified, “WTF, Sally?” Except he used those words instead of abbreviating them.

There’s just something about people liking you enough to give you a nickname. It assumes familiarity, which is flattering. What Color Is Your Parachute? author Dick Bolles has never been Dick to Katie, for example. She met him when she was six, and she started calling him Dickie right away.

Darrell has lots of nicknames for me. He even has nicknames for some of the nicknames. I’ll spare you those, but I love all of them. When he uses one in particular it’s reassurance whatever snag we just muddled through is history. There’s no way to hear it and read anything but good.

What do you like to be called?

I learned a lot in college. Mostly during the summers! That’s when I did my internships.

I worked construction the summer between my sophomore and junior year, and I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it was. I’ll never forget returning to my motel room after my first twelve-hour day shoveling concrete. I cried, wondering how I’d survive even another day of it -- let alone the month or more my supervisor had warned me about. I couldn’t help but also wonder how career construction workers kept their spirits up.

Gradually I learned some of them love the work. They love being outside, and they enjoy seeing what they accomplished that day -- a spiffed-up stretch of highway, or a new roof on an office building.

They work hard, they have fun, and they savor the little pleasures. Like me! A random, clueless, engineer-in-training who’d joined them for a few months so they could teach me a thing or two.

I was nothing if not the entertainment.

More on that tomorrow.