Haunted by the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man

I’m dating myself here, but do you remember the original Ghostbusters movie? Remember when the evil spirit inhabited the “Stay Puff Marshmallow Man,” a fictional commercial icon for, I assume, marshmallows? That thing was gi-normous! And, even though it was amusing to see something evil in a large, fluffy mass of sugary goo, it was also a bit terrifying. Today, that image is haunting me.

courtesy of chacha.com
courtesy of chacha.com

Yesterday, I swore off sugar and unhealthy carbohydrates for the like 200th time since New Year’s Day. My pants were getting snug again, and my leggings were so tight they revealed every bump and lump. Although I ate a lot of fruit and veggies this summer, I also consumed pound for pound an equal amount of sorbet and ice cream.

Alas! This is nothing new. I have been on a diet since I was 12 years old. I am the yo-yo queen. In fact, if you look up yo-yo dieter in the dictionary there are two pictures of me: one for the high you and one for the low yo. I’ve had years of therapy that sums up my eating habits like this: I like to overeat when I am nervous, stressed, overwhelmed, happy, bored, contented, overjoyed, during full moons and all the moons in between.

What can I say? I like food. Most therapists say, “No, there is something more, something deeper that causes you to turn towards the pantry.” When I heard that the first time, I wanted to say, “First of all, I don’t turn to the pantry; I run. Sometimes when I am alone, I will even skip to the pantry. The truth is I really like food.” Instead, I just nodded and said I would journal about my food obsession, paid my $160, and headed to Chick-Fil-A. After months of journaling and mindfulness exercises, I came up with this: I like to eat because I find pleasure in it. It calms my nerves, tastes good, and is the reward for doing a fine job at darn near anything—tying my shoes.

At the same time, I also know that it is not easy to give up certain foods like sugar and refined carbohydrates. Research has shown that sugar is just as addictive as heroine. It hits the pleasure center of the brain, making it very difficult to give up. So at least now I can say it’s not really my fault. Yep. I’ll blame my parents. Mom and Dad got me strung out on sugar with that first bite of birthday cake. (I did the same to my kids—we’re all pushers!!!!)

Sugar in the clay bowl isolated on whiteI am no stranger to addiction. You name it, and I’ve been addicted to it. I know all about withdrawal and how torturous it is on the mind. I quit smoking so many times, I can’t even count the attempts. I think the only reason that last one worked is that over the course of the first week, I ate an entire tub of raw chocolate chip cookie dough, and school was out so I had time to just sleep through the withdrawal symptoms. But, I am proud to say, that last attempt in 2000 took, and I haven’t had a cigarette since.

Cigarettes are one thing, but sugar and flour are another. I can go months without seeing or smelling a cigarette. Not so with sugar. It is everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. I’m not just talking about my pantry, grocery stores and ice cream parlors. There’s so much sugar around we have numbed our senses to it. For example,

  • Bubble gum and snow cones at Little League games
  • Cake at birthday parties, retirement parties, graduation parties, I pee-peed-in-the-potty parties (you get the idea)
  • Candy bars and soda at school sponsored games
  • Coffee and doughnuts after church services
  • Lollipops dolled out by well meaning pediatricians
  • Peppermint drops at the front desk at school
  • Every possible holiday function: Valentine’s Day is damned!
  • Healthy “cookies” and protein bars at the gym
  • That yogurt you just picked up for a midday snack.

young-man-eating-cake_byq-luvtro_psStart paying attention, and you will be shocked at how sugar has infiltrated our entire culture. Over the past five or ten years, researchers, politicians, and curious health nuts alike have been paying attention to the sugar effect and the sugar industry. (I won’t get into that now. Another blog, perhaps.)

So back to yesterday. Yes, I had steeled myself that I was going to resist temptation. I even went to the grocery store and snubbed my nose at the Oreos. However, by the time I picked up the kids from school, I had already blown my no-sugar contract at least three times. What? Don’t judge me. You should have heard that month-old, freezer-burned ice cream calling my name. It was like Odysseus’ Sirens. This, of course, sent me into despair, which then sent me back to the ice cream. Ah, the vicious circle.

So I went to bed not feeling so hot about my sense of will power, and as luck would have it, I had a scary dream. I dreamed that the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man was possessed by the devil and trying to lure me to a ball pit. Instead of balls, however, the pit was full of jawbreakers. It was horrible because I was simultaneously repulsed and attracted to the giant devil in white. He was so big I could see the individual sugar crystals on this smiling face. I awoke before the ending, but I did wake with a new revelation. That is, the devil makes me do it. This time I’m not looking for an excuse. I’ve used them all to no avail anyway: I’m gluten intolerant, I have big bones, I’m allergic to something that puts on weight, I would exercise more but my knees hurt, etc., etc. etc.

Yep, it’s the devil. It has to be. Who is the biggest tempter known to man? The devil, Beelzebub, Satan, and the Fallen Angel—whatever you want to call him—is the master manipulator of all of this. So logic would have it, if this is truly the case—that Satan is standing around every corner just waiting to shove sugar in my path or he is sitting in my brain stimulating my desire for biscuits, Baby Ruth’s, and peanut brittle—then the only way to fight him is with prayer. After all, Satan tried to take on the Father, and he failed. He tried to tempt the Son, and he bombed that one too. So I think my only hope at conquering my sugar/refined foods addiction is to call on some help from the God. God vs. the Devil (cleverly disguised as the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man).  Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how I’m doing.

Have Ya Missed Me?

Be Back SoonLife is calling!

It has been 42 days since I’ve posted anything to my blog. My guilt propels me to provide an explanation for my absence. In short, I have no excuse at all. I have just not been inspired. That could be because life—that is, LIFE in capital letters—has pulled my creative energy elsewhere. You ask, What in life could stifle one’s passion for the written word? Let me begin with illness.

Over the past 5 weeks every person in my family has suffered from one illness or another. Some have been chronic like especially bad seasonal allergies, and some acute like the common cold or Flu B that made it seem as if someone stole the batteries from my Energizer Bunny son. Then there’s been the random virus. You know the one. That one when you take your daughter to the pediatrician, all she can say is, “Yep. She’s sick.” No cure, no medicine, just a she’s-sick, and thanks for that $20 co-pay, the one you had to pay just in case your daughter had strep throat, which, as we now know, she doesn’t because she’s just sick. I knew she was sick before I paid my $20. That one.

Family has also led to my writing timeout. My father, my brother, his fiancé and his three kids visited Houston last week. I played hostess, chef, and tour guide. We went to the famed Houston Livestock and Rodeo, saw Kenny Chesney perform, went to an amusement park, toured some caverns, and slept in teepees. Fun, good times, great memories, but I was not home long enough to type a sentence.

Preparing for the family visit took up a great deal of time. I looked at my kitchen table and said, “Kitchen Table, you need a makeover.” So, I poured my creative spirit into refinishing the kitchen table, which led to refinishing the chairs, the dining room table, two bedside tables, and two end tables. I was a sanding and staining machine! There was something so soothing about sanding tabletops. This led to other projects like painting the front door, painting all the doors to the rooms upstairs, scrubbing carpet stains, washing curtains, and touching up the walls and kitchen island. As with most things I do, I became slightly addicted to this work.

Reading/listening to books has been a wonderful distraction. I’ve consumed what feels like a semester’s worth of reading for two literature classes. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand, but I have just enjoyed the immersion into fictional worlds. I can confidently say that I would recommend the following books:

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney
The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Traci Chevalier
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Full Dark No Stars by Stephen King
The Forgotten by David Baldacci
The Innocent by David Baldacci (Anything by David Baldacci)
What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

I can say I enjoyed each book, and it was a good use of my sabbatical from writing.

I feel as if whatever muse I have has also returned from vacation so for better or worse my creative musings will flow once again.

2016 Yoga Journal Entry #1: A Venture in My First Slow-Burn Class of the Year

From GraphicStock This is NO WAY resembles me in a yoga position.
From GraphicStock
This is NO WAY resembles me in a yoga position.

Two days ago I went to my first yoga class of the year. I arrived early because I knew all the other end-of-the-year slackers, those whose workout routines were like medieval sailors and fell of the end of the earth in November and December, would be anxious to renew their resolves for a healthy lifestyle. I was right. The room was packed with experienced yogis practicing their pretzel poses well before the instructor came; packed with wide-eyed newbies who nervously talked to their friends (because first time yoga-goers should never go alone) and fidgeted with their mats; and packed with people like me, those in-betweeners who have never mastered yoga, know how hard the damn thing is, and keep coming back for more, even if it is inconsistently. We were the ones lying face down on our mats waiting for the torture to begin—no warm-ups and no chitchatting. We knew what was coming.

Even though I was 15 minutes early, most coveted spots were taken. When I saw all space at the back of the room was filled, I whispered, “Shit,” knowing I had to move close to where the teacher sat. That messed with my calm meditative state. Let’s face it, when you are in tight spandex clothes—even if they are a slimming black—and every bulge, including the bagel you ate this morning and the now “outie” belly button from your last kid is popping out like a strange remake of The Blob, you do not want to draw attention to yourself. I’m already a walking yoga charity case; I don’t need to advertise in neon.

Now, I am not just being self-effacing. I really am a yoga charity case. If you look up the word INFLEXIBLE in the dictionary, my picture is the illustration. I can’t touch my toes, but more importantly, I’ve never been able to touch my toes—not at 3, not at 13 when I tried out for the JV cheer squad (It’s okay to laugh), and not when I a thin size 6 in my 20s. I’ve had trainers who have pushed on my body trying to get me to touch to my toes, and to no avail. These were professionals who were certified, trained, and educated and kinesiology and human anatomy. They couldn’t do it. Despite my warnings, they all had to give it a try. The result was utter failure on their part and searing pain in my hamstrings on mine. I think I made one trainer reconsider his whole career path after working with me for months.

There seems as if there are a hundred different types of yoga classes. I am very careful to read the descriptions since the first time I took a class it was called a Vinyasa class. I am pretty sure Vinyasa is a term that means “turbo torture” because this was the fastest yoga class I have ever seen, and afterwards I was sick for three days. And, I mean In-my bed-with-no-need-for-the-latest-Hollywood-Cleanse sick. The class I took two days ago was a Slow Burn yoga class. I think the instructor got the wrong memo because the title of the class was half right. Yes, there was a lot of burn. Oh did my muscles burn, when I tried to plank, down dog, and twist my right leg over my left and put it behind my ear. So, he got the burn part down, but there was nothing slow about this class. In fact, we went at a good pace. The rough part of a yoga class with any pace at all is two-fold:

First, I don’t go often enough that I have the whole language thing down. So when I should be in a Half Moon Pose, I am in a Half Frog Pose, and I only realize this when I look up to see the rest of the class mooning not frogging. There seems to be a lot of animal poses: Downward Facing Dog, One-Legged Pigeon, and Feathered Peacock to name a few. After a series of planking and Downward Dogs mixed with some Warrior this-and-that, I longed for the Dead Dog pose and said so…out loud, breaking everyone’s collective body (enlightenment). (Incidentally, there is no Dead Dog pose. Just a little mid-yoga fantasy on my part.)

The second reason a fast-paced yoga class is hard for me is because, well because, I am overweight. I am still in the process of losing the baby fat from my last childbirth. Granted it was 10 years ago, but what can I say? I am a plugger. The Little Engine that Can (one day…when I get my act together…when that damn hill doesn’t seem so big). After having my first child, I ordered a Pilates tape, and tried that for a while, but I was so discouraged by the ballerinas on the screen who could fold over their bodies with little effort while I had this giant post-partum belly in between my thighs and my boobs preventing me from any Pilate-like movement. So, the second reason has to do more with my belly than anything else. It’s hard to do 90 percent of the yoga poses with a big ole’ belly. Plus, I sweat so much—more than any other exercise I’ve ever done—that any pose that requires me to grab, say an ankle, is tough because I am as slippery as a porpoise.

I will say, however, that I do have the Happy Baby pose down. The Happy Baby pose is when you lie on your back, bend your knees up towards your sides and grab your big toes with your hands. My belly is totally irrelevant for this pose. Sometimes in the Happy Baby pose, you get to rock your body side to side. Ah, now that is nice. I also love it when the instructor tells you to simply lie flat on your back. Of course, this is at the end of the session, but it is my favorite part. I love to relax all my muscles and wade in a pool of my own sweat and think about how much my hamstring and shoulder and even my scalp muscles are going to hurt in just three hours. This is exactly what I did two days ago.

I got through the class the best I could, taking the advice of the yogi that I had to go at my own pace because this was my own practice. I was on fire—with pride and pain—and I just wanted to meditate a bit on my accomplishment. After the Namaste ending, the instructor said, “Take your time getting up. There is no rush.” Normally, that would be the case, but because of the New Year’s Resolution Frenzy at the gym, people were already piling in the class to reserve their spot a half hour before the next class, and I didn’t want to hog a space so I go up ever so reluctantly. Besides, I was afraid I would fall asleep on the floor and be mistaken for a real dead dog. With that, I will end with the traditional “Namaste!”

New Year’s Resolutions: Seeking Progress Not Perfection

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With our bellies peeking (or protruding) over belt buckles and the thought of another sugar cookie churning queasiness in our bellies, it is time to drag our overindulged bodies and minds out of the cocoon of denial and start resolving.

I am the first to admit that, just like most holidays this year, I am not ready for New Year’s. My brain is still trying to process where 2013 went. Alas, the day is upon us all, and it would do us well to think about what we want to accomplish in 2016. That’s right. I’m talking to you. Get your mushy tushy out of that warm bed, grab a pencil, and pay attention. (Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I am usually not this bossy.)

Don’t worry. I’m not giving you my list of resolutions. Rather, I thought I would present some questions to think about. These questions came to me a few days back when I was trying to pray and reflect, and I thought I would share them with you. They helped me put my life in perspective, and maybe it will help you too.

  • How am I managing my life?
  • How am I managing my finances?
  • How am I managing my household?
  • How am I managing my work?
  • How am I managing my health and the health of my loved ones?
  • How am I managing my children (or pets even)?
  • How am I managing my spiritual life?
  • Am I being fulfilled intellectually?
  • Am I being fulfilled creatively?

After you answer these questions, go through each one and ask yourself the following: In what ways can I be more effective?

For example, in examining the health of my loved ones, I realized I need to nudge my husband to see a dentist, and my pups are well overdue for a checkup. In thinking about managing my work, I know I need to be more committed and serious about my blog, set and stick to a writing schedule, and learn more about WordPress. Recognizing the areas that I have neglected or put off for whatever reason helps me make a plan.

Now, I have learned a great deal about myself in the past 49 years. I am not the most disciplined person and can easily become overwhelmed, which leads to mental paralysis, which in turns leads to…well…total failure to meet any objectives. (Sounds so serious.) So, I will take baby steps and not create mile-long lists of things to do. I will try to set a few goals for the year and then smaller goals for each month.

Of course, in Blog Land it all sounds so organized. It may all go to “hell in a hand basket,” as my grandmother would say, by January 5. I just need to keep reassuring myself that I am seeking PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.

Send me a note if you were able to garner something helpful from this.

Happy New Year!

My Gift for the Baby Jesus

advent_wreath_advent_candles a Christmas gift

This past Sunday was the beginning of what is known as the second week in Advent in my faith. Advent is a season in my church where believers prepare for the birth of Christ. So while the rest of the world is celebrating the Christmas season, technically, our Christmas season does not start until Christmas Day. This is not to say that I don’t decorate or shop or sing Christmas tunes until the 25th—I do all that like most Americans. However, I do need to remember it is a time of waiting and anticipation. This, of course, is difficult to impart on my children, as we are all wrapped up in the tinsel and glitter of the season. I am just as guilty as the next person of worrying so much about choosing the “right” Christmas cards and wondering if I should I replace our ratty old pre-lit Christmas tree that leans a little too much leaving my angel in a precarious position.

I had a bit of an epiphany at the 9:00 A.M. mass this week. Father Jason, our new priest, posed a question in the middle of his homily: What would Jesus want from us for Christmas? Without thinking, I asked my nine-year-old, and he said, “A bicycle?” We both laughed softly trying not to disturb the more serious church-goers. I pictured Jesus in his robes riding up the Mount to deliver his sermon. (I digress.)

My very next thought was, “I wonder how the kids would answer that question in earnest? What present would Jesus want from them?” I envisioned a thoughtful conversation over dinner that night. “It would be good for the kids to give this serious thought. They need to think beyond packages, bows and bicycles.” Then something strange happened. The whole church went unnaturally quiet—at least to me. My heart raced a bit, the way it does when I feel guilty about something I can’t exactly place. It felt as if God whispered in my ear, “Hey, Cara, I’m asking you. What do you think Jesus wants from you?”

Gulp.

Deep breath.

This was not a question just for children to ponder. Humbled, I thought about this question throughout the mass and most of the week. It gnawed at me like a puppy with a nice leather shoe, tugging and chewing and not letting go. After trying to ignore it, shoving to the back of my mind, burying it on my To-Do List, I surrendered. “Fine. I will give it some serious thought,” I said to God.

At first, my answer was “a more personal relationship.” That’s what God wants. He wants me to connect with him every day, not just when I am in crisis or sitting in mass. That was a good answer, or so I thought. Sounded good. Then, why did the gnawing continue?

I took inventory of my crazy life, and realized that, yes, God always wants me to beef up my relationship with Him, but this step could not be possible until I did one important and almost Herculean task: Trust.

I think Jesus wants my unwavering trust in Him. I have struggled with this for many years now. I think it is because I have discovered that underneath my big smile and quick wit I present to the world, I am really not as laid back as I would have people believe. In truth, I am a control freak.

I shouldn’t say freak. I think the better expression would be I suffer from a case of CNFC—Compulsive Need for Control. This is a little different from a need for perfection. With CNFC, I deep down believe that I have to take the reigns with every project and event so that I can own its outcome. Don’t get me wrong. This CNFC has served me well in my lifetime. I was able to accomplish a lot in my earlier career. It drove me to be “super teacher” working almost around the clock on lesson plans and grading. It allowed me to found a literary/art magazine at two high schools and win scholastic journalism awards. It propelled me to get a doctorate, and then as an assistant professor revamp an entire Department of Education at a university. Of course, a psychologist would probably say that there were other factors like a wacked out sense of perfectionism and need to prove myself. (I don’t deny any of that.)

All those years of extreme hard work, all those years of successes built in me a false sense of self, a foundation made of sand. I began to believe that if I worked hard enough, studied long enough, researched deep enough, that I could control the direction of my life. In a way I was no different from those crazy Old Testament folks building the Tower of Babel, trying to reach God, trying to be like God.

Well, my tower came crashing down when I had children. Ever so busy changing three sets of diapers, I never noticed the cracks in my tower, my world view. I should have spent more time in prayer after having my children—more than the typical “thank you for these blessings” kind of prayer—because I really could have benefitted from a more personal relationship with Christ. I could have gained an understanding that my tactics for controlling the outcomes in my life were a simply an illusion, a mere hologram that could fade with a push of a button.

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