New Post Over at Creativity Diet

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New Slay the Writer post coming soon….like later tonight (or in the wee hours of the morning).

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I Eat Too Much, I Drink Too Much, I Want Too Much… Thanksgiving Redux

A glorious Thanksgiving first for us...the outdoor feast.

When did Thanksgiving surpass Christmas as my favorite holiday? I guess it happened sometime after the success of Food Network and before I stopped decorating a Christmas tree (too much work to take down.  Bah humbug.)  I suppose it says something, something rather disturbing if I do say so myself, about my “food issues.”  I mean, how sad is it that I prefer a stuffed belly over a stuffed stocking hung by the chimney with care?

Even though I only have 2-3 people eating at my Thanksgiving table (which was outside on our lovely sunny deck this year, see picture at left), I’ve become obsessed with the harvest feast.  I cook enough food to ensure plenty of leftovers for at least a week.  For myself.  (We don’t send my leftovers away in butter bowls, baby!)  When other people are whining about not wanting to look at their Thanksgiving leftovers after a few days, I am nearly in tears when I polish off the last of my signature Triple Mushroom and Wild Rice Whole Grain Dressing a week after the big day.

Being a Weight Watcher at heart (despite the fact that I’ve only been watching my weight go up and up for the past year), I still “healthy up” my dishes in creative ways.  My garlic mashed potatoes are half baby red-skinned potatoes (skins on) and half steamed cauliflower mashed with fat-free sour cream and green onions instead of standard butter and warm milk.  My shredded Brussels sprouts with leeks are sautéed in a little EVOO (and a whole lot white wine).

Ah….and my bird!  Normally, my diet is mainly vegetarian (with some eco-friendly seafood dishes thrown in) and I have created a few hearty vegetarian harvest feasts in year’s past (free of both fowl and tofu, thank you very much, because tofu is even more foul than undercooked fowl if you ask anyone in my mainly carnivorous family).  But, for the past few years, I’ve made a special exception for the Thanksgiving feast.

Of course, being hyper aware of the whole nasty factory farm element of mainstream food production, my turkeys come from Whole Foods.  I buy the fresh, free-range, organic, vegetarian-fed, heirloom turkeys.  At the price I pay, my Thanksgiving turkey’s kids could go to college.  And it is worth every penny.  I swear.  That said, when you spend that much on an animal destined for your oven, it becomes seriously important business to cook the naked little creature correctly.

So, this year I watched and obsessively re-watched Alton Brown’s Romancing the Bird episode of Good Eats at least 10 times. (BTW – YouTube is every amateur chef’s BFF and Alton Brown is a freaking genius.)

As far as I am capable of following someone else’s recipe (which I am pretty much incapable of doing most of the time), I followed Mr. Brown’s suggestions exactly.  Well, okay, I cooked up my own special brine (a peppercorn mustard brine) because I just do not believe some of the crap he used in his brine has any place in my turkey…cinnamon and allspice?  Ewww!  Really?  But I DID buy the fancy remote thermometer that can be set to sound the alarm when the meat hits a certain temperature (thus preventing the evil opening and closing of the oven door).  We brined that fancy bird overnight, started out at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes, set off some fire alarms (perfectly normal and acceptable according to Alton), slapped a foil breastplate on the beast, and finished roasting it to perfection at 350 F within 3 hours.

Excuse me for saying so, but my bird kicked ass!

The pets in my household NEVER get to experience a roasting beast in their very own domicile.  Zoey, my rescued calico kitty who thoroughly accepts and even enjoys her own fat jiggle belly, just about lost her bloody mind over the bird!! If I’d have had some pet tranquilizers in the house, I would have used them on her.  As an act of kindness.  Tessa, the rescued spaniel mix, just skittered around our feet doing the “me so happy” doggie dance (which is pretty dangerous for the amateur chef who cooks with wine…and sometimes adds a little to the food.)

But Kitty, oh my goodness!

Zoey developed an alarming case of Feline Rain Man Syndrome (heretofore known as FRMS).  I could practically hear her little kitty brain sputtering a constant dialog of Oh, look, there’s a turkey. Time for turkey. I like turkey. Of course, there’s a turkey.  Right there.  There’s a big fat turkey. Where’s MY turkey? Maybe they won’t notice if I jump on that turkey. Of course, it’s time for turkey.…etc.  Her obsession went on for, like, 2 hours straight!  And her eyes never left the turkey platter.  Even though she would try to pretend she wasn’t looking at it, she couldn’t take her eyes off that juicy mound of meat on the kitchen counter…then the table.

It was messed up.  But hysterical.  I may roast another, much smaller, bird before next Thanksgiving just for the sheer entertainment value of watching my cat lose her freaking mind.  Here is a picture of her hovering over the side table looking for some stray bits of turkey (NOT that we were stupid enough to set any turkey that close to her treacherous little paws):

Heeeere's Zoey.....Lookin' for turkey in all the wrong places.

Now we are in December.  I want to be excited.  I do.  But seriously, how can poor Santa compete with all that?

My guy wants to go to Florida for the Christmas weekend.  Hm.  Or maybe Charleston.  Hm.  No.  Can’t get excited.  I’m finding it very hard to muster any Holiday or Christmas spirit.  Which is especially tragic because I’m one of those twinkle fairy adults who still believes in magic and Santa Claus.

I’m working on it.  Any suggestions?   I’ve scheduled a volunteer shift at the Ronald McDonald House.  Watched at least 5 happy, magical holiday movies.  Found some new latke recipes.  Bought a couple of holiday books. (When in doubt, buy books right?)

Still…..nothing, not feeling it.  Someone should send Marley and the three ghosts over to my house to get me straight.

How about you?  Anyone else having trouble feeling festive?  Or does anyone out there have any low-stress, low-cost, low-fat, high-happiness, getting-into-the-magical-holiday-spirit suggestions?

PS – Don’t worry.  Neither Zoey Kitty not Tessa Doggie were deprived of their ultimate turkey dreams…as evidenced by post-turkey coma shots below:

Oooooffffff....life is good.I love turkey. I love my people. I love my full belly. I love this rug.

Zoey passed out in Tessa's bed, which is directly below the spot on the kitchen counter where the roast beast first appeared. Coincidence? I think not.

Let’s Talk About Weighty Issues – Void Patterns

I’m not happy with my weight right now.  That is a difficult and shameful thing for me to admit, because I am a weight loss success story.  I’ve been an “After” picture for 4 years.  Not only that, I’m a highly trained weight loss professional.

Before Weight Watchers - 2005

Weight Watchers Leader training in 2008

I lost over 40 pounds with Weight Watchers in 2006 and stayed within my healthy weight range until this year.  For part of that time I was a delightfully happy, but desperately income-challenged Weight Watchers Leader.  When a more profitable career presented itself, I jumped back into corporate life joyfully.  Unfortunately, I also jumped back into some very bad habits.

Here’s the thing – I love healthy foods and exercise. I really do.  I would prefer a ripe, juicy, colorful fruit salad over a doughnut any day.  Going a whole day without a good walk or a long hike in the woods or even a refreshing session on the elliptical machine feels like misery to me.  I know just about all of the tips and tricks on how to live a healthy lifestyle

So what’s my problem?

As any scientist can tell you, nature abhors a vacuum.   As any writer can tell you,  creativity abhors a blank page.  As any successful Weight Watcher can tell you, willpower abhors an empty cupboard.  And yet, any great artist or photographer will tell you that the empty spaces are key to the composition of a beautiful picture.

Personally, I have trouble dealing with the empty spaces.  I tend to fill them with junk.  This tendency takes a variety of forms.  I live in a cluttered house, work at a cluttered desk and drive a cluttered car.  When there’s a lull in the conversation, I’m too quick to fill the silence with babble.  Despite my belief in the amazing benefits of a regular meditation practice , it’s nearly impossible for me to be still in the silence.  And, even though I know better, I consume way too many calories when I’m bored (or lonely, or stressed or…yeah, you get the idea).

My theory of Void Patterns and how they relate to my self-sabotaging behaviors came to me while watching an episode of CSI.  If you are familiar with crime scene investigation at all, you probably know that a violent, bloody crime creates blood spatter evidence. If someone or something was in the path of the blood as it was flying, and that person or thing leaves the crime scene before the forensic investigators arrive, there will be a void in the blood spatter.  Obviously, voids can be invaluable clues in solving a crime.

One night, while watching two of my favorite fictional investigators solve the “how” of a vicious murder based on voids in the blood spatter, a sort of half-baked theory started forming in my brain.  It goes something like this:

  • Everybody, everybody, everybody creates voids in their lives—sometimes by accident, sometimes by design and sometimes by doing nothing at all.
  • Some voids are good (no criminal record is a good void to have).  Some voids are bad (no money, no food, no shelter and no friends…all generally accepted as not so good).  Some voids are neither good not bad, they just simply are. (I am probably never going to work as a rodeo clown or walk on the moon and I’m pretty OK with that.)
  • You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their voids and, more importantly, how they deal with them.
  • Therefore, voids can be invaluable clues in stopping and resolving the vicious cycle of self-sabotaging behaviors (such as emotional overeating).

Are you with me so far?

In Weight Watchers, we address the issue of emotional eating with a three-step approach:

  1. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry.  If not, ask yourself if you are trying to soothe an emotional need (fill a void) with food.
  2. If you are trying to soothe an uncomfortable emotion, put a name on that emotion (describe the void)
  3. Do something that will better address the emotion in a healthy way.

Yeah…..it’s just that simple.  It really is.  But simple does NOT = easy.

During the year and a half I worked for Weight Watchers, I probably led over 50 meetings dedicated to the exploration of this three-step approach, usually ending with a brainstorming session designed to get members thinking about new behaviors that could take the place of emotional eating.  No matter how many times I’ve facilitated this discussion, the topic never ceases to fascinate me.  Maybe because I’ve never completely mastered it.

I know I’m not alone.  Whenever I think about this topic, I remember the day one of my more successful members stormed into the meeting room, threw her gym bag down, and exclaimed, “I have got to find something I like to do as much as I like eating!”

Exactly!  And you know what else?  I swear, it’s a moving target!

When I wrote my first novel, this theme of finding creative, empowering, healthy ways to feed the soul instead of stuffing the stomach emerged unexpectedly as a factor in my main character’s story arc.  I let that aspect of the story grow and I think it bloomed into a much more rich and satisfying journey for my main character.  Can I do the same thing for myself…again?

Based on a first look at my Void Patterns, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Evenings are treacherous.
  • I have no/low tolerance for boredom.
  • A regular practice of writing is lovely, but it’s not the cure-all for emotional eating (as claimed by some), though it can help.
  • Ditto for reading.
  • When I take the time to plan meals, fill my pantry with healthy options (that actually taste good), and try new recipes, I tend to make better eating choices…but that takes quite a bit of time away from my writing.
  • Exercise is not optional for me, it’s absolutely vital to my mental health, but (again) it takes up a good chunk of my writing time.

So…where am I going with this?  To be honest, I’m not entirely certain.  However, many of us have empty spaces in our lives that can feel overwhelming:  missing pieces, unanswered questions, goals not achieved, dreams deferred.  Many of us have bad habits we’d like to change.  I keep thinking that if I can crack this mystery in my own life, I might figure out something that could help others.  Maybe.  Stay tuned.