This is what happens lately when my work day gets extra-stressful: I forget to eat. And then MyFitnessPal gets cranky on me because I didn’t log enough food for the day.

Probably not the best thing to just have a cheese stick for breakfast.

The New York Times says I am not flourishing. Find out if you are.

If I had seen this on a proof in the newsroom back in the day, I would have burst out laughing like I did when my husband showed this to me this morning: “Well, thank God we can all come back inside after all these months.”

The husband picked up stickers after his second COVID-19 shot yesterday to make up for my sticker shortfall after my own vaccination. I love him.

The losing battle, Week 15: Same old, same old

Another week, another 2.4 pounds lost. Now at 247.4 pounds. That’s a 12.6 percent loss since I started all this in January. At least another 70 pounds to go.

I’m not as blasé about this as I might sound. But I just realized that I forgot to post my update yesterday; this time, I didn’t delay it because I wanted to get a decent weight to log here. I just plain forgot. Maybe I can blame that on post-vaccine brain fog.

Meanwhile, I think I’m largely past the COVID-19 vaccine side effects now. C, however, is dealing with the same kind of hit-by-a-truck aftereffects that I woke up with Saturday. On top of that, he has a 101-degree fever.

I’ve always been envious of C’s good health and fully expected him to lord a lack of side effects over me. I didn’t want him to go through this, especially since it seems like he’s got it worse than I did over the weekend.

After the second shot, a hangover without the fun

At first, I couldn’t decide whether my shoulder, neck, and lower back discomfort yesterday were related to my second COVID-19 vaccination shot that morning or a Pilates class the day before. I was pretty sure the headache and midday queasiness were related to the second shot.

This morning, the pain in those locations has only worsened, along with the headache. Also hurting: my pectoral muscles (including my armpits), my knuckles, and my eyeballs. The discomfort is almost symmetrical, distributed nearly evenly between both sides of my body. And I woke up at one point overnight feeling slightly winded and out of breath, like I had just gained back all the weight I lost this year.

On top of all that, I really don’t feel like getting out of bed, though lying down — either on my back or side — hurts like hell.

This is all definitely not Pilates-related. It’s like having the flu and a hangover at the same time. Or a hangover without the fun the night before.

I understand this means my immune system is working to build up its defenses against COVID. I’m all for that. But man, I don’t think I’ve ever had a reaction to any vaccine like this.

I’m 55 years old and really should not be this annoyed that I didn’t get a sticker with my second COVID-19 vaccination shot.

Want more advice? Go here.

I went through Lent, and all I have is this lousy angst

It’s Holy Week. And once again, I arrive at this moment realizing that I suck as a Catholic.

Except for some reading I actually accomplished, Lent was a dismal failure. I haven’t been to Mass once, and it looks like I won’t be hitting the confessional until after Easter. I think about God a lot, and I pray each night with Frannie, but my rosary beads have largely gone untouched. I’ve been cranky about the Church, and anything that smacks of traditional Catholic practice or belief leaves me guarded in case it’s linked to some kind of scary far-right extremism.

So, I gravitate to my old comfort zone of moderate evangelicals and Catholic voices like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Fr. Jim Martin, and Franciscan Fr. Casey Cole. My media consumption veers sharply away from EWTN and Relevant Radio now, and more toward America and U.S. Catholic magazines. It feels like the more outspokenly traditionalist and more-orthodox-than-thou the voice is these days, the more likely the voice belongs to angry people who hate the current pope and/or hold frightening views on COVID-19 vaccines, political conspiracy theories, and policies that support the common good.

So much for gravitating back to basics this Lent and getting to know Jesus again. There is that – but then I think, Jesus, have you even met these people?

(Yeah, I know: He has. And yeah, I know: They need His mercy as much as I do.)

Between the pandemic that still scares me from Mass and the divisive politics in the Church today, I feel a lot farther from Rome than ever.

The losing battle, Week 11: Defying stress and snacking

Posting my weight update a little late in the day. I took a PTO day today to start F’s spring break week; I had considered canceling the day off because work has gone haywire with the project load, but ultimately I decided that getting F’s week off started well was more important.

(We had breakfast out at a diner that is handling COVID-19 restrictions well; afterward, we hit a craft store and splurged on a bunch of craft paints to decorate Easter ornaments for the little not-just-Christmas holiday tree we’ve kept up since December. Spent the afternoon painting pieces of wood to hang on the tree, and then picked up cones at a local ice cream place. All in all, it was a day off work well spent with my kid.)

Before F and I had breakfast, I weighed myself and had surprisingly good news: I’m now down another 1.4 pound to 255.8 pounds. (I’m 27.2 pounds lighter since January 11.) I didn’t feel terribly diligent with my eating this past week, even though my food diary entries indicate I went over my carb count only once: on F’s birthday, when I had a small piece of cake to celebrate.

Birthday cake aside, I hit my biggest calorie overage, around 335, twice during the week. I grazed on relatively low-carb snacks more than I should have some afternoons. Work stress worried me. (Stress and the cortisol levels it unleashes, along with poor sleep quality, can hinder weight loss.) And I continued to be lax with exercise. So, I wasn’t optimistic on this past week’s numbers.

I did work on improving my sleep quality with some success. And I generally tried to be diligent with my meds and keeping the carb count low. (I went over the 100-gram carb limit – by one gram – only once.) So, there was that. I guess it was enough.

First shot. Done.

Finally got around to registering for a COVID-19 vaccination after I read this Washington Post article about obesity qualifying some folks for the vaccine. Turns out I’m eligible now for vaccination here in Illinois by virtue of my fatness. Yay, I guess?

The fact that obesity is a COVID-19 comorbidity factor is a big reason I’ve placed myself under a bariatric doctor’s care now, so I’m certainly grateful for qualifying. (Really, it was the tipping point for me in my decision.) That said, I’m also fine with waiting in line — at least I have the relative luxury of being able to work from home and self-isolate more than most — while others who need it more get the vaccine.

This plastic bag is F’s ticket back to in-person learning five days a week.

Each little vial represents a weekly COVID-19 saliva test; our district intends to allow kids in grades 6-12 to return to school full-time before the end of this month, provided they are screened this way.

The road back to school in Elmhurst, Illinois, is coated with spit.

In a pandemic, being a good parent "isn't really an option"

When you’re already deeply insecure about the job you’re doing as a parent – pandemic or no pandemic – it doesn’t help to see friends on social media who seem to go to great lengths to show you how shiny-perfect they and their kids are doing. “Muting” and “unfollowing,” rather than unfriending, come in handy. I’ve done more of that since the whole COVID-19 thing hit.

In between moments of railing about Ted Cruz, writer Dan Sinker makes me feel a wee bit better when he reminds the rest of us deeply flawed parents that we’re doing the best we can:

Every parent wants to be a good parent. And every parent, every day, fails at that because, right now, being a good parent is literally impossible. A fine parent? Maybe. An OK one? Possibly. But a good one? We’re eleven months into a pandemic that sent all our children home, laid waste to jobs, killed a half-million people in this country, and sickened many millions more. Politicians like Ted Cruz ensured it would hurt as much as possible by fighting against public health measures and relief efforts that would have made a difference. So no: a good parent isn’t really an option. We’re all just barely getting by.

Not that I disagree with him about Ted Cruz; it’s just that (a) I don’t want to spend my Lenten time fuming about anybody, let alone Ted Cruz; and (b) that’s not my takeaway from all this.

(Hat tip for this link and quote, by the way, goes to the wonderful Austin Kleon, who blogs even further and far more eloquently today about being a “good enough parent.”)

My takeaway: Let’s go easy on ourselves, parents. And let the shiny-perfect families be shiny-perfect in muted, unfollowed limbo.

Stripping away the anger and frills for a basic -- but late -- Lenten start

It’s taken a while, but I think I’m finally on the Lenten train.

The divisive, angry wing of the Church – the one that increasingly condemns Pope Francis, holds up the Latin Mass over even reverent vernacular Mass as the optimal (if not the only true) liturgy, considers abortion the only pro-life issue that matters, and traffics in conspiracy theories and far right politics – has left me thoroughly disgusted. Unfortunately, that wing has touched “mainstream” Catholic sources, including some I had followed semiregularly (like EWTN, Relevant Radio, and Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire operation); even the Catholic bookstore that has been a mainstay for me has fallen to it. So, I’ve had to cull the spiritual supports in my social media and reading to ease the rage that has blinded me for weeks.

I don’t agree with everything that lives at the center-left end of the Catholic spectrum, especially some of the more New Agey spots (cough – Richard Rohr – cough) where it veers from orthodox theology. But the vindictive, holier-than-thou far right spirit that has clouded my vision lately is notably absent, and I feel like I can see God again.

Anyway, so much has clouded my spiritual vision that Fr. Daniel Horan’s suggestion to “go back to basics” for Lent really spoke to me. I’ve gone with one of Fr. Horan’s ideas for the season:

Why not set aside some time each day during Lent to read a portion of the Bible, perhaps start with one of the Gospels and read, reflect and pray with the passage? If we allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, sayings and narratives we thought we understood could inform or challenge us in new and timely ways.

So, I’ve been spending some quality time with the Gospel of Mark, using The Message paraphrase of the Bible. It’s been deeply absorbing and eye-opening, more than I expected. It is awfully refreshing to strip away all the ritual, relatively peripheral devotions, church politics, culture wars, and theological preening, and get to the basis of Christianity: Jesus himself.

From there, I’ve only taken up a few other things for Lent:

  • Read and reflect on two other books this season: “Learning to Pray” by Fr. James Martin and “The Hidden Power of Kindness” by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik.
  • Give up YouTube binging on mindless, time-wasting entertainments like “Big Bang Theory” clips.
  • Avoid constant indulgence in news – stop constantly checking the Washington Post, The New York Times, and other such sites – especially stuff that leads to anger, gossip, and detraction.
  • Avoid gossip and detraction. This goes for work and home conversations about everything and everybody: news figures/celebrities; colleagues; friends, acquaintances, and neighbors; church people; and each other. Change the subject when others try to draw me into such chatter. (I have already failed at this numerous times since Wednesday.)
  • I had a semi-grand idea to forego VitaminWater Zero for the season and set aside my spending on that for alms, but I’ve already failed at that. I’ve given up there and I’m just setting aside alms for the archdiocesan COVID-19 relief effort and our local food bank.

Usually I get ambitious about things like Lent. This year, I’m too tired to be ambitious: tired of religion (but not God), tired of the pandemic, tired of life. If only a few steps – beginning with getting reacquainted with Jesus – can rebuild my spirit even a little, I will be overjoyed.

“Frannie, you don’t have to wear your mask in the car.”

“I know. But it keeps me warm.”

#8degreesofwinter

Here’s a point in this article that isn’t made enough: “The United States currently has among the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, a trend exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.”

This CNN piece – ”‘Fat but fit’ is a myth when it comes to heart health, new study shows” – illustrates why I’ve turned to a doctor this month to help me begin losing weight.

To be clear, I’m all about body acceptance and all that. But I’m tired of the chronic pain and other health problems that clearly stem from my excess weight. The COVID-19 susceptibility was the tipping point.

God willing, I’m in it for the long haul,

Biden: The lesser of two "bad Catholic" evils?

Outside the pope and God himself, I don’t know if anybody really has the right to call anyone a “bad Catholic.” (That said, I am the first person to call myself one.) But Fr. Whitfield makes some very good points in his piece:

Biden, undoubtedly, represents a highly educated but poorly catechized, barely converted, cultural Catholicism, formed quite nobly but equally vaguely by a faint account of social justice but which is as substantially Catholic as having once gone to parochial school or Notre Dame. Which is to say, very little. Yet it is a bad Catholicism that differs from another bad Catholicism, a religion itself deformed, principally economically. These, of course, are the bad Catholics of the political right, but who didn’t win. …

… as we welcome this new president, we shouldn’t make much of his Catholicism. Biden shouldn’t make much of it himself; but instead, like me and his fellow bad Catholics, work out his own salvation in fear and trembling. It’s also why Catholics must resist the cheap identarian pride of having a co-religionist in the Oval Office. That, and because the religious veneration of politicians always deforms the venerators. Of this we have had enough.

I am definitely to the right of Biden on the abortion issue. (I’m not sure what Fr. Whitfield is talking about when he mentions Biden’s “willful refusal to embrace the integral moral vision Catholicism describes,” but I’m willing to find out and explore what that means.) I wish he didn’t feel the need to ditch what had once been a clearer-cut opposition to abortion for the sake of political viability.

That said, I appreciate the breath of fresh air that is Biden’s clearly deep and sincere faith, however “poorly catechized” it might be. (I cringed when he mused at tonight’s COVID-19 memorial about “if there are angels in heaven.” A lame, tossed-off line, probably, but still.)

If I agree with Fr. Whitfield on anything, it’s the point about resisting “cheap identarian pride” – something that I am guilty of in recent weeks – about having a fellow Catholic in office. It’s that kind of ideological and allegedly faith-based pride that fueled the Trump train for years. (”Baby Christian,” my ass.) If we’re looking for role models to emulate, best to look to the saints and not, say, politicians.

Next health stop: bariatric medicine

I am morbidly obese. And on Monday, I have my first appointment with a bariatric doctor.

This is a long time coming. Too long. And I don’t even care that much anymore about the appearance and clothes-fitting parts of this. Between being particularly susceptible to COVID-19 illness and generally being more conscious with age of my mortality, it was time to take a step beyond half-assed commitments to everything from Weight Watchers to intermittent fasting.

I’m not looking into weight-management surgery; I want to explore nonsurgical options. I found that despite the horror show of colonoscopy prep last summer, the clear-liquid diet actually provided some gut relief and left me feeling physically better. Not sure whether a liquid diet is an option with the clinic I’m visiting, though.

Lately, I’ve been drinking a green tea kefir smoothie in the mornings, shaken in a Blender Bottle, that keeps me going until the early afternoon:

  • 1 cup plain lowfat kefir
  • ½ tsp matcha green tea
  • ½ to 1 cup Naked juice smoothie (any flavor; I like Mango Madness or Berry Blast)
  • 2 tsp Benefiber (per my urogynecologist)
  • Optional: 1 packet stevia

That and water (or VitaminWater Zero) keep me sated and energized till I find myself craving something like chips or cookies or whatever after my 2 p.m. meeting. Trying to be better with healthier options.

It probably doesn’t help that we eat dinner pretty late. Granted, I don’t eat nearly as much at the dinner table as I used to (rarely seconds, and I’m more adamant about a simple salad at the outset), but I have slightly more of a sweet tooth afterward. And eating only 2 to 3 hours before bedtime probably isn’t a good idea.

My pelvic floor dysfunction diagnosis last summer, and subsequent physical therapy in the fall, got me much more conscious about my food intake and overall health. I’m much more aware of links between my abdominal pain and my bowel and bladder activity, as well as the importance of gut health. I feel like I’m on the verge of something.

I’m not completely free of my abdominal pain, but I know what causes it, and how to relieve it through mild exercise. Now if I can only be free of my chronic lower back pain.

I look forward to talking with the doctor about all this Monday.

I love my husband –and even like him – but somehow this blog headline just spoke to me: “If Your Spouse Is Annoying the Shit Out of You During Quarantine, You Are Not Alone.”

This just in: I've found a good use for Facebook

I hate Facebook with every fiber of my being.

But I also hate the Bears, ice storms, and coronavirus. I’m stuck with their existence and have to come to terms with them, too.

I have thought numerous times about pulling the plug and deleting my Facebook account. The anti-Facebook crowd that drives this blogging platform I use would say it’s the only way to go. But there are people who are dear to me on Facebook (and its sister platform, Instagram), and I don’t see them removing themselves anytime soon.

Over the past couple of years, I have distanced myself from Facebook, posting sporadically at best and lurking occasionally. It did me a lot of good to break my addiction to the site; it fed a compulsion to compare my paltry lives to that of others, reminded me that there’s too many stupid people out there, stoked my desire for the attention of “likes,” and stole too much precious time.

In recent months, I’ve tiptoed back into the fray, only posting maybe once or twice a week, if that. When I feel myself growing anxious about something I posted (i.e., being bothered by no “likes” or being annoyed by an obnoxious comment), either I delete whatever comment annoyed me or delete the post entirely.

These days, I’ve found an excellent reason to use Facebook. There are numerous groups devoted to rallying snail mail enthusiasts to send cards and notes to people who need good cheer: sick kids, anxious or otherwise troubled kids, lonely or ill seniors, others who could use a kind or encouraging word. As I’ve been charging into a snail mail habit that I hope to develop throughout the year, this is a perfect use of an otherwise insidious social media platform.

The only pitfall here, besides the fact that I’m pulled back into the Zuckerberg vortex of online traffic, is that I’m now buying greeting cards and postcards in bulk. But it’s worth it if it means sending a stranger a little bit of kindness. And I’m enjoying it.

Even Facebook can be redeemed. Somewhat.

My cousin Raymond died today of Covid-19. If you are so inclined, please pray for the repose of his soul and consolation for those he left behind, especially his 83-year-old mother, my aunt. And prayers that this insidious virus will be defeated. Thank you.

It begins again. No surprise, really.

Trading one set of anxieties for another

Been disinclined to blog much lately. I post sporadically on Twitter and, to a lesser degree, on Facebook and Instagram.

In recent weeks, I’ve tended to direct my energy outside work and family to following a Twitter list I created with political feeds. I called it my “Doomscrolling” list. I came to my senses this week and deleted the list, leaving my other Twitter lists focusing on faith, sports, and video gaming.

This is the third Doomscrolling list I’ve deleted on my Twitter account. I created this last one as the last weeks of the presidential campaign heated up. I even clung to it during my private retreat a couple of weeks ago, a few days after the election.

I’ve been steeped in anxiety and anger for months now, alternating my attention between the pandemic and politics; sometimes the two areas would overlap. Sometimes my thoughts about faith would in turn overlap with these other areas. But more often than not, the pandemic and politics would suffocate my attention to faith.

I’m long past the point where I’ve burned out on politics. (At this point, I pray to be secure enough in the knowledge that God has got this, and that the transition crisis will be resolved.) But I remain anxious – and am perhaps more so than ever – about the spread of the coronavirus. This, too, needs to be entrusted to God, but not without action on our parts: We will certainly continue to be masked and sanitized and close to home as much as possible. That said, it’s easier to weave faith into our pandemic life; I find myself praying a lot for people, particularly those who have lost loved ones to the virus or are otherwise in the thick of this latest wave of infections. Even on Twitter, I pray along a lot more as I come across requests for prayer and other needs.

But I have a long way to go in keeping my anxieties in check, persisting in prayer, and trusting in God.