Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Low-Carb Diet Nothing New

I was in the supermarket the other day and just about every conversation I overheard was about low-carbohydrate dieting. Counting calories seems to be a thing of the past. Now everyone is counting “carbs.”

I have to smile when people refer to this whole low-carbohydrate mania as a new fad. New? Heck, 30 years ago, I bought a copy of a then-popular diet book that basically allowed no carbohydrates at all, and decided to give it a try.

The whole concept of the diet was that if Eskimos could survive on nothing but whale blubber and no fresh vegetables and live to be 85 or older, then non-Eskimos also should be able to. And in a lot of fancy medical terms that most laymen couldn’t understand (yours truly included) the book explained that when the body is deprived of carbohydrates such as sugar, flour, grains and potatoes, it is forced to eat its own fat.

Well, anything that could eat up fat sounded fine to me.

I read the book from cover to cover and decided that the diet was a dream come true. The basic rule was that any food that contained zero carbohydrates could be eaten in unlimited amounts. Essentially, you could eat 10 pounds of a zero-carb food, if your stomach could hold that much, and still lose weight.

The list of zero-carbohydrate foods sounded pretty exciting…at first. They included just about every form of meat and poultry imaginable plus eggs, butter, heavy cream, mayonnaise, cheese and most seafood, including butter-soaked lobster. A small amount of lettuce, which could be drenched with Roquefort dressing, also was allowed, to break up the monotony of all the meat.

The first week, my daily menu consisted of a cheese omelet with bacon for breakfast, a grilled chicken breast or pork chops for lunch, and a big, thick steak and a small lettuce salad for dinner. For snacks, I munched on fried pork rinds, hard-boiled eggs, cold chicken legs or a handful of macadamia nuts.

The first week, I lost 10 pounds. The second week, I lost five. By the third week, I was ready to sneak into someone’s garden, dig up a potato and eat it raw. I also was dying for a slice of bread, even one that was fuzzy with mold.

The diet book recommended putting a slab of meat between two slices of cheese to simulate a sandwich, but that illusion didn’t work for me. I wanted bread. I wanted to smell and taste yeast.

The book did contain a recipe for “faux” bread for the truly desperate. It was made by whipping up a meringue from eggs, then swirling the meringue into shapes that resembled bulkie rolls, and baking them till they were of a sponge-like consistency. The rolls (and I use the term loosely) then supposedly could be used just like bread. I tried the recipe and eagerly bit into one of the rolls. It was like eating a deflated rubber balloon, only with less flavor.

I also began to crave desserts, so every night, I’d whip up a big bowl of heavy cream and flavor it with artificial sweetener and vanilla extract. There was nothing I could pile the whipped cream onto, however, other than a slab of meat, so I’d grab a spoon and sit down and eat the entire bowl of whipped cream. I actually could hear my arteries clogging.

Still, I continued to lose weight. I should have been encouraged and happy, but by then, I was too obsessed with carbohydrates to care. I craved them. I needed them. I had dreams about them. I even wrote a poem about them:

“I used to dream of fancy things
like Cadillacs and diamond rings,
but since my carb-free diet started,
my dreams of riches have departed.
In place of jewels and cashmere stoles,
I dream of sugared donut holes
and cupcakes floating past my bed
on clouds of homemade gingerbread.
I’d gladly trade a T-bone steak
for just one bite of chocolate cake.
Yes, pile some cookies on my plate,
I’m sick of trying to lose weight!
A brownie, please! Don’t make me beg.
I just can’t face another egg!”

Not surprisingly, I finally allowed temptation to get the better of me, and went on a carbohydrate binge that lasted for three days. I ate mashed potatoes topped with crumbled potato chips. I dumped chocolate pudding on top of chocolate ice cream and sprinkled it with chocolate chips. I ate half a loaf of bread slathered with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff.

And I ended up with such a stomach ache, I nearly had to call a priest to administer my last rites.

And worst of all, in less than a week, I gained back all of the weight I’d lost, and then some.

Funny, but even now, thirty years later, whenever I smell bacon and eggs cooking, I get a terrible craving for a baked potato wrapped in a loaf of bread.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Money for the Bunny

An innocent little Easter bunny caused me to inadvertently act like a young kid last Saturday, and as a result, I humiliated myself in public.

It all started a couple days beforehand, when I decided to run a few errands and pick up some groceries. Before I left the house, I took the cash out of my wallet and counted it to make sure I had enough to cover everything I had to do. There was $120.

On the way to run my errands, I decided to stop at my mother’s house to say hello. We chatted for a while, and then I decided I’d better get going. I fished through my purse for my lipstick so I could do a “touch up” before I left. That’s when I noticed that my wallet, which was wide open, had no money in the bill section!

“My $120 is gone!” I cried. “I must have left it on the table when I counted it at home. I could have sworn I put it back in my wallet!” My voice quickly turned into a whine. “Now I have to go all the way back home and get it!”

“Don’t be silly,” my mother said. “I’ll lend you the $120. Just give it back to me when you find your money.”

I accepted her offer, all the while hoping that my $120 would indeed be lying on the table when I got home and not at the bottom of a puddle somewhere out in the driveway, or even worse, blowing down the street. Visions of my $20 bills hanging from tree branches made me want to forget my errands and just make a beeline for home.

As it turned out, the money had been in my wallet all along. I’d accidentally shoved it into a different compartment.

That Saturday, my husband and I took our mothers out to dinner at a restaurant in Londonderry. The minute my mother climbed into the car, I returned her $120 (well, actually, she had to remind me about it first, and then had to pry it out of my clammy little hands…but she got her money back).

The four of us enjoyed a nice dinner, and then decided to browse in the restaurant’s large gift shop. I drooled at the candy (Sky Bars, jelly beans, Necco wafers, chocolate fudge), tried on a few sparkly rings, fiddled with a music box and read a bunch of greeting cards.

And then I spotted it, sitting all by itself on a shelf…the most adorable Easter bunny I’d ever seen. Actually, it was a large baby doll wearing a fuzzy, bright- yellow bunny costume with floppy ears. The baby’s porcelain face was incredibly realistic looking with chubby pink cheeks and huge blue eyes with long lashes. For me, an avid doll collector, it was love at first sight.

Without thinking, I grabbed the bunny doll and rushed over to my mother, who was at the register, paying for some candy.

“Mom!” I called out to her, more loudly and excitedly than I’d intended. “Look at this Easter bunny! Isn’t it the cutest thing you have ever seen? And it’s only $24.95! Boy, I sure would love to have it!”

After I said it, I realized just how much I sounded like a little kid in a department store, begging for a toy. Unfortunately, the employees at the register also realized it…and so did several customers, all of whom turned to smile at me.

“Aw, Mommy,” one of the employees teased my mother. “Aren’t you going to buy your little girl that bunny for Easter?”

My mother burst out laughing.

As I stood there, my face growing hot as I heard other people also start to laugh, a female customer approached me and eyed the bunny, which I still was holding in a death grip. “You going to buy that?” she asked me.

I glanced at my mother, who was chuckling and shaking her head. “No, I guess not,” I said, frowning.

“Good!” the woman said and immediately grabbed the bunny around the neck. “Then I’ll take it!”

I resisted for a moment, not loosening my grip. But the woman seemed more than ready to engage in a tug of war for it, so I finally relented and let go of my precious bunny doll. After all, I didn’t want to be responsible for its decapitation or its bunny ears being savagely ripped off and left lying in a yellow heap on the floor.

As my husband and I and our mothers walked back out to the car, my mother asked me, “Out of curiosity, why did you come show that bunny to me instead of to your husband?”

“Because I knew you had $120,” I said.

She couldn’t argue with that.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Rip Van Roofer

There comes a time in every homeowner’s life when the roof on his or her house needs to be replaced. Unfortunately, that realization should have hit me about four years ago when water stains first began to form on the bathroom ceiling.

At first, I just painted over them, but it didn’t take long for the stains to seep through again, all brown and ugly against the white paint. When it got to the point where I would lie back in the bathtub and make a game of guessing what shape each water stain on the ceiling most closely resembled (one of them looked just like a three-legged horse, and another like a cigar-smoking turtle), I knew the time finally had come to call a roofing company.

My husband and I decided to get a galvanized steel roof. The thought of no more shingles blowing off in the wind, no more snow piling up on the roof, and a warranty that neither of us would live long enough ever to see expire, appealed to us. The price, however, was another story.

“I can sell a bunch of stuff on eBay,” I said to my husband. “I figure if we sell all of your power tools, all of my jewelry and the TV, we can at least afford the down payment. By the way, do we really need two cars?”

So on March 13th, we met with a sales representative from a local home-exteriors company and signed our lives away. “If we order the materials tomorrow, they should be here in about three weeks,” the man told us. “Then there are several other homes ahead of yours. We’ll call you and let you know exactly when we’ll be over to do the work.”

Two weeks later, I was awakened at about eight in the morning by my dogs’ frenzied barking. I have always been a night owl, which means that I usually go to bed at about five in the morning and sleep till at least noon. This particular morning was no exception. I was in no mood to be barked awake at eight o’clock.

“Quiet!” I yelled at the dogs. They immediately settled down. Just in case they decided to bark again, I reached into the drawer of my nightstand and dug out my earplugs, which I keep handy to block out my husband’s snoring. They are good for up to 29 decibels (even though my husband’s snoring is about 35). I stuffed the earplugs into my ears and within five minutes, I was peacefully asleep.

I crawled out of bed at about 12:30 and walked into the bathroom. The bathroom has a skylight in the middle of it, so I usually look up to see what the weather is like. As I stood there in my pajamas, yawning and scratching assorted body parts, I glanced up and saw a man standing near the skylight!

That’s when I heard footsteps on the roof. I vaguely recalled having heard something up there while I was in bed, but with the earplugs, the sounds were pretty muffled. There are always squirrels running across our roof anyway, so I’d just figured the critters had gained a few pounds.

I panicked. There are three skylights in our house: two in the living room and one in the bathroom. I suddenly felt as if I were the star of a peepshow.

My husband uses our tiny bedroom closet, so I keep my clothes in the larger bathroom closet. Frantically, I reached into it, blindly grabbed some clothes and dashed back into the bedroom to get dressed. Under the circumstances, I didn’t think taking a shower or a bath beneath the skylight would be such a hot idea…not unless I wanted to make the guys on the roof fall off from laughing so hard.

After I got dressed, slapped on some makeup and ran a comb through my hair, I finally went outside to see what was going on. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Half of our new roof already had been installed! Either these guys were really quiet workers, or I unknowingly had been in a coma.

When I emerged, the three men stopped to stare at me, their mouths hanging open. “You’ve been home all this time?” one of them asked in a way that made me suspect he was worried about what I might have overheard.

“Yeah, but I was sound asleep,” I assured him.

Their mouths fell open even wider. “You slept through us putting a roof on your house?” another one asked.

“It sure looks that way,” I said, eyeing their work. “Had I known you were coming, I would have set my alarm clock. But you’re…um…about four weeks early.”

“Turns out we didn’t have to order the materials after all,” another explained.

I smiled, thinking how shocked my husband would be when he came home that night and saw the new roof on our place.

The roofers said they probably could get everything done that day, but if not, they’d definitely finish it up the next morning. By the end of their workday, they’d completed about 75 percent of the roof, which I thought was pretty impressive.

When my husband got home, about a half-hour after the workers had left, he wasn’t nearly as shocked about the roof as he was about me sleeping through its construction (this, from a man who snores right through thunderstorms that are so loud, they make the windows rattle?).

Well, as it turned out, the roofers didn’t finish the roof the next day, nor the next, nor even the day after that. Why not? Because the moment they said, “We’ll be back,” the skies opened up and exploded with so much rain, I swear I saw animals lining up in pairs.

And which part of the roof didn’t they finish? The part over the bathroom ceiling…which now has an added assortment of huge new stains. I’m really going to miss the one shaped like a headless scarecrow.