Sunday, October 7, 2007

Swimming upstream

Disclaimer: This post is a lot like "Random thoughts of Roxanne - part three." Mostly, I wrote this so I could have a record of my thoughts as I move forward. I put minimal effort into being entertaining or informative.

I've been back in the states for a little over two weeks. The first week was a blur of jetlag, school and teenage drama. Things need to be settling down now and I've been examining life.

Let's face it, like all human beings, each population/country/community lives in a particular pond colored with particular varieties of algae, etc., so to speak. The problem is that you can't see what's coloring your pond until you're out of it. As an outsider, I was able to see Italian inefficiency in a way the Italians can't. Italians speak of inefficiency like Americans speak of stress - like it is an evil that we'd like to be without, but are resigned to living with as a force bigger than ourselves.

I knew coming back that I didn't want to fall back into the overly-stressed, crazy, unhealthy American existence that I swam in before. I lost 14 lbs in 2-1/2 months in Europe, all while eating cheese and chocolate in Amsterdam, Jacqueline's fantastic cooking in France, and pasta and gelato in Italy. It doesn't seem logical that I could lose 14 lbs in 10 weeks while not struggling, counting calories (or weightwatchers points), sweating in a gym with a group of other sweaty people, and while eating the very foods that we are advised to avoid.

I've identified some differences that are useful to note:

  • First of all, in Amsterdam, I walked a lot. In France and Italy, I walked much less, but still had some physical activity. However, it was "useful" activity, such as walking somewhere I needed to go, or was taking a stroll to go sightseeing. I didn't have to take an hour out of my day to go walk in place on a treadmill or jump up and down in a gym. Because these cities were built up before the automobile, they are not "car friendly" which is in contast to American cities (and certainly Tukwila) which are not "pedestrian friendly."
  • Healthy foods are readily available. In Amsterdam and Italy, the grocery stores were laid out in a one-way entrance/exit pattern. The first department that you walked through was the produce department. Also, the produce was fresh, typically local (with some exceptions like bananas, etc.) and of high quality. There were no mushy, pink unripened tomatoes. By contrast, in the U.S., unhealthy foods are difficult to avoid. When entering most grocery stores, the first department you pass is either the deli or bakery, with enticing smells of ready-made food.
  • Differing notions of fast-food. In Amsterdam, their notion of fast food (with the exception of patats-frites) are small portions of various fritters or the herring (see In France, their notion of fast food is perhaps a "jambon buerre" (a butter and ham sandwich on a baguette) or fruit. In Italy, it was freshly made wood-fired pizza that you bought by the gram. It was thin-crusted did not have cheese oozing all over like American style pizza.
  • Overhwelmingly, the major distinction is that people the European countries that I visited this summer do not snack. They sit down and eat three square meals a day (perhaps with the exception of the Dutch, who typically eat a light lunch of soup or a sandwhich and then a heavier dinner early like Americans). Even along the autoroute in France, there are no drive throughs. Europeans do not eat and drink in their cars. Period. Poor Marlo ate breakfast in the car this morning on her way to work.
  • Europeans take time to eat, enjoy their food and conversation. Typically, the French would be horrified at having an hour to get lunch, wolf it down, and get back to one's desk. They would probably say it was bad for their digestion (digestion seems to be a French obsession). Considering that it takes your brain 20 minutes to even realize you are full, it is not surprising that Americans overeat. When was the last time it took you longer than 20 minutes to eat even your dinner? Also, when they eat, they eat and converse with one another. One day at Jacqueline & Pierre's we ate dinner late and beforehand we were watching the news to see the weather report. When Jacqueline brought dinner to the table she cried, "Oh! We're not going to watch TV and eat like the Americans!" She was trying to tease me, but I actually agreed with her.
Anyway, since I've been home, I have been taking my lunch to school with the exception of a couple of days where I was going to meet people. On the days where I went out, I found it difficult to find fresh, unprocessed food. The first day I got a salad loaded with fresh veggies on top and the second day I ended up with a bowl of chili at the Burke Cafe (I forgot my coat at home and didn't want to wander further). The chili actually tasted like they had added sugar to it. Is chili supposed to be sweet? I'm going to start making Marlo lunch to take to school as well because there just isn't quality food being served to kids. Plus, let's face it, Marlo doesn't have genetics on her side from either her father or myself.
The food is actually an easier issue to handle, besides the pitfalls, than the stress. I'm actually looking at how does one reduce stress in life without becoming an automatic "no" to everything? I don't want to become one of those people who say "no" to everything because they are too busy or too tired or too whatever. I want to be available. However, it is Sunday morning and I'm wiped out. I went to school all week M-Th, on Friday I had an early morning doctor appointment (where I verified the 14 lbs lost - whoo hoo!), then had lunch with my old boss, Scott, and then went out to dinner with a friend in the evening. Saturday morning, I drove Marlo to work, was supposed to go work out with Melanie, but she hurt her back, and then worked for an attorney getting her practice back up and running after her maternity leave from 10-4. After that, picked up Marlo from work, had dinner with my parents to celebrate my good grades and met up with a friend for drinks. Today, I need to finish writing this blog, do laundry, clean the house, read homework, get showered, have a pedicure, pick up Marlo from work, do dinner, and then I'm meeting a friend to watch movies around 8:30. Whew!
In looking back on my few weeks home, I can see two things that would help manage the stress: (1) my physical environment. I need to get moved into a new apartment ASAP. It is more stressful than one would think living out of half-packed boxes and climbing over a teenager in a small one-bedroom apartment. (2) include my friends in everyday activities. This somewhat relates to #1, because I cannot entertain in my current apartment. However, once I move it would be a lot easier to just have friends over for dinner or watch movies. This is because it doesn't take any extra energy to cook more food that I am cooking anyway; and I'd be able to skip the whole getting ready, driving to meet them, eating out thing - which takes too long and is unhealthy anyway.
I'm still exploring the stress issues. I am committed to living a healthy, enjoyable and fulfilling life, without sacraficing one thing for something else. Anyway, as much as I'd like to spend my Sunday curled up on the couch with a nice book and a cup of tea, the laundry beckons so I'll end my rambling here.

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