To audit one’s elderly eating habits: sensible or obsessive?

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(Edited excerpt from Boot Camp for the Bonus Years, November 2015.) In which I scrutinise my almost perfect diet for ways in which I should improve it, if any.

Auditing my eating habits was one of the official challenges of my Boot Camp for the Bonus Years. But truthfully, I couldn’t imagine why this one was on the list, because (as Smugilla said) my eating habits were superb.

According to any checklist of a healthy diet, I passed with flying colours. I was a walking talking role model of the ideal elderly eater.

For example, I ate masses of vegetables and fruit every day, not for scientific reasons but hedonistic ones. I cooked for myself from scratch every day. I drank enough water, I think. I took no supplements (or medication).

So stick my old face on a banner, said Smugilla. Erect a statue of perfectly nourished moi in Civic Square or outside Macdonald’s for all to worship.

Pretend I never said that

Let’s start again.

No, I haven’t audited my eating habits formally but I have been thinking about them. So have you, because we can’t avoid it. Almost daily we’re told about some new research with implications for our personal diet. Do eat salmon, don’t eat salmon. Do/don’t drink coffee. Do/don’t consume dairy products, red wine, gluten, black tea, bread, chocolate, pasta, potatoes, tuna, sauerkraut. Almost any food item may be cited as a magical cure for every disease known to mammals, or a lethal package of toxins, or an endangered species or all three.

Think think think about what you eat day after day, week after week? This is no fun, and anyway, you can’t win.

Maybe I tweaked my nutrition a tiny bit in that year of being old. Maybe I didn’t. Must I really give up chocolate brownie? Am I really supposed to have two alcohol-free days a week? Must I eat sardines twice a week?

Well, bugger that. Very very good is good enough.

Pleasure good. Evangelism bad.

People get religion over nutrition. They preach, they proselytise, they pooh pooh, and it’s not pretty. I hear myself doing this from time to time. ‘You should eat Brazil nuts for the selenium,’ I hear myself say—yep, I can turn into an evangelist at the drop of a hat, and yet what you eat is none of my business.

This realisation hit me with a wallop many years ago. On the one hand, my vegetarian friends used to pressure me to eat a horrible, coarse, prickly leafy vegetable called comfrey, for some daft egg-related reason. On the other hand, a dear friend’s son (living in a commune at the time) suddenly died of liver damage as a direct result of eating comfrey.

That’s probably why I have resisted auditing my own eating habits. Because then what?

You do your thing. I’ll do mine.

I eat what I love. I love what I eat.

That is healthy and positive and excellent advice for all and sundry.  I’m not about to dish up a plate of advice: if you eat the food you love and love the food you eat, then you might be eating very differently from me. Enjoyment is the key.

Thank you, Celia and David

I deserve no credit for my healthy diet: I just do pretty much what my parents did. Lifetime habits are hard to overcome, thank goodness. Just as my mother did, I cook every meal without fuss but with great speed and enthusiasm.

Speed is part of the fun. At lunch time I run down the stairs and on the second-to-bottom stair I decide what to eat. The menu depends on the contents of the fridge, the weather, the day’s plan, and a whim.  In the evening, I enact another old-fashioned habit. As Celia did, every day I make a main meal of meat-(or fish or eggs or cheese or tofu or lentils or some other protein)-and-3-veg.

Our Dad did his part, growing veggies, milking Daisy the cow, feeding the chooks. As kids we used to sing or say grace with every meal: we were formally, loudly, and quite musically thankful for our food. That’s healthy too. I don’t do that now but I do make embarrassing appreciative noises — whether over a simple mushroom omelette and salad, a lazy ploughman’s lunch, a tagine of chicken, olives and preserved lemons, a Japanese assemblage, a weird Bhutanese chilli-and-blue-cheese vegetable stew, a toasted sandwich—whatever.

A hierarchy of food habits

So there will be no audit of my eating habits. I’m not going to start a nitty-gritty food diary and I will continue to take the food-of-the-day with a grain of salt.

Instead I’ll just keep my priorities straight.

  • Food as fun.
  • Variation in colour, taste, and texture.
  • Joy in the making (or arranging) and eating and sharing.

Beyond that (granted that I’m a veggie-lover), the vitamins will look after themselves.

Disclaimer

If or when I get sick, I’ll be the first to use nutrition as a first line of defence and to take advice from experts.

Image: from “Larkin housewives’ cook book; good things to eat and how to prepare them” (1915) Larkin Co.

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Singing through migraines

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Me caught in a dazzle of sunlight: something like a migraine aura

A few weeks ago, 200-odd people sang Donizetti’s Requiem to an appreciative audience in the Wellington Salvation Army Citadel. And one of those 200 people was me.

I love this annual workshop, organised by the Wellington Region of the New Zealand Choral Federation. Anyone can join in, anyone at all! On Friday night we start learning an interesting choral work under an exciting director. 24 hours later we perform it, with stunning soloists. In a word, it’s a buzz — intensive learning in a supportive crowd, culminating in one all-or-nothing performance.

The migraine obstacle

Only one problem: I usually get a migraine and don’t make it through to the performance. Staring at little black marks page after page. Sunbeams striking at a particular angle. Bright lights. Heavy concentration. Yep, that’ll do it. But if I go home I’m still happy and satisfied, because I’ve still had most of the experience.

The challenge is always, how long can I last? Two hours, four hours, six hours?

A well-designed score and cunning tricks almost save the day

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Some years we sing from scores that look like ants on the march. They’re tiny, cramped, more black than white, barely readable for me. Usability: fail. Page design: fail.

But the Donizetti score has good margins and layout and plenty of white space. Yes, that helps! I placed myself where the sun didn’t shine, took aspirin, drank loads of water and in short played all my anti-migraine cards. Almost made it.

Perfect timing: singing blind

The audience is waiting. We’re ready to perform. The beautiful soloists walk in. The conductor raises his baton … uh oh, is his face a tiny bit blurry?

Here comes the aura, a shimmering zig-zag lightning that grows and moves along its own sweet path. The conductor is a blank. The score is a blur. But I can’t leave now.

I know the first bit. And I feel fine, just blind, no other symptoms. I won’t lip-synch, I’ll sing. And I do, for the entire performance.

I make concessions. I skip the risky bits, like all those fabulous ff opening high notes. My greatest dread is of singing during a solo — imagine that!

The aura wriggles away in time for the applause. I’m fine, really just fine.

Life lessons for me

  • Learn your music really really really really well. I mean really.
  • You’re not a soloist. A kindly crowd will carry you through.
  • Adapt to circumstances.
  • Do your best. Your best is good enough.
  • Listen to the music in the migraine.
  • Rejoice!

Waiting: it’s a hobby

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The seminar would be late starting, because of a technological hitch.  The famous choreographer said, “I’m good at waiting. It’s my hobby.”

This startling statement has stayed with me longer than any of his brilliant insights into dance. I decided to adopt this hobby myself. Since then every slow queue, every delayed airline, every lonesome minute in a cafe or a dentist’s lobby is an event in itself for me. I’ve got to wait anyway: why fret about something I cannot change? Waiting is not a void: it’s an event.

A friend said, “What I don’t like about waiting is the fact that nothing is happening.” But something is happening: you are waiting.

A glimpse of angry waiting

I went to Warehouse Stationery for a small urgent printing job. One machine was out of action and a staff member away sick, so there was going to be a delay. OK, can’t change that. In bustled an upset person with angry hair.

P. from K. “I’m a proofreader and I’ve just come in from Karori” (a 15 minute bus ride) “and my job will only take two minutes so can you do it straight away?”
Staff. “I’m sorry / delay / 15 minutes / machine / away / queue.”
P. from K. Repeats her speech.
Staff “Many people are waiting, that lady” (me) has been waiting a long time.” (Actually only 5 minutes so far.)
P. from K. (To me) “I’m a proofreader from Karori, etc, will you let them do my job first?”
Me. “No, that will throw everybody out.”

P. from K. then rushed off town to find another printer willing to do her job instantly. Which would have certainly taken longer than 15 minutes.

Waiting under a tree

I understood her position. I felt sorry for her. And life had handed me the gift of ten minutes to ponder on the mysteries of waiting. I sat on a bench and watched clouds racing each other across the sky. Was I witnessing celestial road rage?

  • Does angry waiting sprout from that deadly seed, a sense of entitlement? This is always puzzling to an outsider: why should a proofreader from Karori take precedence over a writer from Mt Victoria? A Hummer over a VW Golf? Storm cloud over fluffy white cloud?
  • Does angry waiting hurry things up or slow them down?

Some waits are harder than others. Waiting for test results. Waiting for news of a life-and-death nature. Waiting for news that will determine your future. You feel frightened, powerless and frustrated.

But when these life-or-death waits occur I try to at least remember that waiting can be a positive thing. To perceive waiting not as a vacuum but a state that I experience for better or for worse. To wait mindfully. Perhaps to fill my mental waiting room with small good things and thoughts and helps and hopes. I can’t change the outcome, but at least I can avoid contaminating others with the toxin of my angry waiting.

Let me remember the tree and let the clouds do what they will.