Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Hangover

Here is a sampling of the fare I enjoyed in a three day span from Sunday to Christmas night:

A Turkey Dinner with ALL the Fixin's, A Candy Cane, Hershey Kiss Cookies, Homemade Waffles with Pure Maple Syrup and Bacon, Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cookies, Baked Stuffed Shells with Meatballs and French Bread, Lindt Lindor Truffles, Black Cherry Lambic Beer, Chocolate Coconut Pecan Pie, Lindt Lindor Truffles, Bacon, Ham, Homefries and English Muffins, Lindt Lindor Truffles, A Meatball Grinder on French Bread w/cheese, More Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cookies, A Nestle's Crunch Santa, A Milk Chocolate Santa, A Marshmallow Filled Chocolate Santa, , Baked Ham with Mashed Carrots, Peas and Biscuits, Lindt Lindor Truffles, Coffee with a triple shot of Bailey's Irish Cream, Lemon Lush (a decadent dessert that has a recipe so secret that if I told you it, I'd have to kill you, so don't ask), Lindt Lindor Truffles, More Lemon Lush....

This morning I feel like I just spent the week on a drinking binge in Vegas and my liquor intake was relatively low.

I won't step on a scale 'till after the New Year and a weeks worth of cardio and weights.

Does it seem bright in here or is it just me?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Littlest Angel

There are events in life which occur with such resounding force that the shock waves are felt for decades. The ripple effect of these events can be felt by those who where never present or even born when the event occurred. December 14, 1970 is the date of one of those events in my life and that of my family.

Its the day my brother died.

He was 1 month, 26 days old.

Derek was born in mid-October during the brilliance and splendor of Autumn in New England. I remember going to visit my mother and Derek in the hospital the day after he was born. My aunt and I drove over to Saint Margaret's hospital in Dorchester braving a chilly fall rain. As we made our way to the maternity ward we stopped at the gift shop. I begged her to buy a little doll dressed in baby-boy-blue, for my new brother. After what probably seemed like hours of groveling to her, she relented. I can't recall presenting him with my gift, but it became a fixture in his crib, at our home.

A new baby adds spice to a home, sometimes mild and sweet and at other times hot, unbearably hot. My mother was born high strung. If she were in school today she would be diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, PTSD or one of the myriad of other afflictions, abbreviated with letters. The month following Derek's birth was a mish-mash of highs and lows. The tenor of the household mirrored my mother's mood.

I can remember her crying uncontrollably, while smoking at the kitchen table while Derek was lying on the couch, surrounded by pillows.

I can remember sitting with my mother on the front steps of our apartment in Hyde Park. It was a warm Fall day and the trees were shedding their leaves. She allowed me to hold my brother while she watched, tentatively. I remember the smell of crisp fallen leaves while I cradled his tiny head.

I remember my mother and I laughing uncontrollably while I "helped" her change his diaper. He peed all over the two of us.

I remember my father (who was usually no where to be found) and mother fighting loudly, while I rubbed my brothers head while he lay in his crib.

The night of December 13, 1970 was a typical night in my childhood home. My mother downstairs smoking cigarettes and drinking tea. My sisters playing in their room. My brother Mark and I jumping on our beds in our room. Mark and I took Derek out of his crib and put him on my bed. We jumped around him while he lay in the middle. He didn't cry, he just seemed content watching us. We assumed he enjoyed the gentle jostling.

The next few days were a blur.

Who knows what traumas we block out of our minds. If we knew then they wouldn't be blocked, but open for examination. Some memories are best hidden from our consciousness.

I don't remember much about the day my brother died. I recall sadness, grief. I recall standing across the street from my house with the snow lightly falling, telling a schoolmate from my kindergarten class about my brother. I recall my mother promising me that they would bury my gift, the baby-boy-blue doll with him, so he wouldn't be alone. My mother brought me a flower from his funeral. We pressed it in plastic, and put it in an encyclopedia. From then, through my high school years, I would come across it when looking up something beginning with an "S" or a "T" and think of him.

My mother was never the same. From mid-October to December 14th every year until the day she died was torturous. She blamed herself for his death. The morning he died she got him from his crib for his morning feeding. She tried to get him to latch on, but he just wouldn't take her breast. She tried again and noticed that he was cold, motionless. He was gone.

"Crib Death" we were always told. When my mother passed in 1999 we found Derek's death certificate amongst her belongings. Cause of death: acute cardiac failure, emaciation.


That explained the years of autumnal depression. The years of self loathing and self destruction. I, myself, thought I played a role in his passing. For decades I thought that maybe that night we were jumping on my bed that we hurt him, somehow. It was no ones fault. Our frolicking on the bed had nothing to do with it. My mother gave him everything she had, unfortunately she barely had enough to care for herself. The well had run dry.

Christmas time was always bittersweet. Ghosts of Christmas past were not friendly specters guiding my mother toward redemption, but haunting reminders of inadequacies and failure. Someway, somehow, my mother was able to emotionally detach immediately the day after the anniversary of Derek's death each year and get ready for Christmas. I don't know how she did it, but she was always able to pull off Christmas without her emotions getting in the way of our enjoyment of the holiday. As the years went by her grief became more and more transparent until it got to the point where she was paralyzed by her loss and unable to find any joy in the season

The year Derek died and for many years following, there was a Christmas special on TV titled "The Littlest Angel". It was the story about a boy (played by Johnny Whitaker, Jodie on "Family Affair") who dies and goes to Heaven, but is allowed to go back to earth to get his cherished treasure box, so he may give it as a gift to the Christ child on Christmas. Each Christmas I imagined that Derek was the "littlest angel" and gave his favorite toy, his doll dressed in baby-boy-blue, to baby Jesus.

In August of 1999, when I received the news of my mother's death my thoughts immediately turned to Derek.

I imagined him welcoming my mother into heaven.

I imagined her sense of relief when he forgave her for not having enough to give.

I was comforted by the thought of them being together again.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Weekly Weigh In (week 2)

4 Lbs lost. No big deal. It is due to increased cardio and weight lifting, resulting in water loss, not fat. I have upped all of my weights to 3/4 of the amount I used to lift when I was in great shape a few years back (I am doing 35 Lb one arm curls, sets of ten, I used to do 45 lbs). My cardio workouts have increased in intensity, but have stayed at 30 minutes. I went to the gym 5 days last week. Diet is another story.

I haven't cut out any foods as it would be useless. I went to a Christmas party Saturday night and the Pats game on Sunday. When the holidays are over I'll deal with the food issue, which is always my biggest obstacle to my staying in shape.

Its funny that when I used to go out drinking a few days per week I was in better shape, than now, when my drinking binges are few and far between. I think I used to eat less when I'd go out drinking. Now instead of going out to watch the Sox or Pats at a sports bar I pound down a couple of pounds of boneless chicken wings takeout from the "Hangar" in Amherst or treat myself to a few canolli's and "snickers" cheesecake from La Fiorentina.

I might have to start going out drinking a few nights per week to get back into shape.......NOT! (In my best "Borat" voice)

Next weigh in is Christmas Eve. It will be a moral victory if I can stay at 231.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Learning To Glide

Visions of Bobby Orr flying through the air, parallel to the ice, arms raised in victory, weightless.

This is an image that is ingrained in my mind, as well as every man over the age of 40 who grew up in Boston. Hockey was king in Boston during the early 70's. The Red Sox were mediocre, the Patriots were less than mediocre and the Celtics were rebuilding after dominating the NBA for a decade. The Boston Bruins, founded in 1924, became the first franchise in the NHL hailing from the USA , but hockey always took a backseat to the other major sports. That is until 1966. That was the year Bobby Orr put on the Black and Gold and showed the NHL a brand of hockey that had never been seen before. Mr. Orr's play combined with his teams new found success started a hockey craze in the New England area that lasted for twenty years. In the time of political upheaval and societal changes Orr was a clean cut, hard working kid who embodied many of the ideals that held tight through out the small towns and burbs of the Northeast. Every parent wanted their kid to play hockey. Every kid wanted to be Bobby Orr. Whether it be on the asphalt of the street, outside on the local pond or organized in a rink, every kid played hockey.

I could always skate. I don't remember how I learned or what age I started, but from December to March each year my friends and I would skate wherever there was ice. We would skate on iced over parking lots, backyards flooded by doting parents or at the local MDC rinks. Except when playing hockey in organized leagues, we never wore protective gear. If you fell it was certain you would get a bump, bruise or in the worst case, a concussion. Winter seemed to fly by. We reveled in the cold. We were sad when winter was over and looked forward to the next year when we could see our breath again. Fast forward 30 years.

Times have changed. Kids don't play outside in the winter anymore. The hills and ponds that used to be filled with the sounds of children playing are now eerily silent. Cautious parents and the Internet have made winter a time to embrace our inner mammal and hibernate. I have found myself spending less and less time outdoors as each winter passes. From the warmth of my living room I stare out at the white and cold and recall the sting of the cold air on my cheeks while gliding across the ice. I signed my boy up for skating lessons.

Four weeks ago he strapped on skates for the first time. The first day on the ice was like watching him learn how to walk, but accelerated, times 365. He spent the first five minutes of the hour long class holding on to the boards and the next ten minutes lying on the ice making snow angels, minus the snow. The instructors at the rink have a hands off approach, so until he was ready to learn how to get up he was going to have to be content with crawling and watching. Eventually he tried to get up on his skates. The instructor worked with him for a few minutes showing him how to balance on one knee and push himself up to standing. Once standing he shuffled his feet in order to move then, upon feeling the slightest bit unsteady, would make himself have a "controlled" fall down to the ice, where it was safe. Each time he got up to standing, he shuffled a bit further and a bit further. By the end of class he and the other beginners followed the instructor slowly around the rink like ducklings following their mom.

At one point he broke away from the pack of about twenty kids. He had seen me watching from across the rink and started toward me. He had a huge smile from ear to ear as he moved cautiously over the ice in my direction. When he got about twenty feet from me I had a serious case of deja-vu.

I then remembered a morning in my living room when Matt was just a year old and a new walker. He walked from the foot rest, where he was balancing, to me sitting on the couch, across the living room. As he approached the couch he had a huge smile on his face. He fell into my arms and we laughed and hugged.

When Matt reached the glass and the boards from where I was watching he mouthed something inaudible then started back toward the other end of the rink. As he skated away I was filled with more pride and joy than I 've experianced as a parent to this point. Not because he is going to be the next Bobby Orr, but because he is happy, growing, learning and still seeks me out. I hope he knows that whatever he's doing, where ever he is, I'll be there... watching.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Weekly Weigh In

This is my first weekly weigh in. 235, same as last week.

That's a good thing. This is the first time since August that I haven't seen a weight gain when stepping on the scale. In the comments section of my last post you may have caught the comments by a one Shot-N-Voyzen, who is none other that my buddy Billy Harlow. He has been featured in a few of my posts namely, The Snow Game and Where Were You When. We have been friends (off and on...he, he) since we went on a golf trip to Florida together back in 1996. Back in the winter of 2001 we had a weight loss wager wherein he cheated on the weight he started at, thus appearing to lose more weight than I. We started a new contest yesterday and weighed in at the Northampton Athletic Club where I have been a member since quitting my job at the YMCA 18 years ago. He joined the club recently. I weighed in at 235, he weighed in at 236.

Why are Billy and I friends? I have asked myself that question many a time. We love to golf, we love to drink and most of all we love competition. Minutes before the weigh-in we had a heated game of H O R S E in the basketball court (which I lost). We were partners in our golf league at Beaver Brook for a few years. In the three years we were partners we won the league once, but didn't care about our competitors. Each league night each was intent on beating the other. We would play for money, but mostly for bragging rights while sitting around the bar throwing down some cold and frosties. I'm sure the "weight loss challenge" will be as intense as our previous contests.

Tune in next week.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Solomon The Milkman

Suldog, aka Jimmy Sullivan, my cousin, posted this piece on his blog today. It is about my grandfather. I never had a strong relationship with the Sullivan side of my family after the age of seven due to my parents divorce and my father's complete abandonment of me and my brothers and sisters. Through my cousin (who I reconnected with after a 38 year hiatus, through his blog) I am able to glean bits of family history and lore through the eyes of a third party, without the "spin" of my parents. I first read this story last year and got a kick out of it because when I moved from Boston, MA to Northampton, MA (100 miles west, but thousands of miles apart culturally and philosophically) in the late seventies I experienced a similar situation with many of the Puerto Rican kids in my neighborhood who "Ricanized" my name.

Without further adieu, the classic story telling of my cousin, James S. Sullivan:

I'm going to tell you about my Jewish roots.

My grandfather Sullivan was a milkman for H. P. Hood for many years. He told this story, which took place during the days when he did his route on a horse-drawn wagon.

His route traveled through the Mattapan section of Boston, which at that time was almost exclusively populated by Jewish families. Now, some of the people to whom he delivered milk thought he was Jewish. They thought his name was Solomon, not Sullivan.

I'm not positively sure how this assumption came about, but it's not a stretch to imagine what might have happened. Someone in the neighborhood probably asked what his name was and he (or, more likely, one of his customers with perhaps an Eastern European accent) said, "Sullivan", and whoever had asked the question, with the idea already in mind that he might be Jewish, heard "Solomon". That person told someone else, and so on.

It was possible. My grandfather didn't have the map of Ireland on his face like I do. He could have passed. Since he delivered milk in a Jewish neighborhood, his customers might naturally have assumed that he was Jewish, too. I don't suppose he would have had any reason to disabuse them of this notion. He probably figured it wouldn't hurt business to let them keep on thinking it.

Anyway, one day while he was doing his route, some of the older Jewish men called for him to come down off of his wagon so that he could help them meet the required numbers for a minyan; that is, so that they could have enough for prayer service, which required at least 10 men.

They yelled to him, "Solomon! We need another for a minyan! You got time maybe?"

My grandfather was sharp enough to know what they were talking about. He had been delivering milk in that neighborhood for some time, so he was familiar with words and phrases and customs that an Irishman might otherwise not be expected to know. The question was, what should he tell these men? Should he spill the beans and let them know that he wasn't really named Solomon, but Sullivan? That he wasn't Jewish, but Catholic, and that his ancestry was Irish and French?

Well, my grandfather figured it this way: Who did it hurt if he helped them out? As long as they thought he was Jewish, God wouldn't be mad at them for including an Irishman in their prayer service, and he also figured that God would probably look kindly on him for doing the old Jews a mitzvah. So, my grandfather parked the wagon and made the minyan for them.

He faked his way through by following the lead of the others. Having attended Catholic mass for many years, he knew he could probably get by with indistinct mumbling as long as he did the right body motions, so he kept his voice low and bowed when they did and so forth. Afterwards, the old men thanked him and he got back on his wagon and finished his route. Of course, from that day forward there was little doubt along Blue Hill Avenue that Tom Sullivan (that is, Solomon The Milkman) was Jewish - and a fairly devout Jew, at that.

Therefore, if someone calls me "Solly", instead of "Sully", I won't complain. My grandfather wasn't really a Jew, but he played one on his milk route.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higi'anu laz'man hazeh. (Amein)

Happy Hanukkah!

Monday, December 03, 2007


I have officially maxed out. My weight has reached an all-time high. Up until three summers ago I was doing a good job fighting father time. Yes, I was still binge drinking on occasion and making some shitty dietary choices, but besides that, I was working out 5 days per week and getting plenty of rest.

Then the kids came.

My oldest son is 4 3/4. Until he was about 1 1/2 it was pretty easy to maintain my health. He was still eating baby foods and hadn't developed a taste for foods with cartoon characters plastered all over the packaging. My wife and I, although tired and stressed from new time constraints, were able to manage getting into the gym 4-6 days per week depending on our schedules.

Then Pete was born.

As soon as my wife went back to work after the birth of Peter in Spring of 2005, our number two son, the weight started piling on. At first it was just the usual winter weight gain associated with the change in season. As soon as the cold weather hits and the light starts fading I start craving potatoes, breads, soups and most anything that has a high caloric count, especially carbohydrates. This, being in conjunction with the holiday season always translates to a 15-20 lb weight gain between Sept 1st and January 1st. Its been that way with me since I got out of High School. Usually between January 1st and April 1st of each year for the past twenty years I spend my winter in the gym, mostly because there is nothing better to do. I played a lot of Basketball, did a lot of cardio and lifted lots of weight.

The first winter after Peter was born ('05-'06) I was back in the gym as usual, but my weight loss was slow. I hadn't gained any more weight than usual, I had all but stopped my nights out drinking, but my diet was out of control. All my old childhood favorites were back in vogue thanks to my elder son Matt's burgeoning taste buds and his love of commercials. Instead of having a salad with diced boneless chicken for lunch I was having PBJ's, Grilled Cheese or when I was completely lazy, McDonalds or Friendly's.
That year I never dipped below the 200LB mark, but teetered around 205.

The following winter ('06-'07) which was last year I was up to about 220 on January 1st. I spent the first week of the new year back in the gym, eating healthier and on my way back below 200 for the summer. Then my feet gave out. I had woke up one morning and my foot was twice its normal size. I tried to go to the gym anyway thinking I could work it out and it would go away. A week later it was still swollen. I spent a month icing my foot, heating my foot, massaging my foot and by the time February rolled around the damage was done, I was 228 and really out of shape. I had never taken that much time off from the gym in 20 years and it caught up with me quickly. In the past my diet was never the biggest issue because I was in the gym every day, so I burned off everything. If I wanted to lose a few and look good for the summer season I would eat less carbs and more veggies and lose some. If I put on a few pounds it never looked bad because I am 6 feet tall with a 46 inch chest, so bouncing between a 34 inch waist and a 36 inch waist I still looked OK. I never got below 215 this past summer and although I knew I was heavier than I should be, I felt OK so ignored it.

I have complained recently about my weight to people and the response is always "you look good" or "you're not overweight". I have a frame that carries weight well, but I see my self naked in the mirror and its not pretty. My Body Mass Index puts me in the obese range (BMI doesn't take into account lean muscle mass, just overall weight).

As of this past Friday I weighed 235 LBS. I am still going to the gym 5 days per week, but my eating is out of control. I am constantly tired. I have a gut, not just a little spare tire or love handles. I have had a hard time bending over to tie my sneakers and have considered getting Velcro (just kidding, but I can understand the appeal). I don't think I'm too far gone and I think 195 can happen by March. Here is the plan:

1) Make an appointment for a physical to take place no later than the Ides of March.

2) Stop the cold weather/holiday weight gain immediately after I decorate my Christmas Tree tonight. I will gorge on Christmas cookies and hot cocoa, then no crap until Christmas Eve. Cold Turkey!

3) Get my "pre-kid" workout routine back intact and be back to all of my former cardio and weight lifting numbers. (The cardio is not far off, but the weights are another story)

4) Drop 40 LBS by my physical.

This will work because having the physical will give me incentive (I don't want a lecture from my doctor). The food will be easier after the holidays as long as I can be strong during lunch time when the kids are begging for Micky D's or in the morning when they want a "Donut Party", which is their name for a dozen donuts from Dunkin Donuts, mine too! The bottom line is that I am going to be 43 March 1st and if I don't turn it around now, with my genetic history and addictive personality I will be taking a dirt nap by the time I'm 60. At the top of the page is my weight tracker and I will post my progress each Tuesday after my Monday weigh-ins. Any help you all out there in the blogosphere can give would be appreciated. (I am a catholic school boy so guilt works great on me, but I'll resent you forever). My hope is that by posting this endevor here it will be an insurance policy against giving in to my insaitiable sweet tooth. Now excuse me while I plan my tree decorating dessert menu. YUM!!