Book review: I’m (still) a believer

index11I admit this recent election has left me disheartened and disappointed. I keep looking for signs of hope. And I’ve found a few.

The nearly four million members of Pantsuit Nation on Facebook continue to share stories of everyday and heroic kindnesses they witness.  Good people across the country endeavor to “go high” when others “go low.” They’ve stood beside someone being harassed. They’ve bought coffee for someone in a hateful mood. They’ve refused to look away. Small things can turn into big things and remind us to start where we are.

One much quieter thing I did to improve my frame of mind was to read David Axelrod’s memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics. I’d heard David on NPR soon after the results came in and I detected in him the same search for hope that I felt.

Axelrod was infected by the politics bug as a child, when his babysitter took him to see John F. Kennedy speak. While he was too young to understand the nuances of JFK’s words, the message that he took away from that experience was simply this:

“…we are the masters of our future, and politics is the means by which we shape it.”

In the book, he traces his roots to his Jewish immigrant grandparents and his mismatched parents. David finds his way to college in Chicago and then a job as an idealistic young journalist tilting at the windmills of Chicago politics. He marries Susan and tells of the heartbreak when their infant daughter begins having seizures. The inability to protect her child from seizures as well as the devastating effects of the medications meant to control them leads Susan Axelrod to found CURE. 

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David begins taking a more active role in campaigns with Senator Paul Simon, whose refusal to sell out impressed him when Simon said, “I’d rather lose with principle that win by standing for nothing.”

As a journalist, Axelrod seemed to understand at an instinctual level that campaigns were about telling compelling stories. His earliest campaign efforts reflected that.

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While this narrative stops short of the most recent campaign it details not only the election of Barack Obama but also the challenges and issues he faced as President. Axelrod acted as a senior adviser through the first two years of the Obama administration then returned for the 2012 campaign.

It gets into the weeds of personality, policy, and politics as they tackle the housing meltdown, the auto bail-out, unemployment, deficits, stimulus, Guantanamo, healthcare, and more. It’s a long read. You might find yourself skimming a few of the weedier sections, as I did.

No one comes out as perfect here. Everyone made mistakes. There were some failures and a few embarrassing moments. Nonetheless, for this lifelong Democrat, it reminded me of all the good that was accomplished in the last eight years.  The reality is that in spite the current uncertainty, a President—no matter how “great”–can only do so much. Furthermore, the only way for us to shape the future is to stand up, be counted, and never stop believing.

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Everything changes. Again.

Warning: This post is directed to members and former members of Weight Watchers. Others may be confused by the talk of Points, the WW calculation that takes into consideration nutritional elements besides calories–things like protein, carbs, fat, and fiber. The program and formula have changed over WW’s 50 year history, causing much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Every time.

changeIn 2001, I weighed over two hundred pounds. How much over, I’ll leave to your imagination. It only took me two years to reach my goal. Am I just slow-learner or do I suffer from attention deficit issues? Maybe both? You can read about my weight loss journey here: Gains and losses go beyond the scale. But I’m not talking about that today. Today, fifteen years later, I’m talking about perspective, trust, and looking at the big picture when it comes to change. 

First, I know that the support and accountability I received from staff and other members at Weight Watcher meetings were key. Anyone can hand you a diet. That’s easy. But with WW I learned strategies to replace a lifetime of unhealthy habits with healthier ones and to make myself a priority. We commiserated and celebrated. Where else could I get applauded for losing two-tenths of a pound, eating only half a doughnut, or being able to cross my legs?
Long story short, I lost weight on the Points program, living on 19 Points a day with a few extras thrown in from a weekly slush fund we were given. The little extras were to make the program livable so we wouldn’t feel deprived. Back in those days, we still had to count Points for fruit. That seems like the dark ages now. Not as dark as the 60s, when you had to eat liver and couldn’t eat pasta, but still, dark.

I became a part-time leader when I retired from teaching. It seemed like a natural fit, passing on the lessons I’d learned and encouraging others along the path.  You can learn some of those strategies by clicking on the HH4HH tag on this page.
A few years later, Weight Watchers unveiled PointsPlus at leader training. All of our daily points increased from 19 to 26. You’d think we’d be happy. Nope. We were afraid. Everyone cried and fussed. Remember, leaders are successful Weight Watchers. We LOVED and were committed to the old program. We KNEW it worked. We KNEW we’d gain weight on this “new and improved” program. Who were they kidding? We whined,“I can’t eat that much and maintain!” and “Why do I have to change?” and “Can’t I keep going on the old program?”
What we were told, with a smile, was this: “Weight Watchers offers and supports the best program, supported by the latest research. If you don’t feel you and your members deserve the best, feel free to stick with the old program, but without our support.” Ouch.

Still grumbling a bit, we thought more about it. We realized something. With the new PointsPlus formula, while the points for some of our favorite foods (like carbs) had gone up, now all fresh fruit and most vegetables were free, as in ZERO points. Essentially what WW did was drag us (sometimes kicking and screaming) toward healthier choices. Under the old system a cookie and an apple were roughly equivalent choices, point-wise. In the new system, a cookie would cost you points, whereas the apple was free. Zero points.

Okay, I got it. I was supposed to eat more apples, fewer cookies. And I did. I also ate fewer processed foods, cut my oatmeal serving from 1/2 to 1/3 cup, and added fresh fruit to it rather than raisins. Small changes, really.

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Little by little, we adjusted. More people joined WW and lost weight. And if they’d never experienced any of the previous programs, PointsPlus was WW. And as always, it worked if you worked it.

Nevertheless, time and science keep marching on, so now, along comes the latest research-based (r)evolution, SmartPoints. And guess what! This time calories, sugars, and saturated fats were added to formula, so lots of the foods in the WW data base changed values. Again!  But, once again, they gave me MORE points to eat every day. Now I get 30. (Remember, I used to get only 19!) And I still get extras every week.

If I’m honest about how I’ve worked the program over the last few years, even though my daily target was 26, I ate about 30 points a day. I also traded my Activity Points for food, so that most of my extras remained (ahem) on the table. So this “big change” isn’t such a big change. For me. I changed which tortillas and salad dressing I buy. I use the bar code scanner on the WW mobile app more often to discover the best SmartPoints bargains.

While I no longer work for WW, I do trust them to provide me with the best program. And I still weigh in at a meeting every month, because as long as I stay at goal, it’s free. And because it works.
Thanks to WW, I weighed less on my 60th birthday than I did on my 50th. So now I try to keep the big picture in mind as I adapt to this particular change and continue to take baby steps toward a healthier me.

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