It’s all about the science (oversharing #4): I haven’t wept in days.

IMAG0662I’m starting to feel a hell of a lot better. Haven’t yet returned to the doc for followup, but I can tell my optimism is back; it’s a lot easier to smile; I haven’t wept in days (except at a particularly beautiful musical arranging moment by Brendan on our song “If You Believe,” which I cannot wait to play for you as part of Just Getting Good); it doesn’t require superhuman effort or tractor-hauling to get me out of bed in the morning; I don’t feel itchy or apathetic or like I’m crawling out of my skin; and I am nearly back to being myself again —as well as clearly a bit leaner, though still about 10-12 pounds heavier than I would like.
In this intricate dance of hormone balance and health which I’ve been chronicling over the past several weeks, here’s what is now DIFFERENT and appears to be helping:

  1. dialing back on the estrogen/progesterone, which I didn’t realize was being freed up/increased by my strength training – who knew??
  2. changing my longtime thyroid medication from Synthroid to Armour, which addresses the T3 as well as the T4 aspect of the thyroid (I actually think this is making a huge difference in my energy level)
  3. having ONLY one cup of coffee in the morning (as we get older the caffeine can affect our adrenal glands, contributing to anxiety and fatigue), and
  4. truly staying away from most sugar and carbs (except for one weekly “refeed”/carb festival).

The next paragraph is going to get super-geeky in the fat science department. Brace yourself.

It’s so heartening to see my trainer Ian Lane’s guiding principles being corroborated in the national news! Ian (who as a biochem student and varsity gymnast contracted Lyme disease, gained 100 pounds, and then shed it all very intelligently and systematically, using his passion for science and physiology to make it happen as efficiently as possible) advocates a low-carb, high-fat, low-sugar approach to nutrition. He can frequently be found battling it out on Twitter with traditionalists and others who disagree, citing study after study in the growing body of research on the subject (I believe he took on the venerable Dr. Sears recently and they had a lively debate)…and it was wonderful to see the New York Times headline last week echoing exactly what Ian keeps saying:
Cutting carbs, eating lots of good proteins and fats, including saturated fats, WORKS and is not harmful; in fact it is tremendously beneficial in many many ways (in the NIH study, markers of inflammation, triglycerides, and heart-attack-risk factors plunged as the low-carb high-fat group lost weight, as opposed to the traditional low-fat group). I certainly am feeling better already: more upbeat/energetic/even-keeled…

It’s amazing to hear from so many people on email and Facebook in response to my posts. Thank you so much for this wonderful supportiveness, and let’s keep the conversation going; there is such strength in community and we really can help each other. Let me know your thoughts! What’s working for you?

PS now that I’m not so much of an anxiety-ridden, weirdly itchy, exhausted, miserable mess, I will resume posting workouts. Here’s the last one:

3 sets of:

  1. single arm cable rows
  2. bent-over dumbbell rows
  3. bent-over lateral shoulder raises
  4. upright row with weight plate
  5. isometric chinup, otherwise known as TEN SECONDS OF TORTURE closely related to but harder than that ancient elementary-school demon, the flexed arm hang. This one is done with arms at about 90 degrees instead of with your chin above the bar. In my case, I struggle valiantly but end up inexorably descending little by little until I have drooped all the way down. This is known as “working to muscle failure” and is the best way to get stronger fast. It’s also psychologically almost impossible to achieve alone – the presence of a trainer or another person exhorting you to keep trying is the only way to make this happen, unless you are a MUCH BETTER PERSON than I.
  6. isometric wall squat, 20 seconds at each of 4 progressively more difficult positions farther and farther down the wall. Again, virtually impossible to do ALL THE WAY TO FAILURE by yourself.

Have you had similar experiences? Let me know!
(Those isometrics are such killers, and make you feel SO GREAT afterwards…)

PPS before I get back to practicing: I have discovered a little age-related bonus. Twenty-somethings all over the place are dyeing their hair grey; it is very cutting-edge and fashionable right now, my friends. MY hair is now suddenly coming in almost entirely silvery-grey at the roots, so that my wonderful hairstylist Meli no longer has to bleach it before putting on the blue. I feel like an iridescent mermaid.

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Cat’s in the cradle…

Spent the day busy and productive and focused on work. Mose doesn’t start school until next Monday, so he was in the house with us. I didn’t have a lot of time to hang with him, and in fact got annoyed more than once with his (occasionally noisy/interrupting) presence.
I finally played with him a little after dinner and told him a story, and he brought me up short: “Mama, I wish time would go slower when I’m with you.”

Way to cut right to the quick there, son.

Mose presents Mr Racing Car

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It’s all about the science (oversharing #3): chemistry and sleep and cleavage

The past week has been incredibly eye-opening – and by that I mean illuminating and brain-expanding as well as full of insomnia. Everything is okay again, but here’s what’s been going on. thinner

Have you ever read Stephen King’s “Thinner”? In that chilling novel, an overweight man gets his wish to slim down – due to supernatural forces he starts to shed pounds, and it seems wonderful and amazing. People compliment him; he feels energetic and light; life is rosy; and then…he can’t STOP losing weight. He becomes gaunt, emaciated, skeletal…and I won’t spoil the story for you but it’s definitely worth reading, and it reminded me of my recent experience.

Due to various womanly changes in my body over the past year and a half, my doctor prescribed some hormones. (In addition to thyroid which I’ve taken in small doses for years.) I did my research on this controversial topic, talked to friends who have been there, read this excellent book “The Hormone Cure” which I highly recommend…decided to go forward with the prescription, and for a while the results were nothing but fantastic. Hot flashes? Gone. Mood swings? Gone. Energy? Even-keeled and generally high, especially when I wasn’t eating much sugar. (I ran up the big hill in our neighborhood for the first time without stopping!) And wow, the side benefits: suppler skin! Juicy joints! Actual CLEAVAGE!!! It was quite amazing.

And then, just like in “Thinner,” it was all of a sudden too much. Soreness! Anxiety! Insomnia! Depressive thoughts! Apathy! More weight gain! Everything was way out of whack. Even playing my violin and singing, which is usually a 100% guaranteed way to lift my mood and make me feel better about the universe, was really not doing much for me at all. I started questioning my entire existence. My reading in the book and online told me the signs were pointing to high estrogen. Too much of a good thing. (My doctor agreed, and immediately recalibrated the prescription.)

What I did NOT realize until talking to my trainer Ian about this is how much of all of this delicate chemical balancing is closely related to nutrition and exercise. I mean, of course I realized that they’re important and can affect your mood, etc. – but here’s the actual science of it: strenuous weight-bearing exercise like the lifting I’m doing with Ian, and eating lots of good proteins and fats and fewer carbs, can FREE UP sex hormones in your body – actually UNBIND them so that they can become active – so that I was essentially doubling down on the changes in my chemistry. I was getting some through medication, AND I was freeing up MORE through my strict exercise and low-carb regimen. Basically, without meaning to I had turned myself into an estrogen factory.

Everything is much better now – meds are dialed back, and I have been feasting on pancakes this weekend…and I no longer feel like the world is about to end. I’m sleeping TONS better, and am about 1,000% more fun to be around than I was last week. Best of all, I am totally reinvigorated about music and can’t wait to get back to practicing. With or without cleavage.

And as I continue forward on this journey, I am more and more compelled to keep sharing these experiences – because these issues can affect us at any age. I’m realizing that if I had known more about the complex interactions of nutrition, exercise, hormones, mood, well-being, etc. long ago, it would have been SO HELPFUL. It would have affected my decisions about birth control pills; about sugar and carbs; about what to insist on discussing thoroughly with doctors; about all sorts of things that were just never talked about – they never came up with any health practitioners I had in NYC or Virginia or Boston or anywhere I lived.

I think – no, I am SURE – that what has gone on in my nutritional/physiological/chemical/hormonal past has directly affected my son in some way – in terms of food allergies, the fact that he’s got Asperger’s…I’m not asserting causality by any means, just hoping for more discussion and more HOLISTIC thinking in the future…so that what I consider mind-blowing “eureka!” moments of realizing connections can just be “well, of COURSE! Duh!” moments a few years from now. In any case, I am so grateful to be learning so much about all of this, and to be able to share it with anyone it might possibly help.

On the way to the grocery store.

On the way to the grocery store.

(Nota bene: About to post this, and I see that my dear friend Deborah has ALSO written this very day about cleavage, and gratitude. Regardless of my hormonal state, I can never hope to approach her natural gifts – but am grateful that she possesses them.)

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It’s all about the science (oversharing #2): I ran to the top without stopping.

I’ve decided to call these oversharing chronicles “It’s all about the science” because that is truly the essence of my trainer Ian’s approach. This is not about willpower, deprivation, or hard-core gym-rat behavior. This is simply about zeroing in on the absolute most efficient way to get results (in my case, reducing my body fat from its current 29% to a healthier 22% – I’ve gained 15 pounds in the last year as a result of the demon menopause – and this happens to so many women!! Hence my oversharing.)

Ian corroborates many of the views of Tim Ferriss, fellow Princetonian and proponent of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” “The 4-Hour Body” and general life-hacker strategies to save time and maximize outcome. Specifically what we’re implementing right now is the concept of very low-carb, low-sugar diet 6 days a week, and then a once-a-week “re-feed” to reset metabolism.  I’ve done the South Beach diet before, which includes the low-carb and low-sugar aspect but not the re-feeding – and the big difference here is the weekly system reset. I’m now on day 5 of the 6, and just as with South Beach I’m starting to feel like I have a LOT more energy without the added sugar.

I haven’t done anything smart like stock the kitchen with the right foods – so my current behavior looks like this:

  1. get really hungry
  2. get my husband to make coffee while I run to Panera and get breakfast “power sandwiches” with egg, spinach, avocado, cheddar and tomato
  3. remove the bread on mine, even though it is warm and tantalizing and smells incredibly good
  4. have coffee + half & half, and the insides of the sandwich
  5. feel very virtuous and surprisingly full.

Repeat similar behavior a few hours later, and occasionally have some carrots with almond butter, chicken with greens (oh! there’s frozen chicken in the freezer, excellent), cheese, nuts, yogurt, or a smoothie. More on that later…I don’t truly have my dietary act together yet, but I can feel that the huge reduction in sugar intake is definitely improving my energy level: this morning I ran all the way to the top of the giant hill in our neighborhood for the first time without stopping.

The top of the hill...

The top of the hill…

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Please UN-save the Oct dates, and save these new Dec dates instead

Hey all – the solo concerts/live recording of “Just Getting Good” that I posted about here have been moved from October to December (due to venue schedule and wanting to have more breathing room in general).

New dates, at the beautiful Atwater Crossing Circle X Theatre in LA, are Dec 11, 12 and 13. More details coming soon!

Atwater Empty Stage

Atwater empty stage – just add Val and video (and you!)


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Oversharing alert: reversing the insidious weight gain creep! with Ian Lane

Okay people: I’ve gained 15 pounds, and it’s time to get serious. I’m posting publicly about it for extra accountability and to see if I can help support anyone else facing similar issues. At the risk of oversharing, I think this is an important conversation because LOTS of my contemporaries, particularly the female ones, are battling the insidious creeping weight gain; so I say why not battle it together?

going into battle with Ian!

going into battle with Ian

My brief backstory: before age seventeen I was a mostly sedentary, rather chunky little violin player. Then in college, Army ROTC whipped me into shape for the first time in my life; it was a revelation to have so much more strength and energy than ever before, and to feel physically powerful as I never had; and I became irrevocably hooked on working out. Since then, I’ve generally been pretty healthy and fit, with small ups and downs in weight, but basically I’ve hovered around 117-118 pounds. At my most hard-bodied and svelte, I was a teeny bit lighter (around 114) – but I’ve been happy and feeling great anywhere up to about 120.

Last year, that thing that women rarely mention, but which every woman goes through, hit me EARLY and hit me hard: I’m talking, of course, about the demon menopause. (I just accidentally typed “meanopause,” which actually seems pretty accurate. This sucker is MEAN.)

I won’t go into all the myriad details now, but the one pertinent fact to this post is that I suddenly found myself getting heavier.

No problem, I thought – I’ll just cut out the cocktails, cut out the dessert, step up the workout intensity a little, and I’ll be fine just like always.

Hahahahahahahahaha. Continue reading

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Gratitude, volume 5 of 5

Day 5 of 5 in the gratitude game, instigated by David Reiley. This has been such a wonderful exercise – thank you, David!

Today I am grateful for :

The tower of 20 years of love. (1 panel for each year.)

The tower of 20 years of love. (1 panel for each year.)

1 – digital photography. I am lucky to have a really good short-term memory, but sadly lacking on the long-term side; I forget songs I’ve written, places I’ve gone, things I learned in college…and the ease with which we are now able to take unlimited pictures of things, and easily find them again later, is a HUGE boon to my life. I recently put together a “tower” of photos to celebrate Brendan’s and my 20 years together…and all the memories that came flooding back as I went through over 6,000 pictures were (mostly) wonderful and (ha!) new all over again. Accepting the fact that I will never be the person in my group of friends who can quote extended Monty Python skits, or remember Shakespearean sonnets from high school, has taken me a while – I used to think I was just a lesser person…but now I have stopped judging myself so harshly: I love the idea of simply assisting myself in gathering memories, and delighting in the fact that such tools are so readily available, on the little phone in my purse.

2 – unexpected friends. I’ve already posted about friends with history, who are so wonderful, crucial and important to me; and today I am also grateful for those who have come into my life relatively recently, and seemingly out of nowhere. It’s easy as we get older to “circle the wagons” and basically be closed off to new friendships; time is short, we’re way too busy to get to know anyone, and cultivating friends takes lots of energy. But now and then someone turns up who is special enough to warrant opening up that inner circle – and I am very grateful not only for the sense of wonder, curiosity and excitement that they rekindle in me, but also for the expansion and enlargement of my life.

3 – really good eggs. When I was 6 & 7 years old my family lived on a farm in rural Virginia, and our eggs came from our very own chickens – fresh, warm and brown and often double-yolked. Now, we are so lucky to have great farmers’ markets right near us, with amazing local eggs which I think are as close to the perfect food as you can get. The vivid yellow yolks from happy bug-eating chickens; the fluffiness of the way they cook up in the pan; and the dense nutrition packed within each egg…all of it is pretty miraculous. As our son’s food allergies have eased a bit, we’ve been able to give him baked goods which include eggs (SO MUCH BETTER than the eggless versions), and now also egg-yolk omelettes; he’s now thriving and healthier than ever.

Today I invite three more friends to join me in this game. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make public posts of three things you’re grateful for every day for five days. You might also choose to tag some friends (three suggested) to invite them to start the game each day. Deborah N. Hurwitz,Christine LarsonMichelle Sargent

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Gratitude, volume 4 of 5

Day 4 of 5 in the gratitude game, instigated by David Reiley:

Today I am grateful for:

1 – friends with history. There is nothing like the comfort of being with people who have known you forever, and I am so lucky and grateful to still be in touch with friends who have been in my life for decades. They are touchstones for my existence, and no matter how much time goes by without seeing each other, we can always pick right up where we left off – with no pretense, no trying too hard, just relaxing into the warmth of familiarity and acceptance.

They restored the cartoon cat to match the version from the 60's.

They restored the cartoon cat to match the version from the 60’s.

2 – gay people who have stood up to the police. Today I was at a meeting at the Black Cat Tavern in Silverlake, and learned about its history, as the site of the infamous Black Cat riot on New Year’s Eve 1967. Patrons were beaten and arrested for kissing at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and the riot that ensued had a direct impact on the formation of the Advocate newspaper, and ultimately to the sea change that has occurred in our society, allowing LGBT people of my generation to live more fully expressed lives thanks to the bravery of those who came before.

3 – air conditioning. I LOVE hot weather; I bask in it and truly enjoy high temperatures…and at the same time, walking out of the August heat blast into a cool, dimly lit room is one of the great pleasures of the modern world.

Today I invite three more friends to join me in this game. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make public posts of three things you’re grateful for every day for five days. You might also choose to tag some friends (three suggested) to invite them to start the game each day. S Nina GellertKaryn Joaquino ClemonsJanet Loughlin

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Gratitude, volume 3 of 5

Day 3 of 5 in the gratitude game, instigated by David Reiley:

Today I am grateful for:

This looks a lot like our car.

This looks a lot like our car.

1 – good brakes on our car. As I write this, in a coffee shop in Westwood after dropping Mose off at UCLA for the final day of his ID Tech camp, I am still pretty shaken up by a VERY close call we had on the freeway this morning. We were in the carpool lane, and a pickup truck braked hard in the lane to our right. The car behind the truck was following too close, couldn’t slow down in time, and clipped the back right edge of the truck, sending it spinning into our lane. I hit the brakes as hard as I could, and came to a stop about 5 feet from the front of the pickup, which was diagonally facing me.
We were incredibly lucky on three counts: 1 – our brakes were in great shape, so I was able to stop in time; 2 – I wasn’t speeding (which, I have to admit, I may have done if others in the carpool lane had been – I very much wanted to get Mose to camp by 9 AM); 3 – no one was following *us* too closely and so we were not hit from behind. (Also: our car, a little Prius C, is bright orange – I love it just because orange is my favorite color, and it’s easy to find in a parking lot, but it’s possible that the brightness and extra visibility to others may have helped us today, maybe even saved our lives.)
I have to learn the lesson of patience/not rushing over and over again. And right now I am so grateful to have been given the chance to learn it once more, with no consequence to me or my son other than some jangled nerves.

the Bikram poses

the Bikram poses

2 – Bikram yoga. While we’re on life-affirming topics, I must credit Bikram with so many good things ln my life over the past four years. This type of super hot, methodical and precise yoga has pretty much eradicated any back and joint pain I used to get; it has made my skin better; it has calmed me in a big way; and I find I rarely get sick. (I stopped for a while during 2 particularly stressful periods of work: the first time, I promptly got shingles, and the second time, a horrible sinus infection. I realize that doesn’t necessarily prove causality, but I then returned to Bikram and haven’t been ill since.) It has also been a huge boon for Brendan, who credits it with curing his stage fright.

3 – Dr. Feingold, of the Feingold Association Info Page. He is a San-Francisco-based allergy doctor whose dietary guidelines have helped tons of kids on the spectrum, or who suffer from ADHD and/or other issues. In our son’s case, following the Feingold program for the past nearly four years has been life-changing. We used to have a volatile, tantrum machine who would start the day with inconsolable freakouts over nothing…and when we learned about eliminating ALL artificial colors/flavors/dyes (for instance, the bright-pink Benadryl and bright-orange carsick medications the pediatrician had always told us to use! Gah!), as well as many naturally occurring salicylates, our son’s actual delightful personality emerged. Sweet, smiley artwork started to come home from school, replacing the angry paper-ripping scrawls that were there before. Where he used to have a complete meltdown if someone else took their seatbelt off before he did in the parking garage, he can now handle a truly terrifying experience like our near-accident this morning, calmly hug me “the tightest of all” and share in my relief and happiness to be alive.

Today I invite three more friends to join me in this game. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make public posts of three things you’re grateful for every day for five days. You might also choose to tag some friends (three suggested) to invite them to start the game each day. Erika Langley,Stephen BecktaMaureen Bailey McEachen

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Gratitude, volume 2 of 5

Day 2 of 5 in the gratitude game, instigated by David Reiley:

Today I am grateful for

at Place Pigalle in Seattle last week, celebrating a successful first reading of our newest musical BEAUTIFUL POISON. Photo by our collaborator Duane Poole.

at Place Pigalle in Seattle last week, celebrating a successful first reading of our newest musical BEAUTIFUL POISON. Photo by our collaborator Duane Poole.

1 – partnership. My amazing husband and collaborator Brendan has been my partner in music, writing and life for 20 years now. It’s hard to imagine my life without him, and he makes me deeply certain every single day that he is the RIGHT ONE for me. I think we share a certain insecurity which makes us strive each day to be worthy of each other…which might sound strange but it really works, and it only feels like we are improving with time.

2 – Ian A. Lane. Ian is an incredible young personal trainer who is working with both me and our housemate Christopher to get us in better shape. As a biochem student and varsity gymnast he developed Lyme disease, gained 100 pounds, and then shed it all very intelligently and systematically, using his penchant for science and physiology to make it happen. He is now training and consulting here in LA, and I am so grateful to be working with him on strength, flexibility, range of motion, balance (my weakest area), nutrition – all of it. He helped me prep for my SHACKLETON premiere this spring, and now is especially crucial to me as I prepare for my upcoming solo venture (and, possible TMI alert, face sudden interesting hormonal changes which are affecting me greatly…). Ian is vastly knowledgeable, generous, and utterly passionate about what he does, as all my favorite people are; as well as a trainer, he has quickly become a friend.

3 – community. As an only child in a small family I always yearned for the commotion/fun/togetherness of a larger tribe, and so now as a grownup, with an only child and a small family, I get to make my own. Over the years Brendan and I have had the privilege of inviting several dear friends to live with us (one at a time!), and it’s the best thing ever. Our son gets the benefit of extra love and good conversation and the different things you can learn from close adults who aren’t your parents. And we get the benefit of having fantastic people right here at home, helping out and bouncing ideas around and generally making life better…and then when/if they move on, they still feel like part of the family, and always will. Anne L. FifieldAndrew Volkoff,Christopher Fülling, I’m talking about you.



andrew volkoff




Today I invite three more friends to join me in this game: Andrew and Christopher, tagged above (I invited Anne yesterday) – and Rault Kehlor who will always be family to me. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make public posts of three things you’re grateful for every day for five days. You might also choose to tag some friends (three suggested) to invite them to start the game each day.

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