Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Best Albums of 2013

2013 was a particularly good year for music, and the 100 full-length albums (no EPs) on this list are a reflection of that.  They include a diversity of music ranging from old-style soul to Swedish dance-pop, and generally feature alternative rock, R&B/soul, indie rock, and inventive pop music.  I also tend to like music that is up-front, rather than hidden by layers of production.

I have  numbered and described the top 50 and listed the others as “Honorable Mention.”  The numbering is somewhat random, because on any given day, I might want to hear one album ahead of any other, and each of the “Honorable Mention” albums could easily have made the top 50. 

Here is my list in ascending order:

50.          Gin Wigmore, Gravel & Wine

This New Zealand-based singer-songwriter sounds something like a higher-energy Amy Winehouse.  This is her second album, and includes “Black Sheep,” “Devil in Me,” and “Dirty Love.”

49.          The Dear Hunter, Migrant

Casey Crescenzo, formerly of The Receiving End of Sirens, founded this Providence-based band, which released this, their first album, that blends a range of musical styles with Crescenzo’s expressive vocals.  Songs include “Whisper,” “Shame,” and “Old Demons.”

48.          Amel Larrieux, Ice Cream Everyday

I’ve always like the luscious sound of this Manhattan-based, jazz-infused vocalist, but it’s been six years since her last full-length album.  However, she picks up right where she left off with songs including “Afraid,” “You Don’t See Me,” and “Don’t Let Me Down.”

47.          Capital Cities, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery

The first album from this Los Angeles-based band displays their potential as an interesting blend of pop and techno musicianship.  Songs include “Safe and Sound,” “Kangaroo Court,” and “Chasing You.”

46.          Kings of Leon, Mechanical Bull

Consistently one of the better American bands in terms of their songwriting and musicianship, this Nashville-based quartet consists of three brothers and a cousin—all named Followill.  This is their sixth album, and it includes “Supersoaker,” “Beautiful War,” and “Wait for Me.”

45.          The Sounds, Weekend

This Swedish band often makes my “Best Of” lists because of their infectious pop-rock.  This, their fifth album, continues that trend with songs like “Shake Shake Shake,” “Hurt the Ones I Love,” and “Great Day.”

44.          Kelela, Cut 4 Me

Kelela Mizanekristos is a Maryland-based artist who specializes in moody, base-driven songs that create a lush, enveloping sound.  This, her debut album, features songs including “Do It Again,” and “Bank Head.”

43.          New Politics, A Bad Girl In Harlem

This Danish trio moved to Brooklyn before releasing this, their second album.  The songs, combining a post-punk sound with dance rhythms, include “Tonight You’re Perfect,” “Harlem,” and “Give Me Hope.”

42.          Disclosure, Settle

Guy and Howard Lawrence comprise the English electronic duo known as Disclosure.  On this, their first full-length album, they have enlisted the support of a number of vocalists to produce a very listenable and danceable set of songs including “Latch” and “You and Me.”

41.          RJD2, More Is Than Isn't

Philadelphia-based Ramble John Krohn performs under the name RJD2.  A prolific producer, both for himself and others, he has released nine studio albums since 2002, and this one is a gem, combining a wide range of musical styles, occasional vocalists, and inventive uses of instruments—both real and synthetic.  Songs include “Temperamental,” “Her Majesty's Socialist Request,” and “Descended from Myth.”

40.          Lissie, Back to Forever

Elisabeth Corrin Maurus from Illinois performs under the stage name, Lissie.  Her music is hard to categorize other than to say her songs combine terrific tunes and lyrics with memorable themes.  Those songs include “Further Away” and “I Bet On You.”

39.          Katy Perry, Prism

It’s easy to focus on the public persona of Katy Perry (born Katheryn Elizabeth "Katy" Hudson), as well as her romantic attachments (the latest is John Mayer), while forgetting that she has produced some very good music, including this, her fourth album, which features songs like “Unconditionally,” “Dark Horse,” and “Roar.”

38.          The Front Bottoms, Talon of the Hawk

This New Jersey-based indie-rock band is essentially Brian Sella and Mathew Uychich.  Their music is smart and their lyrics are interesting, while containing enough bite to keep them in the rock genre.  Their fourth album contains songs including “Au Revoir,” “Skeleton,” “Twin Size Mattress,” and “Funny You Should Ask.”

37.          Makua Rothman, Sound Wave

Best known as one of the top professional surfers from Hawaii, Makua Rothman has morphed into a very good singer-songwriter, and this album combines Reggae sounds with island beats on songs like “Lovely” and “One Voice.”

36.          Kait Kerrigan & Brian Lowdermilk, Kerrigan-Lowdermilk Live

I rarely include live albums on my “Best Of” lists, but this is a chance to hear one of the best songwriting teams in modern musical theater performing some of their best songs with excellent vocalists.   Those songs include “Hand in Hand,” “Run Away,” “Sadie,” and “Shut Up and Listen.”

35.          Matt Hires, This World Won't Last Forever, But Tonight We Can Pretend

Tampa-based singer-songwriter Matt Hires has put together an excellent album worthy of repeated listenings, including “Forever,” “The Sound of Falling in Love,” and “All That’s Left Is You.”

34.          Chrisette Michele, Better

New York-based Chrisette Michele consistently produces some of the best R&B available today.  Her fourth album is another example of her outstanding vocal prowess.  Songs include “A Couple of Forevers,” “Better,” “Love in the Afternoon,” and “With Love.”

33.          Jillette Johnson, Water in a Whale

As far as I’m concerned, Jillette Johnson is at her best by herself at the piano.  But she also offers songs of other styles and instruments on her outstanding debut album, including “Torpedo,” “Cameron,” and Pauvre Coeur.”

32.          Rudimental, Home

On the debut album from this British electronic quartet, they enlisted the help of some of today’s top artists, including John Newman, Foxes, Emili Sande, and Alex Clare, and the result is a set of terrific songs such as “Feel the Love,” “Not Giving In,” “Right Here,” and “Free.”

31.          Superchunk, I Hate Music

This North Carolina-based quartet has been recording infectious, high-energy, pop-rock for more than 20 years, but this is my favorite of their albums, for its timeless rock riffs on songs like “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” “Low F,” and “FOH.”

30.          Forever the Sickest Kids, J.A.C.K.

This Texas-based post-punk band has put together their best set of songs yet on their third album.  You will definitely be tapping your toes to these songs, including “Chin Up Kid,” “Nice to Meet You,” “Count on Me,” and “Rebel.”

29.          Michael Franti & Spearhead, All People

When I think of Michael Franti & Spearhead, I start humming their delightful melodies and singing Franti’s meaningful lyrics.  This, their eighth studio album, is in keeping with their other work, and I’ve been humming/singing, since it was released.  Songs include “I’m Alive,” “Life is Better With You,” and “Let it Go.”

28.          Generationals, Heza

This New Orleans-based duo of Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer previously founded The Eames Era.  This, their third album, presents an upbeat brand of pop-rock, with songs including “Spinoza,” “Put a Light On,” and “Awake.”

27.          Charli XCX, True Romance

21-year-old Charlotte Emma Aitchison performs under the name Charli XCX, and she has already had an impact on modern electronic dance-pop, between her two solo albums and her work with other groups such as Icona Pop.  This outstanding album includes “You (Ha Ha Ha),” Set Me Free (Feel My Pain),” and “What I Like.”

26.          The Strokes, Comedown Machine

In five albums, this New York-based quintet, led by Julian Casablancas, has established itself as one of the best and most consistent bands in modern music.  Their tunes are inventive and very well played, and Casablancas’s signature vocals are immediately recognizable.  This album includes “Tap Out,” “One Way Trigger,” and “Chances.”

25.          Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob

Since 1999, the Quin twins of Calgary have been producing excellent music, while adapting different styles and approaches to keep them on the cutting edge of the recording industry.  This album is another fine offering by this outstanding duo, and it features “Closer,” “I Was a Fool,” and “How Come You Don't Want Me.”

24.          Christina Grimmie, With Love

New Jersey-based Christina Grimmie combines a lush voice with superb piano skills on this, her first full album, comprised of songs that she wrote.  This is a very talented young (19 years old) woman with a bright future ahead of her.  If you want to get in on the ground floor of a promising career, this is the album for you, featuring “With Love,” “Feelin’ Good,” and “My Anthem.”

23.          The So So Glos, Blowout

This Brooklyn-based rock quartet has released four albums, and this is by far the best.  Officially, their music is listed as “punk,” but don’t allow that label to undermine the musicianship they demonstrate on this album, with songs like “Lost Weekend,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “Speakeasy.”

22.          Elton John, The Diving Board

The Diving Board is the 31st studio album by Elton John.  Written with long-term collaborator Bernie Taupin and produced by T-Bone Burnett, it is his best work in a very long time, displaying a sensitivity and musical prowess that has been missing from Elton John’s more recent work, with songs like “Oceans Away,” “Home Again,” and “Mexican Vacation.”

21.          Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Lickety Split

Robert Randolph, from Florida, is best known for his work on the pedal steel guitar, and his band displays a joy of making music that is missing in a lot of recent corporate-produced recordings.  His brand of funk is powerful and fun, and he is assisted on this album by several musicians including Carlos Santana.  Songs include “Amped Up,” “Brand New Wayo,” and the classic “Good Lovin’.”

20.          Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time

21-year-old Sky Ferreira is both beautiful and talented, and she displays both (see the full album cover—not the iTunes version) on this spectacular debut album.  This is a very good collection of rock-tinged songs including “24 Hours,” “I Blame Myself,” “You’re Not the One,” and “Love in Stereo.”

19.          Paramore, Paramore

Paramore is one of my favorite bands, and the Tennessee-based trio continues to record rock music of the highest quality.  Although this is their fourth album, it is the first with an eponymous title, and as usual, Hayley Williams vocals are powerful and pure.  This is a very good album by one of America’s best modern rock bands.  Songs include “Grow Up,” “Still Into You,” and “Hate To See Your Heart Break.”

18.          CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe

In their debut album, this Scottish synth-pop trio combines catchy tunes, lively hooks, indie-style vocals, and electronic beats to come up with one of the year’s most entertaining set of songs, including “The Mother We Share,” “Lies,” and “Strong Hand.”

17.          Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady

Known for her striking looks, outrageous outfits, and consistently good music, Atlanta-based Janelle Monáe has become a true presence in the modern music scene, and the outstanding soul-tinged tunes on this album warrant the attention they are receiving.  Those songs include “Electric Lady,” “PrimeTime,” and “Dance Apocalyptic.”

16.          Clairy Browne & The Bangin' Rackettes, Baby Caught the Bus

I just love the music produced by this nine-piece Australian band, which combines 60s soul with modern production techniques to produce a toe-tapping, sing-along style of music that dares you to avoid dancing, or just moving in your chair as you listen.  Songs include “Love Letter,” “She Plays Up to You,” and “Walk of Shame.”

15.          Daft Punk, Random Access Memories

French electronic duo Daft Punk is so iconic that LCD Soundsystem released a song in 2005 named “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.”  On this, their fourth album, not only is the music better than ever, but they have enlisted the help of some of the best vocalists recording today, including Pharrell Williams and Julian Casablancas.  Aside from the megahit, “Get Lucky,” songs on this album include “Instant Crush,” “Fragments of Time,” and “Doin’ it Right.”

14.          Lucius, Wildewoman

The debut album from this Brooklyn-based quintet is breathtaking in the depth and lushness of its sound.  Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig met at Boston’s Berklee School of music, and the band they founded is just a joy to hear.  Songs include “Turn it Around,” “Tempest,” and “How Loud Your Heart Gets.”

13.          Set It Off, Cinematics

I’m not sure how to describe the debut album from this Tampa-based band.  Do you call it post punk? Prog rock? Symphonic rock?  I just call it a great collection of wonderful songs of which I can’t seem to get enough.  Those songs include “Nightmare,” “Partners in Crime,” and “Kill the Lights.”

12.          Lorde, Pure Heroine

If you slept through the year or never listen to music, maybe you missed the megahit, “Royals,” but everyone else has taken notice of 17-year-old Lorde (nee Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor), and we have been wowed by the songwriting and vocal prowess of this lovely young New Zealander.  Songs include “Royals” and “Team.”

11.          Brendan Benson, You Were Right

Brendan Benson’s influence on modern music is undeniable, whether through his six excellent solo albums or his work with the Mood Elevator and the Raconteurs.  This Michigan-based artist just makes good music, and this album is no exception.  Songs include “It’s Your Choice” and “I Don't Wanna See You Anymore.”

10.          Haim, Days Are Gone

The three Haim sisters (Este, Danielle, and Alana), with drummer Dash Hutton, have combined make one of the most listenable albums of 2013.  Combining folk-rock style vocals with R&B-influenced rock music, this Los Angeles-based band has released a debut album that demands attention as well as repeated listenings.  Songs include “Falling,” “Forever,” and “The Wire.”

9.            Zedd, Clarity

Anton Zaslavski, better known as Zedd, has been producing electronic albums since 2009, but the remarkably successful “Clarity” is his debut album, bringing together different styles of music and outstanding musicians and singers to perform the songs, which include “Spectrum” (featuring Matthew Koma), “Stay the Night” (featuring Hayley Williams), and the title song, “Clarity” (featuring Foxes), which Zedd has remixed in several different ways.  This is a terrific electro-pop album.

8.            Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You

This Virginia-based singer-songwriter first achieved success with the New Pornographers, but with each of her three recent solo studio albums, she has increased her range and versatility.  This may be her best effort to date, but it merely portends the heights that this wonderful artist might reach.  Songs include “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” “Night Still Comes,” and “Man.”

7.            Editors, The Weight of Your Love

This British alternative rock band was founded in 2002, but finally settled on the name “Editors” in 2005, and have released four albums since.  They are musically excellent with darkly expressive vocals and melodically complex tunes, and this album is an superb example of their many talents with songs including “A Ton of Love,” “The Weight,” The Sting,” and “Formaldehyde.”

6.            Icona Pop, THIS IS... ICONA POP

The Swedish duo of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, on their first full-length album, produce techno-dance-pop that is well-produced, infectious, and thoroughly enjoyable.  I might consider it a guilty pleasure, but there’s no way I can listen to this album without tapping my toes and singing along with lyrics like “You’re so damned hard to please, we gotta kill this switch, you’re from the seventies, but I’m a nineties bitch.”  Songs include “All Night,” “I Love It,” and “Girlfriend.”

5.            Ariana Grande, Yours Truly

At the age of 20, this Boca Raton-based singer has already appeared on Broadway (in “13”) and released this debut album that demonstrates her remarkably clear voice and unlimited potential.  It might be easy to discount her as just another pop artist, but this is a young woman of substance about whom and from whom we’ll be hearing for years to come.  Songs include “The Way,” “Better Left Unsaid,” and “Almost Is Never Enough.”

4.            BOY, Mutual Friends

The Swiss/German duo of Valeska Steiner and bassist Sonja Glass (aka BOY) released this debut album in Germany in 2011, but the US release waited until 2013.  The album draws its influences from anti-folk and indie-rock.  The music is substantive, the lyrics are interesting, and the vocals are clear and eminently listenable.  Songs include “Waitress,” “Little Numbers,” and “Skin.”

3.            Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

New York-based Vampire Weekend has released this, their third album, and once again demonstrated why they are one of the very best bands recording today.  With each album, they increase their range and musical capabilities, while always providing high-quality songs and musicianship.  This album demands repeated listenings, with songs including “Unbelievers,” “Step,” and “Diane Young.”

2.            Arcade Fire, Reflektor

It’s hard to heap enough praise on Arcade Fire.  Each of their four albums is among the very best music available in the given year.  They combine complex compositions with amazing musicianship and thought-provoking lyrics.  If you want to know what modern rock music should be, look no further than Arcade Fire.  Songs on this album include “Reflektor,” “Here Comes The Night Time,” and “Afterlife.”

1.            Beyoncé, BEYONCÉ

As 2013 reached its close in mid-December, Beyoncé shocked the recording industry by releasing this album through online outlets without any previous hype or promotion.  It is clearly the most personal and reflective work to date from the woman who may be the most talented triple-threat artist on the planet—and every song on the album has a corresponding video.  With the production help of husband Jay Z, Beyoncé has used this album to trace her life and career so far, starting with recorded introductions from her already-successful youth through her recent motherhood of Blue Ivy Carter, who is also featured on the song, “Blue.”  Other featured artists include Jay Z, Drake, and Frank Ocean, and while the songs may be less dance-oriented than previous releases, they generally demonstrate a depth and lushness that have previously eluded this multi-platinum artist.  Songs include “Pretty Hurts,” “Blow,” “Superpower,” and the sadly beautiful “Heaven.”


The following are all excellent albums that deserve Honorable Mention (listed alphabetically by artist):

·                     Alkaline Trio, My Shame Is True

·                     Alter Bridge, Fortress

·                     Andrew Cedermark, Home Life

·                     Barenaked Ladies, Grinning Streak

·                     Ben Rector, The Walking in Between

·                     Beth Hart, Bang Bang Boom Boom

·                     Biffy Clyro, Opposites

·                     Bobby McFerrin & Esperanza Spalding, Spirityouall

·                     Brett Dennen, Smoke and Mirrors

·                     Brown Bird, Fits of Reason

·                     Caitlin Rose, The Stand-In

·                     Camera Obscura, Desire Lines

·                     City and Colour, The Hurry and the Harm

·                     Darling Parade, Battle Scars & Broken Hearts

·                     David Bowie, The Next Day

·                     David Garza, Human Tattoo

·                     Device, Device

·                     Echosmith, Talking Dreams

·                     Elvis Costello & The Roots, Wise Up Ghost

·                     Eric Clapton, Old Sock

·                     The Fratellis, We Need Medicine

·                     Hands Like Houses, Unimagine

·                     Hellogoodbye, Everything Is Debatable

·                     Icon for Hire, Icon for Hire

·                     India.Arie, SongVersation

·                     Jake Bugg, Jake Bugg

·                     James Blake, Overgrown

·                     Jamie Cullum, Momentum

·                     Joe Bonamassa & Beth Hart, Seesaw

·                     Miley Cyrus, Bangerz

·                     Mixtapes, Ordinary Silence

·                     MS MR, Secondhand Rapture

·                     Natalia Kills, Trouble

·                     The National, Trouble Will Find Me

·                     of Montreal, Lousy With Sylvianbriar

·                     OneRepublic, Native

·                     Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold

·                     Queen V, The Decade of Queen V

·                     Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork

·                     Relient K, Collapsible Lung

·                     Rilo Kiley, Rkives

·                     Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest

·                     Sleigh Bells, Bitter Rivals

·                     Telekinesis, Dormarion

·                     Train, California 37: Mermaids of Alcatraz

·                     The Uncluded, Hokey Fright

·                     Wallpaper., Ricky Reed Is Real

·                     Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt

·                     Wheeler Brothers, Gold Boots Glitter

·                     3OH!3, Omens

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Slimmer at Sixty

The Diagnosis

It started in late November of 2012, when my primary care physician, Dr. Martin P. Solomon, told me I had Type 2 Diabetes, with an A1C level of 8.2.  To be certain, the good doctor had been warning me for years, referring to my condition as “morbidly obese” (no one said he was tactful) and “pre-diabetic,” but I thought that all I had to do was cut back a little on sugar and I’d be fine.  I was, of course, kidding myself.

At first, I told no one other than Joni and Alex about my diagnosis, and I met with Michelle McKeehan, the Nurse Practitioner in Dr. Solomon’s office, who explained the disease and that all carbohydrates become sugar in your system.  She also explained that muscles process sugar more effectively than fat, and she told me I had two options: either go on medication (which has its side effects) or immediately start to lose weight and change the way I approached my life and my eating and exercise habits.  She also suggested that I meet with a nutritionist as soon as possible.

The Process

I scheduled an appointment with Marc O’Meara, a nutritionist at Brigham & Women’s hospital who specializes in diabetes and who explained that the primary way the brain knows that the body has eaten is through protein, so every meal should contain protein.  He also said that I need to exercise portion control, and that if I do eat any carbohydrates (even fruit or wine), I should eat at least an equal amount of protein.  This has been my approach to food since that first meeting, and I have completely cut out sugared soda and high-carb desserts.

In terms of exercise, I knew I couldn’t get started without some real help, so I worked with Eric Stutman and Amelia Kuhn at One2One Bodyscapes in Wayland, MA.  They taught me how to warm up and stretch properly, and how to exercise so that I was building strength in all parts of my body.  With their help, I lost a considerable amount of weight, but more importantly, I learned how to exercise properly.

Unfortunately, and through no fault of Eric or Amelia, I aggravated a 30-year-old spinal condition known as spondylolisthesis, so I paid a few visits to my chiropractor, Dr. Jim Dolan in Needham, MA.  I often refer to Jim as a magician because he uses gentle manipulation to realign me in a way that more traditional medicine seems to overlook.  In this case, not only did he relieve my pain, but he taught me a series of exercises that I still use every day to strengthen my body and protect myself from further injury.

By this point, summer was about to start and Joni’s rehabilitation from her extensive spinal surgery (they rebuilt her neck with metal rods and screws) was coming along nicely, but we both knew she would need a health club with a swimming pool to get to the next level.  In addition, I wanted to step up my exercise schedule, and the cost of both of us continuing to work with personal trainers would be prohibitive.  We did a weeklong trial membership at the Longfellow Club in Sudbury, and while it was fine, we didn’t feel that the pool was right for her situation.  So, we joined the Bosse Sports Club in Sudbury, where Marco Cosentino and his team have done a spectacular job helping Joni’s rehabilitation.

I also started going to the club 5-6 times per week and using their wonderful facilities (it really is an awesome club) to continue exercising.  By this point, I spend an hour per visit on the Cybex Arc Trainer (a kind of elliptical machine), which I now set for the highest level of “weight loss.”  I then continue by stretching and using the exercises I learned from Eric, Amelia, and Jim, as well as some of Bosse’s trainers.  After that, I take advantage of the Jacuzzi, sauna, and showers, which complete my two-hour (almost) daily visits.

I check in regularly with Dr. Solomon and Michelle, who both monitor my progress and are there to remind me if I start to regress.

The Results

So far, I have lost about 60 pounds (a number which varies slightly from day to day based on what I’ve eaten or drunk).  That weight loss hasn’t changed much since June, but I’ve been working to transform the fat I still have into muscle…this is a much longer process (at my age).  I’ve successfully reduced my A1C level from 8.2 to 5.8, which is in the “normal” range.  I still have much more to go, with my eventual goal being a total loss of 75-80 pounds, while continuing to improve my muscle tone and keeping the diabetes in check.

However, please don’t consider me the poster boy for good health.  I spent the last forty years being sedentary and gluttonous, and my weight had ballooned to 252 pounds (on a 5'6" frame—in other words, really fat).  Nine months of somewhat good behavior doesn’t excuse that, but hopefully, by writing this, I can encourage others who may be in a similar situation to try to turn their lives around as well.  I realize this will be a battle I fight for the rest of my life, and I hope I never lapse back into my previous transgressions.

Keys to Success

Today is my 60th birthday; hence the title, “Slimmer at Sixty.”  I would have preferred “Fit at Fifty,” but alas, that didn’t happen. So, I’ve considered the factors that have worked for me so far, and I will share them here:

·   Be the general contractor for your body’s renovation.  Just as a building general contractor hires the plumber, roofers, siding/windows specialists, etc., you have to decide which professional resources will best help you along your journey.  As you saw from my process, that may include a wide range of medical and exercise specialists.  This should be determined by your situation.

·   Allocate your resources as needed.  It’s amazing how much money you can save on food by eating healthy, and how much you can spend on exercise and other options.  You have to decide where to spend money and where to save it.  In my situation, I’ve allowed the trainers to “train” me, so I don’t have to be tethered to them permanently, but I joined a more upscale health club because I realized I would need to spend a lot of time there.  However, some people really benefit from having a trainer who can prescribe exercises and vary them as needed.  In the end, each of us should determine how much money to spend and where to spend it.

·   Build a support network.  Whomever you live with has to be on board, supporting you in your effort.  You don’t want people around you who will constantly sabotage you by suggesting you try a dessert or a martini.  In my case, I was very lucky that Joni, Alex, and most of my friends were so supportive.

·   Find food options that work for you.  When Marc suggested I eat Greek yogurt, I said, “yeah, right.”  Then I found Sofia’s Greek Pantry in Belmont, where I could buy yummy, homemade Greek yogurt and sweeten it with stevia (an all-natural, calorie-free sweetener).  This is just one example of finding ways to build your diet around what is best for your situation.  People will tell you how they lost weight or how they think you should eat, but aside from your medical professionals, the best advice you can get is from your own body…it will tell you what it needs.

·   Try not to eat late.  I know that’s easy to say, but it’s not so easy to do when your body feels like it is starving (or you’ve had a few glasses of wine).  All I know is I rarely lose weight when I eat after 10:00 PM.  The best approach is to drink a lot of water (even if it makes you go to the bathroom every 10 minutes).

·   Don’t stop exercising.  When people ask me how I feel now, I usually answer “sore.” Let’s face it, exercise can do that.  But it’s important that you don’t keep putting it off.  I rarely feel like going to the club, but I feel really good afterward, knowing that I’ve done it.  That’s why, if you’re going to join a health club, it should be near to your home.  Of course, like everything else, exercise should be done in moderation.

·   Keep your mind occupied while exercising.  Just because your body is stimulated, it doesn’t mean that your head is into it.  Some people hate exercising indoors, in which case they should find outdoor options.  Personally, I appreciate the consistency that a club can provide, so that works for me, as long as I have my music and headphones.  I’ve provided a list of workout songs that I use at my blog at  I also bought (Bose) Bluetooth headphones (which I use with my iPhone) so I don’t keep hitting the wire with my arms and throwing my iPod/iPhone on the floor.  Bosse also allows me to view one or more TVs, which I usually set to CNN and/or ESPN, so I can watch the scrolling news at the bottom of the screen. (Some people watch the Food Channel, which I find immensely disturbing during exercise.)  However, many people bring their tablet devices and read or watch movies, and of course, there’s always a good book.

·   Don’t be discouraged when the weight doesn’t come right off.  If nothing else, I’ve learned that the body will lose weight when it’s ready to lose weight.  Sometimes, I look at the scale and think, "How could I have not lost (or gained) weight, given what I ate yesterday?"  The key is to take a long-term view of your process and know that if you change your approach to eating and exercise, the improvement will happen.

·   Don’t view it as a “diet.”  People think of “diets” as temporary processes to reach a desired weight.  If you view your approach as such, you will gain the weight right back.  I have tried to view this as a long journey toward restructuring my body and keeping it as such.  However, if I ever lapse back to my old ways, I hope that Joni will remind me of what I’ve accomplished and still have to accomplish on a daily basis.