Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Christmas tree

It's my Christmas tree with all-pink ornaments. This year I got a reindeer throw rug to go under it. I love December 17th because it's exactly one week before Christmas Eve, which is my favorite day of the year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Test results

Finally got the results of my latest blood work. My fasting blood sugar is 95, which is back in the "normal" range and I'm out of danger! No pre-diabetes for me, thank god (to coin a phrase). I put "normal" in quotation marks because of the input of Dr. Emily Lindner, who's a great general practitioner who helps with hormonal imbalances. She's the one who has guided me to clean up my diet (rather than seek more drugs) and has been 100% right so far. She says a truly healthy fasting blood sugar level is somewhere around 70-85, so I've got room for improvement.

And how long do I continue to abstain from all sugar, grains, dairy, caffeine and processed foods? She said to give it eight full weeks and then it's a matter of when my menstrual cramping stops. Eight full weeks takes me to the third week in January, which gets me completely through the holiday season - oof! It won't be easy, but I'm willing to eat very well during the holiday period so I can avoid having a painful holiday period.

I'm stunned to hear that it's possible, even at my age (48) to live without any menstrual cramps at all. Apparently, once you've completely detoxed your body and regained hormonal balance, you can have your period with no symptoms! Can you believe it? I can't, but I'm determined to run the experiment. I'll let you know if it's true.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Single and dating again? Never mind.

Without that old desperation to find a man -
Without that old certainty that I'm a total loser without romance in my life -

- I just can't work up much interest in dating. So, never mind the online dating websites and keeping a constant eye out for available men. It's not a priority for me now.

I love being divorced. I feel so much more peaceful.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"


[I originally posted this on January 5, 2006 and it's my tradition to re-post it every December.]

Here’s my summary of the History Channel's Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas which I find extremely relevant to the annual discussion of the true meaning of Christmas. The following historical facts are from the History Channel program, but the opinionated statements are mine.

Christmas Started Without Jesus

It turns out that early Europeans were observing a winter solstice celebration centuries before Jesus was born. In Norse country it was called “Yule” and it lasted for as long as the enormous “Yule log” took to burn, which was about twelve days. In preparation for the cold, dark season people would kill almost all their livestock since they couldn’t feed them through the winter. The feasting and general revelry that resulted became the annual Yule celebration.

In Rome the winter solstice marked the period known as “Saturnalia.” During this festival people drank, behaved raucously and generally overturned the normal social order. While this was going on, the upper classes of Rome worshipped Mithras, the sun god, whose feast day was December 25th and who was believed to have been born in a field and worshipped by shepherds.

Early Christians didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth, focusing on his resurrection (which makes a lot more sense to me), but by the fourth century the new Church needed to establish Jesus’ holy birth, so it began to put together the nativity story. It knew it would never manage to outlaw the pagan traditions already in place, so it appropriated them and that’s how December 25th became Jesus’ feast day.

It Had More Sex Than Saints

In England during the middle ages, the pious went to church on December 25th for “Christ’s mass,” but for most of the population it was just a regular day. Most of those who celebrated made it a festival of drunken revelry and sex that would look more to us like Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve. It was a saturnalian free-for-all with little connection to Jesus except in name.

By the 17th century the Puritans had had enough of this and they made attempts to outlaw Christmas in both England and the New World. These devout people saw Christmas as a depraved tradition that had to be stopped. It didn’t work, but the holiday was greatly downplayed for a long time, as evidenced by the U.S. Congress being in session on all Christmas Days for its first 67 years!

America Needed a Tradition

When the United States were established in 1776, the early Americans wanted to rid themselves of all things English, including Christmas. But over time they also needed new culturally shared holidays and a reinvention of Christmas was on the horizon.

One new aspect of the American Christmas was how it addressed the growing class divide of the industrial U.S. In the early 1800’s the holiday became quite dangerous as working class people turned it into a time of violent payback for the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. In response to growing economic imbalances, writers like Washington Irving and Charles Dickens created works of fiction that instilled a spirit of generosity and demonstrated sharing wealth with the poor. These popular stories gave the upper classes guidance about what their responsibility was to those who had less and established “giving” as a central Christmas theme. Christmas now gave people a chance to correct some of the socioeconomic unfairness of newly industrialized America.

The view of the family was also changing. Traditionally, the American family was supposed to discipline children and turn them into hard workers, but by the end of the 19th century the family was seen more as a nurturing body that protected childhood innocence. Christmas, with its emphasis on giving gifts, allowed people to pour attention on children without seeming to spoil them. The holiday became a celebration of children, honoring them with presents and sharing in their joy.

Why Shopping Is Central

The creation of the American version of Santa Claus in the mid-1800's did a few things: it reinforced the idea that Christmas distributes wealth, it solidified the focus on children and it removed gift-buying from the marketplace and placed it in the realm of family love and affection. Shopping became an expression of love. This diminished the obvious commercialism of gift-buying and obliged parents to fulfill their children’s expectations. Thus did shopping become the central activity of the Christmas season.

But Where Was God?

By the late 1800’s Christmas was just about everywhere in the U.S, except in church. In fact, the author of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was an Episcopalian minister who initially kept his authorship a secret because he thought the poem was too friviolous; after all, it didn’t mention Jesus once. The celebration of Jesus’ birth was an established part of the Catholic tradition, but for quite a while American Protestant churches pretty much ignored it. For decades they stayed closed on December 25th until their parishioners made clear that they wanted services on that day.

So it's not quite true that Jesus’ birth was the original reason we have Christmas. December 25th was part of a pagan festival that morphed into a holiday of gift-giving that American churches didn’t want anything to do with until almost the 20th century. There was no golden age during which most people observed Christmas primarily as a holy day. Sorry Charlie Brown, but Snoopy's right: Christmas is as much about the big decorated tree as it is about the manger.

Does Christmas Even Need Jesus?

By the 1920’s the sex and revelry were gone from Christmas and by the 1950’s it was all about kids and presents. Clearly a spiritual focus was appropriate since religious services recall the need to connect with a greater power. In the centuries before Christ, people needed to believe they’d survive the winter and they worshipped the sun as their source of life. Modern Christians worship the son of God, whom they recognize as the source their life.

But for as long as December 25th has been recognized as Jesus’ feast day, there have been lots of other activities going on at the same time. I think if Christmas were really just about Jesus, the holiday wouldn’t occupy public space as it does. Strictly religious holy days tend to be observed only by those who practice that faith. Our grand scale yuletide traditions -- big decorations, big eating, big shopping -- support the religious significance of the day, but don’t engage it.

Pick Your Own True Meaning

The History Channel’s program ends with the observation that only children understand what Christmas is really about: pure joy and celebration, and the magic and mystery of opening gifts. That’s why, even as grown ups, we often experience a moment of delight when we see a Santa truly in his role or glimpse a dazzling light display. Such moments take us back to our childhood and the unadulterated awe and glory that Christmas held for us then. Our American Christmas tradition was tailor-made for children and they are essential to its magic.

(I think the child-focus of the holiday is also why Christmas becomes ever more dim and disappointing to us adults: the essence of this holiday isn't about us.)

The true meanings of Christmas include Jesus, but they're also about children and gift-giving. There was never a time during which the majority treated December 25th as a solemn holy day; the drunken orgy it used to be caused the Puritans to try to stamp it out altogether. Although Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, it's as much about decorations, kids and presents as it is about God, an interesting outcome for a holiday with a rich pagan history of drunkenness, gluttony and sex.

Let us all celebrate whatever we choose during the Christmas season. For some that might be the birth of Jesus, while for others it might be an excuse to EAT (etc). I know when I tell someone "Merry Christmas," it has nothing to do with "The Church." I'm just wishing them a really good season of partying.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Still waiting on results...

I'm still waiting to hear the results of my blood work and to find out if I've managed to lower my fasting blood sugar level. In the meantime, I'm doing whatever it takes to stay on my clean diet (which is no sugar, grains, dairy, caffeine or processed foods). It's not getting any easier, especially during Christmastime, so I'm taking my encouragement where I can find it. Here's a good way to look at it: I've lost 2.5 inches off my waistline since Nov. 24th, when I started this new way of eating. Yay! I have hope that within another month or two I'll fit into my nice coats again.

As hard as it is for this sugar addict to go through December without sugar or flour, I don't want to become a hermit because parties have temptations. I still want to socialize, so I'm buckling down on the EFT tapping and meditation to help me get through Christmas parties with my favorite people (Dr. Joe Dispenza's guided meditations are my favorite). I have a cookie frosting party this weekend. Watch me sail through this!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Cutting carbs like my life depends on it, part 2

In September I had blood work done that indicated that my blood sugar was high. The idea of developing diabetes terrifies me, so after that, I began reducing the amount of sweets and starchy foods I was eating. I didn't eliminate them, but I lowered the amount of sugar I had flowing through my system all day long.

More recently, I found out that one cause of painful menstrual cramps (the kind that ibuprofen can't even touch) is one's hormones being out of balance. For my painful periods, a specialist suggested that rather than go back on the birth control pill or find more powerful painkillers, I completely cut out all grains and sugars (including fruit and alcohol), all dairy products, caffeine and processed foods.

Ouch.

I didn't like how this sounded, but she explained to me that hormones are greatly affected by the amount of insulin in your bloodstream and what causes insulin levels to fluctuate is what you're eating. When I eat sugary and starchy foods, I cause blood sugar level spikes which result in my insulin levels rising. Those high insulin levels change my levels of progesterone and estrogen and it's those hormones that affect my menstrual cycle, including how much it goddamn hurts (caffeine and lactose also raise insulin).

Today is Day 14 of my new way of eating: vegetables, avocados, nuts, animal flesh, eggs, fish and potatoes (white and sweet). That's right; that's all I've been eating. I drink only water and unsweetened herbal tea. I use lots of ghee, butter, coconut oil and olive oil in my food. It's kind of like a version of the candida diet, which I've been on a few times in my life. The candida diet is never fun, but the results are always clear. Each time I've gone on this diet whatever physical problems I was suffering from turned around almost immediately, and so it is again. My last period was a hundred times better than the one before it! Relief! The pain was reduced so much that ibuprofen and acupuncture got me comfortably through, which stunned me after the debilitating cramping I'd had in November. My energy and digestion are also greatly improved and, of course, eating this way supports my effort to avoid diabetes, so I am now committed to doing this indefinitely.

This morning, I return to my doctor for another round of blood work. I'm almost excited to find out if I've managed to bring my blood sugar under control. If all this stripping away of the sweets I love hasn't succeeded, I don't want to think about what will. But I'm proud of myself and feel quite sure I've done it. In fact, I can't wait to get that needle in my arm and fill up those little vials with blood. It'll be days before the results come, but let's get on with it.

But there are sugar cravings. Old-fashioned donuts and red velvet cupcakes call to me, and the idea of eating nothing but vegetables, protein and potatoes for the rest of my life upsets me. Since childhood, sugar has been my favorite thing and since young adulthood it's been my drug of choice. I self-medicate with it, self-soothe with it and even knock myself unconscious with it by eating a big, sugary snack and then napping for up to three hours (a great way to avoid life). I don't like alcohol, so sugar has been the perfect coping mechanism throughout my whole life. Giving it up is hard.

But with the past few years of Emotional Freedom Technique, meditation and self-hypnosis, I've hacked away at my sugar addiction. EFT, meditation and hypnosis have helped me re-wire my brain so it's not as dependent on sugar to regulate my mood. Eating it less has made my taste buds more sensitive to it, so I don't need as much sugar to get that hit of sweetness on my tongue. I've been moving towards a reduced-sweets way of eating for a while now. It just took the monstrual cramps from hell to motivate me to completely eliminate sugar 100%.

When I start to despair that I'll never get to enjoy donuts again, I remind myself of what I've heard: it might take six months to a year of not eating sugar, but eventually those cravings go away. That sounds like it might require some ugly white-knuckling, but it also sounds too good to be true: can I, a lifelong sugar addict, forever stop craving heavily-frosted layer cakes? Really? I have doubt, but I'm holding on to hope. The previous times I did the candida diet, I was still very emotionally hooked on sugar and lots of my eating was emotion-driven. That's not true anymore and I'm hoping that if I can let go of the belief that no cookies means horrible deprivation, I can let go of one of my most destructive habits. I've got more EFT and meditation to do, but I'll do whatever it takes. I'm just as determined to break sugar's psychological hold over me as I am determined to keep that menstrual pain and diabetes diagnosis away.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Criming While White

It's a trending Twitter hashtag that some say illuminates the many ways police let white people get away with things they'd never tolerate from Black people. Some say it doubles as a way for white people to brag about the things they've gotten away with. Others say it's just white people pulling focus again when everyone needs to focus on Black lives.

As someone who just contributed to it, I can say that I take no pleasure in having benefited from police racism. With shame, I tweeted:

My white husband caught driving without a license. Cop gave warning, had me get in the driver's seat. #crimingwhilewhite

This happened years ago and at the time I felt grateful that the officer gave us a break (he might have been brown, but I don't remember). He didn't even ask me if I had a drivers license. He just assumed I did. Recently a Mexican friend and her Mexican husband were pulled over for the same thing. They didn't get the same break, and her husband was arrested (both incidents took place in Chicago).

Many are upset that #crimingwhilewhite simply keeps white people at the center of the discussion when more attention needs to be paid to the voices of Black people. I believe #crimingwhilewhite is a direct response to the voices of Black people, and a good one. Black people have been saying that police treat people differently based on skin color for decades. #crimingwhilewhite is white people finally taking part in a discussion about race that isn't white guilt, white-splaining or white denial. This conversation shows white people recognizing how they participate in and benefit from racism. Such awareness is critical to social progress in this country. White people don't listen well to people of color. We need white people to speak up about how they recognize racism in their own personal experiences and to start this conversation with each other.

We're angry about how white people have violently taken up all the resources and attention for hundreds of years, but I hope we can recognize the difference between a white person saying, "Everyone listen to me again" and "I guess I'm a part of this. I'm shifting my view."

ADDED at 9:30 PM: It infuriates many people that people of color (POC) have been pointing out the police double standard for decades, but white people haven't listened. They say #CrimingWhileWhite shouldn't be the way whites learn about racism; they should listen to Black voices. Well, the reality is that it's horribly unfair and completely fucked up, but TRUE that most white people don't listen to Black people on the topic of racism and have to hear it from other whites. No, it shouldn't be at way. Yes, it's wrong. Yes, it's infuriating and I hate it, too, but the fact is that white people need things like #crimingwhilewhite just to educate each other. That hashtag isn't for us, or anyone who already knows that police kill Blacks way more often than whites. If it pisses you off that white people still need to learn basic Racism 101, then don't listen to their dialogue. We aren't the audience for #crimingwhilewhite. People who need to learn about the double standard are. 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Game of Thrones? No, thanks.

A friend insisted that I try Game of Thrones, which I'd never watched. I'm finishing watching the first episode of the first season. I don't have much patience for a show that doesn't grab me on the first viewing, so this is all I got.

Pros:
Cons
  • Not nearly enough female lead characters as opposed to male ones
  • The lily-white blonde female lead spends most of the episode being terrified of the foreign people whose queen she has been married off to be. The foreign people just happen to be brown, heavy-browed and violent. Her people are white, blonde and speak English.
  • The foreign, brown king gives his new pure-white, blonde queen a gift that actually distracts her from her terror for a few minutes. It's a horse. It's white.
Besides that, the time period bores me and nothing happened that made me want to keep watching. So much for me and Game of Thrones.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Olive Kitteridge

HBO's four-part series Olive Kitteridge is one of the best things I've ever watched. Frances McDormand is perfect in the title role, a middle-aged Maine native with layers of memories and emotions underneath her severe expression. It's based on Elizabeth Strout's novel of the same name (one of my favorite books ever) and I'm so glad McDormand helped turn it into a movie. The novel is excellent and, stunningly, so is the film adaptation.

This film is for anyone who's wondered why there aren't more movies about people in the second half of their lives. We watch Olive finish raising her son and eventually become a grandmother, we see her navigate a marriage that has lasted 20 years, then 30, then 40. We see her make choices and live with the consequences. In four approximately one-hour parts, the story covers decades in the lives of its main characters, giving an extremely satisfying sense of where they start and where they end up. 

I love this story for its realism and its practical view of death. Olive is a math teacher and one of my favorite parts is watching her talk to one of her former students who - as a young adult - seems to have returned to his home town to kill himself. Without letting on that she senses his mission, Olive chats with him about town changes, former classmates, her own father's suicide and her son's upcoming wedding. Yes, it's with that kind of casualness that Olive manages to turn a chatty neighborly exchange into the direct emotional support that the young man clearly needs. With rough empathy and straight talk, she distracts him from his purpose.

I always appreciate popular culture that deals maturely and sympathetically with mental illness. Olive and her former student discuss bipolar disorder and depression in their families. Other scenes in the series address the need for adult children to process their childhoods, the value of therapy and the isolation one can face in old age if she hasn't dealt squarely with past pain, received and inflicted. It's a very interior film, about what goes on inside people hearts, but is saturated with gorgeous shots of the coastline of the American northeast.

Be prepared: Olive Kitteridge isn't a character to love. She's sharp-tongued, merciless with criticism, stingy with her smiles and certain that she's right in all situations. She reminds me of my mother and of the woman I'll turn into one day. Actually, who am I kidding? I'm halfway there. I'm judgmental, stubborn, free with my opinions and won't tolerate bullshit, and I don't expect these traits to soften as I move into my 50's. Maybe it's Olive's lack of loveableness that draws me to her. She's almost impossible to get along with, but you always know where you stand with her. Watching McDormand's character with Bill Murray's Jack Kennison in the fourth part is a pleasure: they might try, but they can't out-crotchety each other.

Right now HBO GO is offering the four-part series in the U.S. until December 30th. After that I guess we have to wait until it makes its way to Netflix or other online platforms. If you subscribe to HBO, I urge you to watch it if you like character-driven narratives about relationships and human nature. In the U.K. the miniseries airs December 14, 2014 on Sky Atlantic (I got that from Wikipedia. I don't know what Sky Atlantic is).

BUT if you can't watch it on HBO, please go find Elizabeth Strout's novel on which the film is based. I read it three times in two months back in 2011 and clearly it's time for me to read it again. The book gives the same experience as watching the series, but with even richer detail of the world of this small town and more plotlines and insights into its inhabitants. It's one of my favorite books ever. In the film (and in the book) a chorus of children refer to Olive as a witch at certain points, but she doesn't seem to mind. If witches don't have to suffer fools and tolerate useless social protocols, then what's wrong with being a witch? Especially if it makes children leave you the hell alone.

Frustration

My 2010 MacBook Pro only allows me to use it to go on the Internet when it feels like it. It's not the modem or router because my iPad and iPhone connect to my wireless service just fine. It's just the laptop that might or might not give me the message that it can't find a webpage because it's not connected to the Internet, even when it is.

This probably means it's time to upgrade from a computer that's almost five years old. Ugh. It's really too bad that we buy these incredible devices just to have them go obsolete within years. 

All this whining is just to say that I have to blog with my iPad more and more which means the font might be inconsistent.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ferguson. Shame.

Earlier tonight someone who goes by Ashlyn@awiebe96 tweeted this at #Chi2Ferguson:

So many emotions right now... The most prevalent? Shame, for the society I support by not questioning, every single day.

She's the only person I've noticed on Twitter tonight who acknowledges her personal role in what happened with Michael Brown's shooter. Ashlyn seems to sense that all of us have participated in the millions of events and dynamics that led up to this cultural moment. This is what I believe is lacking in the conversation tonight: awareness of the whole country's culpability in the racism that Ferguson, Missouri has manifested.

Yes, the power dynamic was set generations ago with white men at the top and Black men at the bottom. Because of the hegemony established by thinking white men, Black men are the most hunted, incarcerated and ignored members of American society. But such a system could not stand all this time without the participation of all of us: the Mayflower descendents, the immigrants from China, Italy, Poland, Vietnam, Mexico, everywhere, and the children of all those immigrants. Yes, white men still hold the ultimate position of privilege and status, they run the companies and pass the laws, but they can't do it without the support, however tacit, of the rest of us, especially those of us with white privilege.

To those Americans with white privilege, have you ever heard someone make a statement expressing bigotry? Did you say anything in protest? If not, you upheld the status quo. Have you ever wondered if your co-worker of color (maybe one who speaks accented English) would be capable of doing some task? If so, that was racism. Have you ever wished we'd stop giving so much attention to people who just want to complain about racism? If so, you've enjoyed the luxury of denying the reality of experiences other than your own.

We all do this. White people harbor prejudices about others based on their skin color, but so do those of us with skin color. I don't know if anyone ever says this, but there's plenty of racism in the Mexican American community against Blacks, Chinese, Jews, Filipinos, whites and everyone, including other Mexicans. Every single American - no matter their background - discriminates against all the other Americans. Racism is in our history, our soil and our shared sense of who we are. Racism is human. It's inevitable.

What's not inevitable is for us to stay here. There is so much rage tonight about the Darren Wilson decision. Yes, let's use that rage to demand change, to make people hear us, to make clear that this kind of injustice is not acceptable and we will not tolerate it. But let's also use some of that passion to scrutinize ourselves. Think about it. How often do you notice the absence of people of color when you're in a conference room at work? How often do you notice the absence of people of color on news programs, in movies, on campus? How often do you notice that you're surrounded only by people who look like you at your place of worship, at  dinner parties, at weddings? How often do you hear a family member - maybe your own mother - express racial intolerance, but you let it go because you pick your battles and fighting for someone else's personhood doesn't feel worth giving up the peace?

Look at your reaction when you call a company and someone who doesn't sound American picks up, or when the driver in front of you is one of "those drivers" or when a friend of yours says she's dating a Black man. Check yourself. Notice your prejudice. It's entirely appropriate to rage and protest the mess that's going on in Ferguson, but don't think that because you're sick and disgusted that you're not racist, too. Racism isn't just white men gunning down Black men. Racism is any time you make an assumption based on someone's race/culture. The nicest people are racist. Racism can lurk in the best of intentions. We in the U.S. can't help being born into it and drinking it in along with the lowfat milk and the Mountain Dew.

But we don't have to stay here. We can't stay here. The United States will only throw off our culture of racism if we demand complete accountability. That means holding others accountable for their beliefs and actions and holding ourselves accountable for what we know is in our hearts. Tonight, if you think certain people in Ferguson ought to feel ashamed of themselves, check yourself. What have you been letting yourself get away with?

A difference between Chicago and San Francisco


United baggage area at O'Hare on 20 Nov 2014
I spent last week visiting my father in the San Francisco Bay Area, and one thing really struck me: there was no Christmas music on any of the radio stations out there. In the Chicagoland area, we have our local "lite music" station cranking out the Burl Ives and Amy Grant by mid-November at the latest. When I came through the San Francisco International Airport to return on the 20th, I saw no seasonal decorations, but at O'Hare International Airport the oversized Christmas ornaments were up and a lit tree sat next to the baggage claim area. Later, I found that indeed Chicago had Christmas music on the radio.

Chicago's early holiday radio isn't just part of the commercialism that wants us to start buying early. A few years ago, a local radio station announced that they would switch to all holiday music as soon as a certain fundraising goal was reached, benefiting a worthy charity. Listeners hit the goal with enthusiasm and the station started its "Holiday Lite" programming on November 9th.

I grew up in the SFO Bay Area (Walnut Creek to be exact), and never noticed any lack of Yuletide spirit, but after living in Chicago for 21 years, I see the difference. I love godless San Francisco, but as much as I'll always love the West Coast and see it as my first home, I'm glad to live in the land of Christmas music before Thanksgiving Day. I have a child's adoration of Christmas and the way they do it in the Midwest feels right to me. So there.