Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy December!

December is my favorite month. I've been telling people that and I'm stunned by their response. Each person has replied, "Why?"

I don't understand this question. We are neck-deep in Christmas decorations, Christmas music, Christmas goodies, Christmas parties and Christmas shopping, yet people wonder why December is my favorite month? Are they blind?

Or does Christmas not seem like a reason to enjoy December? Do these people maybe dislike Christmas and find the whole thing unpleasant? Have they not noticed the Santas and snowmen everywhere? Does Christmas hold their attention no more than ordinary television commercials? Why does anyone have to ask why December is my favorite month?

Well, it is. But I don't look forward to Christmas Day or even Christmas eve. I look forward to December itself. I'm holding on for December in September. I'm waiting for December in high July. I long for December in March. I start wishing it were December on January first.

Each time a fellow grownup says to me, "I can't believe it's already December!" I respond with, "Are you kidding? It took forever to get here. I've been waiting for December for months." No one gets any sympathy from me with, "Can you believe Christmas is Saturday?" My answer is, "Yes, I can because I've been closely paying attention to every single day leading up to it."

It's the whole month that I enjoy, so my enthusiasm begins on December first, as I think, "It's finally December! It's the month I wait for all year long!" I relish the single-digit dates of December, feeling a slight panic of loss on the 10th. As the month continues to slip away, I feel dismay that it's eventually going to end, but that feeling is balanced by the increasing saturation of the holiday through all aspects of our culture: decorations blanket the city, holiday programming takes over the TV, parties increase, the candy and homemade treats become a constant in my workplace. It becomes one never-ending festival.

For weeks now, each time I've passed a Christmas display or noticed branches outlined by little lights I revel, "It's Christmastime!" Having December 25th on the horizon is the dream come true that I've been holding since the previous winter. Because it's the whole season I relish, it can never start too early. Christmas commercials in October? Sure, let the festivities begin!

And yet, it's not December 25th that I'm focused on. As a grown-up, I don't have that childhood experience of Christmas Day bringing the excitement of wishes come true and proof of a benevolent being who brings just what I want. And I certainly don't cherish the day for any religious reasons. So December 25th has really just become a marker for me. December 25th is when the party ends. It's the weeks before that hold all the activity and anticipation, and isn't anticipation always better than release?

It is for me. I love a celebration and the way we do Christmas in the US, the big party happens well before the actual day. We spend weeks decorating and getting in the (shopping) mood for the holidays, mixing and stirring traditional imagery, idealized expectations, materialistic desire and consumer-oriented demonstrations of affection. Those weeks are when the real partying happens. Few people leave their decorations up much past New Year's Day and fewer yet have Christmas parties after the 25th. Even religious people don't have parties after Jesus has been born. It's all about the lead-up and nothing but a lot of after-Christmas sales happen on the downslope of December. Oh, yeah, and New Year's, but that's a completely different party.

So I enjoy December, all of it, right up until the radio stations stop playing Nat King Cole and the first trees get tossed out with the garbage. As my friends stock up on next year's Christmas cards and the best of the 50% off shelves, I renew my vigil and start looking forward to the return of December in eleven more months.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Since my last post I have managed to keep my weight constant, which I consider good enough. At least I won't reach January having put back on the weight managed to lose.

But I'm facing, once again, my lifelong problem that never goes away: I can limit myself to vegetables, fruit, lean protein and healthy oils all week long, but I'm still a sugar addict. The days I spend avoiding sugar, wheat, grains, dairy and processed foods are simply days I manage to keep the lid on the addiction. An alcoholic who stays sober never loses her desire to drink; she just controls it. That's me with sweets.

I've known for about fifteen years that I'm addicted to sugar and it's been much worse than it is now. At least I've reduced the frequency and size of my indulgences. Can I keep doing that, making each slip-up smaller and smaller until it's a liveable habit? I don't know. I doubt addiction works that way.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Thanksgiving...

I am grateful to feel grateful at all. This has been a very hard year and Bob and I weren't even dealing with financial crisis or losing a home or the failure of a business or anything like that. But obviously major surgery causes its own kind of stress. My depression depleted my ability to feel gratitude or optimism or even the patience it takes to answer, "How are you?" Now that depression is lifted so that I can appreciate what I have. I'm grateful for gratitude.

Today my husband and I will have our dream Thanksgiving: we'll go downtown for a nice dinner and just relax in a hotel, with no cooking or traveling. It's a DINK Thanksgiving (Double Income, No Kids). I wish for everyone their dream Thanksgiving, or at least a good one, or at least one from which they'll recover soon.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On the tenth day of Thanksgiving...

I'm grateful for Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming (EMDR). With EFT, I have an extremely effective way to reduce anxiety, food cravings and any emotions I feel overwhelmed with. It also works on physical problems and I've been stunned at how quickly I can get results with it. There's no way I could have lost six pounds over the past month without it.

EMDR is helping my depression. Have a problem that feels old and stuck and hopeless? Unresolved conflicts, old resentments, lingering anger? EMDR has been the way to go for me. I'm HUGELY grateful for both of these things, I can't even tell you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On the ninth day of Thanksgiving...

I'm grateful for the ad campaign of a Chicago girls school called Regina Dominican. They use posters like this that always give me a boost.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the eighth day of Thanksgiving...

I'm grateful that I've finally started to lose the twelve pounds I put on over my awful, wretched summer of 2010! (And I'm determined to lose the rest of it during the holidays. Ambitious, but possible.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On the seventh day of Thanksgiving...

I'm grateful for being an American. I never felt this way until I left the country for the first time in my life and finally used a passport at the age of 44. I went to Peru and Bolivia. There I saw what my life could have been if my grandparents hadn't hauled themselves across the border and decided to make their families American (they came from Mexico, but I imagine the conditions are similar).

What I saw in Peru horrified me: town after town of shacks on hills, shacks in valleys, shacks on farms. Little structures without complete walls and sometimes not even complete roofs. How do people stay warm in there?? And there's so little to eat that dogs roam freely, left to fend for themselves after their owners stop feeding them. It looked absolutely miserable. I spent much of my vacation feeling horrified at what I saw.

It was my Buddhist moment, but instead of vowing to leave my comfortable life so I could help the wider world, it made me want to slam shut the palace door and never leave it again. Indeed, that's what I've done and I am extremely grateful to be able to do it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On the fifth day of Thanksgiving...

I'm grateful for my new cell phone. This is why I have a new cell phone:

In 2006, my husband's company began paying for his cell phone. In 2008, they got him a BlackBerry. I was so envious, I insisted that we get me a BlackBerry, too. We could afford it, since we didn't have to pay for Bob's bill at all. I loved my BlackBerry.

Things being what they are, changes have been made and last week Bob's company stopped paying for his BlackBerry. Now that we have to squeeze the cost of two cell phones out of our budget, I've given up my BlackBerry so that Bob and I could get a new plan with two cell phones that do nothing but make calls.

It's not an easy adjustment, but I'm grateful that my new phone doesn't distract me from living my life. Now when I get to the el train station, instead of pulling out my smartphone like all the other "CrackBerry" heads, I pull out my Kindle and continue my current novel or I journal or I just relax. That's what I really want to be doing with my downtime.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the fourth day of Thanksgiving...

I'm grateful for a husband who does stuff like this when he finds chalk outside that a kid left behind.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the second day of Thankgiving..

I am grateful for my hard-won friends. It hasn't been easy to build such a strong network. Making friends gets harder as one gets older, plus many of us have had to figure out how to be a good friend through trial and error. I think my parents were part of a generation that tended to keep its personal relationships in-family. Anything that you needed emotional support for was too important to tell anyone you weren't related to. That kind of thinking didn't make for a good model for friendship.

But I've done it! Through careful effort and nurturing, I have some excellent friends. When I identify someone who seems like they might be a good friend, I ask them to coffee or lunch. If I have a dinner party coming up, I invite them there. If things go well, I don't wait more than a few weeks to follow up with another invitation. I never wait for the other person to make the first move and I don't wait for them to ask me back. If I haven't heard from them for weeks or months, I contact them with an invitation to get together. I always assume that if they've faded out on me, it's because they were too busy and need a reminder that I still like them. Of course, I can also take a hint if someone is really uninterested in being friends with me, but takes a good while for me to finally stop trying.

So maybe what I'm really grateful for is my perseverance and courage in solidifying friendships. I take the time and I let people know I want to stay in touch. I create social opportunities for us to see each other, such as my regular dinner parties. I'm grateful for all of it!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving

On the first day of Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for my physical body. Yes, the contents have shifted a bit and I've had to let go of the dream of one day, one day, finally whipping myself into swimsuit shape, but here's the best part about my body: I go through most days without feeling any pain at all, unless I'm in the gym, pushing myself to the limit. For regular activities my joints, tendons and spine work just fine, without complaining, twinge-ing or throbbing. I know this will only last a few more years, so thank you body, for allowing me to walk and move freely!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Bob and I had drinks at The Wit Hotel in downtown Chicago last night. He took this photo which shows me the schoolteacher I could have been.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Getting out the front door

Some people spend their adulthoods moving from one career accomplishment to another. Some pour themselves into raising families and/or building a long-lasting marriage. Some improve their communities, help build companies, nurture their extended family or tend decades-long friendships. And for some of us, it takes all of our attention and energy just to make it through the front door.

I hope most children are nurtured by their caretakers and taught to value themselves with strong self-esteem. I admire those who believe in themselves and don't buckle to worry and fear at every challenge. They contrast those of us who did not receive a strong foundation of confidence and love. For many of us, life just looks scary and it always has. We're like an animal that was crippled before it got a chance to leave its den and must struggle to get outdoors. Many people take for granted that one day they'll fall in love, establish a career, have children, join a community and/or make their mark on the world in some way, and I think most people do at least a few of those things. But some of us have a mountain of fear and insecurity that we have to get past before we can get close any of those experiences.

I've been told that I have a poker face and that people have a hard time reading me. I'm aware that I come across as cold and indifferent, maybe even snobbish and intimidating. I don't want to be unpleasant, but this behavior isn't a conscious choice. When I was too young to remember, I adopted a certain withdrawn stance as a way of surviving emotionally. It served me and in many ways still does. I'm not sure I can unlearn it now.

I have lived my life in a crouched position, wanting the things I saw other adults achieving or finding, but not being brave enough to reach for them in a consistent way. I have had many jobs (all entry level), many relationships, many friendships and even more than one religion, but I never stayed still long enough to achieve permanence or closeness. Without commitment, I haven't managed to build a career, own a house or have a baby. I could regret these things, except that I know this was the best I could do. I have struggled for over twenty years to manage my fear of intimacy, aversion towards responsibility and terror of being suffocated by the needs of others. I have worked very hard on these limitations of mine and this is where I am now.

A few years ago I finally overcame one hurdle and managed to fall in love and get married. I'm still amazed by it because being able to make that commitment was very hard for me and took years of effort.

It's not too late for me to achieve the things I see in others, it's a matter of how well I manage my fears. It won't have a big impact on others and it's not exciting, but this seems to be my life's work. While others build careers, create art and raise children, I work to improve my limited view of myself and create some self-esteem. Some people have the courage and self-confidence to dream and then make it happen, while others of us toil away at removing enough of our fears to finally act. My dream is to have the self-confidence it takes to dream.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween wins

Images of Halloween invoke death, decay and the unknown. They're the taboo subjects that spooked us as over-imaginative children and that we'll fear again as we get close to our own physical collapse.

But the reason Halloween is my second favorite celebration is that it's the only big American holiday without an emphasis on family, loved ones or lovers. Halloween is for single people! On this day and no other in our culture, it is okay for a lone person to scrape along in some bizarre outfit, completely conspicuous among the general population.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spooky photo

I finally captured evidence on film that Chicago is indeed going to hell. I took this tonight from the Belmont el train platform. It looks like the red in the clouds is reflected from the lights, but it wasn't. That reddish tint was just there.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween is for scairdy cats

I'm drawn to horror stories, horror movies and all things dark. When I was seven years old and first learned to read, I started with the ghost story books at the library. I kept going until I had read every ghost story book for my age group in the place. In my teens I went through all the Stephen King novels similarly. By the time I was eighteen I had to start waiting for Mr. King to publish his next one. I'm grateful he's never stopped.

I like to think that I like Halloween because it's for those of us who live in the shadows, hiding behind masks on a daily basis. Maybe our childhoods were filled with terror and a struggle to survive, either physically or emotionally (individuation, self-esteem, etc.). Maybe the monsters that kept us awake weren't in the storybooks. Maybe we read ghost stories to make our own lives seem normal. Cowering in bed, fixated on the image of - say - a woman with no face drove out the fear of our real life problems, which loomed over us by day and couldn't be banished by closing a book. For us, Halloween let all the scary stuff out of the closet where it could fill our minds and drive out the horror of our daily lives.

But more importantly than that, Halloween let us join the monsters. How wonderful to put on a costume that let me stop being me. How empowering to step into the night as one of the little beasties. Halloween let me merge with these symbols of fear, becoming an entity to be feared by others. Talk about taking back the night.

When I was a freshman in college, I was thin and had a very short haircut, so when a group of friends decided to cross-dress for the Halloween dance, I borrowed a few items of men's clothing and I was ready. I knew my costume was a success when a girl asked me to dance, but withdrew the invitation when she realized I was woman.

That night I walked back from the dance to my dorm, alone. Knowing I looked like a boy, I felt none of the anxiety I usually felt when walking alone at night. I walked confidently, feeling like I had a protective shield around me. So this is what it's like to be a man, I thought. It was wonderful.

If only every day could be Halloween, freeing me from being the small, high-strung female I am. Instead, I relish this one day when I get to cover up the mask I usually wear and disappear behind another costume entirely.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bad Week

So I had a rough summer, a not-much-better trip to South America and came back feeling more depressed than ever. I ate a lot.

By the end of September, I had begun to pull out of it. I got back to my healthy eating habits. I started to lose the weight I put on in the aftermath of the trip. It felt like things were going to be okay.

Then some personal experiences hit me hard and I plunged back into the sugar-and-processed-food freefall. Last week I was eating MacDonald's, buying chocolate bars and hunting Hostess cherry fruit pies. Last Wednesday morning, my el train pulled into the stop where I get off for work, just as thunder rumbled overhead. The skies were dark and I recognized the moments just before a storm hits. As we commuters filed down the stairs and out to the street, the first large drops began to fall. I hadn't brought an umbrella and knew that if I wanted to stay mostly dry, I had just enough time to make a break for either my office building or Bennison's Bakery at the corner of Davis and Maple

As I ordered a single-layer red velvet cake, the rain began to pour. The bakery worker offered me a plastic bag to keep the cake dry. I took it from his hands, saying I'd put the cake in myself.

I walked to one of their little cocktail tables, got out a knife and fork I had brought, carefully untied the string on the box, opened it up and cut myself a slice. As I casually chewed the reddish chocolate cake and chilled cream cheese icing, I watched the rain pound down. It must have been the medicating properties of the sugar that kept me calm and certain that the downpour would stop by the time I needed to leave the bakery for work.

As I finished the second slice of cake, the rain let up, then changed to a light drizzle. I boxed up the rest of the cake and carried it out in its plastic bag. I hardly even got damp by the time I reached my building. Did I share the rest of that cake with my co-workers? No, I nibbled on it all day long and finished it just before five o'clock. Grubbing on sugar like that really depletes me. For the first time in a long time, I had to lie down for 10 minutes in the afternoon, to try to get my energy up. I just felt tired all day, like I was fighting an overwhelming need for sleep. Sugar really doesn't do anything good for my body, even though my brain is addicted to it.

After that I really focused on trying to stop feeling so bad. With help, my mood eventually improved over the weekend and as of yesterday, I am back on the wagon. I now have a 48-hour streak going of no processed foods or sugar. My body just can't take that kind of eating for too long.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I love that ComEd (Chicago electric company) is using Halloween-themed ads like this one. We get plenty of Christmas-themed ads every year. It's about time Halloween got more exploitation. Yay, Halloween!

Friday, October 01, 2010

I am not a vegetarian

I am not a vegetarian. I have never been a vegetarian. I have been friends with vegetarians, lived among them and even dated them, but I have never, ever joined them in their meatless way of eating.

Yet people think I am one. Friends who have known me for years, who have come to my home and eaten my chicken soup and my homemade beef chilaquiles will greet me at their cookouts with, "Reg, we got you some veggie burgers." Or they'll email me things like, "This restaurant looks good, but I don't see many vegetarian dishes on the menu for you."

Why? Why do people who have watched me eat meat think I'm a vegetarian? Likewise, why do people who have never seen me eat anything think the same thing? I've had brand new co-workers make assumptions about my "vegetarian" diet, when we had yet to make it to the lunchroom. What is it about me that, in spite of my daily habit of consuming either chicken, beef or fish, makes people think I'm a vegetarian?

I'm going to take a stab at it here. I think there's a stereotype about vegetarians and people think I fit it. I think it goes like this: vegetarians are shrill, judgmental ideologues who think too much, lean left politically, don't wear makeup and prefer sensible shoes. They often have spiritual beliefs that include reincarnation, karma or the principle of attraction. They meditate. The women often steer hard and the men tend to back down.

I think that's what people see when they look at me. I think that's why they think I am a vegetarian, even while I'm chowing down on a hamburger.

I went to U.C. Berkeley. Then I went to graduate school in Ithaca, NY. I've known those vegetarians. I've lived with them, cooked with them, gone dancing with them. I might have liked them despite their shrill ethics, but more likely I liked them because I, too, was unpleasant. I felt comfortable with their Birkenstocks and their flowing skirts because that was my counterculture at the time. Visualize world peace? Sure! Think globally, act locally? I'm down!

That was twenty years ago. I've moved on. I now wear suits and lipstick. I keep my hair short and have no patience for people who chirp, "It was meant to be!" I act however I want to act, whatever effect it might have on our children (none of which will be mine, anyway). I might have orgo-cookie, hippy granola airy-fairyness in my past, but I don't wear it into my future.

Yet it must be there. My crunchy, hair-product-free past must cling to me so that people sense the vibration and although they can't fully articulate it, they manage to express how alien I appear with the label "vegetarian."

Of course, the people who make this assumption are never vegetarians themselves. The co-workers and friends who make this mistake are always red meat chompers. True vegetarians are shrewd, or perhaps psychic, enough to perceive that I'm a meat eater with no more evidence than the meat I eat every day. They're amazing.

So what's the problem, fellow meat-eaters? Since I'm one of you, why do you try to cast me out? Is it just that I seem alien in general and "vegetarian" is your best attempt to describe my difference?

That must be it. I must seem odd in general. Even with the full hamburger or fried chicken evidence before them, people (even friends) call me "vegetarian" because that's their gentlest word for the kind of bizarre I am.

If that's the case, I guess I can live with that. I'd rather seem like a general weirdo than like one of those ascetics who tries to talk her friends out of their favorite sub sandwich or beef stew recipe. I'll push my opinions on others about a lot of things (and I still think that's one reason people think I don't eat meat), but not about killing animals and consuming them. That's one cruel act I am down with.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Here is how I have spent the past two weeks, since returning from two weeks in South America:

1. Rehydrating with water and fruit juice.

2. Feeling weak and wimpy after two weeks of not only skipping my gym workouts, but being in high altitude areas that required me to walk slowly and conserve my muscles because it was so hard to breathe.

3. Replacing the five pounds I lost by eating everything in sight: McDonald's food, cookies, donuts, chocolate candy, potato chips, sandwiches, cheese, cupcakes, Chinese food, pancakes. I even had one of my husband's colas, for chrissake.

4. Putting on another five pounds, just to punch out the dents, as Rosie O'Donnell would say.

5. Wondering what's going on since craving sweets is normal for me, but I haven't been a fast food eater or soda drinker since college.

6. Re-acquainting myself with free weights, yoga, pilates and the elliptical machine and gradually re-building my cardiovascular capacity and muscle strength.

7. Working through a lot of anger with an Emotional Freedom Technique practitioner. After releasing that anger, I was able to stop the junk food binge.

8. Eventually returning to my former habits of healthy breakfasts, hearty stews for lunch and vegetables and fruits all day long.

9. Feeling my arms and legs start to feel strong again.

10. Buying airline tickets for my next vacation which will be WITHIN THE UNITED STATES.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm back in the United States

I spent from August 28 to September 10 in Peru (Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca) and Bolivia (La Paz). It was my very first trip outside the United States and now I'm back and it's so good to be here.

On Friday, my trip back to Chicago stretched to about 20 hours in transit, but that was okay because at the end I was HOME. I flew from La Paz to Miami and from Miami to Chicago. My one rushed hour in Miami was wonderful because it was my first hour back in the U.S with drinking fountains and safe food and normal bathrooms! I was so happy to see signage in English that I ignored the stunning sunset that held everyone else's attention. I just glanced at it, thinking, "Yeah, yeah, a sunset. Clouds, I got it. I've been looking at clouds for two weeks. Look at that poster in English!"

The view just couldn't compete with a poster for the NFL that brought tears to my eyes because it was evidence like no other that I was in the UNITED STATES!

In the O'Hare airport, I was excited to throw my arms around my husband and tell him how happy I was to see him and how wonderful it was to be back. I was so happy.

Then I sat down and did the other thing I'd been dreaming about all day: I ate a McDonald's hamburger with fries. Of course, I had only had one meal all day (around 1p) and at 10:30p wanted the most American food I could think of. I bought it right there at the airport and Bob watched me eat it. My friends, I'll never be able to convey how delicious it was to bite into those layers of plastic cheese, sugary bread and synthetic-tasting patties. That Quarter Pounder had the perfectly measured ingredients and too-easy-to-chew texture of its billions of brethren, but it gave me the unique experience of knowing that for the first time in two weeks, I was eating a meal that would not hurt me. And true to its mission of making me come back for more, that burger went down just fine.

Bob watched with bemusement and said he didn't know if he'd ever even seen me eat a McDonald's meal before. I don't do it often, but this was an emergency. The food in South America had not agreed with me at all and I restricted food and water so much that I actually lost five pounds.

Yesterday Bob and I went to IHOP, where I did my best to put those five pounds back on in one sitting. That night it was a China Buffet restaurant. In both places, my meal included vegetables that I ate with gusto, knowing it was produce I could trust.

My plan for my photos is to take the memory card to Walgreens and choose which ones I want printed out. When someone asks, I'll hand them over for viewing. I don't want to clutter my iPhoto with 290 photos of this one vacation, so these images I will keep contained in hard copy only.

Saturday morning I slept til almost 11 am. I barely slept while I was in South America, so later in the day I also took a four-hour nap. I walked around in a daze, but a grateful daze.

Chocolate-covered Jesus, it's good to be back.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm at the top of the rollercoaster

I leave for two weeks in South America with my dad on Saturday. I hope no one's expecting a travelogue with photos and interesting stories and stuff. I'm no photographer and expect I'll need all my energy just get through these two weeks. It will be my very first time out of the country. So just know that between 28 August and 10 September I'll be having this new experience during which you might or might not hear from me.

BTW: I realize that's exactly the kind of information one should never post online because then people know exactly when your house will be sitting empty and vulnerable. But since my husband will be home the whole time, I'm not concerned. His doctor has cleared him of all dietary restrictions and approved almost all physical activity. Bob is walking without any aid at all and feels pretty good, but he's not going back to work until mid-September.

So there, all you burglars: I'll be on vacation, but my husband is home 24 hours a day and is ready to defend.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

Two Weeks in South America

I'm allergic to sunlight and I'm heading towards the equator. Hmmm...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I do not like summer

On Thursday night I found myself at a company function which took place at Ravinia. I spent three hours reclining on grass, listening to live music and breathing in the warm, humid summer air. I didn't get bitten by bugs, thanks to a co-worker's 98% DEET insect repellant. I was wearing long pants, but smeared it liberally on my arms.

On Friday I found myself at another work function: the annual staff picnic. It was not a good idea to do these two things within a 24-hour period. My arms were red and itchy, a reaction to the DEET, I think. I switched to all-natural bug spray and spent another three hours outside in bright sunlight, carefully wearing long sleeves and a broad hat to keep the sunlight off my skin. That's because I get rashes from direct sunlight. Unfortunately, even though I tried to stay in shade as much as possible, my legs were vulnerable. It was so hot and humid, I tried to get away with wearing shorts. This was a bad idea.

I left the picnic early, but the damage was done. After an evening of restricting fluids because bathrooms were a bit of a chore to get to, I should not have spent the hottest hours of the very next day outside, again restricting fluids because bathrooms were a bit of chore to get to. By the time I dragged myself out of the park, I had heat exhaustion, but as has happened before, I didn't realize it.

Unfortunately, I didn't go home to lie down and rehydrate because I didn't realize I was in any trouble. Instead I went downtown to buy a money belt for my trip that starts next Saturday. After falling asleep on the train, I realized I'd pushed myself too far. Instead of going straight to the luggage shop on the corner of Michigan and Lake, I went to Macy's where I was mercifully able to get a couple of glasses of water, free. But it wasn't until I got back home an hour after that, that I was really able to drink and rest like I needed to.

That's when I noticed the sun rash that was now spreading across my legs and chest. Too much sun. Too much outdoors in a 24-hour period. By the time I went to bed on Friday night, my right leg had a broad, bright red patch of skin behind the knee, swollen and itchy. I put ice on it.

Today I'm suffering from pink patches on my arms, legs and chest that are swollen and itchy, in addition to that bright red place. My husband asked if I wanted to go to a street festival with him this afternoon. In the bright, hot sunlight. I said, No. No more outdoors for me.

Summer is excused from the table. As far as I'm concerned, summer can go away for a long, long time now. Fortunately, in Chicago it does. That's why I live here: for those nice, long, protracted, endless winters. (I often wonder about the sanity of people who live in Chicago, but don't like winter).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Oh, yeah. Depression.

I was talking to someone this week about my worries about Bob's health, my health, my upcoming trip and my fears about life in general. She asked me how long I have been depressed. I was surprised by this. I didn't realize I was depressed. But as I turned it over in my mind over the following 24 hours, I had to admit that what I've been feeling lately is familiar from the time(s) in my life when I was depressed: the inability to sleep, the default bad mood, the lack of pleasure in things that used to cheer me up, the heightened level of anxiety and certainty that things are about to go wrong, the feeling that there's nothing to look forward to. This last one is particularly striking to me because my favorite time of year is coming up: cold. One of the reasons I moved to Chicago was for the cold weather and I anticipate it every year, especially the protracted Christmas season that the U.S. now begins October. I love all that and the end of August signals that it is close. Yet I slump around.

It's interesting for me to think about being depressed. While it's possible to feel depressed for a day or a week as a response to a specific stressor, the state of depression is a psychiatric diagnosis. I thought I was feeling exhausted and drained by the ordeal of Bob's hip replacement surgery and being his only hospital advocate and caretaker. But it's been a couple of weeks now and he's doing great, so if my mood continues to drag, I guess there is another reason. Certainly having a husband who's pulling through so well (he's now walking without a cane!) plus having a fantastic trip to Peru with my seasoned traveler father coming up on August 28th should have me walking with a bounce in my step. Life is good, things are going well at my job, I have excellent friends and my family is still sending supportive cards as they monitor Bob's healing from long distance.

But even without an official medical diagnosis from a psychiatrist, I suspect this is correct: I'm depressed. Not severely, but enough to interrupt my daily habits, make me worry even more and sap my enjoyment of life. Knowing this has given me more patience and perspective. Having been through depression a couple of times, I have a better grasp of the difference between reality and what's in my head. Now when I feel annoyed with someone or impatient with a situation, I can remind myself that this is just my interpretation of events which is currently darkened by the chemical imbalance that causes clinical depression. Imagining coming out on the other side of this period of depression is what gives me hope that life won't always feel this way.

But I feel bad about my husband. The last time I went through a depression, I lived alone. If I dragged myself through my days just to slump listlessly in front of the TV all evening and then toss and turn all night, I was the only one who had to put up with me. There were weekends when I spoke to no one and knew it was for the best. The stream of insults and cuss words that I had for the world should not have been spoken out loud and as long as I had no interactions with people, there was no fear they would be.

I console myself that the way I feel now is nowhere near how I felt then. Back then, I envied people whose obituaries showed up in the news, felt scared all the time and wondered if my life was worth anything at all. None of that is true now. This is a milder depression and now that someone whose opinion I trust has pointed it out to me, I will work to put it behind me. Still, Bob will have to live with me until then. Sadly, he's housebound and this means that the only person he sees each day is his depressed little wife. I'm making an effort to stay aware of his feelings so he doesn't think I'm upset with him. I don't want to be the woman in the depression medication commercial who sits despondently in the blue light of the TV while her family peers at her anxiously.

Years ago, at the same time that a psychiatrist diagnosed me with clinical depression, a therapist also identified me as a depressive. That felt right. I don't have a problem thinking of myself as someone with mental illness. We all have our health challenges that are influenced by both genetics and environment. We inherit certain tendencies towards diabetes or obesity or arthritis or mental illness and a tendency toward depression is a part of who I am. My challenge is to manage it, stay on top of it and not let it take over as it has before.

At what point does my usual pessimism about life slide into depression? I don't know. I always believe that life sucks more often that it doesn't and remain unconvinced that life is better than the alternative, but I'm not always depressed. Those are just part of my usual personality and I can be very cheerful and fun in spite of my belief that we're all screwed. But under prolonged stress, the darkness takes over and I lose sight of what's good about each individual day. I withdraw and snap at people and feel like crying too much of the time. Guilt becomes a constant and I start wishing someone would punish me. I should have known I was depressed, but it's hard to see from the inside. Each time I've dealt with it, someone else has had to identify it for me.

There are people who don't believe in depression. They think it's a pharmaceutically-supported, made-up diagnosis for people who are too lazy to take responsibility for ourselves. They see the prolonged incapacity caused by depression as the self-indulgence of people who refuse to engage with our lives. They think someone like me should snap out of it, get a hold of myself, put mind over matter and stop acting this way. They think it's a choice and my problem is all in my head.

I agree with them: the problem is all in my head. That's exactly where it is. We're all born with a certain capacity to produce and keep in balance the brain chemistry required for regular functions. Some of us don't have adequate production of the hormones and the receptors that would keep our moods in the same balance as most others. Our brains need a little help.

Here are the things that help my brain regain its chemical balance so I don't feel depressed:

1. Physical exercise.
2. Sweets.
3. Medication.
4. Falling in love.

I exercise regularly, but it's not quite enough to get me back in balance if I'm dealing with a great deal of stress. Sweets aren't practical over the long term because they do their own damage. The early falling in love crush feeling is also hard to sustain. That leaves meds.

One thing that drives me crazy is the belief that there's something wrong with being on medication for mental illness. I think this is often held by the same people who think there's no such thing as mental illness because we should just snap out of it. But it's also held by people who think mental illness is shameful, which includes many of us who live with it. We want a cure for our disorder. We want to put the diagnosis behind us and never identify with it again.

This is very sad. We should not feel ashamed of something we have no control over. Here are some things people should never feel ashamed about:

Skin color
Sexual orientation
Inherited conditions such as diabetes, anemia, chronic illnesses
Mental illness

Granted, we aren't always born with mental illness the way we are born a girl or a Mexican. I believe my depressive tendency is the result of a combination of genetics and the life circumstances that have manifested depression, more than once. Given the right circumstances of family, environment, culture, etc. maybe I could have lived my whole life without ever becoming depressed, but I don't live in such a fantasy.

I will grapple with my brain chemistry and my gloomy tendencies once again and probably not for the last time. Maybe I'll go back on the meds, maybe I'll try some new treatments. I will do this with a particular focus on being gentle with my husband, who has done nothing to deserve being married to a women who's in a long bad mood. In the meantime, I'm grateful for the insight that allowed me to see that my familiar challenge is back.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Remarkable things

1. I have GREAT FRIENDS who have really come through for me this week. One friend is getting the equipment I blogged about last time and another brought Bob home today so I wouldn't have to take another day off work or try to drive him home in rush hour traffic. I am extremely grateful to both of them.

2. Maybe you don't have to see people all the time for them to still be your friends.

3. My husband is very strong to have gone through hip surgery with only a local anesthetic. He is very resilient to begin to recover so quickly. I didn't know he'd bounce back so fast. The surgeon predicted that Bob would spend at least a week in the in-patient rehab center, but he was only there four days.

4. He is very, very glad to be home and I'm glad to have him here.

5. I told Bob, "The next time one of us is in the hospital, it better be me." I want to lie around with nothing to do for eight weeks while he drives all over the county. I never even get sick.


7. Maybe being hit by a car would get me a nice long break...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Losing it

Good news: it looks like Bob will be home Monday night.

Bad news: when I called the in-patient rehab center a month ago and asked what items I should buy for Bob's convalescence, the admissions officer reassured me that the physical therapist would order those items for us and we'd go home with them. Today I found out from the occupational therapist that's true, but there are a few items that I am responsible for.

I got this information after taking most of the week off, at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday, regarding hospital supply stores that are only open Monday through Friday. For months I've been so careful to ask all the right questions and prepare as thoroughly as possible, but I got bad information.

I lost it. I stared at the occupational therapist and blabbered, "I'm the only family he has. I'm the only one here. I've been on all week. I can't take any more days off of work. I can't go buy stuff on Monday. I have to work." I confessed that I hate driving, I don't want to drive anymore, I don't know how I'm going to do this. She was sympathetic, but what could she do? She can't make these places change their business hours.

I told Bob that it's time to call in one of those favors that everyone's been offering. One of our friends who has told/written me in the last month, "Let me know if there's anything you and Bob need" will have to go to one of these medical supply stores for us. I just can't take any more time off work.

In the parking lot before I drove home, I wept, defeated. Halfway home I stopped at Jewel and bought two packets of Ho-Ho's and one of Twinkies. I ate them in the parking lot.

The Bob Update

Bob's in-patient rehab center, Glenview Terrace, is nice: far fewer interruptions, no construction going on, fewer loud announcements by speaker and Bob's on the first floor so he can walk outside more easily. Everyone there is much older than Bob and I think I'm the youngest spouse. I've seen some younger people, including a child, but I think they're all extended family of the patients.

Bob checked in at 2:00p and got there in time for the ice cream run. He enjoyed two scoops of chocolate chip ice cream (he had mine) at about 3:30 p. We napped and dozed until just before dinner time (which is 5:00p), when Bob got a roommate. His name is Jerry and he looks like he's in his 80's. He had just had a hip replacement, too, but he stayed seated in his wheelchair until he moved to his bed. I didn't see him walk, even with a walker.

Compared to Jerry and many residents, Bob is sprinting all over the place with his walker. We took several walks outside where Bob enjoyed a cigarette. Unfortunately, while there's a nice, big patio with umbrella tables and chairs and benches that look out over the pond and fountain, it's a non-smoking area. The patios where smoking is allowed have no place to sit.

Now, I'm just as anti-smoking as the next moralistic, judgmental American, but this seems downright unfair, considering that the recuperating smokers are just as in need of a place to sit as the recuperating non-smokers. There is a smoking room inside the building, which I imagine has chairs, but Bob likes going outside for some fresh air, albeit, air he's about to pollute with cigarette smoke.

Smoking is an addiction. Hiding the benches and chairs ain't going to make difference here, folks.

I asked Bob if he wanted me to pull a chair out, but he said no. I decided to back off the whole issue when Bob made clear that he likes standing up as a break from being seated in his bed. All right, maybe it's okay then.

I'm going back today with freshly baked brownies for the nurses (and Bob). I'm hoping Bob isn't in Glenview Terrace for too long because I'm ready for him to come home, where I can visit him by just looking across the room!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hospital recuperation

I arrived at 10:30am. Bob was dozing. A nurse came in and said, "Before you fall asleep, let me check your vitals." So he woke up for that, but he looked exhausted. He confirmed that he had had no sleep last night from the pain.

After that, I gave him a scalp massage and managed to get him doze off again. A knock on the door came five minutes later. Dr. Wolff, the internist, chirpily introduced himself to a very, very drowsy Bob. He stayed only long enough to ask a few questions and be annoying.

I lay down next to Bob and he dozed off again. After 20 minutes a VERY LOUD AND VERY LONG CODE BLUE ANNOUNCEMENT woke him up again. Then he gave up.

After lunch, at one o'clock he finally gave in to his sleep deprivation again. His eyes closed and his breathing grew heavy. Then the person came back to pick up the lunch tray, waking him up. He dozed off again for about three minutes, when the nurse anesthetist stopped by introduce herself and just ask how he's doing.

Christ on a stick! I didn't remember it being quite THIS impossible to get some sleep in a hospital. I am now sitting outside Bob's room to stop anyone from entering who isn't either scheduled, requested by Bob or responding to Bob's own Code Blue.

But it's now 1:40pm and the physical therapists are coming back at 2:00. Imagine me crying.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Surgery Today

Bob's hip replacement surgery is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. today. Until then, no food, water or cigarettes. What are the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal for a person who usually smokes two packs a day? I'll have to research it.

I feel terrible for him and am not even drinking water in front of him. Soon I'll go to the gym for a workout. I'll also get breakfast and totally hydrate. One of us needs to be able to think clearly.

We were so disappointed that his surgery was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. I thought surgeries were always early. It's not so bad to go from midnight to 8:00 a.m. without anything to drink or eat (or smoke), but from midnight to 3:00 p.m. the next day? Damn.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My 44th Birthday

Today is my 44th birthday. We were going to have a party tonight (I love when my birthday falls on a Saturday!), but we made the difficult decision to cancel my 44th birthday party cookout because my husband is having hip replacement surgery on Monday. Oh, this summer has sucked. And it's not over!

On a positive note, since I remain on the candida diet (eating only produce, animal protein, legumes and nuts), here are some of my current favorite healthy foods:

olive oil
salt (don't say it)
freshly cracked black pepper
water with a little lemon juice
baby carrots with peanut butter
grilled onions

Fruits are off my favorites list. They now taste too sweet to me. I'm missing out on all the summer fruit this year, but I really don't mind.

Just trying to think of something positive to think about.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I failed

It's the easiest way to not feel like a failure, but I failed anyway. I had an appointment to donate blood this morning, but I'm not going. I failed to drink water and hydrate.

As I posted last time, it's not easy for me to give blood. Maybe it's because I only weigh ten pounds above the minimum requirement for giving blood, which is 110 pounds, or maybe it's because my body is just weak and unstable. But if I haven't eaten well and pushed fluids for 24 hours before giving, donating blood is difficult for me.

I forgot to drink extra water yesterday, so I'm going to be a no-show today. I have failed.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Give Blood

LifeSource Blood Services is hosting several blood drives this month in the Chicagoland area. It's summertime, which is a time of year when it gets hard to track down regular donors, yet the need for blood never stops. If you are physically able to give blood (over 110 pounds, older than 17, not pregnant and don't have a condition that you know makes you ineligible), please consider giving.

I weigh 120 pounds and giving blood isn't easy for me. I talk to people larger than I am, especially men, who report never having a second's discomfort. They don't experience light-headedness, weakness, stomach cramping or nausea. Nope, not a bit of it. I envy them.

So why do I give blood every two months when I risk all these symptoms every time? I think it's because giving blood is an absolutely guaranteed way to save a life. If your blood tests as safe, you can be certain that you are helping at least one person and maybe up to three. When I give blood, I don't feel like a failure. When I give blood, I feel like my life matters and that feeling, however fleeting, is worth a lot to me.

Anybody else?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Sex and the City, Part Two

Before I saw Sex in the City II, I imagined writing a long, insightful post about it. Instead, I came out of the movie not feeling much of anything. Then I forgot about it.

But I made a commitment, so here's as much energy as I feel it deserves. This movie took a stab at showing that motherhood is hard, every married couple is different and gets to make their own rules and getting the "sparkle" back in a relationship isn't easy. But it missed an opportunity to comment on immigrant workers, showed three women in their 40's and one in her 50's trying too hard to look 30 and was full of so many bad puns, I was wincing ("This isn't an intervention. It's an inter-friend-shun.") The ridiculous costume changes didn't bother me nearly as much as the hyper-self-absorption of Carrie and the way her friends prioritized her relationship angst over their own self-preservation (Miranda is working to keep Samantha out of an Arabian jail and Charlotte and Carrie are talking about a kiss with Aidan?). I know the TV show was always centered on Carrie, but the TV plotlines didn't have someone's dire circumstances competing for airtime. This movie took the Carrie-focus too far.

The biggest missed opportunity of this movie was the chance to show women aging gracefully. When your 40-something body looks like it's been over-exercised and starved to fit into size 2 clothes, it's time to switch from a sleeveless sheath into clothes that flatter your body, rather than contain it. All those scrawny (yet sagging) upper arms looked painfully worked out and the clothes didn't look comfortable at all. I'm 43 (44 later this month) and I felt a bit insulted. Is it not okay to look middle-aged? Samantha has been a champion of high self-esteem all along. Was it all based on her youthful looks? How disappointing if her unflagging confidence falls apart when she can no longer pass for 40.

But I doubt we'll have to witness that since they'd be crazy to make a third film after the sad showing of this one. And now I'm done, having spent way more attention on this film than it deserved.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy with my hair

My hair is gone (see my new profile picture) and I feel so much better now. I'm going to be 44 in one month and I just didn't want to carry around a college ponytail anymore. The hair past my shoulders didn't reflect who I think I am anymore and I was out of ideas as to what to do with it. The photos in previous posts show how I was wearing it and it really bored me.

This haircut feels so much better. I don't have to fuss with it as much, it's off my neck and it's not heavy and hot for the summer. I feel more mature, professional and middle-aged. Yay, middle age!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Tired of my hair, Part II

This is how I've started wearing my hair to work, just to get it out of my face. Boring.

Tired of my hair, Part I

This is how my hair typically looks if I do nothing to it but comb it. Ugh.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Facebook is over

I have run my personal Facebook experiment and it is over. In January 2009, I opened an account because I wanted to see what a friend's girlfriend looked like. I stayed for way too long. It was like a crowded party with all these people I hadn't seen in a long time and it looked like so much fun.

At times it was fun. Then it wasn't so much fun. Then I got annoyed with all these high school and elementary school friends who kept tagging me in photos I wasn't really in and then they'd post comments to each other like "Remember that time down in the bowl when we broke all those branches off, but only Johnson got a pink slip from the yard duty?"

If I wanted to live in Walnut Creek, CA in 1977, I'd wear white shoes and a mullet haircut and I wouldn't be in Chicago focusing on 2010. But when I "un-friend" these people, they just send another "friend request." Why? Do they suddenly crave my approval or are they just trying to pull everyone possible into their friendweb?

I have my friends in real life, but was willing to see if Facebook would deepen or expand those friendships. It hasn't. My friends are still my friends and if I can only reach you through Facebook, then I don't know if that's really a friendship. My friends have come to my house and eaten my cooking and talk to me to my face (often loudly). I just don't have a strong connection to people who I have only ever communicated with on Facebook. In a year and a half, Facebook only got me in touch with two people I wouldn't have found any other way, which is very valuable to me, but I think the well is now dry. I'm done.

I'm also tired of a lot of the posts. Even though I'm one of the most self-absorbed people I know, even I'M fed up with the "Libby just made the perfect fried egg" level of revelation Facebook fosters. I'd rather blog. Blogs let you rant at length and encourage actual concentration. I appreciate the blog audience: people who aren't afraid of the commitment it takes to read several paragraphs in one sitting. We're a little more patient and a little more focused (and I realize there's overlap: people who Facebook and read blogs. I'm not disparaging you).

I'm coming back to my blog as the way I communicate with the world. I'm home.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sex and the City, Part One

In the summer of 1999, I was a 33-year-old, never-married, dating-fixated, straight woman whose TV got the HBO channel. I didn't have a boyfriend, I was ready for love and, yes, I was hooked on Sex and the City. One of the series strengths was its willingness to tackle taboo subjects and I have always hoped the movies would do more of that. They haven’t.

Although I wanted to be confidently single Samantha, I was much more like Charlotte, who pined for romance, but even more like Carrie, as I moved into my late-thirties, still never-married and hoping. Should I feel self-conscious about how much I identified with a gratingly self-absorbed character who failed at relationship after relationship, yet remained fixated on a guy who stayed out of reach even as she reached her 40's? So it goes because I really identified with the show, except for how white it was. I'm not quite that white. Where were all the people of color who are supposed to live in New York? But that's another discussion.

I recently watched the first Sex and the City movie (I avoid theaters and never got around to seeing it in 2009). What struck me was that in the last season of the series, Charlotte and Miranda get married and the first movie could have given a window into what married life is like for them. In the final season of the TV show, we see Miranda struggling with the reality of marriage which includes taking care of a mother-in-law with increasing dementia. I wanted more of that reality because the unspoken iron curtain between marrieds and never-marrieds is a ripe taboo for Sex and the City to tackle.

For most of the TV series, the women are on the outside of that curtain. In one 1999 episode, Carrie describes an unspoken arrangement with married friends who own a summer house: Carrie gets a free vacation with them in exchange for juicy stories about her dating life. She explains that when married people ask a single person about her love life, she's expected to share some good stories, but it doesn't go in the other direction.

As Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha move from being four single women to being two singles and two marrieds, I wanted to see them tearing down that iron curtain and dishing about cohabitation struggles, til-death-do-us-part doubts, buyer's remorse and how sex changes when it's with your husband. Instead, the first Sex and the City movie shows us a blissfully, happily married Charlotte, a still-swinging Samantha, and a marriage-fixated Carrie who seems to assume that Miranda's marital problems are a temporary fluke that will never apply to her. Obviously, when you have four women in their 40's and 50's who exhibit middle-age spread only when the storyline wants to make a quick point, we are far removed from reality, but I still felt disappointed.

What I might be reacting to is the tension the show always had between wanting to be every woman's dream life and wanting to show the emotional realities of dating and relationships: it's tough, it's glamorous, it extremely painful, it's gorgeous. The first Sex and the City movie showed the pain of having your dream of getting married destroyed and the gradual recovery that comes afterwards. Parts of it were unblinkingly raw and I appreciated that it gave us an experience we could all relate to: sometimes life sucks. But unlike most of us, Carrie finally gets that unattainable, Hollywood-handsome, impossible man. The glamorous, happy ending makes it another movie that teaches us that we shouldn't give up on those cheating, unavailable, disappearing men who have everything we think we want, except for emotional accessibility. It’s a bad message and it doesn’t break any new ground.

Charlotte's storyline is also disappointing to me. When she gets married, we definitely see some behind-the-marriage-curtain dirt when her Prince Charming husband turns out to be impotent and then she's incapable of conceiving a child. But the neat solution is divorce, after which she marries a man who, although he's the opposite of what Charlotte had idealized, also seems perfect for her (she even tells Carrie that she gets frightened by how happy she is). So, if your marriage has problems, get a divorce and find one that has no problems? This is the kind of myth that is causing so many single, mainstream, highly educated American women to hold out for the perfect guy and it's causing a lot of loneliness.

Samantha, the ever-youthful sex queen who clearly hogged the self-esteem that Carrie and Charlotte need, is a wonderful, life-affirming fantasy creature who should replace Snow White and Ariel, but who never will because society (and that includes us) will never allow it. She's a great role model, but as much as I’ve wanted to, I've never been able to identify with her. Did I ever know, deep down, that I really didn't need a man? No. Also, Samantha is 50 and has the body of a 25-year-old. Does anyone really identify with her?

Only Miranda's storyline comes closest to breaking dangerous myths about dating and marriage. She's the anti-Carrie, and Steve represents the opposite of Big, which of course, means Steve is marriage material from the start. It's the Miranda story I identify with, as much as I'd rather be petite Carrie with her wealthy, muscular Big. I, too, married a man who had to grow on me, who didn't look like my romantic fantasies, but who turned out to be a hundred times better for me than those Bigs I cracked my heart on. Only the Miranda storyline shows what happens after the ceremony, back at home with the kid and the mother-in-law. We see her make mistakes with Steve and have to admit those mistakes and we see her reach the same conclusion as Charlotte - that's it's time to split up - and then come back from that decision to forgive her husband, and herself, and accept the compromises of a true union.

I'm not pro-marriage. Divorce is a great idea if the marriage is truly wrong for you and I wish more people would get divorced because there are some marriages that never should have happened in the first place. But the myth of marriage is that if it's right, it always feels right and that is crap. Marriage actually feels wrong a lot of the time and all of us wives (and husbands?) are making the choice every day, every year, to stay together, to give him another chance, to not quit just yet. There's a balance sheet and we regularly compare the pros and cons of staying married. When you hear of a couple celebrating an anniversary, it means the balance sheet is still coming out on the side of marriage over divorce, but no one knows how big that margin is except the couple themselves.

The story of Miranda and Steve illustrates this. It comes closest to showing how you often back up by accident into a long-term commitment and then surprise yourself by staying there. It’s rarely Hollywood-romantic (except for their bridgetop reunion scene) and is the behind-the-marriage-curtain reality that single people need to hear to balance the Carrie and Charlotte attitudes that are hampering our relationships.

Unfortunately, Miranda’s story is overshadowed by the others, as when we witness the arrogance of Carrie counseling Miranda on her marriage, when it should be Miranda giving Carrie the hard facts of true commitment. But I guess the Miranda story has to be downplayed in order to appeal to the advertisers, as well as to us women. We’re hooked like junk food, which is like cocaine, and I understand the new movie does an even worse job of addressing anything real. I’ll let you know after I see it.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

You can't tell me death will be worse

I went to the University of California at Berkeley. I had many opportunities to not only drink alcohol, but smoke marijuana, snort cocaine and drink psychedelic mushroom tea. I did none of it. At the time I thought it was because I was afraid of addiction, descent and ending up dying in a gutter somewhere. Now I realize that I've avoided many things, not out of fear of death, but out of fear of life. I rejected opportunities to experience being drunk or high because I was afraid of the pain of living. I have, in fact, passed up many opportunities to travel, explore, love and try new things beause of that fear.

I find life uncomfortable enough without taking risks to experience more of it.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Healthy Whine

Since the last time I posted, my doctor told me to cut out even the few fruits I was allowed to eat. I spent three weeks eating nothing but vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts and beans. At least I could still have oils and spices and herbs.

She's now allowed me to have one piece of fruit a day. I relish that one apple or banana and eat it very slowly with nuts. My weight loss halted at five pounds. I think it's because my desire for sweets now has to be satisfied with nuts and nut butters which are much higher in calories than fruit. I'm frustrated by a diet that gives my sweet tooth no relief, except for that one piece of fruit a day, nuts and nut butters.

So that's the downside of the sugar- and starch-free candida diet. The benefits are:

I no longer have daily stomach aches after EVERY meal (these interrupted sleeping, working and leisure time)
I now weigh less than my driver's license says.
My skin feels better and eczema is diminishing.
I'm hungry less and eat less in general.
I don't get those cruel afternoon dips in energy.
No more uncomfortably full feeling when I leave a restaurant.
Have discovered that my body loves a hot breakfast (eggs, steamed kale, mung bean pancakes). I might never go back to those morning smoothies.

The one thing that has not resulted is a lower grocery bill. This disappoints me. Considering the scope of American cuisine, I hardly eat anything anymore: just vegetables and protein. Shouldn't my grocery bill have plummeted?

Apparently, the money I'm not spending on bread, cereal, dairy products, soda, juice, alcohol, pasta, salad dressing, cookies, canned goods, frozen crap, processed meats and that huge category called Snack Foods is completely absorbed by the cost of carrots, broccoli, kale, zucchini, scallions, avocados, lemons, ONE apple, onions, garlic, fresh ginger and dried bulk items like split peas, mung beans, pinto beans, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews and sunflower seeds.

It's not fair. Coupons don't exist for eggs, fresh salmon and broccoli. Coupons mainly apply to processed foods which contain ingredients that are hugely subsidized by the government: wheat, corn and soy.

A simple diet does not yet lead to a reduced grocery bill, and I'm not even talking about organic food, which is another discussion. I am eating light and eating less, but I'm still paying the same as everyone else.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


My Easter memories are of wanting this holiday to be as big and bright as Christmas, but it never was. Maybe part of the reason Easter has never been as big as Christmas is that Easter coincides with the spring solstice and Christmas coincides with the winter solstice and people need much more partying when facing the severity of winter than they need when they're facing the easy times of summer. Maybe just knowing that the warm temperatures are coming makes us happy enough to not need so many sparkling lights and holiday music and foods that only show up at this time of year. In ancient times, Christmas was the final celebration before months of cold, darkness that often brought famine and death. Easter, on the other hand, ushered in the bright, abundant months of sunshine, fruit that's ripe for the picking and outdoor temperatures you can sleep in. At this time of year, people didn't need to whistle in the dark or dance on the rim of an uncertain future.

All I know is that the best thing about Easter was the candy: Reese's peanut butter eggs, Cadbury's creme eggs and the one and only time I got a white chocolate solid rabbit that I savored slowly (I didn't like chocolate as a kid). Besides that, Easter was a long, dreary week of extra church services, interminable stations of the cross and the final days of not having whatever it was I gave up for Lent. Easter Sunday was another boring church service (really, they were always boring), but this time in new clothes that were fun for about half an hour. Then we'd come home, take off the clothes that we'd been wearing for way more than an half an hour, and lie around the house, waiting for my mother to finish cooking the ham. Maybe she'd make an Easter cake, which was the other undeniably good thing about the day. Then after dinner, there were depressing life-of-Christ movies that focused more on his dying than on what his resurrection was or meant. And that was Easter.

I'd suck on sugar all day long in an attempt to make Easter as fun as Christmas, but it never was. There were no Easter decorations everywhere, no Easter songs to play on the stereo or Easter gifts to unwrap. There was absolutely no feeling at all that children everywhere were enjoying this special holiday that was just for us because Easter never made it to that level of observance and focus on children.

So for me, Easter was a little depressing. The day was anticlimactic and was often overshadowed by the Catholic church's grim focus on Jesus' suffering, which was of course, our fault for being the sinners that required that sacrifice of him. For these reasons, I have never liked Easter. When I was a believer, I didn't particularly like it and I certainly haven't found anything compelling in it now that I'm an atheist.

For me, the best things about Easter are the candy and the heavily frosted cakes in shapes like lambs and crosses (a cross has THE highest surface area of any cake and the way many bakeries run a ribbon of frosting along every edge, a cross cake has more piled on frosting than any cake I've seen in my life. See photo). Unfortunately, now that I'm off sugar, Easter's got nothing for me.

So, happy Sunday afternoon, everyone. I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"I recently cut out fructose"

Do I have that Seinfeld quote right? I'm remembering Kramer telling someone how he stays fit and eats right. Well, I have now cut out fructose, too.

One of my new year's resolutions for 2009 was to avoid corn syrup and cut down on sweets in general. I did that, but it was a struggle. Because I'm lactose intolerant, limited sugar and dairy became my standard way of eating.

Then later in the year, I noticed an allergic reaction to tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplant. These are the nightshade vegetables. So, no more pizza for me.

At the very end of 2009, I realized that the reason I kept getting stomach aches even if I'd had no dairy, nightshades or sugar was that I also had an intolerance to wheat. My list of no-no's stretched to include pasta, bread, tortillas, bagels, crackers and croutons. SO! No more Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean, French or Spanish cuisines. No sandwiches, pasta dishes, anything that contains breadcrumbs or sauces that contain any of my danger foods.

I've been cooking a lot of Indian dinners without the ghee and eating a lot of rice. I make vegetable stew with chicken, fish or beef and carry it to work for lunch most days. Breakfasts have been oatmeal with fruit and nuts. And life has been okay.

But three weeks ago, my doctor identified a condition I've had before. It's called candidiasis and I will let you find out as much as you want about that on your own. The most effective treatment includes a severely restricted diet. You might think this would be no problem since I've been living on a restricted diet, but oh, no. The Candida Diet is even more severe than living without dairy, wheat or processed sugar.

The version of the Candida diet that I'm on requires that I keep avoiding all those foods I've been avoiding and also cut out all grains and flours, all condiments and fermented items like vinegar, all sugar and sweeteners, including artificial sweeteners and most fresh fruit, plus all beverages, except water and herbal tea. OH, yeah.

For three weeks I've eaten nothing but vegetables, protein and a few fruits like hard pears, blueberries and grapefruit (but it turns out that my skin reacts to the grapefruit, so that's back out). I'll probably have to stay on the Candida Diet for another month, then my doctor might start letting me bring back food groups one at a time, separated by weeks. In the past -- yeah, I've done this before -- the first group I could add back was fruit. Then a few weeks later, condiments. Then all grains except for wheat. Then wheat. Then sugar. And last of all, dairy, but I don't like much dairy anyway, so I don't care about that.

I've lost four pounds. It'll come back once I'm eating normally again, so the question is how do I retain enough of this diet to keep the weight loss? I don't know. It's actually pretty nice in some ways. The payoff for not being able to eat all those baked goods, potato chips and chocolate is that I can totally indulge in all the avocado, almonds, and dark meat chicken I want. I put olive oil on everything with no guilt at all. I eat this way and still lose weight. It's been kind of fun sometimes, like when I'm stepping on the scale or putting on those pants that used to fit tight.

But it's not fun at all when I sit at my desk wanting, no NEEDING one of the cupcakes I know others are enjoying at the afternoon office social. It's not fun to long for a sandwich, just a #$%-damn sandwich and know it'll set back my healing process if I have it. I sometimes dream of cookies and fluffy cakes, but say "No, thanks, I can't." Imagine how mad I am at myself when I wake up from those dreams.

I'm a sugar addict who's going cold turkey right now and isn't sure how long she can hold out. Like most addicts, I can stay on the wagon for a set amount of time. Knowing this will end, abstention's no problem. But I wish I could kick the sugar habit permanently. I really wish I could eat this healthy for life.

Last night I had my first dream that went the way I wanted it to. After telling myself repeatedly, "Dream of dessert and eat it all. Go ahead and eat cake," I dreamt that I was at a Christmas party. Multi-layered cupcakes and frosted cookies surrounded me. I ate it all and woke up satisfied.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Bob's Wild Life

My husband loves animals and has always had them in his life. We would have a dog, except that he's not home enough to take care of one and we would have a cat except that I'm allergic to them. So instead he feeds the city wildlife. We moved into our current apartment three years ago, partly because it had a room Bob could use for smoking: an enclosed front deck. Since we're on the first floor, it looks right out onto the trees and grass that are between us and the street.

First Bob bought a birdfeeder and got a lot of pleasure out of loading it up every morning and then spending hours watching the sparrows devour its contents. Feeding the little guys made Bob feel good and gave him a calming focus as he sat smoking and listening to the radio each day. But our landlord didn't like it. He said it drew pigeons which were damaging the structure of our building, so eventually Bob took the birdfeeder down and moved it to the back porch. When the landlord found it there, he just took it. Our landlord doesn't like direct conflict so I know talking to Bob about this was hard for him. And passive aggressive people do things like just steal something, so that birdfeeder is gone now.

Then Bob turned to the squirrels. Tossing them whole peanuts didn't draw pigeons because they couldn't open the shells, but the squirrels could. That was actually even more fun for Bob because he would put a pile of nuts right in front of him, on the ledge of the window of the enclosed deck, and the little rodents would climb up to get them. Bob gave them names like Blackie, Cloudy and Fred, and always greeted them. When a squirrel would nervously dash off again, Bob would say, "Okay, 'bye now." Bob went through a lot of peanuts.

Sometimes a squirrel would be on the ground outside Bob's deck and it wouldn't feel like going all the way up there. It would stand on its hind legs and stretch toward Bob. Bob would hold a peanut out the window. The squirrel would inch closer on its hind legs, looking like it was dancing. By the time Bob threw the peanut, I'd be laughing.

After that, Bob got in the habit of tossing the squirrels peanuts as if they were dogs, but unlike dogs, squirrels have really bad eyes and could never find a peanut unless it landed right next to them or hit them on the head, which sometimes happened. I used to wonder of the squirrels were developing a Pavlovian response to the smell of cigarette smoke or the sound of WGN.

But this couldn't last either, since the peanut shells littered the tiny lawn that our landlord carefully tends in front of our building. He does a considerable amount of landscaping and nurtures fresh grass, flowering bushes and tanbarked trees. It's the most beautifully landscaped building on the block, so of course it drove the landlord crazy that Bob's generosity was causing litter and holes in his garden. I didn't like that the front of our building was starting to look like the inside of a bar, with the broken peanut shells, but I also knew how much pleasure Bob got from his ritual. I just tried to stay out of it.

It was a low-intensity standoff between my husband and our landlord. Carlos. Bob started picking up the shells that dropped, but that still left the holes the squirrels would dig to hide the nuts. When Carlos came around, he'd bring a slingshot and try to hit the squirrels. Bob couldn't stand this and would withdraw into the apartment when he saw Carlos coming. If I were home, I confront Carlos about the cruelty of the slingshot, but both my husband and the landlord loathed direct confontation, so theirs was a low-contact conflict.

One day, when Bob returned to his post after Carlos had finished his vigilante work, Bob saw a hole in one of the enclosed deck windows. He went to find Carlos.

"Were you just outside shooting rocks at the squirrels?" Bob asked him.
"Yes," said Carlos.
"You broke one of our windows!"
"No, I don't think so."
"Yeah, you did. Come here."

As they stood and looked at our double-paned window, the outside pane of which was punctured, Bob said, "See? Look. How would you like it if someone took a slingshot to you? You're too old to be playing with a slingshot. And I'm not paying for this!"

Carlos looked at the hole and wouldn't look Bob in the eye. He still wouldn't admit breaking the window, but he said, "I'll take care of it."

It was months before Carlos replaced that pane, but he didn't let up on Bob. He wanted the peanuts to stop. So, Bob finally stopped. Having peace between him and our landlord was more important. There were no more peanuts for his friends, but because Bob couldn't stand having the squirrels look at him "that way," he stopped sitting out on the front deck. For months he switched to smoking on the back deck, waiting for the squirrels to forget and stop coming around, which they eventually did.

While on that back deck, Bob noticed a cat with a litter of kittens that was living on the abandoned lot next door. The condominium had been half-built when the recession caused all construction to stop. Now it housed a family of cats. Bob tried to figure out how to get food to the cat, but he hadn't quite worked it out when workers came and boarded up the building, to keep out transients. After the doors and windows were sealed shut, Bob didn't see the cat or her kittens again. We tried not to think about it. Then Bob discovered Mob Wars and Farm Town and stopped spending as much time outside, listening to the radio.

In the past few months, Bob has discovered his latest "work around." Carlos doesn't want peanut shells on our property, but no one's keeping tabs on the abandoned lot next to us. The grass in front grows wild and is choked with weeds and litter. So now, each morning, Bob fills one baggie with peanuts and another with birdseed and scatters this on the ground there on his way to work. He doesn't get to watch the recipients enjoy it or see their smiles of gratitude, but he knows how they feel. I think you just can't stop some people from taking care of others. It's going to happen one way or another.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

One minute

1. I gave blood yesterday. It took me one hour to save three lives. Have you ever saved a life? If not, get in there. If so, get in there and save some more.

2. Today we finished taking down our Christmas tree. Yes, Bob and I are big Christmas people and have to wean ourselves off the holidays very gradually. We're okay now.

3. I never get sick. And no matter how many times I say, write or shout it, I never jinx myself and get sick. I NEVER GET SICK! (Hey, is that a cough? Nope.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ah, yes - Valentine's Day

And then there's Valentine's Day. I'm a sucker for a celebration and if it includes sweets, so much the better. In the true American spirit, I mainly view it as another reason to eat stuff that's bad for you. But as a woman who was single into her 40's, I also understand the emotional heaviness of February 14th. The worst for me was Valentine's Day 2003. It fell on a Friday, and besides being 37 and never-married, I was also struggling with clinical depression. I spent the day sitting at my isolated desk at my isolated job, crying. Seriously, I had so little to do at this job, I could just sit there, facing a wall, weeping. So I know how that goes, too.

Actually, there might be no harm in Valentine's Day, except that romantic love is hard to come by and many of us measure ourselves by how much of it we have in our lives. We have turned this minor holiday that really only concerns a part of the population into a reason to beat on ourselves for how inadequately we're participating in it. It has become part of the tradition of unrealistic expectations, especially for women who have never been married.

Unrealistic expectations can be deadly. There's a book out that I plan to read soon called Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. Apparently Lori Gottlieb, the author, presented a controversial argument a year ago on The Today Show. She said that if you're a woman who's around 30 years old and you really want to be married, it's time to stop waiting for that perfect Mr. Right and settle down with Mr. Good Enough, who's right here in front of you.

Who the heck is Lori Gottlieb and why is she telling us what to do? According to an article in the February 2010 Oprah Magazine, Gottlieb is a 42-year-old, single woman who went to Stanford Medical School and has written several successful books. She's witty, beautiful and independent. She wanted a husband and family and now has a four-year-old son by a sperm donor. She knows what she's talking about. According to the article, she had a few chances to marry, but missed them by focusing on the guy's flaws and expecting too much. Gottlieb is still dating and hoping for marriage, but has undergone a change in expectations. Her new book backs up the argument she asserted a year ago with evidence from sociologists, behavioral economists, social psychologists and statisticians.

I plan to read this book, especially since it sounds like a main argument is one I'd support: that women have been taught that we deserve the best and we should never settle for less, but this creates unrealistic expectations that often sink our dreams. I believe we do expect the best of everything, but I also believe we have confused the best with perfection. I'm saying that we might be able to identify the best guy to date in any given group of men, but if he's human, he's going to have flaws and disappoint us some of the time. Sadly, I think a lot of us are waiting in vain for the man who will fulfill our every expectation .

When I was single, I got the advice to make a list of characteristics I wanted in my ideal partner. Now I realize that I was confusing "ideal for me" with "ideal human being in general." I made that list and held it dear for years, but it got me nowhere because it eliminated too many viable partners. In fact, it eliminated all of them. I thought I was seeking the perfect mate, forgetting the rest of the phrase "perfect mate for me." There is no such thing as a person who will meet every criteria and desire with no disappointments, but I believed for years that the Universe or God or the angels or whatever had some ideal, incredible human being who would lift me out of all my misery and we would just be happy.

Where did I get that idea?

Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Sixteen Candles, When Harry Met Sally, most romance novels and Hollywood films, plus the general cultural myth that marriage makes women happy and if you're single and unhappy, getting married will solve everything. I got the idea from everywhere.

But deep down I was terrified of marriage and intimacy, so as much as I wanted it, I was also more than willing to use unrealistic expectations to keep it all away from me. And I did. I think many women do.

Whether a woman is avoiding marriage or is seriously ready for it, they myth of Mr. Right is a deadly one and it gets worse as we get older. Okay, here's where I get controversial. I think it's easier to believe we've found Mr. Right when we're in our early to mid-twenties because of youth and hormones. Young men have more energy, muscle mass, hair, radiance of youth and virility. They believe they're going to change the world and haven't had their idealism beaten out of them yet. They're hot for us and willing to do a lot to secure our sexual fidelity. As much baggage as young men might carry from childhood, it hasn't yet calcified into decades of destructive behavior. Although they might have addictions, their bodies aren't yet ruined by years of substance abuse. They don't have ex-wives and alimony. They haven't reached some career pinnacle that keeps them stressed from too much work and responsibility. They aren't yet jaded.

The same is true for us as young women. Our bodies' desire for sex goes a long way in propelling us to believe we are In Love and this guy is The One. We're young and sex-focused, they're young and sex-focused, everybody's flaws and destructive tendencies are in their early stages and the sex is often great. I'm not saying every twenty-five-year-old finds her man. Obviously not or we wouldn't be discussing this at all. I'm saying that the myth of Mr. Right is easier to fulfill when we're young and horny than it is later in life.

Unfortunately, the myth of Mr. Right never dies, so we have all these never-married women in their 30's, 40's, 50's and so on, staunchly determined to achieve that hormonal, head-over-heels feeling we know we're entitled to, looking and looking and looking with ever increasing disappointment. Yes, we are entitled to that incredible feeling like we're all entitled to great parents and unconditional love. But that doesn't mean it's going to happen. Also, that hormonal, head-over-heels feeling doesn't mean you've met a guy who'll make a good husband, just like the absence of it doesn't mean a guy won't make a good husband.

My experience of falling in love in my early twenties was very different from my experience of falling in love in my early thirties. I remember being absolutely unable to focus on anything for days when I was 22 and in the throes of a new, sexual romance. It was very drug-like. My body needed him. I was content to just sit and stare at a wall and think about him. You might say those were indicators that that guy was Mr. Right and I should have married him twenty years ago. But the daily dynamics that we developed were not good and after two years I realized that the relationship was more destructive than supportive and we ended it.

In my early thirties, falling in love still brought giddiness and sexual fixation, but not as much. The men I dated then would have made much better partners for me than the first guy, but because that full flush feeling wasn't there, plus my destructive relationship behaviors had fully ripened, those relationships fell apart even faster. Of course, I thought the problem was that I hadn't met Mr. Right, who would both evoke all the mania and fantasy of that first romance and tame all my insecurity and fears.

Uh, yeah, no one was going to do that. The insecurity and fears were up to me.

The adjustment of my attitude took a while and part of that story is told in another post "How I got married." At the same time that I worked on my fear of marriage, I also read a book called There Is No Prince by Marilyn Graman and Maureen Walsh. Parts of it are annoying (I don't need cartoon-like fables to help me understand arguments), but the general message is that we need to destroy that Prince Charming myth and start looking at real, flawed men as the diamonds-in-the-rough that they are. Reading this book, I began to accept that no man is a "perfect mate," everyone has their baggage and if I sure as heck know I have flaws, why would I deny a guy the right to have his?

Now that I'm married (less than two years), I'm facing another challenging reality: my husband and I are going to have our problems and we are going to work through them. Just as I must jettison my expectation that this is happily ever after, so must I not think that the first sign of trouble means he wasn't a good choice and I'd better get back out there and keep looking for a husband. I'm almost 44 and I might spend the rest of my life recovering from that damn marriage/Prince Charming myth.

But for me, messages like Gottlieb's and Graman/Walsh's help. Day-to-day happiness has a much broader and subtler palate than the sexual fireworks and shot-through-the-heart romance we're set up to believe in. Those clichés hurt us and make us think there's something wrong with us if we don't get the incredible romance we believe everyone else is getting. I remember sharply the pain of protracted spinsterhood and am now beginning my struggle with the reality of marriage. I'm learning that sometimes contentment requires a stretch for me to recognize it.

Turn Valentine's Day into what you want it to be, or just ignore it, but let's stop participating in the myths.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Simple Things I Enjoyed Today

1. Sleeping in.
2. Yoga stretches.
3. Warm bowl of oatmeal with fruit, nuts and spices.
4. Water.
5. Walking without pain.
6. Crunching through ice and salt.
7. A nap.
8. Olive oil.
9. A hug.
10. Lights on our tree.