Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Getting back to the real me

25 Dec 2013

20 Dec 2014
So last September, I started reducing sugar and starches because my blood work showed high blood sugar. Then in November, I completely cut out all sugar, grains, dairy, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods because of horrific menstrual cramps. Between 24 November and 24 December 2014, I exclusively ate meat, chicken, fish, eggs, vegetables, avocados, nuts and beans. Contrary to the still popular belief that the way to lose weight and improve health is to count calories and reduce fat intake, I didn't count calories and ate fatty cuts of meat and plenty of butter, eggs, avocados, nuts and coconut oil (lots of coconut oil).

In early December new blood work showed that I'd improved my numbers! I was happy to learn that I'd lowered my fasting blood sugar level, and by Christmas I'd even lost some weight. I have better energy, digestion and moods. No one can tell me that cutting down on fat and animal foods is my path to health. My path to health includes dead animals and lots of oils and fats.

Exercise is also supposed to be necessary for weight loss, but even though I've tried to get myself to exercise, I didn't manage much more than a few yoga stretches a few days a week. Burning calories hasn't been part of my transformation, yet I still took three inches off my waistline. But exercise IS a huge part of physical and mental health. I've got to get myself in gear because physical movement is critical for brain function, good hormonal levels and healthy organs; it just isn't part of losing weight.

Some backstory:
It was October 2012 when I began my weight gain. From 2012 to 2013 I put 50 pounds on my 5'2" body, until I weighed 180 pounds at my mother's funeral in June 2013. Early details of my adventure going from a size 8 gym rat to a size 18 non-exerciser are here, here and here. For the whole story, also see:

Today as I was toweling off my arms after a shower, I saw the definition of my biceps for the first time in two years. Recently my collar bones have started to emerge. As a sculptor carves away the marble that isn't part of the statue, I'm discarding the parts that aren't really me. I'm getting back to my natural weight. I'm getting my real body back and I'm very excited about it! (If you've read this post, please also read this post.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

25 Dec 1914: The World War I Christmas Truce


This summer and fall, many have been recognizing the 100th anniversary of the early events of World War I (which lasted 1914-1918), but here's one we should all note. Do you want a story about two warring armies who - for 24 hours -  stopped firing on each other, out of respect for a holiday? It almost reads like a fable about desperate men who just couldn't bring themselves to obey orders because this one day felt too special, but it happened. Soldiers on both sides of a grisly war honored a completely impromptu cease-fire, even against the wishes of their commanding officers. If you want the whole story, pick up a copy of Silent Night: The Story of The World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub (2002). It's a stunning narrative and it's all true (unsurprisingly, it's currently sold out at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but you can get it instantaneously as an ebook. I found a paperback copy in a used bookstore last September).

Weintraub's brief (184 pages) history of the days surrounding the truce gives details of miserable war conditions and horrible weather that somehow didn't cause everyone to hate each other even more. Stress conditions have been proven to increase violence, but incredibly by December 24, 1914 the Germans, Englishmen, Irishmen, Indians, French, Belgians, Scotsmen and North Africans entrenched on the Western Front were ready for a holiday break. Weintraub combed newspapers, letters, personal accounts and military reports for evidence of this truce and he confirms that the Germans initiated it. The English believed the Germans were barbarians and the Germans saw the British and French as soulless, materialists incapable of appreciating Christmas, so everyone's eyes were opened that year!

On Christmas Eve, German soldiers began setting up Christmas trees on their parapets, causing the Allies to wonder what game or trap they were setting up. Within hours the Germans were waving signs that read "WE NO FIGHT YOU NO FIGHT" and the British could hear them singing. Men's voices carried "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" across the area between the two armies, known as No Man's Land. It took some doing for the Germans to convince the English, Irish, Scots and Indians that they were sincere, but the most distrustful, according to Weintraub, were the French. When German soldiers began crossing No Man's Land unarmed, bearing wine, chocolates and cigarettes, the French took the longest to believe them, but eventually they laid down their arms, too. In one area, a trained German dog carried bread, cognac and newspapers back and forth between the German and French lines.

Weintraub speculates that the Christmas tradition might have been stronger in Germany at that time, explaining why the German army equipped themselves with Christmas trees and candles and pushed so hard for everyone to suspend fighting. Many German soldiers risked their lives to walk - completely unprotected - over frozen earth towards the Allies' line. That the Allies held their fire when the enemy began advancing, even unarmed, shows how different war used to be. One English soldier later reported that with German soldiers walking towards their trenches, the English didn't feel like they could shoot unarmed men, but they also couldn't let the enemy behind their lines. What else could the English do but walk out to meet the Germans halfway? So that's exactly what happened: up and down the Western Front soldiers left their trenches to meet, chat, smoke, exchange gifts and even play ball in No Man's Land. For 24 hours they all acted as if they had never been fighting at all.

Hitler was a regular soldier that Christmas, but Weintraub reports that he refused to have anything to do with the fraternizing. Other soldiers later described him as an odd man who never discussed family or anyone back home, didn't smoke or drink and often brooded in his dugout. Apparently Hitler wasn't big on Christmas because not only did he chastize his peers for not fighting on Christmas Eve, he didn't even participate in the reading of the Christmas gospel.

One of my favorite stories comes from the personal letter of a German soldier who wrote to his beloved about going to cut down a tree outside of an abandoned house. While he was there, he wrote, he noticed inebriated members of the French army coming out with bottles of wine. He ran back to his division and returned with six men so they could get some, too. They entered the house and were about to go down to the cellar when a French officer saw them, but he was so drunk he didn't even notice they were German. The officer ordered them to "move out the champagne," so they willingly headed into the wine cellar where they found many Frenchmen, completely sloshed. At this point, the French soldiers recognized their enemy, but they all agreed to a truce for the rest of Christmas as long as the "Parleyvoozes" (the term this soldier used) helped the Germans carry fifty bottles back to their encampment. 

I also like the story of how a German baker dealt with some Algierian soldiers for whom December 24th didn't mean anything. On Christmas Eve the Muslim Algerians kept firing, enraging the pastry cook, who - incredibly - was working on a batch of marzipan balls. His work interrupted, the baker grabbed a decorated tree and furiously charged the enemy line. The Algerian soldiers didn't feel like they could shoot this crazy man, so they watched as the baker reached the halfway point between the lines, set down the tree and lit its candles. He reportedly bellowed, "Now you blockheads! Now you know what's going on! Merry Christmas!" At that point the Algerians received word of the temporary cease-fire and put down their arms.

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce is full of details about that dream-like time when the entire Western Front of The First World War stopped fighting and started sharing cigarettes, souvenirs and goodies from care packages. They spent Christmas Eve drinking and singing, and on Christmas Day they helped each other bury their dead and then played some ball. You can also find an account of the Christmas Truce on Wikipedia, but be sure to throw Wikipedia five bucks if you use them.

This week, 24-25 December, 2014 is the 100th anniversary of this fable that actually happened. Take a moment to consider what it might be like if warring enemies were still able to see each other as human beings, even some of the time, and not as embodiments of beliefs and ideologies. Reviewer Robert Morris wrote that the incident "suggest[s] a human need which transcends military obligations." I call it my favorite war story.

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 while it's horribly unfair and completely fucked up, it's simply TRUE that most white people don't listen to POC 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 POC, or anyone who already knows that police unjustly kill Blacks way more often than whites. If you're a POC who's angry 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 pilot 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. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Grief

For whatever reasons, I'd never experienced grief in my entire life until after my divorce. Sometimes a wave will hit me and I'll feel that utter helpless sense of loss and ache. After the emotions of the past 14 months, I've come to believe that grief is the worst emotion, worse than suicidal self-hatred, worse than bottomless remorse, worse than helpless rage. Fucking grief.

Monday, November 17, 2014

How long before they notice you're dead?

(Again, I'm blogging on an app, so the text goes wonky in spots. Sorry.)

In the article How to Avoid Dying Alone With No One To Claim Your Body, Jezebel's Tracy Moore describes the increasing problem of dead bodies with no one to claim them and people whose death goes unnoticed for days, weeks or months (in some instances years). This is a true concern for those of us who live alone, without family nearby, and especially those who don't have a job to go to each day. Apparently, we're a growing population.

Having lived alone without family nearby for many years, I've considered how long it might take my dead body to be discovered. While it's disturbing to imagine my corpse just lying there for any length of time, I also know that since I'll be dead, it won't matter to me. The fear of one's death going unnoticed is really a fear of not being important to anyone. The discovery of a body that no one missed causes us to reflect on how long it would take someone to notice our death. We think: would it matter if I just dropped out of existence? If not, was my life worth living?

This is the horror of someone's death going unnoticed: it suggests that some of us don't matter. And mattering is a fundamental human need. Everyone wants to matter. 

Fortunately we all get to choose our own criteria for mattering. Some people feel satisfied to have reproduced and perpetuated their values and behaviors. Others feel like they've made a difference if their actions or money have affected many others. For some it takes artistic achievement or improving the lives of others one at a time or fighting the good fight, etc. etc. Fortunately there are many, many ways to believe that one has lived a life that matters. And yet the question of how long it would take your death to be noticed haunts. 

Moore's Jezebel article comes up with one way to make sure your body doesn't rot in obscurity: keep in touch with others. That's certainly a good idea. If you establish the habit of regularly making contact with others, chances are they'll notice a gap in activity. Have a conversation with someone every day, keep a standing phone call on a weekly basis or just text/email/post people frequently. Make your presence felt and someone will notice if you drop out. Someone will come and investigate if you stop answering their messages.

But to the bigger concern of living a life that matters: only you can decide that for yourself. When you hear a story about someone whose corpse went undiscovered for days or weeks, don't let it shake you (and I write this as someone without spouse, offspring or even a cat). Think about the ways you know you're important to others, and if you have doubts about that, then you have your work cut out for you. Make connections, figure out what you believe is important and do it. Live your life fully, by your own standards, and it won't matter what happens after you're gone. That's really the best we can do.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Black Thanksgiving - make it stop


(I'm blogging on an iPad app, so forgive me for the font going weird at times.)

I've been watching with disgust the build-up to the new Black Thursday, which used to be known as Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, although it has its own fraught history, was one American holiday that was observed by government and private businesses alike, without messy ties to any religion. We cherished that holiday as a kind of antithesis to Christmas: Thanksgiving represented a final day of enjoying family and appreciating what we already have, before shifting our attention to the I-need-I-want covetousness of the American holiday season. 

But apparently The Great Recession has eroded our sense of this day like no other force in U.S. history. Or maybe American culture has simply reached the point at which we treasure material things more than time with family/friends. But maybe I'm being too harsh. I must say that I am sympathetic to those who scrape for every dollar, dread the financial pressure of Christmas and can't get through the season without those deals that disappear in the first hours of Black Friday (Thursday). But believing that we will lose love and respect if we don't get our kids/family/friends the ideal gift - or at least show we tried -  perpetuates the worst of American traditions and has led to the erosion of our national day of thanks.

We pride ourselves on living in a land of plenty and we greatly value material success. Perhaps appropriately the American Christmas traditions we established in the 1800s centered on showering children with presents - marketable, appraisable, package-able presents. Over the past 150 years we've broadened this ritual to include holiday presents for almost everyone in our lives, although most of the gifts still go to children. People regularly complain that Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus, but the U.S. has consistently made buying and giving the focus of our holiday rituals. At this point most Americans believe others will look down on them if they don't participate, and regrettably, we do.

This is the belief system we have to dismantle in order to get our Thanksgiving back. It's not enough for the shrill and virtuous among us (including me) to rant against Thanksgiving Day store openings and beg people not to show up. If the driving force behind people who dive for those bargains is the need to reduce how much they spend on the holidays, then let's reduce that pressure in other ways. Let's aim at gutting the whole tradition of giving each other objects in order to show appreciation and love. And let's definitely, for god's sake, deflate the idea that the gifts you give demonstrate your success in life. That has to be one of the stupidest and most insidious American holiday traditions yet: the showing up of your relatives whose Christmas shopping didn't cost as much as yours. 

Such a mind shift would require a fundamental change in how we see personal relationships and money, force our capitalist economy to bend and flex, and push our noses into our sense of self worth and the standards by which we live. It would require us to re-evaluate how we show love and how we measure the love we get from others. I admit that such a shift in consciousness could reasonably be called un-American. 

I say that because the trampling of the holiday that values relationships over cash - especially as it stands as the last rest stop before the commercialism of the Yuletide - is quintessentially American. Anyone who tries to claim that Black Thursday is un-American is actually dead wrong. As American culture goes, stores opening at 6 p.m. (some at 6 a.m.) on Thanksgiving Day was inevitable, and was probably only sped up by the economic desperation of merchants in the new millennium. The modern American Christmas has always rested squarely on ideals of material indulgence. And here we are: forcing store employees to cut short, or skip altogether, the few hours out of the year when we're encouraged to appreciate what we already have.

Please don't shop on Thanksgiving, but really let's go further than that. Join me in taking the pressure off gift giving in general. Make a vow to spend time with the people who love you, instead of getting them things. Chances are that's what they really want anyway. Only a major shift from focusing on the material will get us our Thanksgiving back. It won't be quick or easy, but let's start now. Let's not allow shopping on Thanksgiving to take hold. Americans can't afford to neglect an opportunity to feel grateful for what we already have. Let's not erase a day of gratitude in favor of another day of gimme-gimme commercialism.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Monstrual cramps

I've been battling monster menstrual cramps since Sunday night. Cramps that are so bad they make me miss work was the reason I went on the pill in 2008 and I was really hoping those days were over. But I went off the pill in July because I wanted to get rid of symptoms I was having from it and now the pain is back.

I don't know why it took four cycles for the pain to come back as strong as it did on Sunday night, but this time it cut me down. On a scale of one to ten, it went back and forth in the 5 to 10 range. Yes, 10, which means it was the worst pain I'd ever felt. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin and my hot water bottle did little to help. At times I rocked back and forth, moaning. At times I burst into tears. I left my apartment and walked the neighborhood just to distract myself from the pain and nausea. I tried to stay active, but the pain was never far away. I tapped a LOT. I struggled like this for 48 hours, with only short periods when the pain receded enough for me to get some sleep. This morning I finally woke up without pain and was able to take my time getting up instead of jumping out of bed to try to walk the cramps off. 

Can anyone tell me why menstrual cramps can get so bad in middle age? I'm 48 and didn't have problems with my period until I hit my late 30s. Maybe I needed an Advil or two and that was it. Is this another side effect of the extra hormones we Americans get in our processed meats and dairy products? Is it because my uterus never harbored a fetus? Is it stress related? Does the phase of the moon have anything to do with it? What? What? 

This is day four of my cycle and the dicyclomine my doctor prescribed is just barely holding my monstrual cramps at bay. I have renewed appreciation for birth control pills and want to get back on them. Many people dislike being "hooked on drugs" as they often call it. I don't understand those people. When drugs prevent pain, I don't care much about long-term effects or problems the drugs might cause. If it stops the pain - whether it's physical or related to a mood disorder - give me the drugs. Just give me the drugs. Give me the drugs! [See this post for how I've reduced the cramps. I decided not to go back on the pill.]

Sunday, November 09, 2014

I'm middle-aged and proud of it

I get frustrated with people who try to tell me I'm not middle-aged. Do they think they're being nice? I think they're being delusional. I often say, "What do you mean I'm not middle-aged? I'm 48. How long are you planning to live?" Middle-age traditionally refers to that period when you're about halfway through your actual, physical, heartbeat-measurable life. So why do people try to tell me I'm not middle-aged?

Maybe there's some social construct of what middle age is and people don't think it applies to me. I'll take a guess here at what that construct might include:

1. Graying hair.
2. Slowed physical activity.
3. Weight gain.
4. Increasing aversions to loud noise, late nights, physically demanding activity.
5. Shift towards more conservative dress.
6. Less sexiness.
7. Less sex.
8. Not being able to eat or drink everything you used to be able to handle.
9. Narrowing interests.
10. Expanding interests.

Does that look about right? If it does, I ask anyone who knows me: which of these things does NOT apply to me? The answer is that they ALL apply to me. I solidly identify as middle-aged and I'll say it to anyone. In fact, I find it patronizing and disingenuous when people try to tell me I'm not middle-aged.

Do not patronize me by trying to tell me I'm not middle-aged. You might think you're being polite or complimentary - and to someone else maybe you would be - but it just irritates me (increased irritability is probably another sign of middle age). It also makes me feel like you're trying to deny that I've lived and learned as much as I have. I have memories of what American culture was like in the 90s and 80s and 70s. I've learned a lot about human nature, personal dynamics, cultural trends, health and more personal subjects like living single, managing mental illness, racism, workplace dynamics in six industries, marriage, divorce, etc. etc. et goddamn cetera. Someone who thinks I look like I'm in my 30s (someone told me yesterday she thought I looked like I was in my 20s for chrissake), erases some that history and experience and really doesn't know who I am.

I am every minute of my 48-plus years. The experiences that have made me who I am go all the way back to Sunday July 24, 1966 at a little after 3:00 p.m. (I considerately made my first infant demands when everyone was already awake). Why would I want to deny any of that by shaving years off of my age?

(I hear that those baby boomers - the oldest of whom entered middle age a couple of decades ago - dislike terms like "middle age," "elderly," and "senior." I ask them: what's wrong with age? Are you all ego-delusional? Do you really think some of you get to bypass being old? Stop with the youth-worship and take your places as elder statepeople. Accept the titles of age. Chocolate-covered Jesus, there's nothing wrong with growing old!)

I've waited all my life to be middle-aged and I'm proud to have earned the title. Sure it suggests that I've slowed down, put on weight, become crankier and wish everyone would pipe down. It also suggests that I've been around long enough to have learned a few things about how to live a happier life, and so I have. Middle age brings me increased confidence, less worry, knowing how to take care of myself, being able to set boundaries, more discrimination about who I want to spend time with and general knowledge of how to build the life I really want. I've always been the kind of person others don't tend to screw with, and as I get older that becomes even more true. There's just less fear in my life in general.

As my ex-husband says, there's good and bad in everything. So I say let's stop treating middle age as if it's to be avoided at all costs (god dammit).

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Single and dating again!

When I started this blog in 2004, I was single and dating. In 2008 I got married and felt happy for a while. Then I felt not so happy, and then my husband ended our marriage. Earlier this year we got divorced. So guess what it's time for now? More dating!

Thus do I join the ranks of divorced women who are "back out there." Carrie Fisher tells Bruno Kirby in When Harry Met Sally, "Please promise me I'll never be out there again." In popular culture and conventional wisdom, being single is characterized as being on the outside, as lacking a permanent relationship. It's lonely and scary and feels like a wilderness you can't find your way out of. No one wants to be there.

But in real life there are plenty of us who want to be on the outside. I'm one of them. Having run the experiment of being married and finding out how I do as a wife (not so well), I have no interest in getting hitched again. That's not to say that if Johnny Depp looked me up I wouldn't change my mind, but having just completed one marriage, I'm in no frame of mind to seek out another one. This probably puts me in a common demographic since divorced men are often more eager than divorced women to find another spouse. Men wanting marriage more than women makes sense to me. When I moved out of the apartment I shared with my husband, my list of household tasks went down. The amount of energy I put into his well being decreased and I was able to put that attention on myself. I felt the wonderful freedom of not being accountable to anyone for my time or money, of not having to buy groceries for anyone but myself, of not having to listen to anyone's radio but my own. My sleep habits were no longer influenced by someone else's work schedule. I no longer lived with the daily smell of alcohol. 

There's a rule of thumb that you're not ready to date again until one month has passed for every year you were together with your ex. For me, those months were up in September. Having made the decision to be open to the possibility of dating, I feel -- well, I'm not sure. Somewhere towards the beginning of this decision there was some excitement in feeling like the world is full of possibilities. But the insecurities are also back and I'm disappointed to find that one set of difficulties has been replaced by another.

Twelve years ago my dating was hindered by my active, major depression. It made me obsessive and moody and unable to find anyone satisfactory. No one felt right, I rarely went on a second date and I became convinced that I'd never settle down. My mood disorder caused me to fixate on finding a man, and dating was an almost reflexive response to what I saw as my miserable life. But in spite of my depressive symptoms, I did well on dates. I was young and beautiful and came across as funny and charming. I disappointed many men by turning down a second invitation. I just couldn't let anyone in.

I finally fell in love with the man who would be my husband after I pulled out of that depression, and I fell for him partly because I simply decided to. I made a conscious decision to stop this bullshit and make a commitment and get that ring on my finger. In this way, I enjoyed the age-old tradition of marrying out of insecurity and low self-esteem. I truly felt some of my self-hatred lift after I got married and it hasn't been back.

Maybe not many will say this, but huge numbers of American women get married because we just can't stand to be alone any more and/or we think we'll never find anyone better than the guy who's asking. Those were pretty much my reasons, but not many women admit that, even to themselves.

These days, I manage my chronic depression much better. Now what I struggle with as I wade back into the dating pool are the more common insecurities: am I too old? Too fat? Is the game over for me because I blew it the first time? Will I ever meet anyone ever again who I can have a real, satisfying, romantic relationship with? Do I have to date wrinkled, gray, tired-looking men who look like Dads because those are the ones who are in my age group? I'm not even looking for a permanent, long-term relationship at this point. I just want to go out for a cup of tea or a meal and have a good conversation. I just want to sit across a table from a man who isn't secretly seething with resentment and buried anger towards me. Yeah. That would be really good.

I believe (hope) mine are the common fears of women who start dating again after divorce. I believe (hope) these aren't delusional insecurities that few people can understand. Frustratingly, it seems to me like when I was young and beautiful, I was psychologically unequipped for the mature relationship I pined for. I now feel much more capable of a mature relationship, but I feel old and not very attractive. I'm 48 years old and 40 pounds heavier than I was at the height my previous dating experience. I don't know where to find the party anymore and feel doubtful that there is a party waiting for me.

Before anyone concludes, "Aha! Being single and out there does suck!" I remind anyone who's been reading my blog for any length of time that my insecurities and self-loathing aren't caused by being single. They're what I struggle with in general and they were right there while I was married, too. Sometimes they're triggered by my job. Sometimes they're triggered by how well I can bend and tie my shoelaces. Sometimes they're triggered by the relationship I'm in (or not in). So it goes.

So I keep on getting up in the morning, hoping for more good than bad, and feeling the sharp distinction between me and dead people: they're done. They don't have to worry about any of this anymore.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Happy World Polio Day!


Today is World Polio Day and to link it to Ebola: Nigeria is the African country that has had the best health infrastructure to stamp out Ebola immediately. Why? Because they used their anti-polio efforts on it. Why did they have such strong tools and all those skilled health workers ready to go? In part, because of ROTARY INTERNATIONAL's PolioPlus Program. Nigeria's Emergency Operation Center for Polio Eradication focused on the Ebola virus when it appeared within Nigeria's borders. Because Nigeria has been conducting national polio immunization drives for decades, including door-to-door visits, the Nigerian government was able to mobilize hundreds of health workers to perform thousands of home visits, looking for people with Ebola symptoms or exposure.

Nigeria's response to Ebola was a beautiful thing. Better than the U.S. was able to do.

Ironically, a couple of the countries suffering the most from polio (Afghanistan, Nigeria) have some of the best health infrastructure in place to fight outbreaks of other diseases like Ebola. Now Mali has found Ebola within its borders. Fortunately, Mali is another country that has been on alert against polio outbreaks for years. We'll see how they do.

Watch tonight's World Polio Day livestream program here. It broadcasts at 6:30 PM CDT (GMT-5) today, 24 October. Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will give an update on the status of global polio eradication.

See what you can do to support polio eradication (and, as a consequence, strong public health infrastructure in developing countries) here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

World Polio Day 2014


World Polio Day is recognized every year in October. The date is a bit uncertain: some countries put it on October 28th which was Jonas Salk's birthday, while others have it on October 24th (or 18th) for no reason we've been able to figure out. In the U.S. we do it on the 24th and that's tomorrow.

Rotary International initiated the global polio eradication effort in 1985 and they are way deep in it. They've sunk over US$1.3 billion into this fight since they started it and they're absolutely determined to finish the job. In fact, Rotary was working on immunizing children all over the world before the World Health Organization (WHO) was. WHO didn't join Rotary's battle against polio until 1988. That's when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was established along with UNICEF and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decided to start focusing on polio in 2007, but Rotary was in there at the very beginning and they'll be there at the end.

Rotary is hosting a livestream program that will broadcast on Friday, 24 October between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Chicago time (30.5 hours from when this post goes up). It will feature updates on the status of global polio eradication (only three countries haven't defeated it yet: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria), statements from Ziggy Marley and polio survivor Minda Dentler, and a song by Tessanne Chin (winner of the 5th season of The Voice). It will also offer suggestions for how your can support polio eradication. You can either watch it live as it happens or later as a recording at the same link. If you watch, know that I'm in the room somewhere behind the scenes, helping to put it all together.

You can help build awareness of the need for polio eradication by changing your Facebook photo to this avatar for the day. And here's a whole gallery of things you can post and tweet. Happy World Polio Day! It's a little hard to get the word "polio" out there when "Ebola" is being shouted so loudly, but polio is still a global health emergency (as declared by the WHO in May 2012) and we're on the way to taking care of it forever. Yes, polio still exists. No, nobody is completely safe from it until we wipe it out completely.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Do you use Wikipedia? I love Wikipedia

Yesterday I received an email from Wikipedia's founder that, in part, said this:

We are the small non-profit that runs the #5 website in the world. We have only 175 staff but serve 500 million users, and have costs like any other top site: servers, power, programs, and people.
Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind, a place we can all go to think and learn.
 

To protect our independence, we'll never run ads. We take no government funds. We survive on donations from our readers. Now is the time we ask.
https://donate.wikimedia.org 

Thanks,
Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder
I love Wikipedia. Reading is my favorite way to take in information, so even when I take a break from ebooks and watch a movie, I immediately go to Wikipedia to research the movie I just watched. I  want to find out how it was produced, received, distributed and what else the actors have been in. I can lose myself in Wikipedia by clicking on the link to the novel of the movie and from there on the link to the historical incident it was based on, etc. Or I'll get stuck looking up the terrible 1980s sitcom an actor did, which it takes me way too long to tear myself away from.

I rarely watch more than one movie in a day.

But if you use Wikipedia, you know the hundreds of ways it's been useful to you. Come on, cough up five bucks (US$5). I did.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dip

Two weeks into drastically reducing the sugary and starchy foods I eat, my pants fit better and my energy is good, but this past weekend my resolve took a dip and a big one. I have face blindness and no head at all for visuals, but my memory for dates is way too good. All last week I couldn't get it out of my head that the last time September 27th fell on a Saturday was in 2008, the day Bob and I celebrated our wedding.

On Friday night I had pound cake and cookies for dinner. On Saturday I indulged in potatoes, breaded chicken and more cookies. On Sunday I ate frosted layer cake and potato chips with the last of a tub of onion dip left over from a get together I'd had the night before. The dip wasn't even very good, but I polished it off anyway.*

After some solid support from my friends and a lot of tapping and crying, I'm feeling much better today and I'm back on the wagon. Today is Bob's birthday and exactly six years ago, this was the day we left for a week-long honeymoon (which was great. I love Oregon), but today I'm remembering those things without as much grief and sadness. We had a marriage; it was good for a while, then it wasn't so good, and then Bob ended it. And that's okay.

*This is how someone who doesn't drink alcohol goes on a bender.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What is it like to have bipolar disorder?

Americans have a great fear of what we think bipolar disorder is. We imagine bipolar disorder means unpredictably violent, unreliable or irrational. We also misuse the term. I can't STAND it when someone calls going back and forth between strong opinions bipolar, as in "He was completely for the resolution last month, but now he's totally against it. What is he? Bipolar?" That reference to bipolar disorder is completely ignorant of the reality of the disease.

Bipolar disorder doesn't mean someone is dangerous or unable to make up their mind. It's a mood disorder that -- wait, don't read my words on this. Take a look at artist Ellen Forney's excellent graphic depiction of what it's like to live with bipolar disorder: What Bipolar Disorder Really Feels Like.

Graphic by Ellen Forney

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cutting carbs like my life depends on it

I recently had some blood work done. On September 11th, my doctor told me my blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides were high. I do NOT want diabetes, heart disease or any of the other health problems associated with high blood sugar, so this is my call to action. I've done a lot of reading on the causes of high blood sugar, high cholesterol and high triglycerides, so I'm putting a certain theory to the test. The theory is that the cause of these problems is excess consumption of carbohydrates, not fat.

On September 12th, I drastically cut down on starchy and sugary foods and sweetened drinks. I still allow myself crackers, juice, oatmeal and both fresh and dried fruit, but mostly I eat meat, seafood, vegetables, avocados, eggs, poultry and cottage cheese. Eating as much of these foods as I want, I never go hungry, but this isn't easy for me. I've been addicted to sugar since childhood. Fortunately, after cutting sugar out of my diet cold turkey a few times in my life, I've gotten better at it. This time I'm very relieved that cutting sweets and starches is going the most smoothly yet, with the fewest cravings ever. I'm relieved because I think I've pushed my body as far as it can safely go with all the sugary and starchy food I've eaten my whole life. At the age of 48, it's time to make a permanent change.

So I committed to this cleaner way of eating and experienced a big energy dip for a few days, but that's one of the side effects of a drastic reduction in carbohydrate consumption. Within a week I felt better. Today, on the 22nd, I'm doing very well. I'm eating better and improving my health with no hunger at all. Well, if this theory about starches and sugars is correct, then I'm good. If not, I guess I'll find out because I'm going to keep this up. My doctor said she'll run blood work again in December and we'll see how this experiment ends...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gina Rodriguez

Gina Rodriguez

This is what I've been waiting and planning for. A woman named Gina Rodriguez is poised to become a household name. She's an actress from Chicago, born to Puerto Rican parents, who plays the character Jane Villanueva in the new series Jane the Virgin. I don't know how likely success is for a series in which a young Miami Latina becomes accidentally artificially inseminated during a pelvic exam (plus this series will air on the CW network), but I have faith that even if Jane the Virgin isn't a hit, this Gina Rodriguez will make her way into the mainstream.

"Gina Rodriguez" actually used to be my name when I was little. After I started blogging in the aughts, I realized "Regina Rodriguez' is a very common name, so when I married a Martin, I eagerly hyphenated. I've been waiting for a famous Regina Rodriguez to emerge (actor, politician, sportswoman, she could be anything). When she did, my hyphenated name would keep me from being confused with her when I became a published author (any year now).

"Gina Rodriguez" and "Regina Rodriguez" are very popular names in the U.S, so it's about time one of us finally emerged into the national spotlight. Go, Gina! Maybe I'll even watch your show.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pants*

*In the United States, pants refers to the garment others call trousers.

(A post in which I do nothing but whine.)

I haven't allowed myself to buy pants in quite a while. In 2012 I went from a size 10 to size 14 and in 2013 I went from size 14 to size 16/18. Why did I pile 50 extra pounds onto my 5'2" (57 cm) frame in just nine months? It was an attempt to free myself from my food obsessions and in large part, it worked. After giving myself months to eat whatever I wanted, guilt-free, I felt considerably less pull towards donuts, processed lunch meat and cookies. Certainly, allowing myself to eat them all day long cured me of the desire to eat them all day long. I came out of the experiment free of my worst food habits, but 50 pounds bigger.

Since 2013, I've wondered what I'm supposed to do with my new bigger body. I'm not about to trigger my food issues with a diet, but after being roughly size 8 for most of my adult life, I can't shake the desire to lose this weight. I suspect this is similar to a woman who puts on 50 pounds with a pregnancy and then feels dismay/disappointment/disgust when the weight is still all there a year after having the baby.

After outgrowing my entire wardrobe in 2013, I allowed myself enough pieces to get me through the work week at my office job, but I've been really stingy about it. I can't accept that this is the size my body will be from now on, so my closet has been the emptiest that it's been since I was in college. For over a year I've gotten by with two pairs of pants (elastic waists), three skirts (elastic waists), some sleeveless tops and that's about it. After outgrowing my winter coat, I took over my then-husband's raincoat that he never wore and layered sweaters underneath it. Since my ex-husband is 5'10", that means when the weather is cold, I sweep along like Cousin It. I look like I have no pride and can't afford a new coat.

It's a very common story: woman gains weight and punishes herself with an inadequate wardrobe in anticipation of getting back into the slim clothes any month now. But this fall I've decided enough is enough. I'm tired of wearing the same few clothes every week, so yesterday I went out to buy pants that aren't elastic-waist and that have pockets. I have so missed having pants with pockets. My shopping started at Macy's where I found a bargain on three pairs of slacks (with pockets) and ended at Lane Bryant.

To look at me, you might not guess that I wear a size 16. I'm a short person with small hands and a narrow frame, but here's why my 170 pounds have to go into a size 16 pair of pants: I have an apple shape. While the rest of the garment drapes over my hips and legs, my belly fills every millimeter of a size 16 pant waist. If this same mass were distributed in an hourglass or even a pear shape, I could comfortably fit it into a size 14 or maybe 12. But we can't change our shape, only how big it is. My biology packs on the weight right through the gut, so it's the gut I have to accommodate. The largest circumference of my body is about 3 cm. below my belly button and that means size 16 pants.

It makes me feel unfeminine. I've learned that women are (supposed to be) hourglass- or pear-shaped while men are apple-shaped. But how can that be true when I'm related to so many apple-women and I see so many of us on the street, especially with Chicago's large Mexican population? Apple-women seem to be everywhere, yet women's clothing is often tailored for a form that becomes narrower in exactly the place where I spread out the most. Am I a man-woman? Is my X-chromosome defective because it didn't give me a pear-shape?

And, of course as we all know, carrying extra weight in the abdomen is the most dangerous. Women with sizable hips, butts and thighs might bemoan their shapes, but at least they're carrying their fat in the right places, the healthy places. They have real waists. They have real hips. They're real women.

All of this contributes to my hatred of my body. In Macy's on Chicago's State Street, the largest size in the petite section was 16 and that's what fit comfortably. In those slacks, my butt disappeared and my legs were lost in the fabric, but the pregnant-looking mass of fat in my abdomen FILLED THE WAIST FULLY, like a scrawny, no-ass guy with a beer gut. It didn't help that two of the pairs were on sale. That should have been a score (fifty percent off!), but instead it struck me as proof that no one else wanted these pants. These were no treasure.

Dejected, I walked across the street to Lane Bryant on Wabash. Lane Bryant made me feel better because in their sizing, 14/16 is the smallest. Hey, how 'bout it! Maybe it's all relative, I thought. Maybe I shouldn't shop anywhere ever again besides Lane Bryant. But since their pants were considerably more expensive than the bargains I'd found, I didn't get any more. I constantly hope my bigger-than-the-rest-of-my-body gut will start to reduce, so I'm willing to dress my belly in pants that fit, but I'm not spending real money on it.

Lane Bryant didn't have a lot of tops to choose from, but the jackets caught my eye. I thought about how the only outerwear of mine that fit was a men's hoodie and that huge men's raincoat. I had fully expected to be at least one size smaller by this winter, but I decided it was time to stop the denial. Part of me grumbled with resignation while another part went slack with relief as I bought myself a fall jacket that should get me through a couple of months.

I brought my purchases home without my usual joy of new clothes because everything felt like a sign of capitulation to my fattened state. But if I'm honest with myself, I remember that I also didn't like my body when I was thin. The problem isn't that I'm fat. The problem is that I don't like myself. I was dissatisfied with my body at size 8, too. The truth is that I've never liked my body, never felt like it was the right size or shape, never felt comfortable in it. It's not really about what I look like or how much I've gained, it's just my old habit of hating myself. The self-loathing always comes back. So, this is a post of whining and self-hatred. So it goes. I'm trying to be open to a new way of thinking about myself, but it's slow going.

Jacket might look black, but it's navy blue.