Sunday, October 19, 2014

If Jack Sprat had Crohn's Disease

I was raised in the 1970s in one of those families that ate every meal together. While food was rarely fancy, my mom always prepared a balanced meal that contained a starch, meat protein, some sort of dairy (invariably a glass of milk) and a vegetable. My mom occasionally experimented with amazing (Chinese fried chicken) and disastrous (lion's head meatballs) results.

As a married adult who tends to play the caretaker role, I've bought into the idea that my job is to cook for my family. But, my husband has a particularly advanced form of Crohn's disease, which leaves him with mercurial eating habits. He doesn't have enough small intestine left to have much use for vegetables or any other food with any measure of fiber. (His body cannot process them.) The speed at which his body processes his meals means spicy foods tend to cause discomfort, as does anything with pointy edges. In this same vein, his body doesn't absorb bad nutrients the way mine does (or most other people's do). So, processed food, cheese, fat, sugar - all fair game.

On the flip side, if left to my druthers, I tend to cook vegetarian meals for myself, particularly Indian and North African flavors that I'll serve with brown rice. And loads of butter,  salt and spice. Oh, and I'm lactose intolerant. So high doses of dairy are taboo.

So, if left to our own devices, my husband and I would eat completely different meals.

But, because I have this belief that cooking for my husband is one of the ways to show I care for him, I've figured out how to make meals we both will eat. The meals we share are likely to be composed of animal protein with white rice or pasta.I'll cook a veggie for myself, or if it is one of the few veggies he'll eat (spinach, asparagus, cauliflower, peas), I might OVERCOOK a vegetable for us to share.

While I'm cooking, BMG might snack on some cheese, while I drink wine and sample from the meal as it simmers. When we serve dinner, BMG will take a portion of the meat we've cooked and a triple serving of carbs. And me? I'll eat a generous serving of meat and vegetables and a light helping of carbs. For our dessert course, I'll continue with another serving of beer or wine, and BMG gets dessert - often an ice cream novelty or candy.

When I'm preparing meals for us, I'm often reminded of the classic Mother Goose rhyme, Jack Sprat:
Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
his wife could eat no lean.
So betwixt them both,
they licked the platter clean. 

But, with slightly different words:

Jack Sprat ate carbs and crap
His wife? The wine and greens.
So betwixt them both,
they licked the platter clean.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I want my two hours!

I have the opportunity to reclaims two hours a day of my life. How? By reducing my commute from 2.5+ hours a day (round trip) to only 40 minutes.

There are a handful of reasons why I started to put feelers in the market, none of which were related to time management. But, when an opportunity for a lateral move quickly presented itself (same basic work, same base pay) AND the office was 20 minutes from my house, it seemed too good to pass up.

I want my two hours.

If you had two extra hours a day, what would you use it for?

Here's what *I'm* thinking of:
  • More sleep (and less money spent on make-up because I'm not trying to hide the bags of exhaustion under my eyes)
  • An hour a day (well, most days) for exercise
  • Good-bye Hamburger Helper, now that I have more time for preparing healthy and complete meals
  • More sleep in the morning because I don't have to get up early to read the paper now that I can listen to it on public radio while I drive to work
  • Fulfilling my goal of having a healthy garden, because I have time (and energy) before or after work to prune/weed/water
  • More time to talk with my family during the week because I'm in my car, and not taking public transportation, where I can use my cellphone without fear of being *that* person talking non-stop in the close quarters of the subway, bus or boat
It stands to reason that more sleep and more energy during the week will translate into less exhaustion and panic on the weekend. So, instead of dedicating one full weekend day to all of the cleaning and errands I normally do on the weekend PLUS everything I didn't get done during the week, maybe I can:
  • Be fully present with family and friends, instead of resistant to social plans because I'm "too tired"
  • Be fully present with BMG to create adventures 
  • Develop my creative side through dance, writing and art
  • Relearn how to meditate and start a spiritual practice
  • Take action to make the world a better place through community service
  • Give myself permission to take a long bike ride or travel longer distances to explore the world by kayak
At the age of 44, I've realized I want to be known for having a balanced life, not for being the best (insert impressive job title here). Looking back on the 15 years of my working life (post-graduate school), I see that I jumped off the career train pretty early. In this moment, I can admit that I took the leap not with intention, but rather because of fear. Or maybe, on the inside, I knew that I didn't want my legacy to be an amazing career, but rather a robust life.

My rational brain still struggles with this. I actually like my current job. I am pulled, intellectually both to the services my present employer offers in the world and the challenges presented in the workplace as the business grows. It is a good fit for my professional skills and my ego. I'm not burnt out, I have no ill will towards the company or my colleagues. In this context, leaving feels like a weird thing to do.

But I want my two hours. I really want my two hours.

So, I'm going to take them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I've written extensively about my childhood and its influence on my as an adult.

I've written so much about my childhood, that a friend once said, after reading my blog, "Your family reminds me so much of Jeanette Walls' family as described in The Glass Castle."

While I need to be mindful of hyperbole, I can say that my childhood was apparently wackier than most.

Yup, my siblings and I ran with scissors while sucking on lollipops throughout our unattended home. While my single mom worked multiple jobs to provide for her five kids, we populated the neighborhood like a band of English school boys following a deadly plane crash.

But we always did our chores first.

My mom knows she did a good job raising her kids. And she also knows she was lucky.

On those occasions when I've reminisced with my mom about the crazy that was my childhood, she has been reflective. "It is amazing that none of you got into more trouble. I am glad that none of you made such bad choices that you ended up in jail, with an addiction, a family before you were ready, or serious illness or injury." (My therapist has said the same thing.)

And recently, she has been adding the following, "I believe each of my kids has an extraordinary work ethic. This is part of what helped you become the people you are today. And I'm sorry that I taught you that work comes before pleasure, that you can't stop to smell the roses before you finish your chores, that getting things done is the goal of life."

Wha?! Recanting the primacy of the almighty list?!

She continues, "Getting things done is important. But it isn't the goal of life. The goal of life is to have fun, enjoy friends and family, seek out and appreciate beauty. I wish you - and your siblings - could unlearn just a little bit of that work ethic I instilled in you. Before its too late."

Carol has spoken. I'm going to cross "Write blog post" off my list of things to do and go have some fun.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Park N-Shop

I had to take the strengths finder aptitude test for work and discovered that I am an "achiever."  What this means is "By the end of every day I must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about myself."

Big surprise.

I was raised by a list maker. Every day she would make a list of things that needed to be done. When my four siblings and I were old enough to read (and do chores), my mother would make lists for us too. "You can't play until you've done everything on your list" was her mantra. To further cement the importance of lists in our lives, we even played games that started with making lists.

Park N-Shop dealt each player a set of errand cards. The object of the game was to run your errands more efficiently than anyone else. The game board was a mock-up of a downtown square, and you rolled the dice to see how many sidewalk squares you could move to get to your next destination. Park N-Shop was such an influential game in my family that it became part of our vernacular, slang for being more or less efficient than one would like. As in "I am not park n-shopping very well today."

In Park N-Shop your errand cards functioned as your list. and one of the core strategies of Park N-Shop was to review your cards and plot out the most efficient route for tearing through downtown.

Luckily, I also married a list maker.

We just made our list of things to do this weekend, and have finished negotiating the first leg of our weekend errand running. We will drive to the farmer's market. Buy whatever vegetables (or other goodies) we want. We will then store them in the car while we walk to a local watering hole so BMG can pick up his football cards. We'll then walk back to the car, and head to the mall to return something and look for a new bookshelf for the living room. On the way back, we'll stop at Bed Bath and Beyond so I can get the new floor and carpet steamer I've been wanting. Once at home, we'll move the clean sheets from the dryer and make the bed, and move the wet towels to the dryer. Then, I'll clean the bathroom (including steam cleaning the floor).


This achiever feels satisfied today.

Monday, March 24, 2014

15 literary influences

There is a meme circulating on Facebook right now. It invites people to list the first 15 literary influences in their lives - in under 15 minutes.

Because my husband, BMG, asked, here are mine, organized by the type of influence they had on me:

Stories I remember reading in my childhood:

  • Carolyn Haywood - Hers were the first mindless serials I remember reading obsessively. To this day I still find an author I like and then inhale her/his books. The author du jour is Deborah Crombie. I continuously stalk the library shelves for books by Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, and Jonathan and Faye Kellerman
  • Ray Bradbury (ONLY because of the short story "All Summer In A Day," which I had to read in 4th grade. It horrified and fascinated me and I've never forgotten it.)

These two guys wrote the first "adult books" I ever read:

  • Stephen King - "The Stand" was the first long form adult book I ever read. (My pal Erika gave me the Stephen King gateway drug, "Night Moves." Yup, I mean business when I read
  • John Irving - My aunt loaned me her copy of "The Cider House Rules," which started a ridiculous love affair with his work and helped me become a feminist. "A Son of the Circus" was nothing but irritating to me, then I learned that John Irving has an elitist side IRL, and the love affair ended. 

These authors wrote books I read during my college years - some because I had to, others because I wanted to. All introduced me to new ideas and world views that had an impact on me:

  • Margaret Atwood - "The Handmaid's Tale" was on the reading list the summer before my freshman year
  • Aldous Huxley - "Brave New World"? Woah. 
  • William Golding - "Lord of the Flies" is still a useful cultural reference today. Go banana.

Yep, I love to escape inside a good, all-consuming fantasy world, and these are the masters, IMHO:

  • Johnny Gruelle - Boy did I get lost inside the Raggedy Ann and Andy books of my youth. Perhaps these books helped launch my love affair with gnomes? 
  • William Goldman - "The Princess Bride" rocked my world. If you haven't read it, you need to because it is pure genius. 
  • J.K. Rowling
  • J.R.R. Tolkein - I read "The Hobbit" while camping and backpacking in Yosemite National Park. The redwood forests are a terrific place to to imagine the world of hobbits really exist.
  • Gregory Maguire - "Wicked" was the first and best. All the others he has written are too derivative of the first and don't come close to capturing the magic of his reimagined "Wizard of Oz." 

And just a few that can only be categorized as being the authors of memorable books that help me see the world in different ways:
  • Amy Tan - "The Joy Luck Club" because it and her other books, like those by Lisa See, opened my eyes to the cultural peculiarities of the mother/daughter relationship
  • Mark Salzman - I truly and seriously love the book "The Laughing Sutra" for helping me appreciate the value of adventure for adventure's sake.
  • David McCullough - Who knew history could be so engaging?!
Which authors are on your list? Why? 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A pal recently sent me a chain letter, inviting me to share words of inspiration with her and a friend.

"Send a quote? I'm full of quotes!" I thought, so I passed it along with this message to eight friends:

My pal Angie invited me to play Buddhist chain letter. Who can't use a little more inspiration in their lives? (And luckily, you won't die if you don't play.)

Here's how it works.

I'm participating in a collective, constructive, and hopefully uplifting exchange. It's a one-time thing and I hope you will participate. We have picked people we think would be faithful, and make it fun. Please send an encouraging quote or verse to the person whose name is in position 1 below (even if you don't know him or her). It should be a favorite text verse/motivational poem/prayer/meditation that has lifted you when you were experiencing challenging times. Don't agonize over it--it is one you reach for when you need it or the one that you always turn to.

(Minimally, I invite you send some inspiring love to Angie.)

Imagine two names and email addresses here

After you've sent the short poem/verse/meditation/quote/etc. to the person in position 1, and only that person, copy this letter into a new email, move my name to position 1. and put your name in position 2. Only my name and your name should show when you email. Send to 20 friends using BCC. (I can't think of 20 people to send this to! Pick as many as you think is appropriate.) If you cannot do this in five days, let us know so it will be fair to those participating. It's fun to see where they come from. Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas and inspiration. The turnaround is fast, as there are only two names on the list, and you only have to do it once.


I share with you what I received in return. 

1.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Desiderata

2.  Art & Fear:Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.


Sometimes, hidden from me in daily custom and in ritual
I live by you unaware, as if by the beating of my heart.
Suddenly you flare again in my sight
A wild rose at the edge of the thicket where yesterday there was only shade
And I am blessed and choose again,
That which I chose before.

4. See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.

5. "Dear Crazy, Crying Heart" by Barbara Pescan
Oh, my hear
dear foolish on,
sweet crazy keening heart---
Get ready -- hush ---
let the winds sweep clean the hidden corners of your lies
Stop crying and wrap your arms
around that child in htere
the one in the crash helmet
the one with the broken leg
the baby in the dark
the one with the broken heart
the baby knowing its hand for the first time
the child full of milk and lullabies
the child with not food in its belly
It is all God
It is all God
the food         the baby     the hunger
the starfish hand with translucent fingertips
the wrinkles of your face
the memories of seventy years
and knowing your wholeness at another's touch
the brokenness
the cry at the bottom of the mine
the song from the top of the tree
All God, All God
all pouring itself out 
for you, heart
dear crazy crying heart
listen to your song.        Ah.      Amen.

6. "I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will." ~Edward Everett Hale, Unitarian minister

7. Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. 

8. Some lines that I love, from Dylan Thomas's Fern Hill (I hope he'll forgive me for chopping his poem down to a few lines):
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green, The night above the dingle starry, Time let me hail and climb Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying Though I sang in my chains like the sea. 

Golden Girl

I'm the golden girl at work right now.

It is both flattering AND extremely uncomfortable.

The flattering needs no explanation. The extremely uncomfortable? I said to my boss this week, "When you are the top, the only way to move is down. I'm not looking to move down right now."

I'm not looking to move down. But given my performance of late, everyone is asking me, "What DO you want to do here?"

I used to want a career. And the attendant power and authority that came with being an Executive Director or CEO. My career ambition in high school? A very modest "to be the first female president of the United States." (Sorry Hillary, but it isn't yet your time.) In fact, I remain $19,000 in student loan debt (down from a high of $90,000, thank you very much) as a result of my pursuit of not one, but a greedy TWO graduate degrees.

But now, when asked this question, I simply respond, "I want to make a positive contribution, and earn  enough money to have a life worth living." I want to travel worry-free, I want to share exciting experiences with my loved ones experiences, I want to have a beautiful home.

So, this golden girl is taking a step back, evaluating her options, and choosing the path that will help her live a robust life without the hassle of a career.