Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Misery Loves Cookery

Looking for me? You can find me, at Misery Loves Cookery, answering reader questions with thoughtful advice and delicious recipes. Think Dear Abby meets Julia Child.

Good advice has never been so delicious, friends. See you there!

Misery Loves Cookery

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Roll Call

It happened this evening during roll call. Unexpected tears, rolling down my cheeks. I couldn't get my glasses off fast enough to wipe them up, so I knocked them half off my face, clumsily.

My daughter asked, "Mom, why are you crying?"

"I am forty-two years old, and I have never seen a woman nominated for president." I could barely choke it out, I had to stop halfway through my sentence. My husband leaned over from his spot next to me on the couch and put his hand on my leg. My daughter came and gave me a hug.

I wasn't a Hillary supporter in the primary. I knew she was bright and capable—I had been convinced of that since I saw her give a brilliant speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison law school while her husband was campaigning for his first term as president. I remember thinking, "He has the charisma, but she has the goods." No, it wasn't because I didn't think she could do the job that I voted for her opponent. Bernie Sanders spoke to my priorities, so I voted with him. 

I was also worried. Having lived in DC during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, and having worked at the Watergate (where she lived, and where the press corps was out in full force to catch a photo of her every second), I also worried that Hillary would just invite hatred from the right. The contempt for the Clintons during that time astounded me. Even though she stood by her husband, and even though HE was the center of the scandal, Hillary, in particular, could not seem to catch a break from the GOP. Nothing has really changed on that front. Conservatives seem to disdain her with foment, personally and politically. On all fronts, both due to my convictions and my concerns, I felt Bernie was the better choice for 2016.

So it took me utterly, completely, and delightfully by surprise when I broke into sobs tonight as history was made. My friend, Kate, called it: something amazing was happening with our generation of women in that moment, watching this ceiling shatter, and our social media feeds were the proof.

Generation X, born singing all the promises of Free to Be, You and Me, believing them all to be a given truth in our formative years—Generation X women grew up and realized those "truths" were aspirations still growing into being. We always knew that women and men were equal, we hadn't been overtly taught that there was any job or role we couldn't fill. And yet...and yet...here we are, in our forties, fully cognizant of the actual inequalities—subtle and societal—that still face us every day. It's hard to process that disconnect. It's hard to know how to fix it, frankly. How do you reconcile the liberation you were taught as a child with the reality you experience as an adult? 

We needed this moment more than we even realized, as Kate pointed out in our conversation.  We needed to SEE THIS HAPPEN. A woman can become president THIS ELECTION. This history that is unfolding is REAL and it is NOW.

It is worthy of happy, joyful, reverent tears.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Transgender Rights (aka, your daughter has always been safe in the bathroom, stop fearmongering)

I'd start by saying I cannot even believe this is a debate—should transgender individuals be allowed to use the bathrooms assigned to the gender to which they have transitioned—but of course, I can believe it. In the world in which we live, where "protecting family values" is code for "making sure everyone who isn't following the bible (in anyway pertaining to gonads) as [insert religious faith/church/guru] sees fit doesn't have legal rights," how did I not expect this?

Enough already. Can I just start with that? ENOUGH ALREADY. 

When state politicians and public figures are leading campaigns to scare people into thinking that their precious daughters are not safe in bathrooms because men, dressed like women, could come attack them, there simply isn't enough to say to refute it.

Refusing transgender people basic dignity in the restroom is not about keeping anyone safe, it is about rejecting the validity of being transgender, based on religious beliefs. How do I know that's true? Here's the short list:

1) Chromosomes are not the only thing that make you male or female; neither is genitalia. Gender is more complex than just a binary proposition; the infinite complexity of creation, for those who are religious, isn't meant to inspire fear, but to inspire wonder. When someone says that their body and their mind don't match—they look like a boy, but they know that they are a girl—they are speaking to their own creation, and their own way of being in the world. It has nothing to do with anyone except the transgender individual, actually.

Believing that someone who is born with one gender-specific physical body will in some way be threatening if they live in a different gender-specific physical body is not backed up by any evidence, period. It's ludicrous, actually.

2) Worrying that allowing people with a set of chromosomes which doesn't match their gender identity into restrooms might open up the door for non-transgender people to pretend to be the other gender, so as to harm people of the opposite sex, is ridiculous. People who want to attack, rape, molest, fondle, or generally harm other people, male or female, are going to do so. They don't need to dress up in any particular way to do so, they don't need permission to go into a bathroom to enter that space.

3) Transgender people who receive hormones which help them to live in the gender in which they identify reap the benefits of those hormones. What does this mean? In their short-sighted attempt to make sure everyone who is born a boy is in a men's restroom, the very people who seem so afraid of a boy or man entering women's bathrooms will soon be confronted with XX individuals flooded with testosterone, who are boys/men, in women's bathrooms.

That's a bugaboo, isn't it? Does it mean that the next set of laws to be created will restrict the access of hormone therapies to transgender individuals, so as to not encounter this secondary consequence? Where does it end, and who does it hurt in the meantime?

Wishing that you didn't have to deal with transgender people, and the complexity they bring which counters your world view, won't actually make transgender people disappear. 

4) Setting up an argument in which girls, in particular, need to be protected from boys is sexist and horrible, and takes our eyes off the larger issue—we need to continually teach girls and boys not to hurt each other. Notice: no one seems nearly as worried about XX individuals living as transgender men in boys' bathrooms. If you are worried about violence against women, worry about it full-stop—worry about men hurting women, and women hurting women—and you and I can have a real conversation. Focus just on transgender individuals, and I know our discussion would be pointless.

5) People of the same gender can hurt each other, and they do every day, yet we have no problem putting them all in the same restroom all the time. Have you spent time in a high school bathroom with a pack of high school girls at the mirror? I can promise you that when I was a high school girl, the most frightening people in school were other high school girls. Quite honestly, I might have felt safer in well-monitored gender-neutral bathrooms.

6) Have you seen the rates of violence against transgender people? These are God's children, too. When I am asked to protect those who need help the most, do I serve God by asking those individuals to put themselves in awkward, alienating, and potentially threatening situations?

7) At what point will it be acceptable to peak inside a stall and truly invade someone's privacy and personal safety in order to police the restroom? Because, let's be clear, if there are prohibitions on who can enter a space, there must be enforcement, right? How will this enforcement play out? Will this be another expression of loving our neighbors, or will it be a way in which we work to find and pull out "the other" from our ranks, to isolate and to humiliate them?

8) HOW MUCH TIME ARE YOU SPENDING IN THESE BATHROOMS, PEOPLE? For goodness sake, what on earth is so precious about this space that it must be defended? When it comes to public restrooms, most of us just want to get in, get out, and touch as little as possible.

If all of these points above are true, how can one justify laws to keep transgender individuals out of restrooms? To me, it must come back to this: the entire argument is primarily about making a statement against the reality of being transgender, of disavowing it and calling it out as sinful and without a place in our society.

Don't buy the hype. This isn't about staying safe. This is about staying separate and afraid.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Success Perspective

I've felt really stuck lately in my post-op journey: in between plus sizes and regular, up and down 8 pounds, not losing weight for at least 5 months. I've felt doubt, fear, and frustration, effectively removed from my overall success.

So far today, here at the Mom 2.0 Summit, I've gotten up and done yoga for the first time in 10 years on a beautiful lawn overlooking the ocean, I've put on a dress and moved through crowds without any concern about rudely bumping into everyone inadvertently, and I'm currently learning so much and connecting with friends and soaking up the ocean air so that I am generally not able to spend time thinking about my scale. Several people who saw me last year mid-way through my post-op year have seen me again today and commented on how alive and healthy I look. And, of course, yesterday I made it to this conference without a single worry about fitting in an airplane seat, carrying my heavy stuff, etc. That, alone, is a miracle.

The journey is long and the plateaus can really make me doubt myself. It's nice to have time to savor some of the success, and to get some perspective on how far I've come.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What's Your Cooking Superpower?

As a zealous home cook, I like cooking just about anything. Recipes are always percolating in my mind; last week, for instance, as I waited at the salon with my hair full of dye and a towel around my shoulders, you would have found me taking photos with my phone of magazine recipes. I may never be able to read those photos clearly enough to prepare the dishes outright, but I now have lots of ideas and some fuzzy notes as a guide.

I am curious and creative by nature, and cooking feeds these attributes for me (while I feed others, a clear win-win.) While I'm almost never unhappy in the kitchen, three categories of meals really get me excited: 

  1. Complicated, new recipes that have a pay-off as big as the work (e.g., almost everything printed in "Cook's Illustrated")
  2. Dishes which are whipped up from my imagination based on the techniques I've already learned with category #1, and 
  3. Meals made entirely from stuff I find in the freezer, fridge and pantry, developed on the spot with what is on hand.

Tonight's dinner was in category #3, a frugal crockpot cheesy chicken and broccoli with rice. I got to use up veg on its way out, frozen free-range chicken purchased on sale, and left over bits of really decadent cheeses (Parmesan, Emmental, smoked cheddar and mozzarella) originally purchased for the really decadent Easter recipes I prepared for guests a few weeks ago. (Cheese + decadence = total win.) I even managed to use up a can of evaporated milk, and to throw in some fresh herbs from our patio garden. 

The meal was a success, but improvements could me made if I ever attempt it again. Next time, I'd add the broccoli in a little later in the game, use a little less flour for thickening, and add a little more salt at the start. I love that cooking always provides the opportunity to learn, to make things better, etc., even with a humble deconstructed casserole that may never be made exactly the same way again.

All together, it didn't look like much—note, no glossy internet-ready photo is here—but it tasted great, the family had seconds, and it made me feel like a cooking superhero. Every time I make something new and yummy, I increase my self-efficacy, and get excited to tackle the next challenge. On nights like this, I feel like wearing a cape along with my apron!

What's your cooking superpower?

Friday, April 1, 2016

What's (Not) Missing

On this day one year ago, this was the scene in our Chicago condo:

The movers had come, packed everything up, and put it on a truck to send to storage. The walkthrough with the new owners was completed. Our keys were in hand for our temporary, furnished apartment, only a few blocks east and south in our neighborhood.

We did not have our new Florida house yet. We were only 90% sure we were moving to Florida; the movers still had Arizona listed on the second line of our file, just in case.

The home in which we live now wasn't even on the market, which was good for us. The following day, we met with our agent, Monique, for our closing, at which time we had the funds to really start a new home search, in earnest. On April 2nd, we stood with Monique at the front entrance of Coldwell Banker, moments after the last papers were signed and the keys were handed over, with smiles that showed our relief and excitement. There are very few moments in life where almost anything is possible, and this was one of ours.

There was also a lot of melancholy and fear during those weeks. Even after seeing our temporary apartment, as the moving boxes piled up around our home, our daughter began talking repeatedly about what would happen when we signed the papers and were "homeless." The many truly homeless people in Chicago had always held a soft-spot for her—when she donated things, homelessness was the cause that most concerned her, and she wanted her things to go to those affected by it. We kept reassuring her that we would have a roof over our heads, but her insistence on that term really spoke of how adrift and frightening this whole break with our old life was.

What we didn't know then, but know now, was that our final months in Hyde Park would feel, in many ways, like a good-bye vacation. Even though we were very close to where we had lived all those years, and had frequently spent time in this side of the neighborhood (Hyde Park isn't that big), living within walking distance of different shops, restaurants, and Hyde Park's only movie theater made our free time more fun than usual. Not having much of our own stuff, living with another's furnishings and knick-knacks, was actually liberating, and made me dread the eventual day when the moving truck would arrive at our home, to surround us with our not-so-necessary belongings. We were also slightly closer to EJ's school, which meant that even during awful weather, a drive there wasn't usually necessary. We walked around for everything, which was always the best part about city living, noticing all the flowering trees and and snapping up pictures of the signs of spring that we would miss once we moved to a more temperate climate. I smelled every single lilac I could; I wanted a sense memory of my favorite scent, with the cool gray Chicago sky and the architecture that couldn't be matched in the background.

To imagine the life which we have now at that time was simply impossible. IMPOSSIBLE! It's one thing to believe in your family, and to believe in the vision that you have put together for it; it's another thing to predict how real life will actually go down. There was no telling what kind of house we would find, what our neighbors would be like, how easily the school transition might go, etc.

On the other side of the big jump, I can say this: we are so, so grateful. This house is exactly enough space for our family of three. Our neighborhood is friendly, and the houses aren't cookie-cutter. Our neighbors have become close friends. Our child has kids with whom to play right on the cul-de-sac, and frequently does, after walking home from her bus stop around the corner. School has been a dream transition, with two supportive teachers and new friends. Girl Scouts and theater productions have rounded out our kid's time, while the quest to find work and the need to continually put the new home together have kept me busy. We have gone to the theme parks more times that we can count with our annual passes, more often than not with visiting guests—we have had more friends visit in the last nine months than we did in the entire 10+ years we lived in Chicago. Mike can work from a desk on our covered, screened-in lanai, with birdsong breaking through into his meetings and his brand new fig tree close by, gaining new buds every day.

We are asked fairly often if we miss Chicago. What can I say to that? We miss friends, surely. We miss a few fun places, favorite eats, etc. We miss proximity to our extended family in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest, for sure. But do we miss Chicago?

It's a great thing to feel, absolutely, right down to your bones, that you love where you live. To know that you belong exactly where you are. To not sense the need to drift, or look, or plan for the next big jump. We feel that way where we are now.

There is nothing to miss. We are home.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Trigger Dip

I began my morning by throwing out a half-eaten tub of French onion dip and some potato chips.

I felt decisive. Committed. Ready to let them go.

Actually sticking them in the garbage was the hardest thing I've done in a long time.

We hosted Easter for 15 guests this weekend, family and close friends all gathering for what seemed like the closest proximity to an Easter holiday back in the Midwest with our extended family. I made the decadent potato dish I learned during my year abroad—gratin dauphinois—which I reserve both for caloric and prep reasons for this holiday only. There was ham. Roasted vegetables. Even a homemade lasagna, since I felt I had to do something Italian if I was hosting the Italian side of the family. Guests brought delicious salads, vegetables, breads, and some truly decadent desserts. It was quite a spread. All of these things were pretty manageable for me, diet-wise.

Also brought into our home: French onion dip and potato chips. The minute I saw that tub of processed fat and salt, I knew I was completely screwed.

A year and four months after my vertical sleeve gastrectomy, I have reached the point at which:

  1. I once again feel true hunger, as well as cravings
  2. My sleeve is a little more accommodating (not full-stomach sized, but not as tiny, either)
  3. I can eat more carb-heavy foods that used to make me sick to even taste
  4. I am no longer steadily losing weight; in fact, I will gain if I'm not careful.
French onion dip and potato chips are trigger foods for me. They are simply horrible, containing every nutritional problem in the book, and yet I find I cannot stop eating them when they are in my presence. Even when they make me feel sick, I am simply compelled to put them in my mouth. While I can now only take a few bites of them at a time, I can do that over...and over...and over, until I've created a real problem for myself, tiny tummy or not.

After trying for two days to convince myself I could simply "have a bite or two in moderation" or "not really suffer ill effects from a little bit of indulgent food," my anxiety pretty much overtook my sleep last night, waking me several times. When I woke up, I knew I had to just chuck the stuff.

There are moments in this journey where I feel like such a victor, and I suppose from one perspective, I see my choice this morning as a moment of success.  Mostly, though, I feel tired, and lonely, and angry: tired of having to constantly worry about food, lonely because each time I confront a trigger I feel small and alone in the world fighting a big battle, and angry that I am a person for whom FRENCH ONION DIP is an actual problem. I mean, seriously, what the hell kind of problem is that for a person who generally has her life together, right?

Having shared this journey so openly, a fear looms over me: what if I gain back weight, and mess this all up. It would be a huge setback for me, a terribly disruptive outcome. My worry, though, comes from the understanding that I would be a disappointment to those who have supported me thus far, who have cheered me on as I have tackled the first part of this battle. What will you guys think?

It's all very humbling.

I suppose this once again reminds me that I am in a camp with so many others, people with addictions and anxiety and all other manner of conditions in which vigilant behavior modification is the critical factor required for our overall health. There is some comfort in that. The question remains whether or not I will seek out the comfort of group support over the comfort in the bottom of a tub of modified sour cream and hydrogenated oil. That's just going to have to be a day-by-day challenge, because I can't even begin to guess how I would answer the question a week, month, or year from now.

Here's the reality: changing my body this year has been hard, but this moment, right now, is the hardest so far. I must use all of my resolve, all of my connection with those I care about, and all of the self-care I can muster to simply string together as many good choices as I can, and at the same time, crowd out the worry-thinking and the catastrophising that accompanies mistakes. 

I don't have this all figured out. For goodness sake, seven years ago today, I wrote a blog entry at my Mommylu site all about the horrible struggle which is obesity. It just never ends, the figuring it out and dealing with the emotions of it, over and over.

I'm doing the best I can, moment-to-moment. I'm on the look-out for new goals, new inspiration, new...well, new anything which can help me reframe my position and continue to move in the right direction. Send those ideas my way, I'll take 'em. Send anything but chips and dip.