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.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Justice Farewell

(These thoughts were first published as my Facebook status upon hearing of Justice Scalia's death. I share them here as they turned out to be more of a blog post than I originally realized.)

In 1994-1995, when I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and completely immersed in constitutional law, convinced I would some day either be a constitutional attorney or a Ph.D. in Political Science who studied the constitution and the judicial branch (or both, Lord help me), I was first introduced to Scalia's writing. I was feverishly working on a big senior project on US v. Fordice, taking two con law classes, and generally geeking out on reading opinion after opinion of the Supreme Court, past and present.

Scalia's writing was brilliant. BRILLIANT. Aside from working effectively through point-by-point, linear arguments, he was witty, illustrative, and terrific with a well-placed metaphor. He had a singular voice, and I found it to be a breath of fresh air.

I almost never agreed with him, but so often, I would finish what he wrote and think, "Okay, I see how that makes sense, WHY don't I agree?" The closest I can come to describing my mind on Scalia was my experience the previous year reading, "Lolita," finding myself so drawn in by Nabokov's complete mastery of the English language/word choice/pacing/storytelling that at times I found myself rooting for the horrifying Humbert Humbert. Scalia could pull me in, draw in my mind, and make me really think through what I believed and what was important to me as an American citizen.

In recent years, I have had less admiration for the strict constructionist wordsmith I met through his work as a 21-year old. He seemed off the rails at times, even offensive, and I felt badly both because of what he was saying, and because it so besmirched his character, which I had never questioned previously, even in disagreement.

The fact that he was such a fierce friend to Justice Ginsburg still speaks volumes to me. The fact that he is credited with the most laughter during court arguments says even more. The fact that he is now gone from the court makes me incredibly relieved. All of these things are true, simultaneously.

In an age of curated media, of liberal and conservative outposts holding the attention of their followers (myself included), and generally dragging us to the most extreme poles of belief, I miss my days of creeping through the stacks of the UW-Madison Law Library and spending time being intellectually challenged.

If I had met Justice Scalia before his passing, I would have hoped to say something like this: Thank you, Justice Scalia, for teaching me as a young adult to seek out the most intelligent, thoughtful arguments on the opposite side of my belief system; more than anyone, you taught me that I am definitely a loose constructionist. Thank you for showing me that there is something to be learned everywhere, even when you don't agree. Thank you for modeling superb writing. While I do not support the way you shape the decisions of the court, I am so glad you helped to shape my life and my work.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Scalia family. Grazie, Justice.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Insomnia, Love, and Death

It happened last night, after her fourth round of coming out to tell us another reason that she couldn't fall asleep. By now, she was all tears and stress, and I gave up telling her to just lie down and try to sleep in favor of going to her room, lying down next to her, and helping her calm down. Who doesn't want to watch the Super Bowl with numerous interruptions, anyway? 

She's had bouts of insomnia for a few months now. Some of it is just kid bedtime procrastination, but some of it seems to be legit. On evenings like last night, when her fear of not falling asleep begins to get too big to quell, it is truly miserable.

"Don't worry about falling asleep," I told her. "When that feeling or thought pops into your head, just tell it, 'I know you, but you aren't true. I will fall asleep, I don't have to worry.'"

Breathe. Sigh. Her ten-year old body tried to relax, but her mind wouldn't let the thoughts go.

"Mom, it still makes me feel anxious. I hate insomnia. I hate that I can't sleep lately. I hate this part of growing up."

"I know. It doesn't feel good. Just imagine you are in this warm, safe bubble. Everything in that bubble is calm. That bubble is made of all my love for you, it surrounds you all the time. You don't have to worry in that bubble."

"I don't like to talk about how much you love me. Do you want to know why?"


"Because it makes me think of your death, and how I just won't be able to handle it when you are gone. It makes me cry."

Stillness. No breath from either of us. Yes, I know that feeling.

"I understand. I'm not planning on dying anytime soon."

"I know, it's just...it's just terrible to think about."

"It is. Right now, let's think about something else. You know that my love lives right here." I touch her heart as I wrap her up in a hug. She nods her head and squeezes me back.

"That never goes away. Ever. In a million years, no matter how far away we are from each other, it is always there. My mom's love lives in my heart, and her mom's in hers...the love stretches out forever in time."

"It's so much."

"It is. You are also loved by so many other people: family, friends, etc."

"I have a tremendous bubble of love to live in."

"You do."

"It's still hard."

"I know. But we are here now, and you are safe, and we can choose to smile whenever we think of that love, even if we also cry a little bit."

Ten-years old for our child has been about alternating moments of tiny kid vs. tween; needing hugs and believing in the tooth fairy vs. growing cynicism and wanting to let us know she has all the answers. This reckoning with death is so different from younger versions, because a part of her now understands that this will be devastating, and there is no escape from it, for any of us. All we can do is acknowledge the truth of the feeling, give each other hugs in the moment, and remind ourselves that even as we lose each other—and nothing is ever as right or good or peaceful as being together, alive and well—we can seek comfort from others, and have that eternal love live on in our hearts. It doesn't feel like enough, and maybe it never can be. Still, though, it is what we have, and it is a lot.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Snow Menu

(Love this post? Come check out all my life and cooking advice at Misery Loves Cookery!)

The East Coast has a serious blizzard coming their way in a day—I think the meteorologists have coined it "Winter Storm Jonas," which makes me think it is a member of a boy-band—and it is making me nostalgic for my twenties, when I was transformed from a snow-immune Wisconsinite to a snow-fearing Virginian.

After graduating from UW-Madison, I moved to Washington, DC and took my first big job, with a $25K starting salary. I was too young and naive to even know how little money that was at the time, I was just so grateful to get to move to DC, a place I'd dreamed about living since a trip to the area in the sixth grade. My first winter there, in 1996, there was a huge snowstorm—large by Midwestern standards, so completely crippling by Mid-Atlantic measure. I didn't realize at the time, but I was about to experience a huge culture shift, an approach to winter that was radically different from the one with which I was raised.

My roommates and I had just moved to a new townhouse apartment in Arlington, and we had almost no furnishings. Our only television was a small (12 inch? 15 inch?) box with no cable connection, meaning that our only entertainment via that television was 24-7 weather coverage on the four prime-time channels. As the days dragged on—DC doesn't shut down for just a day or two when they are hit with snow, they go down for the week—I could not wait to get back to work. I remember attempting, on day four, to get into the office, only to discover my bus-to-metro commute was 3.5 hours, and I should have brought my own shovel for the walking portions of the slog.

Even with this inauspicious start, I grew to love the DC snow day. While Midwesterners—especially those of us from the Great Lakes—view snow as simply a reason to wake up even earlier to dig out and drive more cautiously—DC just stays home, tucks in, and declares a weather-related apocalypse. Once you embrace the time off, you can really enjoy the snow-imposed staycation.

There is one critical area of expertise that Midwesterners really understand about a snow-in that DC-area residents don't really get: how to shop at the grocery store, and what to make while stuck in the house. Maybe it is because we have so much more practice hunkering down (even if we don't usually take time off of work for blizzards), I don't really know, honestly. In the Mid-Atlantic, news of a snowstorm means buying three items: milk, bread, and toilet paper.

Now, the toilet paper makes sense. Why anyone needs three cases of toilet paper for 5 days stuck in the house, I won't ever know—scratch that, I don't want to know—but let's just call that a "safety first," move, and not dwell on the possibilities.

And while having a gallon or two of milk and some sandwich bread are lovely, is everyone really planning to dive into endless sandwiches and glasses of milk for days?

Cold weather and snow means it is time for baking, slow-cooking, and roasting. Cold weather = comfort food. Cold weather = EAT THE GOOD STUFF, PEOPLE.

My friend, Mary, already reported this reality at the store yesterday, the panic-induced hoarding of dairy and bakery had begun 72 hours before the snow:

As DC-area residents head out today to stock up before conditions become perilous, they don't need to worry if if the milk and bread are already gone. YOU GUYS CAN DO THIS, you just need to channel your inner Midwesterner (even if you've never even been there.) Here's some tips, along with a meal plan and ingredient list for your staycation that will leave everyone happy*:


Tip One: If you don't have the exact ingredients, don't fret. The chicken calls for fresh thyme, and all you have is dried thyme. Wait, that's dried oregano. No need to scrap it, just reinvent it with what you have. If you have a moment now to look up recipes before you shop, do it; if you don't, just pick up what makes sense (I have a list at the bottom of this blog), and try not to get clocked at Harris Teeter reaching for the last coffee creamer.

Tip Two: Plan for one big, hearty mid-day meal per day, with leftovers and fresh veg/fruit to fill in the rest of your hours. Yes, I know that little kids want their breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and dinner, but trust me: put some time into the big mid-day meal, and you'll have all the food you need for everything else.

Tip Three: Think of how one recipe will lend itself to the next. You can cut down on the work and maximize the cooking fun when each thing you make either compliments or becomes a component of the next. My menu ideas show one way to do this, but insert your own and get creative.

Tip Four: Take advantage of this time to make those big, family recipes that you love so much. Your grandmother makes cinnamon bread that takes two days but tastes like heaven? MAKE IT. Your family has a brunswick stew that is fidgety to make but delicious for days? NOW IS YOUR CHANCE. Do these things with your family, and maximize the staycation by simultaneously making delicious food and sweet memories.

Tip Five: Prep coffee ahead of time. If you lose power, but have gas appliances, you can always do a pour over of hot water and grounds...IF you have already ground your coffee, and don't just have a bag of beans that can't go in the non-functional grinder. If you have electric appliances, consider brewing cold-brew coffee—simply pouring water over grounds tonight, then letting it sit in the fridge—for your caffeine needs.

Tip Six: Front-load the baking/making/preparing of staples to the beginning of the storm, in case of power loss. Again, if you have gas appliances, this may not be an issue, but better safe than sorry.

Tip Seven: Stock up on fresh veggies, fruits, nuts and cheeses. Buy bags of salad greens or good looking heads of lettuce and cabbage. "Snow day" doesn't usually make folks say, "I'd sure love a salad!" but the dishes you'll be making are substantial and filling; serving them throughout the day with fresh salads filled with fruit and veg will make you feel great.

Tip Eight: Bottle up some water for drinking, just in case. Blizzards don't usually knock out water facilities, but with high winds and non-traversable roads, having water handy only makes sense.

Tip Nine: Don't forget your beverages. Can't live without diet coke? Make sure you have some, more than you think you'll need. We aren't big alcohol drinkers in our house, but even we like some Baileys in our coffee after we've been out shoveling. If you love to pair beers and wines with yummy meals, now is the time—you are not going to be driving!

Tip Ten: YOU CAN USE THE OUTSIDE AS YOUR FRIDGE/FREEZER. Keep things sealed and inside a closed container to keep critters away (a cooler works great for this.) Important reminder: carbonated things explode when they freeze, so don't leave your favorite bubbly (or soda) out in the cold too long, unattended.

Recipes for three snowed-in days:


1) Bake bread. Yes, you heard me. BAKE YOUR OWN BREAD. Do you have a bread machine? Great, use it. You don't have a bread machine? NO PROBLEM. Type "skillet bread" into google. SEE ALL THOSE RESULTS? You are in business. Don't want to fiddle with yeast? Look up "soda bread." You are welcome. Yes, some bread recipes call for milk. If you didn't get milk, don't make those. Problem solved. Serve warm with butter and your favorite jam. Save some to sop up all the juices from item #2 (or just make two loaves, who are we kidding?)

2) Roast a chicken. Heck, roast a turkey. My friend, Heather, a Wisconsinite living in Virginia, already baked an entire batch of cookies and had an organic turkey in the oven by 8:30 a.m. this morning. That is a woman with a plan, right there.

My favorite roast chicken recipe is Ina Garten's lemon chicken, from her book, "Barefoot in Paris," but since that is not online, let me recommend looking up "roast chicken" and discovering the many, many ways you can make this incredibly delicious food. I've also heard raves—RAVES—about Thomas Keller's roast chicken recipe.

Vegetarian? Roast some root vegetables. Get as many as you can, douse with olive oil, salt and pepper, and your favorite seasonings, throw them on a foil-lined baking sheet, and feel happy inside. Heck, non-vegetarians, do this, too. Those veggies will go great with your bird.

3) Make dulce de leche.  Have a crockpot? Fill it with water, then take a can of sweetened condensed milk, remove the label, and put it in the water, so it is fully covered. Turn the crockpot on, and walk away. The interwebs have a million recipes for this, both in the crockpot and the stovetop, but it is always the same idea: turn milk and sugar in a can into dulce de leche by ignoring it in a pot of simmering water. You can either start this in the morning, and enjoy it in the evening, or get it going at night, and wake up to sugar magic.

4) Before bed, soak a package of dry beans over night. Black beans, pintos, black-eyed peas—pick your favorite (or favorites), and follow package directions. These guys will be rockstars tomorrow.


1) Bake a quick bread, scones or muffins. Seriously, you are going to spend hours today drinking coffee and tea, give your drinks the carbs they deserve. Plus, if kiddos are sad that they don't have their morning cereal with milk, they may not complain when handed a muffin. (I know, kids may still complain. They are kids.) One of our favorites is this simple banana muffin. You can reduce the fat if you are going to eat them straight from the oven, but keep the fat if you will be eating them for several days. (I substitute melted butter for the oil, and have also used yogurt instead of all the fat if I have it available.) You may have the urge to make pancakes or waffles, and if you do, go for it, but I like the added bang for my buck of making breakfast quick breads, as folks can enjoy them all day long.

2) Make chicken/turkey/veggie stock. Remember that carcass from yesterday? You didn't throw it out, right? RIGHT? YOU WOULD NEVER DO THAT! Place that in a giant stockpot, cover it with water, and put in carrots, onion, celery, and whatever leftover veggie ends/peels/etc. you've got, along with salt/pepper/bay leaf. Simmer it for as many hours as you'd like, but at least 3-4. Want to go the extra mile? Before covering those bones with water, roast them in the oven until they are slightly browned. It will add a depth of flavor that you will really love. Once done, filter the liquid from the solids, let cool, and skim (if you'd like, but keep that chicken fat!)

3) Make beans and rice. Remember those dried beans from last night? Here's their moment in the spotlight. Using some of the stock you are preparing, make your favorite beans and rice dish. I love the black beans and rice from Cook's Illustrated (and if you are willing to pay for their online recipe access membership, you can make this gem of a recipe, in either a meat-eaters or vegetarian version), but any favorite recipe will do. Yes, you can always use canned beans, but this is a great opportunity to use dried, save money, and get that toothsome texture that canned beans can't reproduce. If you are a carnivore and can add a bit of pork or bacon, you can make this lovely dish even tastier.

4) Make snow ice cream! By now, you should be waist-high in the stuff, you might as well make it an ingredient. If you are worried that it can't be made without milk or cream (and the stores had no milk or cream, oh no!), our old friend, sweetened condensed milk, comes to the rescue. The interwebs abound with recipes for snow ice cream with sweetened condensed milk, so have at it. In fact, warm up a bit of that dulce de leche you made last night and pour it over your fresh snow-cream. Yes, you are in heaven. You are welcome.


1) Start your day with an omelette or scramble. EGGS! Eggs are your friend. I always wonder why there isn't a run on eggs before a snowstorm, but let other shoppers' folly be your advantage. You'll need the protein to get to all of that shoveling, and with left-over poultry, along with both fresh and roasted veg, your entire family can get what they'd like. Add some cheese—you wouldn't forget to buy cheese before the storm, right?—and go nuts. Bake a package of bacon in the oven on some parchment paper at 350 until crispy. Smile, because BACON.

2) Make taco soup. Starting with the pulled chicken or turkey, the stock, and the roasted veggies you have left, you can make a really lovely soup. Add a bag of frozen corn, and 2-3 cans of tomatoes (diced, pureed, whole—it truly doesn't matter, whatever you have.) Mix in a couple of packages of taco seasoning (or the equivalent), and let simmer. I also like a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar, just to brighten it up. If you'd like something creamier, you can thicken it with a roux (remember that chicken fat you saved?), or if you grew in in the truly Midwestern tradition of "add a can of cream of [ingredient] soup," now is your moment. Serve with tortilla chips, slices of lime, salsa, hot sauce, sour cream, avocado, and cheese. Go crazy and either mix in or ladle over some beans and rice from yesterday. You are now at a fiesta. Ole!

3) Bake cookies. Call neighbors and ask them if they's like to tunnel over. Make ice cream sandwiches with snow ice cream, cookies, dulce de leche, and any other toppings you scored at the store before the snowpacolypse. Don't worry if you have extras: let's face it, someone is going to have to go into the office tomorrow, no matter what. Bake cookies that will fortify you for your eight-million hour commute, and remind you of your time in your warm home.


A whole chicken or turkey (if this isn't available, get a cut up bird, or get any other cut of meat you might enjoy slow-cooking)
Peppers (Green/red/jalapeno/whatever looks good and makes your palate happy)
Salad greens/heads of lettuce/fresh veggies for snacking
Vegetables for roasting (Root veggies, cabbages, potatoes/sweet potatoes, squash, brussels sprouts, etc.)
Any fresh herbs you love
Lemons and limes
Fresh fruit for snacking/salads
Brown sugar
Powdered sugar
Baking soda
Baking powder
Chocolate chips
Butter (unsalted for baking—you can freeze this, so stocking up never hurts)
Buttermilk (can work beautifully in recipes that you may typically make with milk, just check for modifications via internet search)
Taco Seasoning
Favorite spices
Apple cider vinegar (or your favorite)
Oil (olive oil/regular)
Sweetened condensed milk (2-3 cans)
Dried beans
Rice (grain specific to your recipe)
Canned tomatoes (any type, you can't have enough cans here, as you can use them for everything)
Frozen corn
Any frozen veg you and/or your kids like
Eggs (go crazy and buy 18)
Critical beverages (only you know what they are)
Tortilla chips
Soft tortillas (consider these a back-up to bread if you lose power—rolled up they make great PB&J sandwiches)
Hot sauce
Sour cream
Cheese (for shredding over soup)
Cheese (for snacking)
Sprinkles/whipped cream/chocolate sauce/any snow-ice-cream topping that makes you smile
Nutella (Nutellas is in none of the recipes, but trust me, you want Nutella.)
Your favorite peanut butter and jelly (splurge on the kind you don't normally get—you'll be happy eating it on all your baked goods, and will be extra happy if you end up without power eating PB&J)

*If you lose power and don't have gas cooking available, you may not be happy. I'm sorry about that.