Tell Me You’re Old…

So it’s my birthday today. And it’s a big’un.

As of today, my personal odometer has officially flipped to the half-century mark. I’ve been mentally prepping myself for a while: every year, a few weeks prior to my birthday, I start referring to myself as having the higher age number. This gives me time to get used to how it feels. I try it on and break it in a little bit so by the time the actual day arrives, I’ll have mental bandages for the parts of the number that rub me the wrong way.

My daughter, who is in her first grownup job, got me considering this milestone recently when she shared an “adulting first” of her own:

(Pro tip: If your 401(k) offers matching contributions – go get that cash, kids. It’s literally FREE MONEY and will almost always offset any investment risk. My last company was sold, and participating in the new company’s 401(k) for just three months before I was laid off netted me SIX HUNDRED FREAKING DOLLARS in free, immediately-vested dinero, which I’m rolling into my new company’s 401(k) as we speak. And I’ve also just realized in five short years, I’ll also be eligible for catch-up contributions to my Health Savings Account., even though having permission to save more money does not mean more money appears, despite the probability of medical expenses increasing as you age. <sigh>)

Side note – my son had his own rite of passage this week – he bought himself a (used, new-to-him) truck. Here’s a crappy picture of it parked next to his “old” car (which I’d named Jessie):

…which prompted this exchange:

Anyway – I’ve had a few other “wow, I’m hella old” moments as of late. Most recently: I was entering a convention (the Oddities & Curiosity Expo, in case you’re wondering, and yes, it is exactly as awesome as it sounds) with my sister and mentally checking off that I had everything I needed: tickets, car keys, purse….mask?

Me <patting pockets frantically>: Dammit, where the hell is my mask? I JUST had it when we left the car, I must have dropped it…. <turns and looks behind myself>

Sister: …do you mean the mask you’re… wearing? On your face?

<facepalm>

As I contemplate what it means to be fifty, I can’t help but do a bit of reflection on what’s transpired to date. As the kids today would say, “Tell me you’re old without telling me you’re old”, where my parents would have used the “Back in MY day…” or the much-dreaded “When I was your age….” And I certainly have collected my share of samples.

Let’s start with video games. Anyone else remember Pong?

The version we had plugged directly into our TV, and as I recall, there were three distinct games:

  • Ping-pong (as above)
  • Tennis (where the background was green) and
  • Hockey (the “players” were light blue on a white background.)

(Points for creativity, I suppose.)

Eventually, of course, we upgraded our technology. We were strongly an Intellivision family – while the disc controller left something to be desired, the graphics were CLEARLY superior to their main competitor, Atari.

Intellivision-Console-Set.jpg
Admittedly, a joystick would have made Burger Time a bit easier. Source

I mean….there is no comparison. We had dramatic displays like this:

Bump
Bump N’ Jump. Source
Lock
Lock N’ Chase. Source

And Atari? Well….

Asteroids Arcade Screenshot
Asteroids. Or, Scary Shapes. I guess if you hated geometry…? Source

And speaking of technology….what about the TV itself? Not only did we have all of maybe six channels (including that vague, fuzzy UHF channel, which if it existed today would certainly be labeled as Satanic, cancer-causing, or both) – but for many years, we didn’t even have a remote control. So if you wanted to change the channel, you had to physically GET UP out of your La-Z-Boy recliner, WALK to the TV (without your Apple Watch or FitBit tracking your steps, mind you) and TURN THE KNOB with your actual HAND.

Obviously, this was EXHAUSTING, so like any resourceful cavemen, we resorted to child labor and trickery to get the work done. It wasn’t unusual during the evening hours to hear my dad, nestled snugly into his plush recliner and tuckered out from the day’s labor, call out to one of us to come to the living room where he’d ask us change the channel. (And maybe bring him the box of Ritz crackers and the tub of vanilla ice cream while we were up.)

And then there were these sorts of exchanges:

Me, from the living room watching TV: HEY SIS! COME HERE! QUICK! YOU GOTTA SEE THIS!

Sister <rushing to living room>: What?! WHAT?

Me <calmly>: Could you please change the channel to 4?

Sister <commits eye murder>

(P.S. I wasn’t always a jerk. I mellowed out in my 30s.)

School was largely different then, also. To be fair, the last eighteen months have created a seismic shift in what’s “normal” for education, but most students today won’t know the joys of things we had. Like… actual slate blackboards. And how sometimes, in a really old building, one would fall off the wall and shatter. That was cool. Only happened occasionally but was certainly memorable – like when a teacher would play a filmstrip backwards, and/or it’d get stuck and the projector bulb would melt it and the molten blob would disintegrate on the white screen while we all cheered. Not the science lesson that was planned, but it was way more engaging for sure. Pyrotechnics always are a good way to attract attention.

And textbooks. You had actual, printed books for school that you had to carry around from home to school to all your classes. You’d be issued your books on the first day of the year, and you had to print your name inside the front cover, below the name of whoever used it last year. The teacher would record which book you had, and theoretically, if you damaged the book too badly (or lost it entirely) you your parents would have to pay for it. To protect our butts from a swatting them, we all made book covers out of brown paper bags (come to think of it, I’m pretty sure our grocery store ONLY had paper bags, and not plastic ones) which we’d decorate with stickers and random doodles proclaiming our love for random celebrities and sports teams, which we had to read about in newspapers and magazines whenever they got around to arriving.

Not everything was simpler in simpler times. While I only had 108 elements of the periodic table to memorize (the last three of which were written in by hand, in Sharpie), some things took more time and effort. Gossip, for example. We didn’t have texting or social media (or cell phones or the internet, even) so we had to pass notes to spill the tea. We’d write all our secrets and hearts’ desires on pieces of notebook paper, fold them up, and physically hand them to other actual people. Activity would increase tenfold if you had a substitute teacher or if you were at a band or choir festival, where we’d be grouped with other students we didn’t know. Fun fact: the first primitive form of Tinder was born via this process. (“Please pass this to the cute bassoon player with the brown soulful eyes.” Ah, Ed, if you’re out there, I never forgot you.)

And who didn’t spend hours demon-dialing their best friends on a rotary telephone, only to be foiled by the ubiquitous busy signal? It was maddening – you had no way to know when the other (obviously completely unimportant, Dad, hang uuuuuupppp) call would be finished so you could FINALLY ask Tammy if Jeff really might say yes if you asked him to the dance. (The flip side of this, though, was that we also didn’t have Caller ID, so it was relatively easy to call Jeff yourself and pretend you were Tammy when you popped the hypothetical question. Saved you a ton of embarrassment when Jeff responded with a quizzical “Kate…who?”)

You know what else is WAY easier nowadays than it used to be? DIETING. Obviously, we didn’t have all these calorie and activity trackers (save the prehistoric version of pen and paper), but you young whippersnappers (LOL) will never know how damn HARD it was to get actual calorie data in the first place. If you needed to know the calories in a popular chain burrito bowl, you would have to look it up in an actual BOOK, which you’d either borrow (not own, TEMPORARILY BORROW) from the library, or buy from a bookstore. If the ingredients or the menu changed, you were plumb outta luck until the next edition was published two or three YEARS later. (Makes me twitchy just thinking about that now. We didn’t have nearly the number of anti-anxiety drugs then, either, other than Valium, which if I believe the soap operas at the time was only prescribed if you were a housewife.)

Turning fifty (!!!) is a bit of an adjustment, for sure. Having to write a 5 as the first number of my age is a mental shift that I couldn’t adequately prepare for, and I imagine getting used to identifying with it will take some time. But, I managed to move from the 8-tracks and record players of my youth to figuring out how to stream my favorite tunes online, and I suppose I’ll be able to adjust similarly to this next phase.

I mean…I don’t feel fifty. I certainly don’t think I look like what I perceived fifty to look like. My multi-colored, asymmetrical hair and a few piercings may have something to do with that, as well as my wardrobe which seems to model itself after the “kindergarten art teacher” aesthetic.

And, as I’ve mentioned previously, my weight is at an all-time low. Well, at least since the age of 10, when they weighed me in front of my classmates, which is how they did it back then. Nowadays I suspect the practice would be labeled as bullying or harassment and prohibited. And rightly so; I can still hear the metallic shh-shh-shh as the gym teacher slid that little marker higher and higher, and then the resolute CLUNK of shame as she moved the “big weight” from the 50 slot to the 100-pound mark.

But I’m entering my fifth decade with a BMI in the mid-16 range (and a lot of heavy sighs from the hubs, who doesn’t like it very much but doesn’t want to bring it up so often that I withdraw entirely.) I did schedule a physical for this week, and I’m hoping that I get a clean bill of health so he can stop overreacting worrying and…just let me be. (I’ll update next week after I go. I suspect I will be gifted a free ride on the colonoscopy train, too. Happy birthday to me. It’s party time.)

Even though this birthday has sucker-punched me square in the feels box, I’m doing my best to stay young at heart. I scheduled myself for some fillers and Botox a peel/facial in a couple of weeks, and put a new piercing (forward helix) on the calendar for mid-June.

And while I value the wisdom that age life experience has granted me:

Text exchange with my son about his cooking job. You know you’ve been in HR a long time when….

I’ll keep exercising my talents in immaturity frivolity:

<takes deep breath>

I am fifty. I am fifty years old.

And so far, it’s okay.

Cooking Tales, Part 2: …And You Lose Some. And Often It’s a Draw.

I’ve been talking a lot about cooking in the last few posts – specifically, finding new recipes and frantically Googling “what is a kohlrabi and how tf do you cook it” and “what do I do with ten bajillion turnips.”

Sometimes, not only do I manage not to poison the hubs and myself, but I make something that is actually…good. I’ve had pretty decent luck with my experiments, and I usually find myself pleasantly surprised by my culinary victories. (My catch phrase when serving a new recipe is “I hope this doesn’t suck.” Under-promise and over-deliver, right?)

This week, however…we are not talking about those recipes. <cue serious music>

Some days in the kitchen are like when you’re wearing the PERFECT outfit and your tights go ahead and pull this BS:

womp womp

And while I haven’t cut myself deeply enough to require stitches yet, there have been some mishaps beyond the standard “slice up jalapenos and then go take out your contact lenses.” Each stovetop misfire is an opportunity to learn something (like, wear gloves when cutting murder peppers, dumb@$$.) So, in the spirit of limiting the potential future suffering for those who boldly forge into the gastronomic jungle, I share with you Kate’s Cooking Calamities.

First up – Rhubarb. Fun fact: Did you know that rhubarb is technically a vegetable? And that while you can eat the stalks, most of the rest of the plant will actually try to kill you?

The leaves are deadly. Because science. Source

Yet, if you grew up pretty much anywhere in the Northeast or Midwest, and had a grandmother and/or were required to attend church potluck suppers, you have probably eaten rhubarb in some form. Specifically, dessert form. Rhubarb is sometimes called “pie plant”, largely because if you don’t drown it in sugar and hide it inside a crust, it is really, really hard to eat. (Try a raw piece sometime. I double-dog dare you. Please share the TikTok link so we can all enjoy it.)

I grew up in PA and have a fond recollection of rhubarb. Crisps, cobblers, ice cream toppers…. My former mother-in-law made the absolute BEST strawberry rhubarb pie on the planet. She had a knack for crusts that I could never replicate. Probably because crusts have butter, which freaks me out, so I never tried. But I did enjoy eating it. So one day, I stumbled upon a bunch of rhubarb stalks at the farmers market, and happily bought it, not realizing that most rhubarb recipes really only use 2-3 stalks of the stuff. And since I can’t waste food….ugh, now what?

I headed off to Google to see how I could creatively consume these hot-pink pucker sticks. Searches included:

  • how to cook a metric f*ckton of rhubarb
  • recipes using truckload of rhubarb
  • help too much rhubarb rip what have i done
  • rhubarb wreath pinterest
  • is it illegal to leave rhubarb in mailbox for annoying neighbor
  • platform lug sole sandals skulls (hey, I needed shoes too)

I did find this recipe for rhubarb cake, which appealed to me because 1) it uses Greek yogurt instead of oil and 2) it uses a POUND of rhubarb (which makes a giant-a$$ cake, but) 3) this recipe could be halved pretty easily for when I’m not feeding teenagers. I baked it (with gluten-free flour; skip the topping, you don’t need it) and it was delicious…but only used about a third (!!) of what I’d purchased.

Finding myself with an abundance of rhubarb on hand, I considered its tart bite and wondered if I could use it in place of lemon somewhere. Like…on fish, maybe? I continued to comb through the interwebs and finally found (probably on page 334 of my search, which in retrospect should have been a sign) this recipe for rhubarb salsa.

Yeah. Rhubarb salsa for fish. Once again proving that hope triumphs over common sense.

One thing I discovered is that rhubarb, when cooked, has some similarity to okra in its ability to become kind of gelatinous. (As I look at that link now…even the picture looks kind of…gloppy? There was definitive denial in my desperation, for sure.) The hubs politely took a couple of bites, and then scraped it off to the side. (What a trooper.) Since that time, I’ve had some mild success with putting just a stalk or two of rhubarb into a stir-fry with a citrus-y base, but have yet to find a savory application that isn’t destined for the garbage disposal. But if any of y’all have any ideas…It’s been a few years since I tried this recipe, and since I can no longer still taste it when I think about it, I’m mostly open to trying again.

I think.

And then there were the sardines.

Most of us can’t even say the word “sardine” without making a face. I’m pretty sure that the word is derived from an ancient Greek term meaning “gross sadness from the sea.” But last fall, when the hubs decided he was now vegan, I was “gifted” with several tins of these very fishy little …treasures. (?)

Why did the hubs decide to go vegan? It was my fault, really. I like to watch documentaries on food and diet, and he happened to watch The Game Changers with me. Less than two hours later, he was 100% sold, and went off to the store to buy plant-derived cheese and Beyond Burgers, and I was asked to finish off the frozen shrimp and chicken. It was largely a win for me, save the eight tins of sardines now before me. I couldn’t even bring myself to donate them to a food shelf – I mean, no one really WANTS sardines, right?

I tried really hard to find some way to eat these beady-eyed bits of bait. And, in this recipe for Mediterranean Lemon Caper Pasta, they weren’t too bad. Honestly, it tasted a bit like a bougie tuna casserole. (If you make it, note that you don’t need that much oil – I mean…yikes on bikes, FIVE tablespoons?!) Two cans down, six (oof) to go.

Next, I tried something called Spicy Sardine Pasta. (Eternal optimism, party of me.) Looking back on it now, I should have seen the 2 tablespoons sugar (candied fish?!) as a big red flag…and after trying this recipe, I take back everything I said about “if you put enough sugar on it, you can eat it.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 55e0173909241223fda30442f3e994f5.jpg

nope nope nope <ptooey>

So let’s discuss protein powder.

While the hubs was temporarily (yeah, that lasted about four months, it was a good effort though) vegan, he had purchased some organic vegan protein powder. From Costco. So it was roughly a five ton pound tub. Sadly, this (very expen$ive) concoction did nothing to boost his energy, muscle mass, or super powers – mostly because he hasn’t used it.

Well, hey, I bet there’s a cookie recipe or something (other than smoothies, ugh, I am o v e r smoothies being Google’s answer to freaking EVERYTHING) I can chuck this in, right? Enter the Peanut Butter Cup Protein Brownie! Oh yeah, baby…peanut butter, CHOCOLATE, and nothing I have to run to the store to source. How can this not be amazing?! It smelled terrific, and peanut butter has never let me down before.

I whisked my mixture, baked it, and then tried a bite.

Hmm. Wait….

What…is happening?

It was the weirdest sensation I think I’ve ever had with food (save that time or two when I took a bite of what I thought was ice cream, but ended up being mashed potatoes.) I was going through the motions of eating, I was smelling and chewing and swallowing, but zero was happening on the taste buds.

Can a tongue fall asleep?

This tastes like….nothing.

Despite the peanut butter and cocoa, the “brownie” literally had NO FLAVOR WHATSOEVER.

????!!!!??

Wait a second….

I was quickly reminded of this:

Fortunately, I hadn’t fallen victim to COVID. Apparently, I had baked a substance that despite all logic was totally and undeniably devoid of any taste at all. The hubs (and the braver of my stepsons) confirmed – essentially, I had baked a chocolate-scented kitchen sponge. It was honestly kind of…fascinating. I mean, what science is involved in protein powder that thoroughly neutralizes chocolate AND peanut butter? And yes, because I am physically unable to waste food, I did finish the damn thing over the next couple of days (two breakfasts of utter sadness), and promptly tossed that recipe directly into the recycle bin.

One of the things I haven’t focused on at all in cooking is the art of plating. I’m perfectly content serving up a plateful of food that gets high scores for flavor, but loses points in the beauty contest:

Red cabbage and lentil dal adapted from this recipe
Butternut squash, kale, and tofu stir-fry. Kind of. idk I made it up as I went along

But this next one was a bit much, even for me. I’d been trying to recreate a recipe for Singapore Street Noodles, which is spicy, salty comfort food in a Chinese take-out box. I had a ton of ham in the freezer, because the company I worked for gifted us our choice of a ham or a turkey every Christmas (even though the owners were Jewish. Hey, I don’t judge, you do you. Besides, that ish is expensive. Merry Christmas and free ham to me.)

I started with this recipe (from Cooking Light, of course) and subbed in ham and tofu for the protein (the best street noodles, in my opinion, have a mishmosh of meats and veggies, which makes it a great vehicle for leftovers, and probably means I’m eating up what a restaurant would otherwise have to trash. Meh. Call me a raccoon and hand me the chopsticks.) I had found this beautiful purple cabbage, too, that I’d shredded.

As it cooked, I noticed that it smelled absolutely divine, but looked a little…odd.

Ah, well. It was pretty dang tasty, even if it resembled a Disney princess massacre. Poor unfortunate souls.

And that’s not the only time I was surprised by what surfaced on my soup spoon. We gotta talk about the turkey chili.

I love stews and chilis, and this recipe seemed like a good way to make a giant pot of yum. Now, before the chili purists come at me, I should clarify that I know this isn’t technically chili, even though I did throw in a can of black beans. Whatever. It looked pretty decent, and smelled terrific as the Instant Pot did its thing. The timer went off, I released the pressure, and started stirring it up.

Mmm….I can’t wait to eat thi-

Um. What is….

Something larger and heavier than anticipated was weighing down my spoon.

Tentatively, I got my utensil underneath it and slowly brought it to the surface.

The heck?!?!?

I should pause here and mention that this was turkey chili – hence, I had added two pounds of ground turkey to the mix. Ground turkey is very conveniently sold in 16-ounce tubes that look like this:

And if you’re an Instant Pot fan, you know that one of the benefits to this cooking method is that you just dump everything in and walk away.

And that’s precisely what I did.

What I failed to do, however, was brown the meat ahead of time (because ain’t nobody got time for that). I just splooged in both cylinders of meat and off I went…only to be greeted by the Cracker Jack Surprise Inside of a lifetime:

Since the Instant Pot doesn’t yet have a stirring function, it had essentially poached the turkey exactly as I had added it, resulting in a perfectly cooked oblong meatwad. It’s a marvel – the shape is completely undisturbed. YOU CAN STILL SEE THE MEAT TUBE WRINKLES. I was DEAD.

And yes, I made everyone eat it. I whipped that sucker out onto a cutting board, diced it up, and stirred it back into the faux-chili. Dinner is served.

Bone apple teat!

Please tell me I’m not the only one. Share your cooking catastrophes in the comments!

Cooking Tales, Part 1 – You Win Some…

As I sat here last week finishing up my previous post while eating a homemade (mostly healthy, I swear!) cookie (212 calories, don’t @ me), I was thinking back over the many trials and tribulations I’ve had while teaching myself how to cook. There certainly have been a lot of surprises along the way – when you have no idea what you are doing, the outcome can be different from what you expect. Cooking is like Christmas – sometimes it’s the Golden Dreams Barbie you always wanted, and other times, it’s a whole lotta expectation just to unwrap new underwear that doesn’t fit.

But even when cooking throws you a plot twist, it’s still an adventure trip worth taking.

(I think.)

I mentioned last week that a lot of my recipes were discovered out of this weird drive I have to not waste food. I’d find myself with a surplus of ingredients that, without immediate intervention, were destined for the trash bin, and a deep desire to salvage them – but no clue how to transform them into something I might actually want to eat.

Sometimes, this was due to an unexpected addition to my weekly crop share delivery – I mean, has anyone ever purchase a rutabaga on purpose? (Or spelled it correctly on the first try without that red squiggly line appearing?) Other times, it’s been triggered by some overzealous hoarding supply-stocking by the hubs: he’d find a reasonably nutritious snack item that his sons would eat (that wasn’t a riff on the ubiquitous Kraft mac and cheese), and proceed to snap up the entire national supply in one fell swoop. And, of course, they’d eat two of whatever it was and get bored. (Parents – you feel me?) Often, those items contain wheat, which I don’t can’t eat – but other times, I’m left with a boatload of carrots, or a bunch of celery 18 seconds from wilting, that I have to quickly repurpose.

Since I refuse to throw food away, this requires me to be pretty open-minded about what I should cook. Sometimes, that turns out AWESOME. And other times….

This week, let’s start with some of the winners – some of the recipes that were unexpectedly delightful. Like…COOKIES! Cookies are always winning, right? Especially the ones I made this weekend – Peanut Butter and Hemp Hearts cookies. Why hemp hearts? Mostly, because they sell them at Costco in bulk, and I like to shop there to drain my wallet $9.99 at a time channel my inner hippie. We had a bunch on hand because pre-COVID, the hubs and I were making smoothies every morning, with frozen fruit, Greek yogurt, greens, and hemp hearts for an added nutritional boost. Hemp hearts are really good for you – have a look:

It’s nature’s multivitamin.

Bonus: they pack their nutritional punch without tasting weird (spirulina, anyone? <bleck> – it’s like licking your aquarium clean) or getting stuck in your teeth. (chia seeds, I swear. They’re the infinity food – no matter how hard you try to swallow all of what you’re eating, if it contains chia seeds you can always, ALWAYS find ONE MORE wedged in beside a molar.)

Anyway, COVID and the subsequent shutdown changed our routine, and we got out of the habit of daily smoothies (and daily showers, and wearing pants….) The greens and Greek yogurt were easy to repurpose, but I was left with a substantial supply of frozen fruit and hemp hearts that could easily last me until the next presidential election.

I went to Google to see what I could do with them. Which was frustrating as f*&k because the obvious use for hemp hearts is smoothies, and NO I DO NOT WANT TO THROW THEM INTO A SMOOTHIE, Google. Gahhh. For as good as Facebook is at listening to my conversations and innermost thoughts and providing me ads to things I definitely referenced in a non-Facebook application, Google sure as hell misses the mark. I did, however find a very simple cookie recipe using peanut butter, oats, and hemp hearts. And THEY WERE AMAZING (even though I made them without chocolate chips. <gasp> Go ahead and arrest me.) Not overly sweet, not too dense, and full of peanut butter flavor. (Another plus – this recipe would be easy to cut in half. Not that I ever WILL only make a half-batch of cookies, unless of course that’s the result of eating most of the raw dough.)

Happiness is coffee with your cookies

Another cookie I had some luck with was this (gluten free!) peanut butter apple cookie. I had found myself with a couple of apples that the hubs had purchased, thinking he’d, you know, EAT them. But instead, they sat on the countertop until they were just starting to lean towards being a little mealy. So I shredded them (instead of dicing them. I also didn’t peel them, Princess, but you will eat them and like them anyway) and chucked them in to this recipe. To make them even better (healthier? sure) I replaced the butter (which, if you recall, I do NOT eat <shudder>) with more peanut butter. Delicious. Although I can’t seem to bake this cookie without burning the bottoms, but I found if you buff off the blackened bits with your microplane zester and rinse the evidence down the drain, no one will ever know – you’ll just have (most of) a thick, chewy, rich cookie.

But I suppose if you put enough sugar on something, it’ll taste good. Even – yes – vegetables. I’ve mentioned a couple times that growing up, my mom (and her mom) used to make zucchini crisp (trust me and make it already!), corn fritters, and tomato jelly (OK, that one was a little harder to swallow, but I appreciate what we were going for.) So while I was somewhat familiar with unconventional uses for vegetables, I did hesitate for a moment when I found a recipe for Turnip Cake, which I found after receiving several turnips in my weekly crop share. Like, a dozen. I don’t care how big your family is – no one is going to use a dozen turnips, and I was a little anxious about the sheer abundancy here. (So. Many. Turnips.)

But you know what? It was a very nice spice cake. My son and his then-girlfriend helped me finish it, and they had zero complaints (even though they were teenagers. It’s a freaking miracle.) I made mine with 1/2 teaspoon of ginger instead of cloves, and didn’t bother to add frosting (so I could better justify having it for breakfast.)

I want to mention one other dish that was an absolute smash hit – Spicy Carrot Soup. This one (as I alluded to earlier) arose from the routine that the hubs has gotten into with his boys:

  1. Find a healthy food that they will actually eat.
  2. Buy a metric sh!t-ton of said item
  3. Watch as they quickly tire of it and leave it to rot.

As I mentioned above, one of those items was carrots. I had a full bag in my fridge and they were rapidly appearing less and less excited to see me. (LOL) Now carrots were a bit of a challenge, because I don’t really love them. I’ll eat them, but when I’m working through food that contains them (like soup or stew), the carrots get eaten first so I can get them over with and enjoy the meal. And many of the recipes out there for hiding carrots add a lot of sugar. (Hello, carrot cake, old pal.) Which, in addition to being calories I do not want, the hubs kind of hates when it comes to meat or veggies. He will not, for example, eat pork cooked with apples, or glazed ham. I can’t blame him for the latter – save the jelly for toast. Yuck. So this leaves out things like honey-glazed carrots, most butternut squash soups, and candied yams. (More for me, sucker.)

So when I found this recipe, it looked like it might fit the bill. Small list of ingredients, nothing too weird or unusual, and I could make it in my Instant Pot with my immersion blender. (I love my immersion blender. When I use it, I pretend I am an evil scientist destroying my enemies who I’ve thrown into a pot of acid. I can’t be the only one.) It promised to not be overly sweet – so, having nothing to lose but a can of coconut milk and some geriatric carrots, I gave it a whirl. Hmm, not bad. I doubled the red curry paste, threw in a teaspoon of cayenne for some kick, and added cilantro, sage, and cumin (100% making this up as I go along, ha ha.) Since then, I’ve made this several times, because the hubs is a slow learner when it comes to buying carrots. But try it with a cup or two of leftover shredded chicken stirred in. It goes down like a hug from the inside.

Sometimes, you want to re-create a childhood memory through food – but due to self-imposed limits on calories and fat health reasons, you attempt to slide in some creative substitutes, hoping for just the right hit of nostalgia without the full side order of guilt.

One of those recipes is peanut brittle. My mother has taken to having some around when I visit (along with homemade Chex Mix for my sister – and Mom leaves out the Wheat Chex from some of it so I can share. It wasn’t a family holiday without bowls of Chex Mix on every end table. Mom made it with mixed nuts – we’re fancy like that – and my uncle and I would race around to the bowls to eat the Brazil nuts before the other one got ’em first.)

Anyway. Peanut brittle is pretty calorie-dense, but after carving a pumpkin a while back, I once again found myself with supply trumping demand:

Hella seeds, yo.

My prolific pumpkin gave me an idea – why not try peanut brittle with pumpkin seeds? Apparently, this wasn’t an original thought – many home chefs on the interwebs have already forged this path. But if you’d like to give it a go, I can vouch for this recipe – it was a hit even with my skeptical spouse (who was definitely giving me side-eye when I added the cayenne pepper.) Also, fun fact: pumpkins are just squash with a better marketing team. So save your seeds from their cousins and nephews like acorn squash and butternut – they roast just as nicely.

While these recipes turned out pretty decently, that isn’t always the case. I’ve made some recipes that just did NOT work. (And sadly, I still choked them down, because remember, we don’t waste food in this house. But my mouth was not happy.) Next week – the epic fails. Stay tuned!

What have you made that was a surprise hit? What did your family scarf down when you almost panicked and ordered pizza? Share in the comments!

Waste (Waist?) Not, Want Not. (Nah, I Still Want It)

I hate wasting food.

I know that’s a weird thing for someone with “disordered eating” to say. I mean, aren’t eating disorders about either ingesting everything in sight, or not eating at all? Isn’t the trick to mix tasty treats with dish soap or coffee grounds and bury them underneath the onion peels so you don’t grab them right back out of the garbage and eat them anyway?

(Side note – I’m still kinda salty that when I tried therapy a few years ago, Dr. P denied that I had an actual eating disorder. “It’s just disordered eating.” Well, gosh, thanks for invalidating me; guess I’ll…try harder? Part of me wonders if, given my current state, I’ve earned that designation level yet. Achievement unlocked. Yay?)

Anyway. Speaking of Dr. P – I do remember talking through a binge with her where I’d plowed through most of a jar of chocolate peanut butter. (Pro tip for weight loss: DO NOT BUY THIS.)

Anyway – she had challenged me to just…throw it away. Like…in the garbage, without eating it. THROW AWAY PERFECTLY GOOD FOOD.

And it was HARD.

Spoiler: I actually did it…but I’m still bitter about it, and if it were here right in front of me right now, I’d eat it. Even though this post is, like, six (?) years old. I’d give it a quick eyeball and a precursory sniff…if it smells like PB and I don’t see any discernible mold, yeah, I’d hit that.

Anyway. I don’t think I’ve thrown out food since, save a couple of onions that have gone softer than a rejected candidate on The Bachelorette. Food waste is kind of a problem here in the US, and I am determined not to contribute to it. If I possess an ingredient, I am going to find a way to make it edible and EAT IT. (And feed it to the hubs. Who is, I’ll admit, generally a good sport about these creative culinary journeys. While he’s more than capable of feeding himself, he very wisely recognizes that Someone is Cooking for him and appreciates the work it takes. Although…when we first met, I found that he had this cookbook, so maybe “capable” is a generous label.)

To be fair – when you’re learning to cook, you gotta start somewhere. And if that’s with a can of peas, a can of carrots, and a can of Spaghettios, have at it, I guess. <gag>

I started taking tentative steps towards learning to cook about <does math in head> fifteen or so years ago. I hadn’t been feeling well, generally, and, after numerous tests failed to show any reason for my nausea and general malaise, my doctor had basically thrown up her hands and said “idk man.” I began to wonder if maybe my chemically-laden diet of preservatives-riddled boxed food and sugar-free soda maaaaaaybe wasn’t helping the situation. So I bought a cookbook:

See how well-loved it is?

From there, I dove right in…and learned a couple of things really quickly. My first lesson was that recipe timing is apparently measured like football minutes, where a fifteen-minute quarter can take a full f#&k!ng HOUR. (The second lie cookbooks tell: Serves 4. Four what? Kindergartners? Ants?)

But I was COOKING – I was converting “this was raw and/or a vegetable” into food that was edible – and sometimes, really good!

Once I gained confidence, however….I started getting a lil cocky. I was doing things like buying tofu. And it was actually freakin’ delicious, which only encouraged me to push the boundaries harder.

I started trying to recreate some of the beloved recipes from my youth. Like…corn fritters. (Which our State Fair now serves, but I was there first. #hipster) Or Zucchini Crisp, which really does taste like apple crisp, and if you don’t tell your kids what’s in it, I promise they will eat it. (Check out the links for the recipes.)

From there, I started taking some liberties. Corn fritters are awesome, so how about corn pancakes? YUM.

Just add syrup.

Out of zucchini for zucchini crisp and only have yellow squash? (First – no one runs out of zucchini; it’s what you plant only if you have tons of friends. Fun Fact: August 8 is Sneak Zucchini on your Neighbor’s Porch Day, and I am here for it.) Throw in whatcha got and see what happens! (Spoiler: it was amazing):

On the plates I grew up with. Did you have these plates too?

In other words, I learned quickly that food can’t read, and no one is grading your work – so you can do WHATEVER THE HECK YOU WANT in the kitchen. If the end product is edible, it’s a victory. I took to this like my inner child was just told that there is no bedtime, and school attendance is 100% optional.

So how does this tie in to not wasting food? Well, since I hadn’t generally been feeling well, I decided that in addition to cutting out artificial sweeteners from my diet (RIP, diet soda) I really should work on incorporating more veggies. And…I don’t love vegetables. (Some people claim that they do. I claim that they are lying.) Veggies are foods I tolerate in the spirit of Good Health….but given the choice between eating a vegetable and pretty much anything else, I’ll almost always choose the latter. (Unless the other option is cantaloupe, which is the most vile food on the planet. I see y’all chowing down on big chunks of the stuff every summer, and I swear you’re trying to prank me and I’m just not in on the joke.)

My answer to eating more veggies was to commit to buying them on a regular basis – because I know that once I’ve paid for it, I cannot bring myself to waste it. For several years, I participated in a CSA, or “crop share.” After paying for the entire season up front, every week, I’d receive this gloriously abundant box of vegetables, and every week I would bring it home and frantically Google “what is this thing and how do I cook it?” (I’m looking at you, kohlrabi. Straight. At. You.)

But as a result, we’ve actually found some things that have become regulars in the recipe rotation. Since it’s desperately trying to be summer up here in the Midwestern Tundra I call home, I thought it’d be a good time to share some recipes/cooking techniques that we’ve come to love – just in case you get saddled with a butt-ton of kale or parsley (or your spouse found out his kids like carrots, so he ran out and bought FIVE POUNDS of them) and like me just cannot BEAR to let food turn to compost in your crisper drawer.

Roasting was my initial approach for weird stuff like rutabagas and turnips – when in doubt, toss cubed mystery veggies with a bit of oil and bake at 400-425 until browned on the outside. Of course, I’m measuring the oil very carefully….calories, ya know. But a tablespoon goes a long, long way, and also helps other spices like paprika or salt stick a bit better. Lay ’em out on a baking sheet in a single layer and maybe give them a stir after 10-15 minutes (otherwise, you’ll get this lovely burnt-on-the-bottom, not-quite-caramelized-on-the-top result that is Not Delicious. Treat them like they’re in a spray-tan booth and rotate them.) I would often have these with baked fish, which I keep pretty simple – I sprinkle on lemon juice, basil, and garlic, and bake. This ends up being a pretty low-calorie meal that takes up a lot of room on the plate.

(Side note – it’s super interesting to roast radishes, of all things. They lose their “bite” and become something quite different from the peppery beasts that normally rudely interrupt the blue cheese bliss on your salad.)

A lot of my CSA haul ended up taking a starring role in stir-fries, too. To be fair, mine end up more like stews, because I have yet to invest in a real wok. But they’re still tasty. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Each of these will cover about a pound of meat and a couple cups of veggies, or any similar combination.

  • 1/3 cup broth (chicken, veggie, whatever)
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1 T honey
  • 3 T lemon juice (or lime, or heck, any citrus)
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • Giant blob of garlic (from the Costco gallon-sized jar you bought thinking “I looooove garlic!”)
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or a full teaspoon if you live on the edge of being a bada$$)

Recently, I’ve been making something similar with a jar of curry paste I bought for a different recipe and had to use up:

  • 3 T red curry paste
  • 2 T dried basil
  • 2 T fish sauce
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1/3 c broth
  • 1/2 T cornstarch
  • 1/2 T honey (optional. I usually forget)
  • Garlic, garlic, garlic (again with the giant-a$$ jar in the fridge)

If your Instacart shopper accidentally subs out green curry paste, you can work with that too. Sub out the garlic for some ginger (1T dried or a diced hunk of fresh if you’re bougie like that) and you’re good to go.

Got a ton of green leafies you have no idea how to eat? Kale, spinach, and beet or turnip greens all work well in African Soul Soup. One of my vegan (yet humble; not sure how that happened) friends turned me on to this one; it’s hearty and spicy and filling and ALSO uses up the flat of chickpeas you bought. (again, Costco, really?) I know it sounds strange – the recipe contains peanut butter, broth, and tomatoes, but if you like peanut sauce, you’ll like this. If you decide to give it a go, here are some tips from a home-schooled chef:

  • I cut the broth in the recipe back by 1/2 cup. I like stews more than soups….
  • The recipe tells you to process the PB and broth in a blender. Ain’t nobody got time for that, and I am NOT washing another appliance just for the sake of creaminess. I just smash it all together in the pan. No one has choked on it yet. But speaking of choking….
  • The instructions have you “toasting” the spices in the pan before adding the liquid. WARNING – turn on the hood/fan thingy, pals, or you will essentially pepper-spray yourself once the cayenne becomes “aromatic.” As former President Clinton advises, do not inhale.
  • If you use a heartier green like kale, you’re going to have to let it simmer for a good bit longer. It DOES cook down, eventually….but you might need to let it meditate in the stovetop sauna for a good 10+ minutes.

The result:

Much health. So many yum.

And speaking of garbanzos….if you happen to be gifted with a bouquet of fresh parsley (and you don’t hate beans), try this recipe. It’s also great if you sub out half of the beans with wild rice, and you won’t hate yourself if you go totally wild and serve it over baked squash. (Although that’s enough fiber to prep you for a colonoscopy. Sometimes “delicious” should come with a warning.)

Full disclosure, though – while I’ve found a number of recipes that are actually pretty decent, rest assured that we’ve had multiple cooking failures along the way. I’ll fill you in on that next week. For now, here’s a preview:

You made a cake out of…what now?

or

That smells great…but what is…that…lump?

And be sure to tune in next week to find out if we really had what appeared to be unicorn stew for dinner. 🙂

P.S. Speaking of finishing up things….on Friday, the hubs surprised me by finishing this landscaping project we started YEARS ago. My son, who was 16 at the time of that post, is now….21. Better late than never. Ha ha.

The Voice in My Head Might Be Misguided

One good thing that’s come out of this quarantine/isolation/emotional social distancing of the last several months is that I’ve really stuck to the habit of regular exercise. Almost every day, the hubs and I set out on a 3.5 mile walk. We’ve managed to keep it up for over a year now. I daresay it’s been great for helping us connect at the end of each day, and I’m sure it’s good for our mental health, too.

Kate. I call bull$#it. You do it to burn calories.

Yeah, OK, whatever.

Anyway, despite living in what meteorologically appears to be Canada’s basement, we’ve been really good about keeping the habit going. I only call an audible if the temperature is below 15 or so (that’s about -9 for all y’all not in the US.) I’m well-equipped with a kick@$$ coat supposedly rated to -20, monster boots with enough traction to hold me to the side of a building, and a bulk box of instant hand warmers at the ready. (Despite all this, and bulking up in enough layers to rival the appearance of the Michelin Tire Man, it is still cold. Hella cold. But we persevere.)

Me, on a winter walk. Or after downing a large pizza.

We also opt out of the great outdoors when it’s pouring rain. Because that’s just…miserable. Plus, while my cell phone brags about being somewhat water-resistant, I kind of want to save testing that theory for a more emergent situation, like a random boat capsizing.

When we can’t don’t walk outside, I’m reassigned to the basement, where I can complete 45 minutes of mind-numbing repetition on the dreadmill or the elliptical. (Side note – I have a GREAT elliptical. It gives me the same calorie burn as running did, sans the joint murder. Also, because our basement is only about 7′ deep, I’m the sole person in the house who can use it without awarding myself a concussion. The hubs and his boys are 6’4″, 6’5″, and 6’7″ (!!!) respectively. The youngest is the tallest. He wears a size 17 sneaker. It’s fun to see the pile of shoes by the door – mine are super cute, theirs resemble a pile of kayaks.)

In an attempt to circumvent the boredom, I’ve subscribed to a few podcasts. It’s hard to find ones that are entertaining enough to keep me engaged – my mind insists on wandering while I’m staring at the tacky knotted-pine wood paneling in front of me – but I have found one I’ve enjoyed that actually isn’t centered around diet, exercise, and food. It’s called Endless Thread, produced by WBUR (public radio out of Boston). Each podcast takes a deeper dive into a Reddit thread and explores the story behind the postings. (And if you haven’t explored Reddit, you should do so – it’s a glorious time-sucker with appealing mindless entertainment for everyone.) It’s curious and interesting, and exposes me to Things to Ponder that aren’t about how bored I am or how much weight/fat I need to lose.

Last week, I learned about something that I didn’t know was a “thing” regarding heights. I don’t know how YOU feel about heights, but I am…not entirely fond of them. It’s not the height that freaks me out – it’s that sudden stop at the end of the descent that gives me pause. And I’m not alone. I can recall vividly taking my kids to a four-story indoor ropes course when they were preteens – all the children there were practically RUNNING in the sky, completely fearless, trying the thinnest balance beams without a lick of worry. And most of the parents were watching proudly while clinging tightly to the support poles for dear life.

It’s likely that those obnoxious brave little moppets just had insufficient life experience to understand real fear. (Lucky ducks.) But surprisingly, when faced with looking off a precipice, there are some folks whose brains react to potential death with an unanticipated message:

“Jump.”

Upon hearing this, I immediately Googled the transcript, certain my mind had autocorrected “curl into a ball and cry.” But no, it’s totally a thing. It’s called The Call of the Void, and about half of us humans have experienced it.

There’s some cool scientific theories behind this – primarily, that your brain has to quickly translate the feeling of panic/impending doom with the rational logic that you’re NOT in immediate danger:

“It could be the case that when you’re up somewhere high, your brain is basically sending an alarm signal — you know, be careful. And that could actually lead you to take a step back, or notice your surroundings,” she says. “Then that more deliberative process kind of kicks in and you start to think, why did I just take a step back? I’m totally fine. There’s no reason for me to be afraid. Oh, I must have wanted to jump.”

– April Smith, associate professor of psychology, Miami University in Ohio

Super interesting, and it means half of y’all are freaks. But freaks in good company, at least. The podcast goes on to reference other intrusive – and potentially disturbing – thoughts that you might have, such as What would it feel like if I drove into oncoming traffic right now? or What if I threw this stapler at my boss’s head during this meeting? My recurring intrusive thought: what would it feel like to peel my eyeball with a vegetable peeler? <shudder>

It’s somewhat reassuring to know that this is actually pretty normal. The bulk of us are able to dismiss those thoughts as fleeting and (of course) don’t act on them. It’s largely just static – mental white noise – for most people. And, contrary to what you might expect, there’s a study that suggests thoughts like these – even the ones that would result in your demise – aren’t an indicator of potential suicidal ideation, but might actually affirm your will to live.

But this got me to thinking a bit. While I don’t have any desire to leap off tall buildings in a single bound, the logical part of my brain suspects that my inner voice might sometimes lead me off-course. There certainly have been times in my life that I’ve had some intrusive thoughts, and perhaps not always selected the most rational answer.

For example – 2005. I was fresh out of an emotionally abusive marriage and rapidly approaching burnout from my job (75% travel will do that to you.) I was presented with a job opportunity 1000 miles away from pretty much everyone and everything I knew.

Jump, Kate. Jump.

And a few short weeks later, my cat and I were packed tightly into my little Dodge Stratus, headed across the country to new adventures. Shortly after I moved here, I did meet the hubs, and it’s mostly been a decent ride – even though every January when the lows are about 25 below (Celsius conversion: f^&k!ng cold) I do question my sanity. While I didn’t land anywhere near where I expected to, I landed safely.

Later, in 2018, I was working at a very steady gig that I mostly enjoyed could tolerate. We got a new CEO who brought in management techniques from circa 1986 (ugh) and I sensed that it was time to move on. I landed a decent offer at an energetic startup in an industry struggling for funding. On paper, it was a huge risk. And yet….

If not now, when?

Jump, Kate.

And it was…WILD. (One day, I will need to write about my adventures in the cannabis industry. Suffice it to say…well…it was cannabis.) I lasted about a year and a half, but they tell me your measure your tenure in this space as one measures dog years, so it wasn’t that short of a stint. The landing was a little rough, but I dusted myself off, and while it was tumbling and bumpy, I seem to be doing OK career-wise.

So why, then, can’t I leap into fixing this stupid preoccupation with food and weight?

Wait. You mean…eat? Like…without….logging my food? Skip weighing out my chips?

Why is the prospect of letting this go no easier to do than flying across the ropes course? What’s the worst that can happen?

I could…fall?

Into what?

Fat? I guess?

I don’t know where my harness is, what it looks like, or if it’s attached to anything at all. If I let go of this…where do I land?

Maybe this tracking – this (likely false) sense of control – IS my safety net. Perhaps it is preserving my sanity. Or I have convinced myself that it is.

Yeah. Like you “believe” your daily exercise is for zen reasons.

You do, in fact, log every walk into your fitness tracker. Which feeds your calorie tracker. And do you eat those calories back, Kate? Hmm?

Hey, man, I’m trying.

Kind of.

I mean…I eat SOME of them now. Sometimes half of them.

Your BMI is 16.6 today. Why can’t you eat more? Even just eating back what you burn would help. Didn’t you promise the hubs that you’d try to gain weight?

The hubs is really trying not to be too overbearing about this. His Asperger’s brain makes it hard not to laser-focus on whatever the spotlight hits on a particular day, and I can physically SEE when he’s thinking about this and trying not to bring it up. But yesterday, he couldn’t resist checking in with me:

Him (attempting to be super-casual): So how is the weight gain project going?

Me: Stable. How is YOURS going?

Hey, it’s only fair that I get to ask, too. To his credit, he laughed and changed the subject.

A bit later in the walk, he asked when my next physical is scheduled, because I had also promised I’d “ask the doctor about my weight” next time I went in.

And of course, I have that all planned out:

  1. Wear my heaviest shoes
  2. Drink a liter or two of water beforehand
  3. If pressed, insist I’m super healthy and ask the doctor what specifically is worrisome. Cholesterol is excellent. Fasting glucose is A+. Hair and nails are growing. Am I not the picture of health here?

Wouldn’t it make sense to do more listening than talking?

Could you ask for help, in whatever form she feels is best?

Can you start packing your parachute so when that plane door opens, you can step through the door and enjoy the dive?

I…don’t know.

For now, I am remaining firmly belted into my seat on Food Issues Flight 1313 to Nowhere, uncertain of where it might land. I’m fully prepared for emotional turbulence, but even though I’m aware that the pilot is completely unqualified to navigate this airspace, but if I’m being completely honest with myself, I have zero desire to get off this plane.

No thanks on the 70-calorie packet of peanuts, and I’ll buckle up for unexpected rough air, I guess.

Do you hear the Call of the Void? Does your mind tell you to jump? What other disruptive thoughts have YOU had? Share in the comments – I might be the only person who thought to peel her cornea with the veggie peeler, but I’m sure y’all got some good ones.

A Position of Influence, Back in the Day

I was going to write about something completely different today, but the subject got me thinking about biology, which I haven’t studied intentionally since high school…and that took me down this overgrown path on Memory Lane. Enjoy this little flashback from the era of neon, hairspray, and the original Mom jeans.

In high school, I was basically a “good kid.” Band geek. Got good grades, never caused trouble. You wouldn’t catch me in detention unless I was tutoring a fellow classmate in algebra. But the truth was that I was a bit of an instigator. While I never did anything directly inappropriate that you can prove, like mouth off to teachers or hide sandwiches in the music room piano, I did find an efficient method to carry out chaos: friend the troublemakers and seed their thoughts. I found that if I merely verbalized terrible ideas creative concepts within earshot of the students who would actually do them….fun stuff happened.

Take Dan, for example. (Dan is, in fact, his real name, but he’s completely fallen off the grid since high school, so here you go.) Dan had a sense of adventure and zero…well, actual sense. We were in biology class, with its long tables suitable for dissections, Petri dishes, and microscope slides. For some reason, though, each table was equipped with what appeared to be electrical outlets. (None of us had phones to charge back then, and we weren’t using any cool power tools, so we had no idea why they were there.)

To get things started, all I’d had to do was ponder aloud to Dan one day earlier, “All the science tables have outlets on them. I wonder why? I mean, they’re not, like, connected to anything, right?”

And the next day, in the middle of class:

BANG

We all turned and a somewhat stunned Dan was sitting WAY back in his seat, looking VERY surprised and maybe a little windblown. Dan was immediately sent to detention, but we got the deets later: Dan had been considering the outlets, and in the interest of science, decided to run an impromptu experiment. Hypothesis: these outlets are trash. He grabbed a set of keys, put them in the outlet, and “I pushed them in with my pen.” The resulting boom disproved his hypothesis. Quickly and loudly. Also, the keys belonged to Sandy, who he had a crush on despite having a long-term girlfriend…and said girlfriend was also a Good Kid with a low tolerance for nonsense, so the tea was spilling EVERYWHERE after this.

Epilogue: Dan never actually WENT to detention. He went to the band room and hid for the rest of the day instead. And apparently the teacher forgot to send the detention slip to the office, so the sentence was never served, and this incident remains undocumented in the official high school chronicles. Oh, and I guess Sandy’s keys were fine. Sandy was dating the quarterback, who didn’t kill Dan, who remained with his girlfriend until she went to college and dumped him and married a really good-looking guy and became a pharmacist. The End. And yes, we are ALL wondering why Dan vanished after high school, and have multiple theories ranging from Witness Protection to top-secret government work to federal and/or predator-style crimes. I’ll report back if we ever find out.

Oh, and then there was James from chemistry class. Full disclosure – in middle school I had a HUGE crush on James, but he only had eyes for…well, pretty much Other Girls Who Were Not Me. So while I’d moved on and was dating a drummer (bonus cool points?), there was certainly some residual fondness for his cheeky attitude towards life, school, and general authority. So when the teacher introduced the concept of Bunsen burners to us, with the boring af standard safety training: “…and the tip of the flame reaches 5 bazillion degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to melt copper….”

…all I had to say to James, under my breath, was “Hmm. Aren’t pennies made of copper?”

And it began. (And no, I have no idea (clearly) how hot Bunsen burners get, or what the melting point of copper is. Suffice it to say I’m better suited as a contestant on The Price is Right than Jeopardy. RIP Alex Trebek – I have mad respect for you, dude.)

Anyway. From that point on, in James’s world, chemistry class was an opportunity to prove whether or not the tip of the flame was, in fact, hot enough to melt copper. Or pencils. Or quarters or notebook spirals or anything else readily accessible to a high school student in the days prior to internet access and Amazon. And once he’d melted metal, it was time for art class. Pennies were morphed into….well, honestly? Useless globs. But they didn’t look like standard pennies anymore, so that was cool. I mean, back in the dark ages, until this point the coolest thing you could do with a penny was leave it on a train track for the trains to flatten.

Credit: Scott Barrow

So this went on for MONTHS, and as you’d expect, James got bolder and bolder with his creative exercises. It all came to a head in February, though. On that fateful day, James had brought in a unique specimen for the flame treatment: the Reader’s Digest Commemorative Coin.

<sniff> Isn’t it beautiful?

Of course, being dumb teenagers, we had no idea what kind of metal this was, and didn’t think about whether it might be sort of toxic to inhale the fumes from heating this bad boy up – but James was ready to melt it down into Something Really Awesome. He got his tongs, turned up the flame, and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

And…nothing happened. No smoke, and not the slightest bit of shape-shifting. It absolutely refused to melt.

Undaunted, James persevered, holding fast, convinced that Something Cool was about to happen. He held that stance for over twenty minutes (see, he can’t have ADD, look at this concentration!) unwavering, not moving. Until Thom (who insisted on spelling his name “Thom”, because he was That Weird Guy) caught wind of the fact that James was not, in fact, carrying out the day’s prescribed assignment, but was instead having unsanctioned fun.

Not wanting to miss out on the action, Thom yelled “HEY!”

James, startled, turned and dropped the Commemorative Coin. It bounced off the marble table…

<ping>

…and tumbled to the linoleum floor.

<ping> <pingpingpingedypingping> <brrrrrrr>

As the coin was making its descent, another student who I’ll call Amy (because again, it’s her real name, come at me) walked by. Wanting to be helpful, she stopped and called out “Oh hey! You dropped this!”

And she bent to pick up the coin.

Which had been ROASTING for twenty minutes.

(Imagine this scene playing out in slow motion for effect.)

Amy stooped to pick up the coin. Triumphantly, she raised the coin over her head, “Here you go!”

And it was at this point that she realized that the coin was SCREAMING HOT.

The resulting shrieks shattered the classroom blackboards and the screen of the tube TV collecting dust on the AV rack in the corner. The coin flew out of her hands as the activity of the entire classroom came to a screeching halt of silence. The only sound in the room was that of the coin on its final descent:

<ping>

<ping> <pingpingpingedypingping> <brrrrrrr>

We all stared as James, wide-eyed, watched the coin roll to what was likely its final resting place under a rolled-up, outdated poster of the Periodic Table wedged in the corner.

As you probably concluded, James was banned from Bunsen Burner use for the year, and was restricted to nothing more dangerous than a pencil and paper for the rest of 10th grade. Amy recovered from her injuries, at least as far as I can tell from Facebook, although she was branded with a Statue of Liberty tattoo on her palm for a while. (I mean, nowadays you’d pay cash money for that sort of body mod, so I guess she was kind of accidentally hipster that way. Cooler than Thom with an H, for sure.)

While I normally stayed in the background for these shenanigans, there was that one time I almost got busted. Let’s time-travel back to 11th grade Driver’s Ed, taught by Mr. C.

Now Mr. C was the chillest teacher we knew, which made him the perfect fit for instructing clueless, inexperienced teenagers on the art of automobile operation. Hard braking and wrong turns were met with an impressive amount of calm – you could be absolutely flooring it towards a literal brick wall, and his reaction would be “…uh…Ralph…you might want to think about easing off the gas a bit….and maybe head left here….” (What’s mildly interesting about this is that Mr. C used to be the football coach, but was asked to step down because he got too worked up and angry and was scaring the players. I suspect the magic of medication was participatory in his transformation, but no one knows for sure. Also, Ralph once ate a fly. Thought it was important to mention.)

Anyway, on this particular day, we were watching a movie about not driving school buses into a ravine or something, which meant that no one was paying attention. I had zero interest in driving (isn’t that what boyfriends are for?) so I was capitalizing on the opportunity to complete my Spanish homework, which was due next period.

I was sitting in the back of the classroom, conjugating some verbs, when James started being…well…James. James was clearly bored (I mean, how much fun is school when you can no longer light things on fire?) and was flicking paper footballs across the room to his other malefactors. Mr. C was in the front row, transfixed by the riveting content of the cinematic genius unfolding in front of him. (I guess we all have a favorite film?)

Here’s a quick visual of the setup:

Eventually, one of the Hail Marys overshot the goalpost and landed on my desk. I decided it was time to play along, because no me gusta this movie or actual homework. I pulled out a clean sheet of paper, hastily folded a paper airplane, and set it aflight in James’s general direction.

And here is where we had a literal plot twist.

I do not perpetuate any notion that I am even moderately skilled in the architecture of paper aircraft. Normally, my planes are doomed to meet similar fates as the Hindenburg or Titanic; they get hefty assistance from gravity and beeline to Earth like cats hearing a can opener from the kitchen.

So imagine my surprise when the plane cleared several desks and careened directly towards James.

And then, to my amazement, the plane TURNED. It took a hard right and banked north, sailing towards the front of the room.

I held my breath and watched. Certainly, a paper airplane interjecting itself into the school blockbuster Prom Night Carnage would attract Mr. C’s attention, no?

No. Because the plane turned again.

I watched, horrified, as the plane cleared the front row of desks, unpredictably pitched 90 degrees to the right, and sailed catastrophically into Mr. C’s left ear.

Basically:

my “oh $#!t” moment

Startled, Mr. C jumped to his feet, and turned to face the class.

And pointed DIRECTLY AT JAMES. Who was so outraged at the injustice of the allegation that he began to sputter:

“What? No!! It wasn’t me!! It was KATE! KATE THREW THAT!!! I SWEAR!!”

Mr. C sent James a withering look of complete disbelief – while this wasn’t physics class, it was pretty obvious that it would have been impossible for me, sitting directly behind Mr. C, to manage to throw a paper airplane to hit the left side of his head. Besides, I was a Good Kid and never in trouble. James, on the other hand, had a reputation for being a miscreant. (I’m sure there was some teacher-lounge talk about the whole Bunsen Burner fiasco.)

Crisis averted. At least for me, which is all that’s important here. James probably would have had detention eventually anyway. Right? Mad props to the entire class of 1989 for not ratting me out.

I don’t know what ever happened to James, but…James, if you’re out there, struggling with the lifelong consequences of being falsely accused, I want you to know:

The Communication Conundrum

Most of us have that one movie that we can always watch again and again. If you’re flipping through channels, and it’s on, you’ll leave it to play while you finish your online shoe shopping and bill-paying, laughing at all the familiar quips and quoting the best lines along with the cast.

One of the movies that holds this spot for me is Hitch. (I’ll pause here while you go watch it. It’s GOLD.) Short synopsis: a professional “love coach” works to help men navigate dating. He’s slick, but his own best practices fail when applied to his love interest. It’s quirky, funny, and a great testament to the fact that even when we speak the same language, communication isn’t easy at all.

Here’s a snippet (admittedly, not a humorous part of the movie. Also, not terribly safe for work or for little ears):

“This right here?” <gesturing to generally effed-up situation> “This is exactly why falling in love is so g*ddamned hard.”

Why IS communicating so hard? We use generally recognized words; why is it so easy to misunderstand what we mean? I know language is nuanced, but honestly, it shouldn’t have to be so difficult.

Last weekend, the hubs and I were able to take a long hike in the woods (and no, that’s not a euphemism for anything, so keep reading.) It’s a pretty scenic area, considering it’s embedded in the middle of a very urban setting (You can still hear airplanes and the occasional Jake brake, but it’s nice nonetheless. Also, full disclosure – these were taken last fall. But it pretty much looks the same):

While we were crossing part of the river, we passed a couple who were holding hands and talking. While I wasn’t eavesdropping (much) I did hear that they were speaking in heavily accented English – which led me down the following thought path:

If English is a second language to both of them…why aren’t they conversing in their native tongue? Wouldn’t that make this intimate, romantic moment easier?

Uh, maybe they don’t speak the same primary language, you ding dong.

Yeah, shame on me for assuming, I guess. But still, the challenge of successful communication when you aren’t speaking the same language wasn’t lost on me. I mean, heck – isn’t the breakdown of communication one of the primary drivers behind marital strife and relationship conflict?

How can we get it wrong so often when we think we’re speaking the same language?

Sometimes it’s obvious that you shouldn’t take words at face value, right?

i didn’t block the number it came from, so go ahead and send them cat pictures Also, even in my currently messed-up head I recognize that if I lose 25 pounds, I’ll be dead.

But as I worked my way through the week towards Friday, I noted a few examples of messy messaging and words that took a wrong turn. First up: my coworker. She works hard and has a great sense of humor (read: she laughs at my dumb Dad jokes). But listening to her just exhausts me. She talks extremely fast and doesn’t enunciate – and listening to her is like reading a run-on sentence. A short excerpt of a recent bucket of words she spilled at me:

so then I got a call from my mom and she got that job at where she was interviewing and I had to tell her to CALL HIM BACK because she’s gotta take that drug test or she won’t get the job and she didn’t call him today we were gonna look at cars oh they totaled mine and they said hey well this is gonna be a lil lower than you think he said three thousand and 500 is low like to me I was like ok well talk to my mom has the title and 3000 is pretty good it’s like a 2001 I think and maybe they need to call my dad because it’s the title I think his and the Kia was nice I guess like when Jenny blew her engine I sent her to Struther’s they’re a family and WILL NOT rip you off the other guy said like $800 to fix it but he looked at it and told her to go back to the dealer because it’s under warranty and I liked it

(Now imagine this behind a face mask with no spaces between the words. Whew.)

Did you follow that? She totaled her car (she’s fine, she actually talked like this before the accident) and she’s getting $3k for her old car, which she may use to buy a Kia. I think I got a recommendation on a mechanic and should congratulate her mother. I feel like there was more in that convo, but this is the best I could do. I just nod and smile and try to interject noises that indicate I have some idea what she’s trying to say. (So far, it’s working. Don’t blow my cover.) I mean, I guess I can’t argue that communication is happening, since I walked away with the salient points. I’d just like to leave a conversation without feeling like I’m at an auction afraid I’ll sneeze and accidentally buy the $15,000 vase.

So lemme jump to Coworker #2 now. A bit of backstory: this particular clown is one who has been with the company for a number of years; subsequently he’s overpaid and underworked, and while everyone on the leadership team seems to understand this, no one has summoned the intestinal fortitude to manage him out.

Lucky me, though – two weeks ago, I got pulled in to save his bacon work with him on a project he’s been ignoring for six months tasked to manage. The project is to launch a new learning software, and supposedly, the go-live date is May 1 – which (HOLY HATS) is next week. And as of yesterday, barely anything’s been done – we have no classes, no data items (like employee email, supervisor name, job title) created, and NO EMPLOYEES in the system. I’m thinking I can upload the bulk of this from our HR software….but I need those data items so I know what to upload. His task was to identify the data items and find out what format the vendor needed. (For example – which fields are alphanumeric? Is there a specific upload template that needs to be in a certain format? Etc.)

That information was due last week. On Wednesday, I pinged him and asked if he’d received any information on this format. He forwards me an email FROM A FULL WEEK AGO where he thinks he has the answer. Aside from the fact that he sat on this for A FULL WEEK (#stillbitter), the information was completely irrelevant. I quickly forwarded the message to the software vendor (and copied him, since he’s, yanno, the freaking PROJECT MANAGER) clarifying what I needed.

And this douchecanoe quickly wrote back with – and I quote –

Well, bless your heart.

Excuse you?!?

We all know what “bless your heart” really means, right? That’s it’s not a well-wisher’s phrase meant to bestow gratitude? And that it passive-aggressively means “F you”?

It’s on, sir. Please see me in my office.

By the time he swung up to my office later (which, not coincidentally, was when he needed more help, insert eyeroll emoji) I was ready to Call. Him. Out. When he approached, I cocked my head to the side and said, “Look – we need to clear the air here. I got your ‘bless your heart’ email – dude – we all know what means. What’s your deal?”

He blinked, and then proceeded to furiously backpedal like a newborn baby giraffe on a unicycle. (It was mildly glorious to watch. LOL) Perhaps in the future he’ll only attempt to insult me where I can’t see or hear him do so. Good enough. I’m not the captain of your project Titanic, and I may be your last lifeboat, so watch me float away while you sink this sucker. Bless YOUR f*cking heart, a$$clown.

Anyway.

While you certainly expect the occasional misunderstanding <cough> with coworkers, it’s odd to me how communication breaks down so often with the people we love and live with. Shouldn’t these be the people who know us best – those who can anticipate intent and interpret nuance and understand what you mean even when you don’t directly say it?

Sometimes, sure. Earlier this week, the hubs and and I were researching natural alternatives to the traditional grass-covered lawn. (Largely because he hates to mow, and also because the grubs ate about a third of my grass, so it’s a great time to plant something different.) I was trying to look at some of the examples, like creeping thyme, clover, and wild violets online, and I couldn’t recall the names of the other plants he mentioned.

Me: Hon? What were those other things called again? Pachyderm something? And butt thistle?

Him: Japanese spurge. I think the Latin name is Pachy-something. And dead nettle.

Him: ….Butt thistle?

“Butt Thistle” is now our future band name, even though the hubs is 100% tone-deaf. But the point here is that he very clearly understood what I meant, even though it’s a bit of a stretch from what I actually said, which was some version of elephants and a painful homeopathic enema.

As you probably guessed, though, communication isn’t always quite that smooth. Just now, as I was writing this, the hubs was nearby working on his flowers (he has a pretty elaborate hobby going, so watering and feeding is a full hour-long process. And that’s just the indoor stuff.) He pulled out this Crown of Thorns, which is currently in bloom:

I commented how much I liked the color – that it was the shade of summer that just pops on a manicure or pedicure, and looks SO GOOD with a tan.

Him: <blink> So…you like it?

So yeah, sometimes communication isn’t as clear as we’ve intended, even when we use extra words to clarify. And other times, we feel we’ve made the message crystal clear, so we stop saying anything at all. It certainly doesn’t help matters when communication shuts down, but on occasion you don’t have any extra energy available to spare on the SAME THING you have said a bazillion times already…and you quit trying.

Case in point: The hubs and his boys order food delivery a lot. 90% of the time, I don’t want to add anything to their order. (Because, you know, I don’t really eat.) And yet…when they’re all putting together an order of Chinese food or Chipotle, and they don’t ask me if I want to participate, I feel very left out. It’s so weird – my inner eating disorder should be glad that I become conveniently inconspicuous when they’re selecting their favorites from the online menu (no pressure to select, and then eat, the foods that will make me hella fat). But I’m not. I feel…well, invisible. Excluded. Like I’m not acknowledged as part of the family.

Yesterday, my younger stepson found a “deal” – 99 cent delivery from Dairy Queen. Yay, low-quality soft-serve and questionable-origin hot dogs for everyone! Both boys and my spouse talked about cheese curds, chicken fingers, and sundaes, adding items and discussing who was getting what.

I sat there on the sofa and didn’t say a word while they confirmed among the three of them that the order was complete.

And not a single person asked me if I wanted anything.

I WAS RIGHT THERE. Literally in front of them, but as relevant as a tossed-aside throw pillow. Not important enough to pick up off the floor and put back on the couch.

Now yes, I do realize that I am kind of being a big baby about this. Since I was, in fact, RIGHT THERE, there is zero reason that I couldn’t have spoken up and said “hey, throw in a Reese’s Blizzard for me.”

But I didn’t. Instead, I communicated with myself:

They didn’t invite you for a reason.

No one thinks you NEED fast food.

If you were REALLY too thin, they’d be pressuring you to order.

So, in other words, they deliberately exclude me from family food orders because they think I’m fat.

Because THAT is how communication tends to work. We color outside the lines with the crayons we’ve had for years, and no matter how much focus is placed on the image we’re supposed to produce, the waxy scribbles smear over the intended picture.

I think back to that couple we passed by the river, who despite approaching communication from different languages, found a way to meet in the middle with something they mutually understood. And I wish there was a way I could borrow their verbal crayons – or tap into that magical Babel fish that helps me say what I mean.

Instead, I continue to keep my head down and focus on the picture I’m trying to draw, letting the lines blur and permitting only my silence to scream that I’m hurting.

Rage Against the…Um…Something!

During some of my down time at work, I like to catch up with my HR peers online. Through sites like LinkedIn and other professional message boards, we network and connect about hot topics in HR.

Well, that’s what we SAY we are doing. Honestly? We’re largely socializing. We might affectionately refer to it as “notworking”. And that’s OK – when you’re in HR, it’s generally frowned upon to hang out at the water cooler and spill the tea about whether the VP of sales is perhaps a little too chummy with his admin assistant Ashley, or why Tom in Marketing REALLY got canned and why the FBI took his PC away without a word to anyone. Personnel issues are stressful, pals, especially when you’re generally sworn to secrecy. (And it doesn’t help that y’all literally follow me into the bathroom to ask me riveting questions like whether or not your dental insurance includes coverage for adult orthodontic work. Read the freaking room, people.)

Since we can’t vent openly to our coworkers, HR people talk to each other. It’s a much-needed emotional outlet. So in case you were wondering, yes, we DO talk about you behind your backs, but we change the names to protect the (obviously) very guilty.

One of the conversation questions that came up the other day:

Is it ever OK to cry at work?

After some discussion, ultimately, the answer was (as you’d expect from anyone working in HR) “it depends.” For example, if someone is having a personal crisis, we’re the ones helping them coordinate short-term disability, FMLA, and life insurance, and advising them to contact the EAP. So we see our fair share of tragedy, and tears in those instances make sense. Or if someone has finally worked up the courage to report harassment – that can be super stressful, and often the reaction is emotional release of the embarrassment, frustration, and (hopefully) relief that someone hears you and is going to help.

(Side note – yes, you should report harassment. No one wants to work somewhere that allows this behavior, and we can’t stop it if we don’t know about it. And if you DID report it, and the harassment keeps coming, report it again. There is NO WAY WE WILL KNOW it is still happening if you don’t tell us! Sometimes, I’ll hear “I reported this to HR and nothing was done” when the truth is that we DID address the behavior…and, hearing nothing further, assumed our remedy was effective and thought that was the end of it. I mean, it’s not like the person who’s harassing you is going to swing by my office and say, “…yup, I’m still a complete douchecanoe…..” SPEAK UP so we can help you. Thanks.)

In other cases, though, it was more of a debate. If someone is getting reprimanded by their manager, crying may or may not be an appropriate reaction. It’s understandable, sure – who likes to be told they’re doing a crappy job? Having an emotional response to criticism is pretty darn human – but it’s not going to change the trajectory of the conversation. Sure, if you’re completely inconsolable – or start spewing expletives – we may call a time-out until you’ve managed to compose yourself. But the message will still stand, even if you’re the human equivalent of Kilauea Volcano. So take a deep breath, put on that professional mask for a minute as best you can, and get the message so you can figure out what to do next so you can put this moment of unpleasantness behind you.

But…what about if you work in HR? Is crying ever OK?

As drivers of all the stuff above, are we allowed to have actual feelings about it?

One of the things I was coached on early in my career – when I was talking to my manager about a stressful workplace issue and the tears were threatening to spill – was “don’t get sad. GET MAD.” This is not terrible advice – many times, people cry when they’re frustrated or angry. And when I say “people”, that mostly seems to apply to women – thanks so much, gender-specific social conditioning.

So…why? Why have we trained women NOT to get angry? Isn’t being mad just part of being human? Anyone who was educated by Sesame Street in the 70s might remember learning about this:

This plays in my head when I’m trying NOT to mentally murder someone for being a complete idiot. Also, I’m convinced this goat was named Gary. #mandela

Full disclosure: When I was a child, I had NO PROBLEM being angry. I had legendary anger grenades that I haphazardly chucked at my poor family, seemingly at random.

There was absolutely zero rhyme or reason to my rage. My brother, whose only offense was being a Morning Person, would cheerily greet me with “Good morning, sis!” to which I’d SCREAM at the TOP OF MY LUNGS “SHUUUUUUUUUUUT UUUUUUUUP!!!!!”

Source

And my sister got the same – or worse – just for existing. (Well, it was probably for being too pretty, not having to struggle with her weight, and being too young to know any differently – serious injustices when you’re thirteen and “the smart one.”)

As my mother put it not long ago, “There’s probably medication nowadays for whatever was wrong with you.” Which, while painful (I mean…ouch) to hear, is likely true – we’ve come a long way with identifying and addressing mental health issues. (Admittedly, the journey isn’t over – we have a long way to go yet. But it’s markedly further along than it was in 1986.)

But what I’ve never been able to figure out is why I was so angry in the first place.

And, somewhere along the way, I lost the ability to effectively express myself. When, exactly? I’m not certain. But I do recall very clearly one morning getting ready for school, after yet another explosive bout of rage where I very rudely kicked my sister out of the bathroom. My mother, hearing the commotion, approached me at the bathroom vanity, looked me dead in the eyes and said, very coldly, “I don’t know how you can live with yourself.”

Well, funny you should put it that way.

Because…I can’t.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that “hurt people hurt people.” And I think it’s quite obvious that I was hurting, and badly. The timing’s a little fuzzy, but I believe it was several months earlier when my mother found in my room a list I had made of ways I could potentially kill myself. (I don’t remember what all was on that list, except that I had decided dousing myself with gasoline and lighting myself on fire was probably too painful. Good Lord. I was twelve.) And it was maybe a year later when I was able to move from mostly-normal calorie counting and dieting to what would result in the lowest weight (until now) of my adult-height life.

Somewhere in between those two milestones, I stopped screaming so much. And as I got smaller and smaller, I was able to quit feeling much of anything at all, really. I took all that rage and directed it with laser-beam focus on my very own soul, and began to starve it to death. When you’re full of emotions, you have too much mental heartburn to even think about real food. Storing all those bottled-up feelings equipped me like a camel for a long journey through an emotional desert.

And since that time, one of the things I’ve noticed about myself is that I have some difficulty expressing feelings. Well, at least in an appropriate manner.

I did survive what I now recognize to be an emotionally abusive marriage, but much of my survival came through silent compliance and tiptoeing across time bombs and other eggshells. As long as I was quiet, I could keep going. (For thirteen years. Wow.)

Even now, I can’t fight with people I love very effectively; it takes some time and self-reflection to identify why I’m even upset in the first place. Initially, I find myself in an uncomfortable state of anxiety, completely unaware of why I feel that way or what is actually stressing me so badly. Eventually, I might manage to unpack some of what I’m actually feeling – and much of the time, it’s frustration, or disappointment. Or at least I think it is. But as I ultimately begin to attempt to talk it out, it dawns on me that maybe, just maybe, I might be…a little angry. And then I wind up apologizing for their wrongdoings when my only crime has been to be upset by what they’ve done.

I know these emotions are still in there, somewhere. Once in a while, a real feeling bubbles to the surface, and since I am at least partially human, I can’t always control it. As my kids got older, occasionally they’d call me out on becoming “inappropriately angry.” Larger-scale crises (cancelled flights, surprise appendicitis) would find me calm and rational, but smaller things (delayed elevators, a remote control not working) would turn me into this guy:

My daughter made me watch this movie just because she thought I’d relate to this character. Har har. source

And yeah, there was that one time at work years ago where I was SO FRUSTRATED that I actually threw a stapler at my boss. Well, technically, at the wall behind my boss’s head. Talk about inappropriate expression of emotion at work. And no, I didn’t get fired. They were sort of desperate, or at the very least, used to chaos. I worked there just over three years and reported to 15 different people during that time. I was also on a first-name basis with the local parole officer, and I wrote a procedure to document “what to do when the sheriff shows up to arrest an employee” because it happened so frequently. And I broke up a fight where someone threw a cafeteria table. So shot-putting a stapler didn’t even blip their radar as a problem.

So I CAN feel some things, apparently. And while I think I’m getting better at this “handling emotions” thing (being in a relationship with another adult instead of a man-child helps), apparently I still have some work to do. Otherwise, why would I be right here with my weight? I had to buy new underwear this week because all of my old ones literally won’t stay up, and my formerly skintight workout tights are baggy in the butt and thighs. (I didn’t even know either of these things was even possible. LOL) Yet here I sit, barely able to eat what MyFitnessPal indicates is a sufficient intake to maintain my weight.

(I did get within 50 calories of that number TWICE this week. Progress?)

So what’s upsetting you NOW, Kate? Why are you starving?

Great question. I had hoped by writing this post, I’d figure it out, but I don’t think I’m any closer to this mysterious root cause that flares out in food issues every so often. Maybe the first step is just giving myself latitude to HAVE emotions, even if they’re not pretty ones.

I need to let my soul breathe. To allow myself to be human.

Maybe then, I will be granted permission to eat.

Strange Dreams are Happenin’ to Me

Well, it’s been another week. The sun is (not) shining, and everyone in the house is sleeping soundly. Out on the front lawn, two crows are tearing up my dead lawn, chucking tufts of dusty sod left and right, looking for the nice, juicy grubs.

Not my video, but it’ll give you an idea of the beautiful snippet of nature I’m viewing in my own front yard:

POV: you’re an all-you-can-eat buffet hosting the high school football team

(Side note: my “lawn” looks like we buried old leaking batteries, and at some point I Really Need to Do Something About It, but I can’t be arsed to care. Eventually, the creeping Charlie and dandelions will fill in the brown spaces, and we’ll call it a native landscape. It all mows the same. Until then – eat up, lil’ birdies.)

Anyway – it’s time to write. It’s funny – often, when I start these posts, I don’t feel like I have much to say. Fast forward three hours and 1500 words and well, there I am mopping up all the mental tea I’ve spewed about. I had taken a significant hiatus from writing for a while, mostly because it just started to feel like So. Much. Work. And it’s easy to find other things to do. <shooting side-eye at Netflix, Reddit, and the internet in general> Yesterday, for example, I got sucked in to HOURS of Dog the Bounty Hunter. It was utterly fascinating. Yeah, I know he can be somewhat controversial. But reality TV putting very human conditions on display for all of us to analyze? I’m here for it. (See also: 90-day Fiance and Married at First Sight.)

Excuses aside, I know writing is good for me. I remember being commanded by my last therapist, who I was seeing when I wasn’t actively blogging, to WRITE. Not because she knew I “used to” do it. But because it seems to be the only way I manage to be honest with myself. Stuff comes out that I don’t always expect…but it’s usually something my soul needed to express.

Another way humans do this (in my unprofessional, reads-a-lot-of-articles-on-the-internet opinion), is through dreaming. In dreams, the brain is free to wander unleashed – there are no parameters, no fence posts, no rules at all. And the mind reacts sometimes to this state like a toddler with free reign to gummy bears, appearing to be hyperactive and irrational, yet if you can peel back the layers of chaos to the emotions surrounding what’s happening, you can often get to the root of the real issue and understand why some of it actually might make sense.

In other words, the key to dream interpretation is often not what is actually happening, but how you feel about it. Figure out what those feelings represent, and then you can tie in some of the random juxtapositions of potentially symbolic items.

I had two fairly specific (and unusually clear) dreams on Friday night. It’s probably not coincidental that I had my second COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, too, and the chemical cocktail firing up my immune system (and a dress-rehearsal fever) likely contributed. So let’s take a deeper dive into the abyss:

Dream #1: The hubs and I were standing outside my younger stepson’s bedroom. The door was closed, but we could hear that there was another person in the room with him. When we opened the door, we saw an older teenager halfway out the window, the soles of his white sneakers flashing as he tumbled to the ground. He quickly got up and sprinted away across the yard. He was wearing a Hawaiian-style black and white shirt, baggy white shorts, and sported a spiky, light-blond, Guy Fieri-style haircut. Which OBVIOUSLY meant he was the neighborhood drug dealer. (Right? )

So I promptly began searching the room for weed. I looked EVERYWHERE, certain it was here SOMEWHERE, while my stepson protested the search and the hubs stood around seemingly very lukewarm about the whole dealio.

Finally – JACKPOT! In a small earbuds case, I found a single bud. Triumphantly, I showed the bounty to my spouse, who was suddenly interested in what I was doing. My stepson looked very confused. I thrust the offending plant in his face, eagerly awaiting his creative excuse.

“Um….isn’t this a cactus?”

Sure enough – upon closer inspection, it was a tiny, tiny cactus.

<facepalm>

What this means: OK, first of all, I should point out that even though I’m a nearly 50 40-ish mom, I DO in fact know what marijuana looks like. Because – fun fact – I worked for a cannabis company for a while during my writing break. So I’m actually, like, a professional or something. At the very least, I’m pretty hip. (Fly? On fleek? What’s the word for with-it and cool now? Sick? Whatever it is, I am It.)

But I think the big clue here is that in my dream, I was certain Something Was Amiss. And in the end, it actually wasn’t. Could this be my mind sorting out the differences between my spouse’s parenting style and mine? Do I often think I’d set different rules surrounding acceptable grades and video game time?

Absolutely. But the frustrating disconnect about being a step-parent is that while you will always have an opinion, you don’t really get to have a say.

And the reality that perhaps my brain is trying to communicate to me is that these boys are seeming to turn out largely okay anyway.

Are they perfect? HAHAHAHA <coughcough> no. But neither am I (hello, food issues, and I see you, irrational anger.) So perhaps my thinker is telling me to slow my roll and back off a little – while I fancy myself a parenting travel agent, I need to let them plan their own trips, and while their journey is far different from what I’d choose, I have to have some faith that they’ll get there in their own way. Sure, that might mean failing classes and attending summer school (AGAIN) – but a diploma is a diploma, and if they get it, we’ll have to call it “good enough.” <sigh> See? I’m trying.

Dream #2: I’m half-awake, and feel myself being dragged (gently) out of bed. My spouse has pulled the scale over to where I’m sleeping; he helps me stand upright on the scale. Bleary-eyed, I look at the numbers, and see it registers a good seven pounds more than I’ve been lately. In my mind, I’m protesting – I’m wearing a heavy sweatshirt! I haven’t been to the bathroom yet! (Because no one weighs in with clothes on AND a full bladder. That’s…psychotic.)

And I hear him whisper, “…disgusting.”

I fall back asleep, then, and when I “wake up” (I’m still dreaming here) I look at the scale again. The dial is all…cattywampus. It’s an analog scale, and usually the 0 is at the bottom, but the dial’s been rotated to where the 0 has migrated to about the four o’clock point. Tentatively, I step on it anyway….and the reading with the twisted scale requires me to do more math than I’m mentally prepared for, so I walk away confused about whether I’ve gained or lost.

What this means:

Well….

Captain Obvious did a fly-over and mentioned that we didn’t really need to spell this one out in too much detail. But to add some context: on Friday night, as I was falling asleep, the hubs brought up my weight…again. (While often he can be oblivious to a lot of details – like whether I’ve eaten today or not – he can be a bit of a bear with laser-like focus once something does blip his radar. I suppose that’s why he’s so good at programming, or website building, or coding or whatever exactly he does that I clearly do not understand in the slightest. LOL Either way, I’m the bee in his bonnet right now, and I’m not entirely sure I like it all that much.)

He’s just worried about you. And besides…didn’t you start this whole mess by seeing how long you could go before he noticed you’d lost weight?

He’s noticed now; what more do you want here, Kate?

He’s commented that my chest has “wasted away” in the past. And I guess that’s kind of true; you can see my ribs from the front of me. (They’re usually covered up with a few thick sweaters, because I live in the Midwest where it is freaking COLD.)

And on Friday, he was kind of…feeling around for bones (in the eating disorder world, we’d call this body-checking, although we usually just do it to ourselves) and whispered to me that he was still “concerned about your weight.” And on Saturday morning, he confirmed it. “Your spine shouldn’t stick out further than your butt.”

(Says who?)

And then, “You lost all this weight right under my nose. I feel like I failed you.”

And a little piece of my heart cracked in two.

I told him that he isn’t responsible for my physical health; as an adult, that job is mine and mine alone.

Yet….

I still want him to find me attractive, though, don’t I? Or do I? Because I can kind of tell he doesn’t. And wouldn’t I do something…different…if i did?

Why can’t you at least compromise here, Kate? Can you meet him in the middle with a couple of pounds?

I’m trying. Somewhat. I did increase my calories…sort of. I’m eating what My Fitness Pal believes I need to maintain my weight. I’m also attempting to eat back my exercise calories.

I believe one would argue that it still isn’t enough. Because the tracking app thinks I’m 4’11”, not 5’5″ (this way, it doesn’t yell at me for weighing too little.) And I don’t fully trust that the app is accurately tracking calories burned, so I eat…some of them. Sometimes half of them.

Well, once I ate half of them. Yesterday, I was too full.

But at least I’m not losing any more weight, right?

At least, not today?

source

<big sigh>

P.S. I’m still muddling over what a teen Guy Fieri means in my first dream. It’s occurred to me that he could certainly be a representation of how I wish I could feel about food. His relaxed, gregarious enjoyment of pizza, ribs, French fries….I might be just a tad jealous of that level of ease. I mean, I just recently realized that I don’t actually know if I prefer creamy peanut butter over crunchy – I just always choose it because two tablespoons spreads further on the bread, resulting in fewer calories per sandwich. But do I enjoy it more? I have no idea.

Do you have meaningful dreams? Share in the comments! You might get a free interpretation that will be well worth the price of admission….

Canceling the Caustic Contingency

(Hey y’all….Before I get too far into this…I understand that nowadays these posts are supposed to come with trigger warnings.  So, if you’re not in a space to read about suicide, maybe skip this one.) 

Let’s take a quick trip back in time together.  You won’t need snacks, because we’re not going far.  We’ll rewind just about a year or so, to March 2020, when the nation was just beginning to shut down.  With COVID spreading faster than glitter in a preschool craft room, we all found ourselves rapidly removed from our daily hustles.  Sports practices and music rehearsals came to a screeching halt, concerts and games were cancelled, and restaurants and bingo halls shuttered for the immediate and undetermined future. 

As a result, we were all unceremoniously stuck at home surrounded by nothing but our families – and all our “stuff” – for the very first time in a long time.  (And we were all apparently out of toilet paper.  But being a resilient species, we got that sorted.  Somehow.  I’m not gonna ask; I will assume you did what you had to do and we will not speak further of it.) 

Anyway.  Given virtually no other options, and few exciting new releases on Netflix to distract us, we all started taking a hard look at all of the tchotchkes, objects, collectibles, and other material things we’d chosen to surround ourselves with.  And most of us decided we had Too Much Stuff.  (I recognize that in the thick of quarantine, many of us determined that we had Too Much Family, too, but that’s fodder for a different post.)  Since all the cool hangouts were closed, several of us rolled up our sleeves, channeled our inner Marie Kondos, and cleaned out closets, garages, and attics.  Outgrown baby toys?  Donated.  Clothes that no longer fit (courtesy of boredom and food delivery)?  Bag ’em up!   We repurposed furniture and packed unused dishes and emptied garages of clutter, clearing out the chaos we could control while weathering out the storms of the chaos we couldn’t. 

And we stood back and admired our new, clean, organized spaces, and felt a little bit better.

But sometimes, as we were deciding what to include in our newly organized lives, we hesitated.  We might have elected to discard a small box of baby teeth (because now that the “babies” are old enough to drive, vote, and buy lottery tickets, it occurs to us that dislodged human teeth are kind of gross), yet preserved the tiny hospital bracelet and the small blue onesie worn home from the hospital.  We could easily part with our kids’ old math worksheets and broken macaroni jewelry, but may have not been able to condemn a first-grader’s family portrait to the recycle bin.

For example:

I’ve aged remarkably well since this rendering. I think. I may be the one between the two panda bears that are supposed to be the children.

And while we may have finally accepted that we’ll never be a <insert dream size> again, we might store our favorite pair of jeans in the back of the closet for just a little while longer.  You know.  For the…um…memories??  And because while we’ve relinquished most of the hope that one day, they WILL button, we might be tottering on that fine line between denial and acceptance.

I’ve gone through this reorganization/decluttering exercise a few times here and there – even before COVID made it cool to be minimalist.  I find clutter to be stressful – this is probably because my ex-spouse and his family were hoarders collectors, and after years of being neck-deep in clothes and books, and having a four-car garage too full to park in, I prided myself somewhat on frequently donating items I didn’t immediately need or want. 

But after over a year of being at home (and some not-insignificant changes in size), I found it was time to yet again comb through my wardrobe and donate the excess.  I reorganized my closets (wardrobe AND linen, thankyouverymuch) and my dresser drawers.  And in the middle of sorting my socks, I stumbled upon something I’d forgotten I’d kept.

I pulled out the orange bottle, still sealed with red tape, a bit quizzically at first.  Is this medicine?  What is this doing in my sock drawer?  I read the label and quickly remembered:  Back in November of 2017 (shortly after I stopped writing here), I had an outpatient surgical procedure, and as is custom in the US, I was given a parting gift of a few days’ worth of a fairly powerful painkiller.  (Specifically, hydrocodone.)  After the surgery, and a day-long power nap (aren’t post-procedural naps the best?  You can’t work and you can’t clean the house; your job is literally to rest, and with zero immediate stress, you can just melt into your couch and relax. Ahhhhh.), I wasn’t feeling the need for anything stronger than ibuprofen. But I filled the prescription anyway, just in case. I mean, I’m feeling okay now, but things might get worse. I might wake up in a ton of pain.  What if I want to take one, and I don’t have it?  Better to be prepared and not need it versus wanting it and not having it there.  Right? 

As it turns out, I recovered quickly and didn’t need the high-powered pain relief.  I never cracked the tamper-resistant packaging. 

But long after the scars healed, I hung on to that medication.  While physically, there was no need to have a controlled substance in my possession, I wasn’t quite ready to go through the motions of disposing of it, because while I didn’t realize it at the time, I wasn’t doing so hot mentally.  And while my food issues weren’t quite so prominent at that point, the stacks of anxiety and boxes of unexpressed emotion were accumulating higher and higher.  And like any hoarder in denial, I refused to believe that they could topple and fall, crushing me underneath them. 

And I’d think, on occasion, things like sometimes the energy it takes to just exist is exhausting.  And no, I’m not, like, depressed or anything.  I’m just…tired, I guess?  And yeah, maybe once in a while, I think that it might be an incredible relief if I just, I dunno, went to sleep and didn’t wake up.  Like a post-surgical power nap. 

And while these thoughts buzzed around my head from time to time, I could largely swat them away, knowing that I had a contingency plan tucked away between my patterned tights.  If things DID get to be too much, that bottle was there.  I’d never ACTUALLY take the whole bottle at once, of course.  It was just there as…an option.  A packed parachute.  Break in case of emergency.

The trouble with mental clutter is that it’s really difficult to remove.  It’s like trying to refinish a room and preparing to take down the wallpaper only to discover that the dingdong who lived there before you plastered the paper three layers deep, painted over layer two, and super-glued the first layer directly to the drywall.  (It’s a universal real estate fact that every handyman who owned your house before you bought it was CLEARLY an A-class idiot.)  Fixing the mess is a ton of thankless work, followed by hours and hours of spackling and sanding, and most of us bail out of the project and opt instead for the minimally cosmetically-acceptable solution of textured wallpaper or yet another layer of paint.  Sure, it hides the problem instead of fixes it, but it’s sometimes enough where if you hang pictures over the lumpier sections, it’s passable. Until you have a water leak and the whole wall peels and bends, exposing sins straight down to the slats.

Eh, that isn’t going to happen.  I only have these thoughts once in a while, and they always pass. 

And at first, that was true.  It was really only about once a month or so, during the occasional night where sleep was elusive and the hours of darkness spun out in front of me.  And then sometimes it’d be during the day as I was driving home from work:  I’m tired. If I had a car accident today, I wouldn’t have to go to work tomorrow.  And maybe here and there in the middle of the day, perhaps while mowing the lawn.  If I mow over a bee nest, I might get stung and die.  I’d hate to not be able to breathe, but four minutes isn’t that long….it’d be over soon.  And I’d sleep.

And I still have that bottle.  If I’m still hurting when I wake up.  If things get worse.

If the light never comes. 

Just in case. 

And then I found myself on an out-of-town trip during the summer of 2018 contemplating the ocean in front of me and wondering if I should wade out until I could no longer see, hear, or feel anything at all.  No one would see me go.  The roar of the ocean was louder than the screaming inside my head and the lull of the waves could silence it all.

I walked out to the beach and, staring into the endless blackness of the horizon, called the suicide hotline.  I’d had it programmed into my phone (which in hindsight I recognize was maybe a bit of a hint that something wasn’t quite right inside my head.)  I talked to an absolute sweetheart of a young man who just listened.

And after about a half hour, I hung up and went back to bed. 

And while my mental storms didn’t magically blow over right away, I kept living.  And some days were pretty good.  On other days, I focused on keeping myself moving forward, reminding myself that every sunrise brought a chance to start over.  And for the days that proved more challenging, each sunset was a promise that the day was over, for good. 

But I kept going.  It was the best I could do, but it was more than good enough. 

And eventually, I forgot all about that bottle…until last weekend, when it presented as a bit of a surprise.  I’ll be honest – I considered stuffing it back into the drawer for a moment.  But you don’t need a stockpile of parachutes when you’re no longer flying on airplanes.  And this little bottle wasn’t a parachute – it was an anvil.  If I pulled the rip cord mid-air, there was nothing to slow my descent. 

It was time to kill the contingency plan. 

So I opened the bottle, crushed the pills, and mixed them with the used cat litter.  I peeled off all the warning labels and dropped the empty container in the recycling. 

I didn’t need it anymore.

Well, that’s good.  But, if you’re “better”….what the heck is going on with your weight?

Why have you lost so much?  Why can’t you eat more?

Aren’t you just leaping slowly? 

I suppose I’ve traded in my secret stash for an empty lunch bag, hoping that gliding slowly to earth will soften the blow of the eventual landing.   

Pizza isn’t much of a parachute, I guess.  But it’s all I have packed on this plane.  I don’t know where the oxygen mask is, nor if we’re really crashing anytime soon…or at all. 

Right now, I guess I keep gliding through space and time.  One foot in front of the other.  Checking off the sunsets and trying again with each new day. 

It’s the best I can do, and for now, it’ll have to be good enough.