The Indelible Ninja Scars

Warning: Dark post ahead. I should probably label this with “trigger warning” for the delicate flowers, but this isn’t a designated safe space, so enter at your own risk. I’m gonna talk about stuff that I shouldn’t be doing. You were warned.

<sigh> This post has been difficult to write. I’ve been knitting it and unraveling it in my head for a couple of weeks, debating whether I’m brave enough to put it out there or if I should continue to pretend it didn’t happen.  At this point, though, the latter isn’t working.

I don’t think I can truly pick myself up until I admit to myself how hard I fell down.

I know HOW it happened. Honestly, I should have expected it. It’s been happening for years, off and on, in unpredictable cycles. Like a well-trained ninja, it lurks in the shadows of my being, camouflaging itself behind my arrogant confidence that I’ve really got a handle on things this time, waiting to pounce in the blink of a vulnerable moment.

I’d been coasting along for weeks in a false sense of security: I’ve been having phenomenal success on a new medication that’s quelled my omnipresent anxiety and quieted it to an occasional flare of “wait…I should be, like, worrying about something right now, right?” that I’ve been able to squash like a bothersome gnat. In other words, it’s been quite manageable.

And I’d been rocking my personal fitness. I was running four miles 3 days a week, and mixing in yoga, too. I was cooking – actual food – with vegetables and quinoa and organically-raised tofu harvested by free-range leprechauns. (Close enough.)  I was nourishing myself.

Everything else was…calm.  Peaceful. The hubs had been treating me like a queen. The kids are doing wonderfully. My daughter had just finished her first year of college with <shameless Mom brag> a 4.0.  My son, a junior this year, has a darling new girlfriend. The situation with my stepsons, while not resolved, has stabilized. I don’t have any significant job stress. Mom was doing great – she was preparing to close out her and Dad’s business, and she has a…um…gentleman caller (?) who spoils her.

Side note: What exactly DO you call it when your 70ish-year-old mother is dating? “Boyfriend” sounds kinda juvenile, while “significant other” implies some sort of long-term commitment. And “friend”….yeah, no. You can just HEAR the air quotes when people say it. “…and this is Mom’s ‘friend’ Bob. Try it. See?!?

Side note #2: Should I feel weird about Mom dating? Because I totally don’t. Well, except that the guy she’s seeing is actually the father of my first ever real boyfriend. (Hurrah for small towns.) So, even though that was thirty (!!!) years ago, I sort of feel like I accidentally kissed my brother. But on the flip side, that means that I know this guy, and somehow, that’s comforting – he’s not a complete stranger. His wife passed several months ago, and as I recall, she wasn’t exactly a fan of me being in her son’s life because apparently, I had evil spirits floating around me. Anyway, I like the man and I love that she’s happy.

In summary, things were going smoothly.

The calm before the storm.

Then Mother’s Day weekend arrived. I wasn’t expecting any grand gestures, but the kids were aware, at least. We had a decent weekend planned – my son was getting ready to go to Prom on Saturday, and we’d have a quick lunch on Sunday before they went to their father’s and I got back on a plane.

Prom day was lovely. The weather had promised rain but surprised us with sunshine. The plan for the day was to head over to the girlfriend’s house mid-day, where my son (read: “we”) would cook dinner for the two of them. Then they’d put on their fancy duds and tolerate a few pictures before heading to the festivities.

And it went so well. My son and I worked together to prepare General Tso’s Chicken; I chopped the meat while he found pans and serving bowls. We opened sparkling juice and toasted the day.

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That’s my boy. LOL

After we Googled how to tie a necktie, we were ready for pictures. We skipped the usual local haunts (a quick drive-by indicated an intolerable crowd) and headed to his father’s house, where I knew the azaleas would be in full bloom. (I offered to take them to the local funeral home, or the cemetery, because OF COURSE there’d be fresh flowers there. But they declined. Sheesh, where is the sense of adventure? Kids today….) I snapped away, capturing the smiles. I even got some terrific shots of my son with his father that I know they’ll both treasure.  (I am SUCH a big person, ain’t I??)

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Shortly, the lovebirds were off to the dance. I met up with my daughter and her boyfriend and settled in to some serious Netflix. My daughter is really digging conspiracy theories lately, and yeah, there’s a series for that, believe it or not. Even though we’d ordered pizzas, her boyfriend, being a young man with an age-appropriate metabolism, brought “snacks” so we wouldn’t starve to death for the three hours we’d be sitting on our butts. His stash included two family-size bags of chips, a batch of beef stew, a kitchen-sink sized bowl of buttered popcorn, and two six-packs of soda.

Eventually, the two of them headed off to host an after-prom party.

Leaving me alone.

With the food. (Except the stew. I convinced him to take that home with him.)

So that’s HOW it happened. I just don’t know WHY.

But it happened.

Down went the family-sized bag of salt and vinegar chips and the rest of the popcorn. Even though I’d finished my gluten-free pizza earlier, I added a few slices of their leftovers to the frenzy. Then I headed off to Wal-Mart to top off the mess with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s finest.

Why not?  It didn’t matter. It’d be gone shortly.

I hadn’t done this in years. Decades, maybe. Sure, I’ve binged, but I’ve avoided sticking my toe back into the purging pool. Overeating is somewhat socially acceptable; we can half-ashamedly confess eating a doughnut we didn’t need or an extra slice of cake. Barfing, though, is still done behind closed doors.

Now, it was time.

I’d forgotten how hard this was. How violent. The body was not meant to do this. Yet, like riding the proverbial bicycle, mine eventually remembers.

Panting, gagging, my stomach rolls and heaves. I’m undressed from the waist down and perched atop a pile of lightly-used towels, as the bladder of a middle-aged woman can no longer bear the seismic onslaught forced upon it by making yourself vomit.

This is not an affliction for the proud.

get it out get it out get it out

Eventually, it’s over. I feel like a dishrag that’s been left at the bottom of the sink, sodden and heavy and unable to take any shape or form.

I clean up and try to sleep.

The next day, I carry the weight of my sins. My tongue feels as though I’ve burned it; my jaw aches like I’ve been chewing bowling balls.  Belches bring an acidic, burning reminder to the back of my throat. And to my heart.

It’s Mother’s Day. The sun’s out again. And the kids actually remember, bringing me cards and presents for the first time in maybe ever. The hubs surprises me with flowers, which showcase my favorite colors.

I am reminded that I am loved. And that today, I can start over. Reset the timer. 1 day since my last purge.

I can’t say this will never happen again. I’ve learned that swearing “never” is a cue for the fates to set up an elaborate exercise in irony.

But I don’t honestly have any idea why this happened. Why now, when things were going (relatively) fine? Why not when my dad died, or when the hubs and I were having more serious issues, or when my stepson was in the hospital? Why did this cap off a beautiful day bookended by my awesome kids?

And if I don’t know what caused this, how do I keep it from happening again? Was this a momentary lapse, or the beginning of a final descent? Was this random or a result? Fluke or fault line?

It’s unnerving. But I suppose that’s the crux of mental illness. If we could always control it, it wouldn’t be an illness, right?

Things have been…well…not great since then. I’ve done some exercise and a ton of eating. Zero days since my last binge. I’m blaming a canceled flight and an unplanned night in beautiful downtown Detroilet for the pizza and two candy bars I ate alone in my hotel room while watching (ironically) My 600-Pound Life for the most recent one.

I’ve kept it all down, though, and I suppose I have to remember to count that as a victory. Because the ninja still calls to me, whispering from the sink, the refrigerator, the checkout aisle. I’d learned to tune her out, and I need to ensure I have sufficient white noise in my life to block her song. Her voice is the mental mermaid that always tempts toward a tumultuous sea.

Sometimes, my footing slips on the rocks as the surf tugs at my toes.

Today, I hang on.

Paving a Positive Path

One of the many, many <sigh> many things I oversee in my HR gig is the company’s wellness program.  Now, traditionally, “wellness” has focused primarily on physical health – you know, BMI, blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol.  And while we do include components of these things, we’ve recognized the need to take a more holistic approach to wellness – so, in addition to talking about heart health and nutrition, we also incorporate activities surrounding financial well-being and mental health.

Mental health is hard to talk about in the workplace.  But it needs to be addressed – if not for the greater good of society, then because it’s costing companies productivity (read: money.)  Take a look at this Harvard article:

Researchers…found that workers with depression reported the equivalent of 27 lost work days per year — nine of them because of sick days or other time taken out of work, and another 18 reflecting lost productivity.

And it’s not just depression….Anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD can wreak havoc on one’s personal life AND career:

Studies estimate that people with ADHD may lose 22 days per year (a combination of sick days and lost productivity)….people with ADHD are 18 times as likely to be disciplined for behavior or other work problems, and likely to earn 20% to 40% less money than others. They are also two to four times as likely as other employees to be terminated from a job.

So many of us are silently struggling – but we’re not getting any actual help:

In one study, only 57% of employees with symptoms of major depression said they had received mental health treatment in the previous 12 months. Of those in treatment, fewer than half — about 42% — were receiving treatment considered adequate….

Anxiety disorders affect about 6% of the population at some point in life, but typically go undiagnosed for 5 to 10 years. And only about one in three individuals with a diagnosed disorder receives treatment for it.

In the United States…only 13% of workers with ADHD reported being treated for this condition in the previous 12 months.

So yeah.  Big problem, here.   And mental illness comes with the challenge of overcoming the not-insignificant stigma associated with it.  Here’s an illustration I’m blatantly stealing from a recent seminar I attended:

First, think about some of the slang terms that you’ve heard to describe mental illness.

Nuts.  Loopy.  Crazy.  Unbalanced.  Psycho. 

Yeah.  You probably have a few more.

Now, let’s list the slang terms you know that describe people with cancer:

Um.  <cough>  <furrows brow> Uh…

 Okay, so what words do we typically use?

Patient.  Survivor.

Ayup.  Exactly.

When we roll this out at the workplace, then, we want to incorporate mental wellness slowly.  With baby steps.  Because while we really want everyone to be all enlightened and shiz, the truth is that blasting them with in-your-face messages that scream DEPRESSION!  ANXIETY! might have them hearing something that mentally sounds more like ZOMG SPIDERS AND CREEPY CLOWNS!!! resulting in everyone scrambling like insects exposed to the light from an overturned rock.  :/  Which helps nobody.

So in order to gently introduce the idea of focusing on mental health to our organization, a few weeks ago we rolled out the Paths to Positivity Program. (Materials here.) During this five-week program, participants choose one of three areas of focus:

  1. Connect with Others
  2. Mind Your Mood
  3. Find Your Purpose

Very non-threatening.

Since 99% of my friends are imaginary people I met on the internet, I decided to focus on Connect with Others.  I took my team to lunch, and we volunteered with our families (well, OK, THEIR families.  Because my kids were at their dad’s, and the hubs and my stepsons won’t do anything with Jesus, even if it’s a good thing) at Feed My Starving Children.  And I thought it wouldn’t hurt to incorporate some of the other suggestions, like reaching out to people in need, helping others….Essentially, I tried to subdue my snark and exercise my empathy a little.


First up:  My college-aged daughter needed some help with her resume.

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Look at me being all servant-hearted.

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She had an actual JOB for two summers, and volunteered at the local hospital for YEARS.  You’d think we could start there….

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Kid can play virtual poker (she won, btw) but listing things you’ve actually DONE is a stretch?  LOL  I’m such a patient mom.  But it paid off:

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Well…it was momentary gratitude, anyway.  🙂  But if you speak teenager, you know what high praise this is.  Further, she asked me to help her roommate, too.  How many college freshmen have YOU met who are happy to get their mothers involved?

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#parentingwin


Of course, I wanted to extend happy vibes beyond just family – I planned to reach out to strangers, too.  I’ve mentioned before that I get a decent volume of misdirected email, so I thought this recent note in my inbox might provide a good opportunity to spread quasi-random kindness:

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While I DO frequent Chipotle (because OMNOMNOM) I didn’t recall sending this.  <headscratch> Certainly not from Illinois, where I haven’t been in over 10 years, save a few unfortunate layovers in O’Hare.  Puzzled, I scroll down:

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Ah, OK.  Someone filed a complaint and inadvertently used my email address.  Shrugging, I typed a reply, figuring I could use this as a chance to say something kind:

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I thought that’d be the end of it, but she wrote back:

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OH HELL YEAH.

And once I got my burrito, I made sure to thank her.

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One more….

A few weeks ago, I attended my annual Safety Conference – the one time a year where oppressed party animals HR and safety professionals get together to share body shots of Fireball best practices and strategies surrounding their respective Safety programs.  This year, the drunkfest conference was held in Las Vegas.  I’d never BEEN to Vegas, and honestly, wasn’t looking forward to it – other than purchasing a Powerball ticket whenever I gas up my car, I don’t really gamble, and I knew we wouldn’t have time for any cool shows due to the “strongly encouraged” networking sessions held after-hours.

So I arrived at Caesar’s Palace on a Wednesday night.

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I was tired, hungry, and largely confused, and the mechanical BLING!! BONGBONGBONG BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRING of pending financial ruin combined with the light haze of cigarette smoke made me hella cranky.  After meandering aimlessly for a bit, I found the check-in area.  It was staffed by several kiosks and one very frazzled-looking clerk, who was hopping from screen to screen attempting to keep the guest-grumblings to a minimum.

Sighing, I approached one of the portals and started my check-in.  After a few clicks and pokes at the monitor, I got a status update:

YOUR ROOM IS NOT YET AVAILABLE.  PLEASE ENTER A PHONE NUMBER WHERE YOU CAN BE REACHED WHEN IT IS READY.

“Really?!  It’s 9:00 at night!” I whined.  The clerk rushed over, assuring me that it would just take a few minutes for the system to process my arrival.  With a weary smile, she apologized for what she was sure would only be a short wait, and promised I’d have my keys soon.

I realized that this woman had been politely defusing irate customers for the bulk of her day.  Her eyes were tired, but kind.  Breathing, I thanked her, adding, “You know…I’ll bet people don’t realize how difficult your job is.  You’re here all day dealing with grumpy, entitled, clueless tourists who have absolutely no idea what they are doing, and they probably take out all that angst on you.  Thanks so much for helping me.”

The woman blinked, surprised.  Her head titled to the side as she stared at me for a moment.  Then, she responded, “You…you GET it. You really understand.  Thank you.” 

I wondered if I’d been the first person that day to remember that she was not an extension of the automated check-in bots, but a real, live person with emotions and feelings and a soul.

She winked at me then.  “I’ll be right back.”  She went behind the main desk and assisted another customer before returning to me.  “Your room should be ready now.  I got you a good one.”  I took the keys that popped out from the dispenser and wandered off to follow the complicated series of directions to find whatever tower my room was hidden in….

I exited the elevator and followed signs down a long hallway, passing several rooms.

928…930….

Oh. Here we are. 

But…why are there TWO doors…? 

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I double-check the number.  932.  Yep.  I open the door, and….

THIS.  ROOM.  IS.  MASSIVE.

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The foyer.

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More foyer

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A freakin’ kitchen and bar

Two giant closets – and a fax machine (really!)

One small bathroom and two larger bathrooms (each with a phone, just in case you run out of TP or need to order a pizza):

A hot tub:

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Room for at least four.

…a scale…

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The batteries were dead.  Vegas does vacation right.

…a butt washer thingy (no, I didn’t use it):

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A shower built for two:

…and finally, a mini-suite to sleep in (if one does that in Vegas.)

Oh, and just in case you wanted to have a few friends over?  We got you, fam.  Check out what was behind the kitchen:

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Yeah.  She got me a good room, alright.  The view didn’t suck, either:

hotel12ahotel12bSo, for a safety conference, it wasn’t all bad.  Between the room and the party bus networking session, it was almost…fun.

At least, I think it was.  What I recall, anyway.  Once the notworking networking got underway, things got a little blurry.  A bunch of us piled into this very corporate-looking van.

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You can feel the bass throbbing from there, can’t ya.

 

The driver took us on a free driving tour (which included a stop at the liquor store) and said he could get us into the VIP section of some swanky gentleman’s club.  “Ask for Marcus. Tell him you’re a friend of Pete.  He’ll take good care of ya.”  We declined, as we had pretty much all the party we needed.

Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe a liiiiiiiittle too much party.

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Whiskey and ginger ale.

Fortunately, they also feed us really well at these things….

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Hangover breakfast.  I ate 3 pieces of bacon before I took the pic.

And, in the spirit of sharing affirmations, I apparently texted this picture to my entire team AND TO MY TEENAGE CHILDREN.  The caption was profound:  HAHAH HEE NEKKKED WHAO

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Hmm.  I may have gone a tad overboard with the well-being messages.  Or the libations.  Or both.

But I think I cemented a few blocks down on my path to positivity.  They may even be part of my permanent record now.  😀

Your turn!  How do you spread random happiness?  Share in the comments!

#MyFirstPostRevisted

So my “friend” (haha.  Love you) Fatty McCupcakes tagged me to play along with #MyFirstPostRevisted.

It’s a pretty simple game.  You repost your FIRST post.

Even I can’t mess THAT up.  Right? 

DA RULZ:

Obvious rules:

  • No cheating. (It must be your first post. Not your second post, not one you love…first post only.)
  • Link back to the person who tagged you (thank them if you feel like it or, if not, curse them with a plague of ladybugs).

Other rules:

  • Copy and paste your old post into a new post or reblog your own bad self. (Either way is fine but NO editing.) 
  • Put the hashtag #MyFirstPostRevisited in your title. 
  • Tag five other bloggers to take up this challenge. 
  • Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog
  • Feel free to cut and paste the badge to use in your post.
  • Include the rules in your post.

Pretty basic.  Easy peasy.

But then I looked back on my first post, and it’s kind of…sad.  Not funny at all.

And I’ve been through a helluva lot since then, with the whole Ashley Madison dealio, my dad passing away, and, more recently, my stepson’s mental illness.

But despite all that, I never quit laughing.

It’s what keeps me going.

So here’s where it all started….


So why am I here?

Big question with a long answer….

I’m Kate.  I’m in my 40s.  (EARLY forties, thankyouverymuch)

I have happy, smart, well-adjusted kids.  I have a devoted husband. We both have stable, steady jobs that we don’t hate.   No one has a troublesome illness, police record, or embarrassing YouTube videos.  So everything is wonderful…everything should be fine.

But it’s not.  And it’s a shame, because this should be a wonderful life.

Don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate what I have.   How could I not?  But I’d like to enjoy life more.  And I think I COULD, if I could just get rid of all the noise in my head.

So what exactly is the problem here?  I hate to spell it out, because it feels so trivial in black and white.  But I need a safe place to talk some things out and unload the weight of the thoughts that keep me from seeing the sun in all the places it shines.

I want to find my joy, but I struggle.

I struggle with my relationship with food and my weight.   That began when I was ten.  Until that time I had no idea I was fat, or really any sense of how I looked at all.  Until one day, during a school assembly as I sauntered to the front of the gymnasium to accept some geeky award for math or spelling or some such, my brother’s friend told him that I was getting as fat as he was.  And of course my brother told me, and POOF, I was suddenly fat, and have been ever since.  My weight’s gone up and down a number of times since then – I’ve been 65 pounds heavier and 15 pounds lighter – but I’ve always been too fat.

The trouble with food issues is that it really isn’t about the food.  It’s about a convenient thing to be upset about so you don’t have to think about whatever it is that you’re REALLY upset about.  In other words, the size of your thighs can be easier to fret over than the stability of your marriage, or whether your kids love you, or why your mom doesn’t really like you all that much, or when your boss will find out that you’re really a poseur and have NO idea what you are doing, or why the heck you’re on this planet in the first place and is there really any point to life?  (Side note – I’m not in the market to off myself.  Just don’t feel like I’m doing much more than existing sometimes.)

To add to this, my husband has been stretching through some sort of spiritual mid-life crisis.  Spiritually, this has been a challenge.  To be fair, when we met, I knew we approached religion from different angles – I identify with Christianity, while he is agnostic.   This has mostly worked just fine for us, and we’ve explored some ideas together and kept it respectful.

However, as of late, he’s been on a mission – he wants to be the Voice of the People for atheists everywhere.  This has involved ripping apart the Bible and buying in-your-face blasphemous T-shirts.   I’m all for freedom of religious expression, but it’s hard not to find his behavior hurtful.  It’s hard not to take it personally.  Yes, I know a lot of wars have started over religion.  Frankly, I think God hates that.  I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea that everything associated with Christianity is automatically bad.  People can be very bad, religion can be very political, but that’s not its intent.

I could write a lot about that, and I might later.   But that’s one of the things that brought me here – my husband says he loves me, but when he goes on these anti-religion rants, I feel like he’s wrenching my heart out.  I feel like every harsh, angry, derogatory thing he says reflects how he really feels about me.

So it all came to a head last December, when my husband was at his peak vitriol and my dad suddenly had a heart attack and life just got really dark really fast and I no longer wanted to eat anything at all…and I decided that enough was enough and I’d better learn to handle this better.  I decided I needed to attack this thing and address the noises in my head.

I need to cope better and not be so darn hard on myself.  So this year, I’m working on getting well.

I started therapy.  (I’ve only gone once so far.  But making the appointment and actually showing up is a big step.)  I’m trying to learn to meditate.  I’m trying to get regular exercise.  And I’m trying to be gentler with myself.

I’m hoping that getting my thoughts out here will help me better deal with them.  I’m hoping this can be somewhat of an online journal to assist me with the process of therapy.

And maybe if I post things out loud, maybe it’ll help someone else who wrestles with this mess to walk just a little bit closer to wellness.


So there ya go.  The first day Kate spilled her intestines on the interwebs.

And now it’s YOUR turn!  Let’s hear from

Have at it, kids.  It’s all fun and games until the IRS sends you a past-due notice.  🙂

Wearing the Stigma Scarf

I love scarves.

I have an entire drawer full of them, in all textures and colors. They’ve been inherited from relatives who’ve passed on, unearthed in thrift stores, discovered on clearance racks, and joyfully received in wrapped boxes at Christmas.

My favorites, though, are the ones that were hand-knit for me. I’m blessed to have people in my life who want to make me pretty things, and I wear these gifts with pride. I have two scarves in particular where I know the crafter saw the yarn and thought of me – primarily because the colors were…um…rather bold. They were materials that you really wouldn’t buy unless you distinctly had someone in mind who would actually WEAR something that obnoxious bright and colorful.

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And that someone is, apparently, moi.

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I’ve wondered on occasion if these scarves were perhaps a backhanded compliment of sorts.  Did they pick up the skeins and think, “Wow. Who on earth would wear THAT?” Did they twist the strands in their fingers, mildly horrified, and realize, “I bet Kate would. Yep. She would TOTALLY wear this”?  Did they giddily race home to half-jokingly create a monstrosity just to see if I’d dare sport it in public?

Maybe.  But it’s totally OK if they did. Because I love these scarves. They’re cheery, soft, warm, and they bring me joy. And someone created them just for me. Who cares if they don’t meet someone else’s taste? That’s fine. They can wear whatever makes THEM feel beautiful, and I won’t be offended if they don’t want to borrow anything from my closet.

We’re all unique, right? And the things that make us individuals don’t make us better or worse than anyone else.  They just make us…us.

But….

In my last post, I mentioned that things were going much better with the hubs, and that I was taking a more active role in my recovery.

But I didn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, the hubs has mellowed considerably on the subjects of religion and politics. Not, unfortunately, due to any spiritual shift, but because he’s got a new focal point: his sons. My stepsons, 12 and 14, are just starting the challenging transition from boy to man, with voices deepening and pants shrinking and sneakers no longer fitting on suddenly-larger feet. And with this hormonal tsunami, they’re pushing for other changes – primarily, to spend more time with their father, in the form of 50/50 custody.

Those of you with exes can probably guess how THAT’S been going.  Lead balloon?  Fart at a funeral?  (The latter of which may or may not <cough> have happened at my dad’s wake, and I might be acquainted with two stubborn, thoughtless children who will never let me forget it.  Kids can be jerks that way.  They must get that from their mother.)

Anyway.  For most of my stepsons’ lives, their mother has held primary physical custody, and with it has maintained tight reigns of control. Admittedly, while the hubs has been absolutely reliable in seeing the boys and paying support, he hasn’t been as involved in some of the “mom minutiae” that sucks so much mental energy, like scheduling immunizations or staying on top of what homework is due tomorrow. But he’s trying to take on his share, and while he’s made a huge effort in getting to know teachers, packing lunches, and slogging through the mental labyrinth of 8th grade algebra and Spanish, he’s getting shut out of what should be joint decisions, such as medical care and high school selection.

And the two of them have a long-standing inability to communicate effectively (read: without fighting.)  It’s epically horrific, to the point where I have absolutely ZERO idea how they stayed together in a room for long enough to make ONE baby, never mind TWO.  (Like how the praying mantis literally gets his head bitten off if he spends too much time thinking about baseball or didn’t feed her first.  Really.  Click here.  You’re welcome.)

As you’d expect, the custody battle barely tapped the border of negotiating “what’s best for the boys.” Since the parents despise each other, they were completely unable to focus on working out when the boys would live where. Instead, they hung verbal clotheslines and pinned up years and years of dirty laundry, finding faults and flaws in everything from nutrition to hygiene to spirituality to what cars they each drove and how long their emails and texts were.

The judge, of course, didn’t have time to be bothered with the parental equivalent of an alley cat fight, so he hosed them down by ordering them to attend…wait for it…marital counseling.  Yeah.  MARITAL COUNSELING.  They’ve been divorced for eleven years, and NOW they’re in marital counseling. Part of me wants to find this hilarious, but since the kids are the tragic punch line, I can barely manage a smirk.

So start with that constantly-roaring fire, and douse it with the kerosene of “Mom, I want to live with Dad half the time from now on” and “Why are you putting ideas in the boys’ heads/turning them against me/NOT LISTENING to me/diminishing my contributions/STILL EXISTING? Sprinkle on some grain dust in the form of autism spectrum disorder (both boys are officially diagnosed; Dad isn’t, but it doesn’t take much to see where they got it) and depression and anxiety (both boys; just depression for Mom and Dad, with medication all around) and you can probably see the pending mushroom cloud from the demoted non-planet Pluto.

The detonation occurred two Saturdays ago, when we received a 4 AM text that my older stepson was being taken to the local university hospital because he said that once everyone was asleep, he was fairly certain he was going to kill himself.

Boom.

It’s eerily quiet after an explosion. The silence is unnerving. Haunting.

The next day, the treating doctor ordered counseling for the “family unit.” The hubs texted his ex to clarify: biological parents only, or should the step-parents attend? She replied: “this is for guardians only.” So off the hubs went, while I waited at home for a report. After he arrived, it was clarified that he was expected to arrive alone, but she and the stepdad would both be in attendance since she had primary physical custody.

I was the odd man out. Not considered significant enough to participate in this very critical healing process.

Well, you can imagine how THAT felt.  But this isn’t about me.  (And, on the bright side, I suppose my exclusion proves that no one thinks I contributed to the “problem.”)

After a week of comprehensive inpatient therapy, my stepson was released, complete with tools, reminders, and a “safety plan” that included his wellness strategy.

This included a very specific note to his parents: “Quit fighting about custody.”

Gut-punches ya right in the feels, don’t it?

And you are the only people I’ve shared this with, except for my siblings and my mother.  Even then, I danced around what really took place, using words like “he’s safe now” and “getting the help he needs.”

No one else in my life knows that we had this crisis.

Why not?

Why did I hesitate to say that my stepson is struggling with a mental health issue, and it’d reached a critical point where he needed more intensive treatment for awhile?

When my dad had his pulmonary issues, I had no problem telling people the full medical situation in full detail.  See, heart issues aren’t loaded with connotations and bias.  They just happen, to good people and bad people and people who are…normal.

If heart issues were a scarf, they’d be a neutral color, like navy or black, which goes with many things and can be tossed atop nearly any outfit.

This was different.

For some reason, I didn’t want anyone to see the mental health scarf we had stuffed in the back of the closet.  After looking at it, I decided that it simply doesn’t match my outfit.

Suffice it to say it’s been a stressful time in our household.  Thank goodness I started that medication when I did!

Oh, yeah.  About that….

I haven’t quite gotten around to telling the hubs this little detail.

I didn’t intend to keep it a secret.  But when I went to the doctor, I was pretty convinced that nothing would work, and I didn’t want to get his hopes up that there might be something that could “fix” me.  I didn’t want my moods and actions analyzed, and I didn’t want a layman’s opinion of whether it was working or not.  I didn’t want a magnifying glass aimed at my cracks and fissures.

What the hubs does know is that he’s starting to get his wife back.

Isn’t that enough?

It’s not that he wouldn’t be supportive – heck, he takes meds himself.  If it had a chance of helping, he’d be heartily in favor of it. He wouldn’t criticize or judge.  He understands mental health issues as well as any non-medical person possibly could.

But the bottle is hidden.

It isn’t a scarf I’m ready to show him just yet.

Hmm…now that I think about it….maybe it’s NOT a scarf.  Maybe it’s Spanx. Or a Wonderbra.  YES!  That’s EXACTLY it.  It pushes everything around so that I can present my very best self to society.  It tucks and sucks the floppy bits that pollute my put-together look.

And no one has to know.  All they’ll see is fabulous.

I’m aware that mental health issues aren’t within my control. I know without a shadow of a doubt that hormones shoot holes in my stability.  I understand that I’m managing what is largely a chemical imbalance.

Yet often the scarf of anxiety is itchy and uncomfortable, and I don’t want to wear it at all.  I don’t want people to start judging my job performance through the lens of mental illness.  I don’t want my weight to be scrutinized by coworkers and friends:  Is she thinner today? Is she in trouble?  She seems so scattered…do we need to intervene?  Or worse:  She’s put on weight; she can’t be THAT broken if she’s able to eat all that food.  She must be exaggerating her so-called anxiety since she completed the 1095c forms on time. 

I know I shouldn’t feel this way.  I mean, okay, YES.  I’ll say it:  I have mental health issues. 

But they’re part of what makes me…ME.  They’re powerful spices in the Kate stew.  My anxiety and my food issues are colorful threads woven in the tapestry of the personality that is exclusively MINE.

No one else has a scarf quite like this one.

Perhaps I should embrace my individuality and be proud of the quirks I have.  They add some glitter to an otherwise flat surface.  Like any hand-crafted creation, they should be worn proudly.  Right?

“Normal” is kind of dull, anyway.

With a little elbow grease and a dash of confidence, maybe I can sparkle and shine.

The Effects of Effexor

I know I haven’t been writing as much lately.

I’d like to say there’s a good reason for that…but actually, there’s been NO reason. Life has been tooling along steadily and uneventfully. After the last eighteen months, the calmer pace of “normal” is a blessing. (Although I’m writing this from 30,000 feet and I literally JUST saw another plane hurtling through the sky in the opposite direction uncomfortably close to the right wing. So maybe chaos hasn’t left, but is lurking around the corner, waiting to pull the ultimate “Gotcha!”)

So…some updates:

The hubs and I were going through what one might say is a “rough patch.” (These are probably the same people who say that childbirth is “uncomfortable.”)

By some miracle, things are actually better. MUCH better.

What’s changed? He’s toned down the hate speech. He’s told me every day how much he loves me, that he sincerely appreciates me, that he’s thankful to be married to me. He gives me the space I need.

And we talk. Truly COMMUNICATE. Where he says a thing, and I respond, and there’s a sharing of ideas and thoughts and opinions that’s respectful and intelligent. When we disagree, we do it with love. We seek to understand. And we hold hands.

I’ve been working on myself, as well.  Because I firmly believe that when a marriage fractures, you have to cast both bones. You cannot dance as a couple and only blame one person for the fall. If you want long-term healing, you absolutely have to be able to step back and understand your role in ending up where you landed, or you’re doomed to repeat the injury when you tango with someone else.

To be fair, the blame split isn’t usually 50/50:  My ex was abusive. Or she cheated.  In no way am I saying that people who have affairs or personality disorders can shift the blame…but it’s worth analyzing the events that lead up to falling in the pit.

I mean, most spouses don’t go seeking an affair because the relationship at home is amazeballs, right?

NOT THAT THIS MAKES IT EVEN REMOTELY OK OR IN ANY WAY EXCUSES THE BEHAVIOR.

But we can learn from pain, even if all we gain is a better awareness of how to spot the beginnings of cracks in the dam.

An example:  In my first marriage, my ex was mentally abusive. Clearly NOT my fault.  But it did me quite a bit of good to study the vulnerabilities in myself that drew me to this person.  It enabled me to shore myself up so I’d better identify the warning signs and avoid falling back down the rabbit hole. I practiced standing up for myself a little more often. Slowly, tentatively at first, I found my voice and a spare backbone.

In other words:  you need to master the difference between a surprise treat and a baited trap.  Or you’re doomed to wonder how you YET AGAIN got stuck in this cold, metal cage.

I’d been trying to do some healing through this blog, and occasionally I’d take a swing at therapy.  But in the spirit of really fixing myself and my marriage, I thought perhaps it was time to get more aggressive with the Care and Feeding of Kate.

So I went to the doctor and asked to try medication again.

Now, I’ve tried prescriptions in the past. Zoloft. Wellbutrin. Great antidepressants for many people.  However, my issue really is more anxiety.  Depression meds may or may not work when it comes to treating anxiety, and finding the right cocktail can feel as randomly impossible as picking the winning Powerball numbers.

And then there was the Lorazapam Incident. Yes…”incident.”  Which SHOULD be a great story, but unfortunately, I cannot remember ANY of it. What I do know is that sometime within the first week of taking this drug, I suddenly found myself home completely confused about how I had gotten there at 1 PM on a work day. The next morning, when I went to the office, I got a ton of concerned looks and questions: “Are you OK? No, really…are you?” No one would tell me what I did or what I said, other than, “you just didn’t look…right.” I also have NO CLUE HOW I DROVE HOME. Yikes. (And thanks, everyone, for letting me operate heavy machinery. Love you all.) Suffice it to say I got rid of that Rx in a hurry, and it’s notated in my medical chart as an “allergy”, right next to penicillin. (I’m also allergic to cockroaches. But they won’t add that in there, for some reason, even though I think it’s super interesting and a GREAT icebreaker for those awkward silences at parties. I guess it’s a good indicator that they won’t be using cockroaches in medicine in the foreseeable future, right? Because yuck.)

I’ve also tried sleeping aids, thinking that if I could get quality rest, it’d help. On some nights, plain old melatonin helped a little, but melatonin is like a Band-aid – fine for minor cuts, not so good for gaping sleep wounds.

So, a few years ago, I tried to find something stronger. Ambien, anyone? All of my friends* swore by it: “It’s a miracle drug. Best shuteye I’ve had in years. You might eat the entire contents of your fridge at 3 AM, but you’ll sleep right through it.”

*Yes, all. Why does it seem like most people I know are on some type of medication? Is this true in your circle, too? Maybe we all send off invisible signals to one another, an unlisted side effect attracting us together like magnets.

What did Ambien – the miracle siesta drug – do for me?

NOTHING.

Nada, zip, zero.

No drowsiness, no restorative REMs, no sleepdriving across town at 2AM to buy donuts at the 7-11. It was like all my buddies were ripping open presents while Sandman Santa had missed my house completely.

I switched over to Trazodone, which actually unwound me enough to help me sleep. Problem was, I wanted to KEEP sleeping.  Since my job expected me to show up before the socially accepted lunch hour, I had to give it up. Plus, when you sleep until noon, it’s impossible to fall BACK asleep anytime before 2 AM. It’s like getting jet lag without the tropical vacation and enviable tan.

So I gave up.

It had been about ten years since I attempted medication.  Honestly, I wasn’t terribly optimistic that there was an appropriate cocktail* out there that would help.    But in the spirit of shoring up myself so I could better focus on my marriage, about six weeks ago I put on my adulting shoes and headed to the doctor and asked for help.

*Yeah…wine helps too.  But that’s not a crutch I want to depend on.  Because addiction.  And calories. 

I wasn’t sure there was much left that I hadn’t tried. But there was. “It shows here that we  prescribed you Effexor a few years ago, but you never filled the script because it was too expensive.” (They wrote THAT in my chart, but not the part about cockroaches?) “There’s a generic available now. Let’s give that a whirl.”

So off to the pharmacy I went.

I got my caplets, took them as instructed, and waited.

The good news? They worked. THEY ACTUALLY WORKED. I started to sleep. The racing thoughts subsided.

The biggest change?

I no longer felt compelled to weigh and measure my food.

Lemme let that sink in for a sec.

After spending years of my life counting olives and weighing salsa, I put my food scale away.

This. Was. Huge. Miraculous. Life-changing.  I stole bites of whatever treat the hubs was enjoying.  If I wanted ketchup and mustard on my burger, I just slopped it on willy-nilly without really caring whether I had 1.5 tablespoons or two.

I was more relaxed everywhere, including the dinner table.

But….now the bad news:  the side effects.

First, there were the headaches.  Constant, nagging, aching.  Half my daily caloric intake was analgesics.  I rapidly depleted my Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen, which didn’t do anything positive for the other problematic issue:  nausea.

Have you ever dealt with chronic nausea?  It’s debilitating.  Exhausting.  You feel awful all the time.  You’d think this would be an absolute dream for someone with an eating disorder, wouldn’t you?  But it’s not.  It’s the kind of nausea that can only be relieved (ironically) by eating.  It was a cruel need for constant calories, and I was too ill to care.  From the couch, I kept up with a steady stream of carbs (mostly tortilla chips and pizza*) and focused on trying to function.

*No matter how sick I am, I can pretty much always eat pizza.  This was also the case when I was pregnancy-puking.  Most people gravitate towards ginger ale and saltines.  Me?  If I’m refusing pizza, take me to the hospital STAT.

It was maddening.  I’d found something that relieved the constant barrage of negativity in my head – yet made me as sick as my bulimic cat.  I debated toughing it out, but after missing two days of work, I decided it was far too high a price to pay for relative mental stability.  Reluctantly, I messaged my doctor.  Thankfully, there was a different formulation I could try – a fast-acting, smaller dose, taken twice a day.

One more. 

Just try.

What did I have to lose?

I picked up my prescription and I held my breath.

And, in a few days, I was able to step outside of myself and enjoy the view.

sunset1

The view from my vet’s office.

Am I 100% cured?  Of course not.  But someone’s come and cleaned the film from my internal windows.  The voices in my head are quieter.  More subtle.  Suggestions, not commands.  I can diagnose irrational thoughts and tamp them down with reassurances that my brain is attempting to mislead me.

And there are still some side effects – namely, REALLY detailed and vivid dreams. (Which I should totally write about.  Except for the one that starred Will Smith.  Hubba hubba.)

Will Smith completes his gray #Tuxedo with a tailored black #TuxedoVest.:

I love Pinterest.

The queasiness is minor and fleeting.  I’m getting some headaches, but they’re manageable and treatable.  And I’m a bit tired, so it’s not exactly easy to get out of bed.  (Not that it ever was.  Mornings and I aren’t exactly BFFs.)

So I have a slightly longer climb most days.  But so far, it’s been worth it to enjoy the view.

sunset2

The sights as I left the office.  Working in BFE has some advantages.

What’s worked for you?  What didn’t help at all?  Medication?  Therapy?  A combination?  Share your triumphs and tribulations in the comments!

 

Holiday Craft-up Mash-up

After my rather non-eventful Thanksgiving, I found myself facing the cavernous space of a largely open weekend.  My two little darlings were at their dads, and the hubs was taking my stepsons to see their grandparents.  Except for a brief rehearsal Sunday morning, I had nothing in front of me.

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.

OK.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do love my family.  Most of the time.  Usually.  But when you’re a parent, you really come to appreciate having the house all to yourself on the rare occasions it actually happens.

So I grabbed the TV remote and prepped for a long-overdue recliner sesh complete with hot coffee and trashy TV.  But when I headed to the kitchen to score an accompanying nosh, I spotted this:

pump1

Note the coffee mug dwarfed by this monstrosity.

Oh, yeah….the pumpkin.

Maaaayyyyyybe I should be getting around to…doing something with this thing.

I should explain – I never intended to HAVE a pumpkin.  But for years I’ve participated in a crop-share, and sometimes you get some rather unexpected items.  As a result of my weekly veggie boxes, I can use the word kohlrabi in a sentence, I’ve learned how to make pickles, and I’ve discovered several delicious ways to cook turnips. (Really.  Cube them and roast them, then mash with either winter squash, sweet potatoes, or russets.  You’re welcome.)

So I hadn’t gone out and bought this thing on purpose. (Can you imagine lugging that sucker home in a plastic grocery bag?  It’d cut off the circulation in your pinkies faster than a haul of 2-liter sodas and cat litter.)  It just appeared next to my CSA delivery in mid-October.  I rolled it home and shoved it into my pantry, and let Halloween AND Thanksgiving roll by while I largely ignored it.

Pumpkins don’t last forever, though, and I knew that the clock was ticking on this one.  Plus, I hate, hate, HATE throwing food away.  The thought of “wasting” something totally sets off my anxiety (I even addressed it in therapy.  Once.  I can DO it, but I still don’t like it very much.)

So, with an entire day (and no witnesses) in front of me , I decided to tackle my propensity for procrastination AND my deficient crafting gene and get my carve on.

I wash the pumpkin (logical next step, right? I mean, if you’re going to face a project like this, and you’re me, you have good odds of embedding a blade somewhere in a hand, foot, or left buttcheek.  I’m up-to-date on my tetanus shots, but best to scrub off any residual fertilizer just in case.)

I stare at it.  I’ve carved pumpkins, before, of course.  Like, a million years ago when the kids were little.

pastpumpkins

Circa 2003.  Some of you weren’t even born yet, were you.

Literally the last time I attempted a pumpkinectomy was 2005.  ELEVEN YEARS AGO.

pumpkinbabies

They would kill me dead if they knew I posted this…but they’re so damn LITTLE.  (sniff)

What I remember about this process:  pumpkin-carving sounds like a really engaging family activity at the onset…but after about five minutes of wrist-cramping, digit-threatening knife moves, the whole thing deteriorates into a clumsy, slippery, why-on-earth-did-I-think-this-was-fun chore that you just.want.to.be.DONE.with.  (And how exactly did pumpkin entrails get stuck on the ceiling??)

<sigh>  Sounds like a party.

So whatever I decided to do was gonna have to be pretty dang simple.  And it wouldn’t hurt to have something at least quasi-seasonally appropriate.  I did have my tree up, after all:

15135899_1261529543914309_6371334200203993686_n

This “angel” never gets old….

Hey, if my tree topper can sport an MG08/15, then Christmas pumpkin it is.  Why not? 

I called out to the hubs, who was running around packing up the car with all the electronics the boys would need to stay entertained at Grandma’s house.  (They’d be there a full day and a half, ya know, so best to pack up the Xbox AND the Playstation AND a couple of laptops.  Being the stepmom, I don’t get much of a say in that, so whatever.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.)

Anyway, I need some paint.

Me:  “Hey hon…do we have any Christmas-appropriate paint?”  He had to have something – in addition to collecting cardboard boxes, he also keeps a variety of paints around, just in case he gets a hankering to play with his airbrushing tools or his 3D printer.  (Aaaaand now we see where his boys get it.)  I’d complain, but I have to admit it does come in handy when you suddenly have to do a project like RIGHT NOW.

Hubs:  “I’m sure I do.  What kind of paint?”

Me (confused.  Kind?  The colored kind. ???):  “Um…the kind that…goes on, like, walls and crafts and stuff.”

Hubs:  (gamely trying again):  “Well, what are you using it for?”

Me:  “To carve this pumpkin.” (Obviously.)

Fortunately, the hubs is used to me pretty much not making sense, so he rummages around in the basement and unearths two cans of spray paint – one red and one green.  That’ll do! 

I hop on the interwebs to find a simple Christmas design.  I know I can’t draw, but I can trace.  Maybe a stencil?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.  Pretty, but no.  This is more my speed:

And then I found this:

It’s pretty much one long line.  And not even a straight line, which I can’t cut anyway.  PERFECT.

But I wasn’t happy with the star, so I found this one to use instead:

I printed these out, and traced them onto coffee filters.  (Which are perfect for not only tracing crap, but ALSO for making snowflakes, because in addition to being really thin paper that’s easy to cut, they’re also ALREADY ROUND.  Try it.)

I dig some double-sided tape out of the junk drawer.  Pro tip:  double-sided tape + coffee filters = not very forgiving.  But, after some colorful language, I got there:

pump2

You can see on the left where I ran out of filter before I ran out of stencil.  Whoops

Okay.  Looks doable.

<deep breath> Knife time!

pump3

Eeeeewwwww

In case you’ve forgotten how slimy pumpkin guts are….let me remind you.  Each of the eleventy-kajillion seeds are attached to what looks like internal pumpkin hair.  <shudder> I grab an ice-cream scoop, and, after some vigorous scooping, use a razor blade to “shave” the insides a bit.  It helps:

pump4

Still gross.  But better.

Now for the fun part.  I trace the entire stencil with a razor blade, and follow it with a marker so I can see where to hack.  This leaves me feeling like some sort of odd-duck vegetation tattoo artist.  Empowering, in a basement-creeper sort of way.

I begin work on the star, which because of the intricate, teeny tiny points, takes me approximately fifteen @#$(@#$@ years to complete.  (Give or take.)  I find, in the hubs’ stash, a surgical scalpel (because doesn’t every hoarder have one?) and channel my inner Dexter as I scrape and pick out every fussy little corner.

Whose idea was this again?

Thankfully, once I start on the tree part, it goes much faster.

pump5

Progress!

I keep plugging away.  After the tree is cut, I grab a screw hook and drive several holes into the gourd to make stars:

pump6

Hey.  That’s not half bad. 

Now for spray paint.  I take the whole mess outside and, after a few tentative squirts, go to town:

pump7

Look Ma, more cardboard!

YAY!  Let’s light it!!!

Oh…wait.  I read the label on the can (because it would have been really amateurish to do that BEFORE I started shooting paint everywhere):

Dries to touch in 15-30 minutes; 60 minutes to handle

SIXTY MINUTES?!?!  I have to wait AN HOUR???  @#($@#$#@$

Reluctantly, I go inside and clean my kitchen.  Most of the squash innards are confined to the kitchen table and floor (and yeah, the walls, but just two and just a little.)

Oh, and I’d better deal with these, I guess.

pump9

One pumpkin = one metric f*%&ton of seeds.

I read somewhere that pumpkin seeds float, so I filled the bowl with water and just sort of mushed the sludge to the bottom, which made fairly short work of the mess.  Make no mistake – it was still work.  But after an hour, I had a clean(ish) kitchen and a lifetime supply of pumpkin seeds for roasting later:

pump10

Seeds for DAYS, yo.

<BEEP BEEP BEEP> That’s the timer.  We’re ready to light this shiz UP!

pump8

Still decidedly not terrible.

I can’t wait to see it at night.  But dark is TWO LONG HOURS AWAY.

What to do…what to do….

I go shopping.  (Of course.  Because Christmas.  Ha, who am I kidding.  ‘Tis the season ME ME ME.)

Three hours and two new sweaters later:

pump12

Wait. Shut off the porch light, dummy.pump13

Well, whaddya know.  I CAN CRAFT!!!! 

Sometimes, procrastination pays.

Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. 

On Thursday

My eyes slowly open.  It’s brighter out than usual.  I must have slept in.

The blinds are closed, but a foggy, soft light peeks into the room through the small slits.  I roll over and squint at the clock.  A red 7:37 confirms for me that today is not a normal work day.

It is Thursday.  It is unusual to have a day off in the middle of the week.  My brain works to reconcile this.  I am still in bed after the sun woke up.  Today is Thursday, but it is different. 

I turn over and blink at the ceiling.  I could get up.  Or I could close my eyes and doze for a bit longer.  Knowing that tomorrow I will have to get myself up, dressed, and presented to the world in time to support my coworkers in the Black Friday madness, I decide that I best roll out of bed and face the day.  Otherwise, sleep won’t come until the wee hours.

I go to the window and part the blinds with two fingers.  It’s overcast, but most of the snow that fell earlier in the week has retreated to the grassy areas.  The roads are clear, damp in spots and dry in others.

It is Thursday, and on Thursdays, I run.  I don my shoes and my fleece running tights and head out the door.

It’s cold and damp, but not offensively so.  I ask my phone to shuffle my music, and start my run-tracking appThe scale knows only that today is Thursday.  My thighs don’t know today is different. 

My spouse chose to sleep in, so today’s workout is a solo effort.  The hubs prefers a specific route, but today, I can choose my path.  I pause for a moment, overwhelmed by options and unsure of my direction.  On Thursdays, we go right.  But today is different.  I turn left at the end of the driveway.

Siri‘s in a Broadway kind of mood today.  My phone blasts excerpts from Aspects of Love and Hairspray. I don’t wear headphones when I run; I want to be able to hear approaching cars and unleashed dogs.  This morning, the air is largely still.  It’s unusually quiet for a Thursday.  The normal hum of rush-hour traffic is missing, and I can’t decide if the incongruous silence is comforting or unsettling.   My eyes and ears note the contrast.  Today is Thursday, but it is different. 

The lack of activity makes me hyper-aware of my surroundings.  I note the lone passenger at the bus stop, bundled in a thick parka.  I start as a squirrel darts a few feet in front of me.  A partially rusted car, painted with gray primer, makes a U-turn in the middle of the street and parks a half block ahead of me.  It’s a safe neighborhood, but I confirm my grip on my pepper spray, moving the nozzle to “fire.”  I watch as a wiry, bearded man exits the vehicle, hoisting his bag of newspapers over his shoulder.  I nod in his direction and smile as I call out, “Good morning!”  He looks up, surprised, but returns the greeting.  Perhaps on Thursdays, no one says hello to the junk paper delivery guy.  But today is different.

My phone announces the start of Mile Two.  Halfway there.  I cover a few more squares of sidewalk before carefully turning around to reverse my route.  I leap over small snow piles, avoiding the bumpy metallic curb slopes.  (Those suckers are slippery. ) Occasionally, I land in a pile of slush.  It clogs the treads of my running shoes and I lose a bit of traction.  I press on.  I shouldn’t fall.

I shake the snow loose and let my mind wander as I pass the ranch-styles and split-levels.  Is the neighborhood awake?  Are they in their kitchens, slicing potatoes?  Are they at their laptops, frantically Googling “fastest way to thaw a frozen turkey”?  Perhaps they’re eagerly anticipating the arrival of family – or maybe everyone arrived last night, leaving them wondering if it’s too early to uncork a bottle of red.  I wonder if any of them are looking out their windows.  Do they see me?  Do they think “look at her dedication, running even today!”  Because although it is Thursday, and there is no reason not to run on normal Thursdays, today is different.

Mile Three.   I run across a normally busy street without looking.  On Thursday, this is dangerous.  But it’s so peaceful, the possibility of traffic doesn’t even occur to me until I’ve crossed two lanes.  Today is different.  Even Siri attempts to remind me of the date, as she offers up When October Goes (yes, Barry Manilow is in my collection, don’t judge) and November Rain as subtle hints.

It’s unnecessary.  I know what today is.

Today, families across the country are gathering around tables piled high with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberries.  They’ll cheer their favorite teams as they lift forks and spoons filled with spiced pumpkin and ice cream.  And after the game, they might sit around the table, sharing old stories and sandwiches and card games and coffee, reminiscing and laughing by a crackling fire.

This is not my today.  Today is different.

I arrive home, clapping bark and leaves off my shoes.  My kids are celebrating the holiday with their father.  My siblings are with my mother as she navigates both her first wedding anniversary and first major holiday without her husband in over fifty years.  Sure, I could have boarded a plane to be with them. I could have joined the millions of Americans who just yesterday jammed the airports and highways, shelling out dollars and tempers and myriad frustrations in order to chase their expectations.

Out loud, to coworkers, I pride myself on refusing to travel during what I have deemed “amateur hour,” fighting to get to my gate among beginners who don’t understand which line to wait in and never remember that a full water bottle is a weapon which must be discarded before you hit Security.

I opt out of the madness.  I claim to prefer a relaxed, subdued holiday.  Sometimes I manage to convince myself this is true.

The house is quiet.  Warm and dark after the damp, oddly bright cloudiness outside.  My stepsons are awake and plugged into their respective computers, oblivious to my entrance.

I retreat to the basement to stretch.  The cats join me, craning their necks for an ear-scratch while I release the tension in my quads and hamstrings.  I clean up a small pile of regurgitated cat food.  I scoop the litterbox.  I dole out hairball treats.

The scale is there, waiting for me.  It’s Thursday.  Hop on.  I sigh, exhale, and ask the judge for mercy.  She grants it, haltingly.  I’m still on probation.  Five more pounds, maybe seven.  I can do this.  Even today. 

After my shower, I switch on the coffee pot.  I assemble a green smoothie.  It is Thursday, after all.  No reason to switch to pancakes or cookies.  No occasion warrants a sidestep from the calorie-counting regimen.  Not even today.

Sipping slowly, I plot out my day.  There’s a sale starting at 6 PM; I get $10 off my purchase.  That might be worth waiting in line for.  Football will be on most of the day; I can toast some pumpkin seeds and relax in my new recliner until then.  I pick out an afghan that my husband’s grandmother made.  I turn on the Christmas tree, letting the lights illuminate the room.

Today, it is Thursday.  And my life will not be a Norman Rockwell painting.  Nor will it be an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  I suppose one might be thankful for that.

My life isn’t what I planned.  I envisioned hectic holidays, crammed to the gills with family laughter and delicious food and epic card games and stolen naps.  As a child, I never thought through the what-ifs of divorce and geography.  Yet I live it today, the quiet being a product of the choices I’ve made.

I did what I thought was best at the time.

Isn’t that all any of us can do?

Make no mistake, I’m aware that I’ve been richly blessed.  My life is, overall, quite good.

It’s just different.  Especially today.

Later, I’ll bake some fish and roast some of the veggies from my weekly crop share delivery. I’ll get my Christmas lists ready. Maybe a new pair of booties will wend their way into my Amazon basket. I’ll work to shove the should-haves and don’t-eats out of the way as I focus on nurturing my soul.

I should probably do that every Thursday.

But today is different.  Every part of my body and all of my senses are telling me so.

I hear it most clearly from my heart.

I settle into the couch and flip on the game.  One of my cats is curled up next to me.

To him, it’s just Thursday.  And he seems perfectly content with that.

catnap

I’ll try to be, too.

Dipping into Fall and Falling into Dip

So I’ve been tooling along, happily enjoying summer (and being warm instead of ABSOLUTELY FREEZING COLD every second of the day) when I noticed that somehow, somewhere, things had changed.  At some point, the foliage had surreptitiously begun to autumnize – the leaves had started to blush as they helped the trees disrobe, and I couldn’t enjoy the show without throwing on a jacket.

Apparently, fall is here.

And while I’m not entirely jazzed about the weather getting colder, or Nature’s naughty children leaving huge piles in the yard for me to rake up, there are some good things about autumn:

  • Football (GO EAGLES!)
  • Boots.  New season, new shoes, yo:
bdd15f2b64f7230d76dfc356de432b40

Available on amazon.com

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Also on amazon.com

  • Winter squash.  Yes, I know it’s kind of odd to be excited about a vegetable.  But squash is a side dish of convenience.  Unlike its more delicate summer cousins, who shrivel up about fifteen minutes after you get them home from the farmer’s market, winter squash will politely sit on a shelf and wait until you’re ready to give it the Gremlin Spa Treatment with a knife, a microwave, and perhaps a bit of curry*.
  • Thicker sweaters, which oh-so-kindly cover the lumps and bumps of summer’s ice cream obsession and, paired with long pants (read: no need to shave) and boots, drastically cut down on your required morning hygiene time. (Unless you’re into open-toed boots.  Which, frankly, are stupid.  The ENTIRE POINT of boots is to forgo the pedicure, people.  And to keep the snow off your foot.  Neither of which is achieved when you hack a big hole in the front of an otherwise perfectly good boot.  Weirdos.)

It’s also the time of year for the second-biggest commercial holiday in the United States – Halloween.

Now historically, I haven’t been a huge participant in the costume-and-candy cattle call.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s super cute to see all the children in their little character impersonations, and I love the neighborhood camaraderie when everyone is walking around knocking on doors begging for treats.  (Which, interestingly, we parents caution against for the other 364 days a year. Don’t take candy from strangers, kids, unless you’re dressed up as your favorite Disney character and all the other kids are doing it, too.  Have fun running around in the dark with all the masked miscreants covered in fake blood!)

The problem (in addition to the blatantly mixed parenting message) is the requirement to stockpile big bags of candy in anticipation of this event.

Candy simply cannot live in my house.  It’s not safe.  I will eat it.  All of it.  Well, except these:

Mary Jane PBK

8f5f0cbbd0ed1a3c2e54447948f8f731

Ah, Necco.  Disappointing children of all ages since 1847.

 

So my choices are either to hand out the sort of candy that moves your house right to the top of the egg-and-TP hit list, or to shut off the porch lights and hide in the basement.  Since the only candy I won’t eat does the former, I’ll be lurking in the dark.

The neighbors, however, do this time of year up right.  Here’s their spooky display, currently under construction:

neighbors

Before the big day, they’ll add a few more ghosts, lights, a fog machine, sound effects….clearly, they’re the cool parents on the block.  I bet they hand out full-sized candy bars, too.  (And yes, they’re both marathon-runner thin, and if they weren’t so nice I might hate them a little.)

So let’s revisit costumes for a bit.  This is the fun part of Halloween.  For one day, you can shed all the expectations society has for you and be someone else entirely.  It doesn’t have to be something attainable or realistic – you can be anything that you invent in your mind.  Astronaut mermaid princess?  Yes please. 

Halloween is an opportunity to “try on” the thing you want to be…and a chance to disguise what you don’t want others to see.  You literally put a mask on all that and just enjoy stepping into the role.

And speaking of disguises…don’t forget to put a costume on your food.

We’re getting ready to kick off the holiday season, folks – and that means we’re about to be surrounded by food.  You know how this goes:  It starts with the aforementioned candy, rolls into stuffing and potatoes with gravy, and the next thing you know, the cookies and treats have piled up faster than the snow at the end of the driveway.  And the duration of the frenzied feast is punctuated with eggnog at cocktail parties and the beer, nachos, and wings that show up at your tailgate.

Since it’s not entirely practical to spend the next three months incognito in your basement, you might want to find a way to navigate the holiday spread…before YOU spread for the holidays.

My go-to?  Dip.

But…wait a second.  Dip is sour cream, cheese, and mayo, loaded onto delicious, carby, crunchy things.  How exactly is this helping the annual belt-busting here?

Shh…it’s a disguise.

We’re pretending we’re indulging in fatty food when we’re actually not.

Let’s start with WHAT we dip.  Sure, you can use chips…but since this is a costume party, let’s do something a little more dolled-up and dress it like a rainbow.  Just look at this gorgeous plate that Chobani assembled:

meze_dips_pinterest_diphealthierv3_hires

OK, maybe eggplant is a stretch, but LOOK AT THE PRETTY.

Now it’s time to trick out your dip.

We want something smooth and creamy to fool our palate into thinking we’re eating something decadent.  There are lots of options here, and if you have a halfway-decent food processor, you can make a decent dip out of chickpeas, avocado, or beans.

But if you’re looking to cut calories, there’s really no better base than fat-free Greek yogurt.  It’s high in protein, tastes a lot like sour cream (especially when you add other dip flavors like caramelized onions or roasted red peppers) and you can eat quite a lot of it without blowing your calorie bank for the entire season.

And because we live in America, we don’t even have to get all fancy in the kitchen.  We can head to our local Target and buy one of the concoctions dreamed up by the geniuses at Chobani.  Take a look at these rich, creamy, delicious beauties:

story-table-shot

I stumbled upon these yum cups a couple of months ago.  Full disclosure:  I was looking for binge food – a.k.a. something “bad.”  And I walked away with the Roasted Red Pepper and the Smoked Onion and Parmesan.

ZOMG.  Sooooooooooooooo good.

And the best part?  Even if you just sit and eat the dip with a spoon (don’t judge, I REALLY need to buy groceries) the entire tub is only 250 calories.

By the way, this stuff also makes an amazing sandwich spread.  Try the Roasted Red Pepper with some fabulous grilled chicken breast, the Chili Lime in tuna salad, or the Smoked Onion and Parmesan on a turkey burger.  Adios, mayonnaise, I’m dating your hotter brother with the good hair and the washboard abs. 

So while you’re strutting around in your goth-tooth fairy-unicorn getup, remember to reach for the Greek yogurt instead of the guilt and dip away, dip away, dip away all!**

What’s your costume this year?  Do you “do up” Halloween?  And what’s your favorite dip?  Share in the comments!

__________________________________________

*Recipe time! 

Stupid good squash:  Nuke 1 acorn squash (or whatever you have.  Squash can’t read, so feel free to use one of those baby pumpkin-looking ones) until tender.  Scrape the flesh out of the skin and mash it in a bowl with 1/2 T garlic and ginger, 1/2 tsp coriander, and 1/4 tsp turmeric, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Stir in 1/2 non-fat plain Chobani Greek yogurt and chow down on your bowl of comfort-food goodness.

And while you’re staring down the squash guts, you might as well save the seeds.  You can roast ’em just like you would pumpkin seeds.  Rinse them well and let them dry (I just put them on a plate and stir daily until they dry completely, then transfer to an airtight container.)  To roast, set your oven to 275F.  Spray a sheet with cooking spray.  Toss the dry seeds with a few good splashes of Frank’s Red Hot (trust me – they’ll be seasoned, but not unbearably spicy) and a sprinkle of salt.  Bake them in a single layer for 10-15 minutes, and watch them disappear like peanut butter cups from your kid’s trick-or-treat stash.

__________________________________________

**Only 69 days until Christmas.  Which means 75 days and 12 hours until your New Years’ diet resolution begins.  Holly Jolly, my ever-spreading @$$. 

 

Days of Wine and…Popcorn

It’s been a rough couple of months here, folks. As you may recall, I’ve had a few things going on.

As I mentioned in my last post,  we just finished a month-long stint with my Dad in hospice care, where he spent most of his days sleeping and we spent the bulk of ours checking our phones and emails constantly for updates while we waited for the inevitable.  While we certainly knew what was coming, the anticipation of bad news wears on ya after awhile:  Is today the day I put life on hold?  The day I set everything aside?  Will it be later today?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  Month?    It’s absolutely draining, and I didn’t appreciate HOW exhausting it was until it had raced past me, kicking dust and leaves into my sweaty, sticky face and leaving me coughing.

Meanwhile, life’s been hucking other curveballs at my face, too.

First up:  We had a wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago.  We “celebrated” nine years of sometimes-blissful, lately-often-stressful marriage by attending the viewing of a friend who passed away suddenly.   Ted was one of those genuinely terrific guys (insert obvious reference to the relevant Billy Joel tune here) -the world should be really sad to have lost him.

And it was one of those “died in his sleep for no discernible reason” deaths, which is typically code for…well, stuff no one wants to talk about.  While I have my suspicions, we’ll never know for certain, and besides, it doesn’t MATTER what happened.  It won’t change the fact that he’s gone.  And he was a week YOUNGER than me, which makes it all the more…disquieting, ya know?

Stuff like that will cash your mortality check in a hurry.  Plus, it sort of trumps any sort of anniversary celebration.

Second: the hubs finished his letter to me – the one where he planned to outline all the reasons that Religion is Bunk.

religion_is_bunk_bumper_sticker-r692e2b5ac9a54586b39e5e568e1b5614_v9wht_8byvr_630

This is still on his car. No, I haven’t said anything. Yet.

I haven’t read it yet…more on that later. But it’s there, lurking under the bed like the proverbial monster from when you were five, just waiting to grab your ankles if you DARE use the bathroom.

Suffice it to say that living day-to-day with this level of stress takes a toll – and it was manifestering (like that?  I just made it up) as an escalation in my disordered eating habits.  I’ve been running 16 miles a week on 1200(ish) calories a day (Okay…maybe 1100.  Or 1000.  Most days.)

Oh, and speaking of running, even my food/exercise-tracking app is out to get me.  I use MyFitnessPal and sync it with MapMyFitness.  Normally, these tools work GREAT. But recently, there was a software update…and now, my 4-mile run burns 65 fewer calories than it did before.

@#)$(@#%@%^£{£}*|€\€]^$^%$&@!!!WHYYYYY?!?

Did a lower weight finally sync up? Rectified math error?  Dunno.  But let’s break it down to what’s truly important here:  with the new calculation, I have to run nearly SIXTEEN MILES to burn off ONE pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

Sixteen f*%#!%@ miles.

That’s effing MADNESS.

Anyway, I decided I needed to circle my mental wagons around and work on ways to take better care of myself.  Before I disappear completely.  Or implode from stress overload.  Or start randomly stabbing furniture.

So HOW do I nurture myself?  While I’d prefer to be independently wealthy and retire to a warm, tropical location, I’m just a few gazillion dollars away from making that a reality.  So here are some things that I know I can do:

Stand up for myself.  Saying “no” can be tough.  Why?  Because we don’t want people to be mad at us?  Because we’re afraid people won’t like us if we don’t cater to their beck and call?  Or is it simply easier to cross favors off the list so we don’t have to think about them – and the potential fallout of saying “can’t today” – anymore?

Women tend to take on the overwhelming responsibility of ensuring the happiness of others.  And we make this a priority, neglecting ourselves in the process.  The results include exhaustion, frustration, and resentment.  Who’s happy now, chica?  Everyone but YOU.

So – repeat after me:

No, I can’t make that work right now.

No, I’m not available.

No, I don’t have the energy to address that at the moment.

No….Let’s discuss this at a later time.  I’ll let you know what works for me.

I know the words initially feel foreign, but trust me, it DOES get easier.  The world will not vote you off the island if you liberally apply these phrases, I promise.

Or so I’m told.

<ring ring> Is kettle there?

But in the spirit of “practice what you preach,” I’m doing this, too.  Remember that letter I mentioned above?  Given all the other white noise drowning out my mind, I actually stood up for myself – I told the hubs that now was not the time for his letter.  I can deal with the relationship issues LATER – after the kids go back to school, the election is over, and future bacon sprouts wings and flies right past my window.

Eventually, I WILL have to address this. It’s hanging over my head like the proverbial mistletoe at Christmas, just dangling there cluttering up the aesthetics, waiting for me to unsuspectingly park there while some opportunistic slightly-greasy dude plants a wet, juicy smacker on my lips.

But it doesn’t have to be TODAY.  Or tomorrow.  I can rest and recharge, and cross that emotional gorge once I’ve cleaned off my windshield and am running on a full set of batteries.

Exercise.  Yeah, I know.  <blearghhhhhh>  But regular exercise DOES help with stress.  You can read the science here, or review Dr. Kate’s breakdown:

When you’re stressed, your body releases this stuff called cortisol – it’s your body’s reaction to that whole fight-or-flight thing – so if you’re surprised by, say, a hungry bear in the woods, you have a “burst” to help you run away – fast.

The problem is that our modern-day stress is generally less about things that require physical flight.  It’s more along the lines of the annual tax bill, an unplanned job loss, or the unexpected arrival of swimsuit season.  (Which, despite arriving at approximately the same time every year, I AM NEVER READY FOR.)  We don’t have a physical need for this sudden storing of hormonal rocket fuel.  But it’s there anyway – and cortisol kicks you in the knees by weakening your bones, lowering your immunity, and killing your sex drive.  The more stress you have, the more cortisol spews out.

So how does exercise help?  Exercise is controlled stress.  You’re running/walking/Jazzercising/whatever, but there are no zombies waiting to sprinkle your backside with Frank’s Red Hot.  So your body thinks, OK, we’ve got some cortisol in da house, and we be chillin’.  We good.  Since there’s no direct threat, your tolerance for cortisol increases, and it can’t cripple you as effectively as it did before.  Essentially, your stress “muscles” are stronger, – you’re more resilient to stress , and it takes a bigger bucket of cortisol to knock you out.

Little Indulgences.  Whether it’s a mani/pedi, a massage, or a fancy coffee at a frou-frou java house, there are lots of small treats to be had when you need a boost.

I tend to look at inexpensive retail therapy.  You don’t have to spend a lot to get a lift – new earrings or socks can really cheer you up.  Just take a look at, well, ANYTHING from Blue Q: 

(Warning – adult language ahead.  But these are kick@$$ socks):

kickass_socks2

And speaking of wine…

Sometimes, there’s nothing like getting lost in your own sofa.  I’m talking TV, people.  And since we are an evolved, organized species, we can watch pretty much anything we want at any time of day.  Thanks to Netflix, Amazon video, YouTube, and other avenues, we have a nearly endless buffet of programming to choose from.  And, unlike the olden days when we had to actually dial our phones and GET UP <gasp> to change the channel, this is all available instantly.  So if you need a quick mental break, it’s there for the taking.  And it’s judgement-free, because no one can see you.

YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO WEAR PANTS.  (Sign ME up.)

Whether you’re into drama, comedy, or somebody-else’s-reality TV, nothing goes better with electronic entertainment than a good glass of what makes you smile and a bowl of something that satisfies.

Don’t get me wrong here – I am NOT advocating eating or drowning your feelings.  That just turns your current problem into a fat, bloated, belchy one.  (Which is far less entertaining than it sounds.)  But sometimes, you need to have a mini-getaway, and small, planned indulgences can make your couch more vacation-like, especially if you’re doing it in the spirit of nurturing your soul.

So here’s my recliner retreat checklist:

Entertainment:  For me, nothing relaxes like mindless TRASH TV.  Being an overworked intellectual (HAHAHAHA <snort>) I need a break from my exhaustive thinking, re-thinking, and over-thinking, so I amuse myself with the human freak-show circus. 

From my recent queue (don’t judge):

Beverage:  Wine.  (Duh.)  Red, white, or pink – I’m equal-opportunity and all about embracing the diversity.

Pro tip:  In some locations, there are “blue laws” and the liquor stores are closed on Sundays – so you might need to stock up on Saturday just to get through the weekend.   Given my life as of late, I had the foresight to prepare. (again – don’t judge):

winestock

Note – all of the bottles in this cart were $8.99 and under.  The Double Dog Dare reds were $2.99 each – and perfectly drinkable. (Then again, as you can see by my viewing choices, I may not have the most refined palate.  But you do you.)

I also liked this one, for $6.99:

wine

Because the label.  So cute!

I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying mead lately.  Generally, I prefer my drinks quite dry, and mead tends to be on the sticky side.  But this brand from Nectar Creek fits the bill nicely:

mead1

Don’t fear the bee.  Halfway through the bottle you’ll wanna give him a big ol’ hug.

Snacks:  Since I spent way too much time obsessing over my weight, I don’t want to pick a noshable that fills me out even more.  I mean, stressing over your de-stressor is like worrying about watermelon making you fat.  WHICH AIN’T RIGHT.

So I gravitate towards volume-packed munchies that fill up a big bowl for not-too-many calories.  The perfect choice for this, as we all know from years at the movie theater, is popcorn.

Ah, popcorn.  How I love thee.

The beauty of popcorn is that it’s no longer the dull, dry, packaging-material flavor it was back in the day.  Like TV programming, it’s evolved tremendously in sheer variety.  There’s a concoction for every craving.  Sweet?  Salty?   Spicy?   Yes please.  It’s out there, and in versions that will NOT make your butt look big.

Take a look at this snazzy infographic, courtesy of SkinnyPop:

SkinnyPop%20Wine

Find out more at SkinnyPop.com

A couple of thoughts on the above:

1.  I have had most of these flavors AND THEY ARE ALL DELICIOUS.  Just the other day, I found the Jalapeño at Walgreens, of all places. It’s really flavorful with just a hint of kick . I was thinking it’d be perfect with a crisp white, and it looks like the peeps at SkinnyPop agree with me.

2. The only flavor I haven’t had is the Dusted Dark Chocolate, because I can’t for the life of me find it anywhere.  This is Great Popcorn Sadness.  This shiz needs to be in my life, like, immediately, but for some reason, it hasn’t surfaced in the hippie-dippie part of the Midwest I reside in.

I’ll keep looking.

3.  You can’t really go wrong with wine – or mead, or beer, or ginger ale – and popcorn.  So mix it up and have fun!

I just have to remember to park on the couch with a bowl and a glass, NOT the entire bag and a bottle…because, after all, chip clips are for quitters, yo.  <burp>

How do you unwind?  What’s your go-to for chillin’?  Share your escapes in the comments!

Analyzing the Angry

Dear Family, Friends, Coworkers, and Random Drivers Going 58 in the F*(#!&@ Fast Lane:

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge my state of mind this past week.

You’ve noticed that I’ve been on edge.  Stressed out.  Tense.  I’ve given curt, overly blunt responses to innocent, honest questions.  My personal volume’s been elevated by at least two clicks, and if I had this ability, there’s be a ton of ashes to scatter right now:

As much as I try to be an easygoing, stretch your wings and fly type, I just can't stop trying to burst people into flames with my mind:

I’ve been…prickly?  No.  More like…stabby.  Yeah.  Slightly stabby.  And while you may be feeling a bit put out by my abrasiveness, all the $#!ts I give about that are right here in this basket I’m not holding:

emptyhands

Side note:  It’s not easy to take a picture of your own hands.  Seriously – try it.

After much analysis – you know, dissecting those feelings, sitting with ’em, letting the thoughts marinate while I take long-distance bike rides and rip the life out of unwelcome weeds in my garden – I’ve identified what’s going on.

I’m angry.

So I’ve been working to understand WHY I’m feeling this way.  Because if I have a REASON, I can FIX it, and subsequently feel better, right?

Generally, life has been good to me, I know.  But there are a couple of things lately that are making me feel like a cat you’ve pet backwards from tail to head.  And it’s not for things like Words with Friends disqualifying PERFECTLY LEGIT words (though admittedly, that’s mildly irritating):

yesitis aword

George Lucas begs to differ.

No, there’s some marginally less superficial shiz going down here.

First, I was angry because we were at my in-laws last weekend.  And while you should know that I love them dearly, visiting them is a challenge because of the massive amount of temptation everywhere.  And by “temptation,” I mean FOOD.  Cookies (three freshly-baked varieties) and rich desserts and meaty entrees.  Nuts and chocolate in little jars on the table, out in the open for the taking at any time you just want a bite (yeah, right, one bite) of something salty or sweet.  And, because the hubs and his entire family – his teenage boys and his mom and dad in their 70s – are tall and lean, they can all partake heartily in all of this delicious, glorious food, just because they want it.

And I was angry because EVERYONE GETS TO EAT ice cream cake and fried fish and buttered potatoes and I do not.  And it’s HARD sometimes – especially when they have a ginormous meal at noon, WITH dessert portions that contain at least half my daily caloric allowance, and then have another plate FULL OF FREAKING RIBS for a SNACK (a snack!!) at 3:00 and I have to pretend to be happy with a bowl of watermelon.

I was mad. Angry mad. Because life is unfair when it comes to food, and I’m never, ever going to be the kind of person who can walk past an ice cream store, think “hmm, sounds good,” and eat a simple cone and have that be the end of it – no drama, judgement, or guilt.  The scale is my probation officer who commands me to report in almost daily; dalliances are immediately evident and the punishment is severe.  Best not to tick her off.

So why else?

I’m angry because the hubs has been somewhat distant this week.  That’s partly because he’s trying to be respectful of me “needing my space,” and partly because my vibe this week’s been pretty much “touch me and die.”

But he’s also been working on writing me a letter.

What about?  His quest to explore his spirituality.  (Or lack thereof.)  He’s been crafting a letter to me explaining how he feels about the Bible in general.

And I have zero – ZERO – interest in reading this.

Why?  A number of reasons:

1. I already know how he feels about it.  He’s made it abundantly clear – in his choice of T-shirts, his bumper stickers, his inability to refrain from rude comments….I get it.  I know.  You’re not on Team Jesus.  Copy that, loud and clear, bro.

2. I’m not in a good place for this right now.  WE’RE not in a good place for this.  I still can’t hear your opinions on the subject without feeling personally attacked; you’re not in a headspace where you can communicate these issues without a ton of editorial emotion; and frankly, I’m still not over the whole Ashley Madison thing, so giving me more reason to feel like we can’t bond, to realize that we might not ever again be close….Let’s just say now is not the time.  I still feel like I’m being emotionally waterboarded over here.  I need time to breathe.  Our relationship needs time for the glue to stabilize and set a bit before you start using this newly repaired vessel as a cocktail shaker.

3.  It’s hella long.  It just feels like…work.  Like writing-your-Affirmative-Action-Plan work.  Which is somewhere between <snoooooooooooore> and PLEASE SHOOT ME.

In other words, I just don’t have the energy to bring this festering lump to a head and clean up the mess when it ruptures and oozes all over the place.

Not right now.

Because I’m also angry that my Dad started hospice care last week.

We’ve known it was coming.  He’s been slowly withering away for the last nineteen months, losing weight, eating less, getting out of bed less often.  If you haven’t lived through something like this, you likely underestimate the stressful state of limbo this puts you in.

Every morning, you check your phone for news:  Nope.  Not dead yet.  And you get on with your day.  Eventually, you get accustomed to this as the status quo, and you work with it.

But once you call in hospice, you know you’re racing the final lap.  No more pit stops; the checkered flag’s somewhere in front of you.  But the road’s all wavy and bendy, like the heat mirage on the highway in July, and you really don’t know how much further you need to go before the path ends and it’s finally over.  And every day you preface work, kid activities, and other commitments with “…unless something happens to Dad.”  And people nod somberly, and they understand.

And your heart breaks a little more each day.

And the light of your soul just isn’t quite as bright. 

And the steel of your armor rusts, bit by bit, until the things you’re shielding yourself from start to leak through. 

Mom called hospice two weeks ago. Dad isn’t getting out of bed any more.  And he isn’t eating, though he’s still taking fluids.

So it can’t be too much longer.

But, so far, it hasn’t been today.

Not yet.

Dad had a birthday on Friday.  Since I live 1000 miles away, I had to mail a card.  I already hate greeting cards, because most of them are either insipidly saccharine or blatantly insulting:

Syrupy Sentiment:  Cards that rhyme make me want to shove lit cigarettes into my eyeballs – there’s a reason Dr. Seuss isn’t required reading past the first grade, people:

My love for you is like a song

In my ears, where you belong

My heart will sing it night and day

I hope to marry you someday

<BARF>

Ridiculously Ridiculing:  Birthday cards no longer read “Let’s Celebrate” – they’re all about “ha ha, you’re old, and I find that funny.”  Here comes the fire department to put out your cake, isn’t that hilarious?  (No, but if you send me some shirtless firemen, I might forgive you, just a bit, especially if they bring cake.)

And just try to find a Father’s Day card that doesn’t refer to beer, farting, or both.  Unless it’s one from the cotton-candy sticky-sweet category, you won’t find it.  (I’d insert some examples, but yuck.)

So finding a decent card is tough.  Now find one for your Dad when he’s terminally ill.  Remember, this is probably the last card that you will ever buy for him.  So no pressure.

Dad likes funny pictures of animals, so I headed to that section first in an attempt to find something lighthearted that would make him smile.

Here was my first pick:

dogs1

This looks promising….

dogs2

Um…like Mother Theresa and Jesus?  Not yet, Dad.

I put it back and picked up this one:

cats1Seems appropriate – especially when I tell you that Dad had an orange tabby named Blondie before us kids were born.  And every time he sees an orange tabby ANYWHERE, he says, “Looks like Blondie!”  (Yeah…. Every.  Single.  Time.)  So, hey, here’s Blondie in his fifteen minutes of fame, great card, let’s send it!

And then I opened it.  And HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

cats2

<snort> I AM TERRIBLE.

Laugh or cry, right?

OK, highly inappropriate.  If it were my mom, or ME, this might fly. But Dad’s more of a sentimental, emotional guy, so I settled on a fairly innocuous card with a smiling nun on it that simply said “Happy Birthday” inside.  (Because, since he was raised Catholic, nuns are also funny.  We get him the “Nuns Having Fun” calendar every year.)

And he lived long enough to get it.  So there’s that.

So that’s why I’m angry.

Because I’m really…sad.

And I can’t control feelings like sadness.  OK, full disclosure, I’m not really great with taming anger, either, but it feels more powerful to me.

And power means control.

And you know what I can control?

What I eat.

All this stress has been remarkably effective in helping me control my weight.  Today, I stepped on the scale, and saw a number I haven’t seen since high school.  A number lower than when I was unwell a few years ago and lost weight almost by accident.

Not much lower.

Not yet.

But the hubs actually noticed, as witnessed by this random text he sent this week:

text haha no

I can’t control what happens to Dad.  His itinerary is non-refundable; the only variable is the arrival time.

I can’t control how my spouse feels about things.  I can’t make him more accepting of other viewpoints.  I can’t force him into a mindset of “live and let live.”  I can’t make him see that he’s destroying us, comment by comment, shirt by shirt, letter by letter. He’s asked what he can do…but I already told him, and he’s no longer DOING it.  So what’s the point in adding to the bucket of unmet expectations?  It’ll just glop out onto the linoleum and be another mess for me to mop up.

I can’t control the overwhelming sadness.  This emotion is foreign to me; it feels like an unwelcome parasite, sapping my soul, draining my energy.  It trips me up at random times during the day, jumping out from dark corners, startling me into spilling hot coffee onto my hands.  It reminds me that it’s here.  That I can’t get away from it.

I can’t escape, but I can hide. I can duck behind something I know.  Something I can predict and control.

I’ve made myself a disguise:  hunger.

Hunger I expect.  Hunger I understand.

When you eat less, you feel hungry. 

It’s black and white.  Concrete.  Reliable.

Anticipated.

Welcome.

So I’ll wear the anger blanket instead of the sadness scarf.  It goes much better with the hunger hat that I’ve invested so much of myself into buying.

It’s a classic; I’ve worn it for years.  I don’t know what I’d look like if I had to replace it.

And when the temperature rises, and I’m no longer chilled by the icy emotions that threaten to overtake me – when they’ve been replaced by that gnawing, familiar, hollow, empty nothingness of hunger – I can take off the blanket for just a little while.

I can be a few pounds less angry.

I can remain in control.