Leaving South Florida

Cydney and I completed another Lake Worth Street Painting Festival–our eighth! It was incredibly hot but also a lot of fun, as always.

The trip, as a whole, was just fantastic. Perfect weather, great conversations, great vegan food! On Sunday, the penultimate day of vacation, I was feeling a bit blue about leaving. I have only great memories of living here–I met Spence here, my dad was still alive and visited twice, I received my MFA, I met some of my closest friends. We left only because we had to, not because we wanted to. Spence took a buyout and was offered another job in the Midwest and so we left. We had often talked of moving to New England, but when we left, we did so because there was no other option, which left a bad taste in my mouth. And we moved to the Midwest, a place where I grew up and had no interest in returning to. I cried when we were there for Spence’s job interview. I cried when I arrived at our rental home.

And of course, it was all fine. Illinois was not bright and sunny all the time but it had its charms. It was short drive to mom and I visited often. I met a couple of my best friends there. And the job I eventually took gave me the experience I needed to take the job I have now, a job I love.

We finally live in New England, but all those years I imagined living here, I was imagining the cities or Fairfield County, with all the activity and diversity that comes along with those places. Instead, we live in an exquisitely beautiful place in Vermont–quite rural. Not a lot of diversity. Sometimes it’s hard to leave the house because it’s so cold. When I return to So. Flo., and I’m surrounded by brown and black and white faces, and I’m swimming in languages I don’t even recognize, and it’s too nice to stay inside, so I’m easily exceeding my 10,000 step goal, and the people are dressed to kill, and stylish women of a certain age have dyed their hair a glorious lavender…I can’t help but be heartsick about leaving it behind.

However, I also know perspective changes once you live in a place. Soon the heat becomes oppressive; the crowds of people will become a burden rather than a joy; the the expensive nature of the place becomes its own limitation. Vacationing is one thing; residing another.

This morning I awoke at 4:30am, ready to be on my way. I can’t wait to be with Spence and the dogs again and to get my routine back. For now, I live in a beautiful, rural area surrounded by mountains. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. And people may not be dressing to kill, but that won’t keep me from trying. Maybe I’ll consider lavender hair, too. (And summers in this area are beyond perfect…so there is that.)

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Painful Progress

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Zhong Zhong (left) and Hua Hua are the first primate clones made by somatic cell nuclear transfer, the same process that created Dolly the sheep in 1996.

I’m feeling a bit weepy over this story today. Incredible progress. Chinese scientists have cloned monkeys using the same technology as was used in the 1990s to make Dolly the sheep. The monkeys (as you can see in the photo) are absurdly, ABSURDLY cute.

But if you read the article, you learn one of the reasons this is so important is because now they may be able to make genetically identical monkeys on which to find cures for human diseases.

This means all of these creatures will be created in order to be kept in a lab, infecting them with diseases and using them as learning tools to benefit us. Having a dad who died of cancer and a mom who lives with cancer and has had a number of different treatments, and who is always hopeful the next one will be the one to cure, I understand the logic behind why that is important. Why it may be needed.

But my heart breaks over it. I mean, I feel physically sick since reading it. The same way I feel when I see a truck carrying pigs/chickens/cows to slaughter. I don’t think it helped to include the photo of the monkeys—to put faces to a monstrous future. (Which is why I included them. Does it make anyone else sad?)

I’d like to think there’s another way for us to find cures but perhaps I’m naive.

And I know many don’t care: science is more important; agriculture is more important; our appetites are more important; our tastebuds are most important.

It simply makes my heart ache.

Off the mark

MindBlownCan I just say I’ve learned something astonishing between yesterday and today.

One of the perks from my employer is it offers wellness incentives. Last semester they offered a step challenge and if you met the challenge, you received  $100. For some reason I thought it was going to be used toward health insurance—maybe applied to the deductible or something. I was pleasantly surprised when I received the small bump in my paycheck! Actual money! And the challenge was so easy!

This semester the challenge is to eat two servings of fruits and two servings of vegetables for four days out of the week. Considering I’m vegan, I thought this would be a pretty simple challenge. Fruit would be the bigger challenge of the two because I LOVE vegetables. I like fruits but they aren’t the first thing come to mind for snacks. When I want something sweet, I usually crave food like chocolate. Making sure I eat two servings a fruit a day would take effort.

I tried using a food tracking app associated with the wellness website, but it was useless. So I re-downloaded the MyPlate app and decided while I’m doing this challenge, I would track all my food in order to get a sense of how many calories I’m eating overall. I should say, I hate tracking food. It’s tedious and troublesome. However, as a weight loss tool, it works. It is so easy to overeat and considering I struggle with keeping my weight where I want it, it’s clear I must overeat regularly. I set my weight loss goals on the app and figured if I can stay within the recommended daily calorie range (even if I go over it a bit), I’ll be doing better than eating whatever and however I want.

Yesterday was the first full day of tracking every meal. On Monday and Tuesday I tracked only my veggies and fruits on the crappy app. I worked from home yesterday because of the heavy snow fall and for lunch I decided to bake my vegan pizza. I knew this would throw my goal calorie intake all out of whack for the day, but I also know that it’s nice to splurge sometimes. I ate half of it for lunch and half for dinner (I think it was an 8-inch pizza all around. Smaller than your usual frozen pizza. Though it was painful, I tracked it and watched the calories go up accordingly.

At the end of the day, I was looking at the tracker and I noticed it offered nutrient breakdowns for the day. I clicked it and this is where I nearly fainted. I knew some of the numbers would be unusually high because of that vegan pizza (just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy). Here were some of the numbers:

I ate 84.69 grams of fat. (157% of the daily value!!!!)

I ate 295.84 grams of carbs (184% of the dv!!!)

I ate 36.81 grams of fiber (183% of the dv, which is good. Pats on back)

I ate 68.34 grams of sugar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (212%!!!!! of the dv!!!!!!!) (HOLY HELL)

I ate 35.76 grams of protein (30% of dv, which means I need to prioritize this more).

Okay. I read these numbers to Spence in utter disbelief. I couldn’t believe how totally out of the ballpark these numbers were and suddenly understood why my weight might be where it is. I mean, that sugar number? Hot damn! I don’t drink soda or fruit juices or any sugar-laced drinks and the number is still that high? Good grief.

I decided this was a good slap in the face regarding the good and bad numbers. I’ve always wanted to eliminate sugar as much as possible and I’m not doing enough! Plus some of those numbers were definitely higher than usual because of the pizza. It’ll be interesting to see what a normal day looks like.

Well, today is a normal day. I just typed in what I was planning for lunch and took a look at the nutrient breakdown thus far. The numbers look much better. After breakfast and lunch, all the values are below the DV%. I’m getting close to 100% on carbs and I’ve exceeded dietary fiber DV. But guess what. Sugar. I’ve eaten 57.08 grams of sugar already! 177% of the DV! WTF?!?!?

I had 1/2 cup of oatmeal with cinnamon for breakfast (no sugar added) & 1/2 cup low sugar almond milk. Several cups of coffee with almond milk creamer (this could be a culprit). A piece of wheat toast with 2 tsp of vegan butter. For snacks I had an apple with 1 TBsp of peanut butter. Later I had half a cucumber. For lunch I’m having beans and rice (both made from scratch with original ingredients—nothing boxed/canned) and 1/2 a cup of cooked spinach. In all of this food is 57 grams of sugar, which totally blows my mind. Because if you were to ask me, I would feel this is all fairly low in sugar. I would think I’m doing perfectly fine keeping my sugar intake under suggested guidelines.

Now thanks to tracking I see I couldn’t be more off the mark. Ugh.

Happy 2018!

Iris

Iris: One of my inspirations.

We had a fun night! Cyd visited us for a couple days and we played games, ate homemade pizzas, went out for Mexican food, went to the movies, watched the NYC ball drop on livestream, drank a bit of champagne at midnight and promptly hit the sack.

I’m not much for resolutions, preferring to view each day as an opportunity to start again as needed, but I have two general goals for the year: to work harder at getting my nonfiction published and to be (even) more sartorially daring. It’s this second goal I’ve been turning around in my head. I actually remembered a question I wanted to ask Cyd during our time together and forgot to. I was going to message her the question today and decided to write about it instead, in hopes some additional friends might chime in.

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Gorgeous

What do you look for when trying on clothes and what does it mean if you find something flattering?

I thought about this yesterday as we were killing time at Target before the movie. I found a dress on the discount rack that I LOVED. Loved, loved, loved. It was long and drapey and had lace and velvet and looked kind of victorian but it was black and dark blue, which made it feel kind of goth. It was so cool. I tried it on and it fit. BUT. I couldn’t decide if it was flattering. And did the fact that I liked it so much override the need for it to be flattering?

What does flattering mean to me? Well, I have a broad back and now that my hair is short in the back, I find anything that exposes too much of my back/shoulders to feel unattractive. Also, with something so drapey, there was the question of whether it added weight. Did it make me look fatter? And even if I decided that I was unbothered by these two concerns in this dressing room, would my self-consciousness catch up with me when it actually came time to wear the dress? I may love it right now and I may decide I don’t care if it’s flattering or not, but would that feeling stick with me once I was ready to wear it to work? Ultimately, I put it back and went with another dress I also loved that felt more flattering.

Since I was a kid, my mom (meaning well, of course) put it in my head that clothes Idiosynctraticshould be comfortable and flattering, which meant making me/you/her look slimmer. The goal was to look thinner, or at least not to look fatter. To this day, when mom is trying on tops, she will ask if something makes her look heavier. This is my concern, too, when I’m trying on clothes, and something I’d like to think about less.

I should think clothes are meant to make you feel fabulous. They are meant to indicate your style, your interests. I love following the Instagram accounts of Iris Apfel and Advanced Style, with these women “of a certain age,” knocking everyone out with their over the top presentations. But even among this group, one of the commonalities is how incredibly thin they all are. It’s a very different thing to wear an enormous, shapeless dress when you’re rail thin than it is when you’re not. But it’s these distinctions that I want to leave behind. I want to err on the side of being daring rather than dwell on how flattering an outfit is or isn’t.

Funky after 50

Me and flower dress

Me, striking a pose in a flower sweater I found at Goodwill. I finally wore it to work. I felt very dramatic and ridiculous all day and loved it.

On living in grief

How’s that for a cheery title?

The other day, I was looking out the window of my kitchen and Spence said, “Your birthday is coming!” I said, “Good grief. I’m going to be 42.” I continued staring out the window, doing some math in my head and eventually said, “When my dad was this age, he had only 14 years left to live.” After a few moments, Spence said, “Well isn’t that a lighthearted note to start the morning,” which made us both laugh.

I don’t mean to be morbid with these comments. I don’t really view them as morbid…more as an awareness that we have only so much time.

We lost our cat Bailey on Friday, December 1. She had been in kidney failure since last year. Over the past six months, she had started walking around the house at night, yowling at the loudest possible volume—a sign of kitty dementia. She was skin and bones and her fur had started matting because she’d stopped grooming herself. A few days before we put her to sleep, her eyes were watering uncontrollably, she was sneezing and I noticed her face twitching a bit. She stopped eating during that time, including cheese, one of her favorite foods. She was 18 years old and wasn’t doing well. As I slept that night on the couch so I could be close to her and provide some comfort & companionship, I heard her wheezing and watched her pace and knew it was time to let her go.

The hours leading up to that final step are always the hardest and most surreal. I’m preparing to go to work and Bailey is pacing around the house and in just an hour or so, she’ll be gone. I cried and cried and cried. I held her to the very end and once the vet administered the final shot, she was gone within five or ten seconds. I continued crying as I got to work and I cried a bit more as my colleagues, who knew what I was doing that morning, comforted me. And then I got busy working. 

I did leave early that day because I was SO tired, but a friend today said she was surprised I came into work—she would have been unable to after such an event. (She told me her own terrible story about losing her beloved dog and the emotional toll it took.)

It didn’t occur to me not to go to work. I had a lot (A LOT) of work to do. But I also feel like I have practice in living in grief and living in life simultaneously, if that makes sense. Having both parents with cancer diagnoses and living with the fear and uncertainty of surgeries, treatments, and side effects; losing my father to cancer and then losing my grandmother only three weeks later; unexpectedly losing a best friend from grad school (also to cancer); losing two beloved dogs and (now) two beloved cats (three of these animals had cancer…jeezus), and living with the continued fear (anticipatory grief) of losing my mom…it all weaves together as a constant reminder that life and death are always intertwined. That the minutiae of life continues even as grief hangs like a thick fog. 

Buddhism also helps. It reminds me that nothing is permanent. What makes life so precious is the fact that it is temporary. That we eventually lose everything. The Dalai Lama says we should always remember that at some point, our body will fail us. It is a certainty. And far from being sad about this, we should rejoice in the now, aware that it won’t last forever. 

Even as I know these things, it does not make the loss any easier, any less heartbreaking. It doesn’t keep me from fearing the loss of my loved ones. My stomach turns with fear over those thoughts. But it does serve as a reminder not to be overcome by those fears today because today I can call my mom and say I love you. Today I can look at my husband and say I love you. Today we are all still together.

And the day we said goodbye to Bailey, I thanked her for the 16 years she spent with us. I hugged her and let her go because that’s all I could do. Our time together was over. And I took that heavy, grieving heart to work with me, knowing that it would occasionally be lightened by the company of my colleagues. Knowing, also, that I would cry when I needed to. 

I will always cry when I need to. I recommend it.