Monday, June 29, 2015

London Calling

It's Monday morning and I'm sitting in our new flat in Islington, London, wrapping my head around the fact that we're for the next 5 weeks. Sirens blaring from my open window, I view the bustle of the week's start as a bystander. It might be the first Monday in over a year that I haven't rushed to an appointment or scrambled to email a customer (although I did reach out this morning to a few). I get to jump off the hamster wheel of my working life and wander around the cage a bit with my kiddie hamsters as a tourist! This pause is a GIFT that I plan to embrace with all of my heart.

We checked into St. Mark's apartments yesterday, and had dinner down the street in a local pub. It all feels very normal and right. The apartment is smaller than we expected, but we're nestling into it.

Tim is working in the City with the Tower of London in his window's view. He's experiencing a professional bliss, probably pinching himself and wondering how LIFE brought him back to this wonderful city after he'd first fallen in love with it back in 1986. Bea is a bit overwhelmed with how we're going to spend our days. Frankie is champing at the bit to run every corner of the city. Josie's mind is still in the US, noticing more WiFi spots than British landmarks.

Time here will transform us all.

Today? Camden Markets, signing up for a local gym, grabbing an Evening Standard at the Tube to get the local feel of what's happening around here, and drinking it all in.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


George, my dear neighbor, lay stiff in the hospital bed, the crisp sheet tightened just under his chin. Barbara says he looks much better than hours before when he was gasping for air, his mouth wide open, his body in distress. He’d had a stroke. I’d say an unexpected stroke, but when do we expect a stroke? His stroke came in the morning hours of a Tuesday just a couple of days after what Barbara describes as one of the best weekends they’d ever had together. Museum visits. Dinners out. Temple service. Friends galore.

Barbara and I sit on the couch-turned-bed in the hospital room staring at George, waiting for that moment when she would have to say goodbye to her husband of sixty-five years. We both know the moment is inevitable, but prefer to postpone it as long as possible. “What do I do with all the firewood that George put on our back porch? There is so much! I truly don’t know what he was thinking.”’

“Let’s not worry about that now,” I hold her hand. “I’m sure it’ll be put to good use.”

“His jewelry equipment!” she cries out. “It’s very valuable. I don’t know what to do with it.” Barbara bows her head. I could feel grief pressing around her frail frame like a vice. Just weeks from celebrating her ninetieth birthday, I cannot imagine her surviving its painful grip. It comes in waves, she says. For brief glimpses, she sits erect and eager, and is chatty. And then, without warning, she folds into me, first with her head and then collapsed shoulders until she is small like a child in my embrace.

“We don’t have to think about that now,” I stroke her back. “I’m sure your friend, Bill, can help you with that.” She talked about their close friend who owns a jewelry store in town, one of the many people who would miss George terribly.

“The Christmas cards!” Barbara yelps. “They’re halfway done. Every year, I would sign my name and hand the card over to George. He would then write something personal and sign his name. The pile is halfway finished. What do I do about the cards?” Her watery eyes burrowed within her small face stare at me, pleading for answers. The triviality of the wood, the jewelry equipment and the cards occupy Barbara enough to distract her from that moment in time. I prefer the talk of wood, jewelry and cards because I could actually do something about those things. 

I circumvent that moment in time right alongside Barbara. “You can wait and decide later what to do," I offer. "Lots of people are sending their Christmas cards later and later. Some people even send them as Valentine’s cards.” My blabbering only leads us back to the inevitable. George and Barbara were lovers like no other. George would have celebrated Valentine’s Day with some poignant acknowledgement of their love. He might have fashioned her a ring from a quarter. Or perhaps he’d leave her a tender poem on a napkin, a token she’d carry in her pocket and share with me, most certainly. Or they’d stroll down Craigmoor Road, a path they’d traveled as a couple, holding hands, every day for the seventeen years we have lived across the street from them. And on February 14, the skip in their step just a bit bouncier because it would be a day where they’d have an excuse to celebrate their love even more. Not that they ever needed one.

Mentioning Valentine’s Day invites the sadness back into the room. We both turn to look at George. The social worker walks in. She had just talked to Tricia, Barbara's daughter-in-law. Tricia is planning to head over to Barbara's house to meet her there. Isn't that great? The hint to move the process along falls like a lead balloon.

"I don't want to leave this room," she says.

"I know," I respond and pat her knee.

"Because I know what it means when I leave this room."

"Yes," I say. "I understand."

The pressure to say goodbye mounting, Barbara shouts out from the couch-turned-bed, "Why can't I come with you, George?" Barbara asks him in the same way she would have asked to go to the store. "I want to come with you! Please don't leave me here alone!" I feel tears welling up from my insides. I could sob right there, but stop myself, choosing instead to posture as something solid to support Barbara. She turns to me again, her eyes looking for a reprieve from the pain. “Do you know how he died?” she asks.

“From a stroke?” I ask.

“No,” she explains. “How he died here in this room.”

I shrug my shoulders, still gulping back the salty waters that pool at the back of my throat.

“I was sound asleep and woke up startled,” she begins the story. “I don’t know what came over me, but I woke up thinking, ‘I need to kiss George. I need to kiss George.’ So I walked over to his bed where he was breathing very heavily. It sounded like his chest hurt. I took his face into my hands and gave him a big kiss. My George! I love you, George!” Barbara stops to blow her nose. I long to have a tissue of my own.

“After I kissed him, I stood back,” she continues. “Then he took a big gasp of air, the biggest of the night, and just died. Right then and right there after the kiss, he died. His chest stopped moving. He was gone.”

As sad as the story is that she is telling me, I sit thinking how perfect a death that was for George who in life would have had it no other way. Kissing Barbara. He would take her kiss with him always. That would be the only way for him to die, with her kiss on his lips. I drift in thought, imagining that sacred moment when Barbara’s kiss spurred George into the ocean of reality, the space of eternal love. I feel blessed to have witnessed their love.

The social worker returns to the room and encourages Barbara to get her coat. This gentle push is just the nudge Barbara needs to stand up and walk over to George. I suggest that I go and get the car, pull it out to the front, but the social worker asks me to stay with Barbara. She might need someone there when she says goodbye. But being there in their sacred space feels intrusive and awkward, like someone farting in church or watching home movies of a couple’s lovemaking. Wrong. The social worker smiles at me, assuring me that I need to stay so I do. 

I glance away, hugging my coat, as Barbara stands over George. “I wish I could go with you,” she sniffles. Then Barbara is quiet as she reaches over and kisses George's physical face one last time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Running Bear

The day’s weather is predicted to be dreary at best today. Rainy. Cold. The fallen leaves have left our trees barren, and are still blowing around in the air, sticking to the cars and the road. It’s dark when we wake up. It’s dark when we eat dinner. It’s darker than ever just because the sun is journeying towards winter solstice - that time when light is most scarce. The house is a bit chillier than usual and we find ourselves scrambling for that winter gear that’s locked up in an attic or basement bin. “Where are those warm gloves my mom bought me last year?”
Our lips are chapping and people around us are beginning to sniffle with colds. The holidays are rushing towards us like a flood, carrying debris of cookies and cakes and pies and all things loaded with sugar and fat. We eat more than usual and want nothing more than to stay in our cozy beds like hibernating bears.
But we’re not bears and we don’t want to fatten up during these next few months! So, what’s the solution?
Winter running might seem daunting at first. Looking out the window, you might picture yourself being soaked to the bone, cold, slipping on the wet leaves or snow. And all of the above can happen and has happened to a few of us. But there are benefits to a winter run that far outweigh any of those imagined pitfalls.
A winter run is exhilarating. Being outside in the elements when everything inside of you screams, “Just lay here on the couch in this warm living room with the clicker and that bowl of popcorn!” is an indescribable feeling. You stand there thinking at first that you’re nuts, but realize quickly how easy and refreshing a winter run can be. It really is just a matter of getting out there.
So, rather than succumb to the lazy voices in your head, and millions of years of hardwiring that is telling you to fatten up during the cold months, take these tips and give your winter a new mindset. Let that drive to feel good and get out there come from something on the inside. Don’t be deterred by anything on the outside. See the weather as irrelevant.
Read the following tips on cold weather exercise and revamp your holiday wish list accordingly:
1.    Layer up. Wear clothes that can be loosened or removed to regulate temperature. For your innermost layer, choose synthetic clothing that will whisk the perspiration away from your skin.
2.    Shield your extremities. Winter shoes should have more traction. Pus, make room for warm socks. Try thin, synthetic layers underneath heavier gloves. Minimize heat loss by wearing a wind-resistant cap. Protect ears with earmuffs or thick headband.
3.   Hydrate. Even in the cold, your body loses moisture as it humidifies the cold air you inhale.
4.    Just get out there. That is by far the most challenging part of a winter run.

Be the running bear!

Tips adapted from Consumer Reports on Health Vol. 23 Num. 12

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday so I’m treating myself to writing in the early hours about it. It’s 3:15 AM. Coffee is brewed. It’s dark everywhere in the house except for the glow of my laptop. I hear the fan whirring upstairs, a trick we used to muffle sounds that could potentially wake the sleeping baby. Seventeen years of whirring later, the girls still like their white noise makers.

When I think of the time that has passed, I picture someone flipping through a small day calendar at a fury’s pace. Days blur into months and years. I’m 48 years old. Seriously? That adds up to a lot of hours on earth and when I grapple with how I spent that time, I get a pang of anxiety.

Has it been wasted? Have I loved enough? Have I accomplished what I set out to do? Do I even know, yet, what that was supposed to be?

The quiet of the morning forces a pause. There’s no calendar. No worries. No place to be. Just stillness. I can give thanks in this place. Here, I don’t have to peruse my mind and obsess on the rough spots in my life or try to focus on all that is good. Here, I just sit and feel thankful.

Every bruise is just as wonderful as every smile. As I get older, I appreciate the rougher moments and see them like a roaring river after a storm. The fallen branches litter its bank as the waters gush, my heart that stone being tossed around. I bump along not even realizing how smooth those rough waters have made me. People who know me know when I tossed in that river. People who don’t will wonder. That’s life, isn’t it? We can’t know every detail. But I will say that what we should know is that everyone gets tossed about. It’s part of the journey. I’m also starting to believe that no matter how much we have endured in life, the endings are all happy.

The good news for me on this day is that I realize I am still writing my life’s story. I can still make choices.

Some promises I want to keep:
1. Accept I have hot flashes AND braces and it’s OK.
2. Don't take friends for granted, ever.
3. Encourage those aching knees as they walk down the stairs, remembering they've walked me to many places in my life.
4. Take risks in the creative realm because no one really cares.
5. Dive into my heart even if it hurts.
6. Eat to nourish, but never say no to chocolate.
7. Say thank-you more than please.
8. Notice light as it dances around the world.
9. Remember sexy comes from the inside.
10. Love. Love. Love. Especially those who have to put up with me on a daily basis.

Finally... Smile no matter what because all endings are happy.

"The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world's misery would very soon be changed into comfort."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It's Just A Face (or is it?)

Life busted my face, the one the world sees. Well, not “life,” actually, but an oral surgeon.

Either way, how can I not see that as a metaphor?

These last four weeks, watching my face transform from bruised and swollen to pale and thin from a life of pudding, I see so much more than a face. I see never-ending change with no idea how it will end.

A face is a funny thing. It is what we present to the world. We are humans with many facets, many sides. Our physical face is what we project into the world as who we are. It smiles. It cries. It contorts with pain. It expresses all of the emotion we have inside of us. It also holds the eyes that reach deep into our souls, telling our stories.

And mine is changing beyond my control. 

Although the changes I am noticing are jarring and unrecognizable to me because I’ve grown comfortable over the years with the only face I’ve ever known, I walk with faith through this thorny path of change knowing, on some level, that the face I show the world will be different in six months. How different? I don't know.

How can I not see this as a metaphor?

Right now, I still resemble Underdog’s girlfriend, Polly Purebred, with a swollen upper lip. As I brush with Colgate, the gappy teeth, punctuated with a darkened dead front tooth, smiles back at me. The stitches lining my entire jawbone sag into my not-so-pearly whites like a bad sewing job, and I scrub, hoping infection doesn’t set in.

The face I show the world is changing – literally -- and, with this change, I imagine I might show a new face -- figuratively -- as well. Perhaps a new side of me, more vulnerable or authentic, will surface.

Having one’s face disfigured and texting grotesque pictures to friends is vulnerable. There were a lot of “yucks and pity,” which might not be the response we’d like from showing our face to the world, but that's what happened. Many people thought Tim had abused me. Some people asked if I’d gotten a boob job and was distracting the world with this “jaw surgery” (more than a few!). Some quipped that they wouldn’t have had the guts to go out “looking like that” and even suggested in a joking way that I “cover up”. The structural change in my face rendered even Maybelline powerless.

I continue to lisp everywhere I go, trying to enunciate words that used to flow out with ease, and I cannot chew until June 10, which means slurping soups anytime I do go out. Of course, my face is still swollen and numb so the soup, more often than not, spills onto my morphing face and I don’t even know it.

So how has the physical change in my face changed me?

I don’t know yet.

But how can I not see this as a metaphor? 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Food Isn't Fun Anymore

Diet books are nothing new. They’ve been littering our bookshelves forever and, even though they’re all glitzed with different titles, they all end up giving us the same broader-stroked message, “Just stop what you’ve been doing.”

I know it’s not that simple. Having practiced nutrition for over twenty years, I am intimate with the complexities of the simple human need to eat, but I’ve had the forced experience of “stopping what I’m doing” these past couple of weeks and am now asking a new question.

What if we took the pleasure and fun out of food?

Before you pounce on me, let me explain. I was diagnosed with maxillary hypoplasia a couple of years back (fancy word for tiny upper jaw) and finally took the plunge to surgically correct it. As a result, I cannot put my teeth together for six weeks while the broken upper palate bone heals. My food intake is now limited to what can be tossed down the gullet effortlessly – creamed soups, puddings, mashed potatoes, and shakes. I am a crunchy girl at heart, detesting the bland, white and mushy food world. I prefer the textured world of salads, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Anything with crunch! I am now imprisoned in pudding hell, but can’t help but try to find a silver lining.

What is it?

Well, for one, I’m being forced to evaluate what life is like when you take pleasure and fun out of food. It’s not the same for me as it would be for others because I prefer salads to ice cream, but pleasure has been ripped away from my eating experience. It’s no fun cooking a beautiful meal for my family and then sitting down to slurp my bowl of soup. This new reality brings me back to my original question.

What if we all took the pleasure and fun out of food? Even for an imaginary moment. How would that change your life?

Don’t panic. No one is going to actually do it. Let’s just examine the concept and the basic equation of eating.

Eating  = Necessity + Pleasure

We must eat to live, no? Necessity is eating to survive and choosing those foods that will enhance survival. Necessity is food for fuel. But we also enjoy eating food, which is a good thing. It gives us the drive to eat. If the pleasure component is missing completely, we might not be compelled to eat and we would risk malnutrition. In summary, we need both necessity and pleasure, but in balance.  

I can assure you that we’re collectively out of balance, which is a big culprit in our plight with obesity and obesity-related diseases. Our scales have tipped to pleasure (and it shows), but it’s not really our fault. After all, we are wired to get pleasure from food. It’s human, natural and wonderful.

However, food addiction is at an all-time high because the dopamine-releasing ability of food is at an all-time high.

Scientists are discovering that our human brains reach a bliss point, which is when our brain’s pleasure centers get bombarded and stimulated, when we eat foods with a triple threat power of sugar, fat and salt combined. We can all picture the salted caramel flavors flooding our markets and giving us that sublime eye-roll to the backs of our heads. It’s instantaneous pleasure. Chocolate-covered bacon, anyone?

Don’t think for a second that “food” manufacturers (do I have to call Cap’n Crunch “food”?) are not fully aware of food’s addictive powers. They’re jacking up our food every day. Even Bolthouse (sorry guys), which produces “healthy” juices, has a salted caramel flavor now. When I asked the booth guy at the food show why they went in that direction, with added sweet and salt, he explained, “It’s a healthier alternative to Starbucks.”

Is cocaine a healthier alternative to crack?

I can rant. And I will. But I’ll stop now and leave you with the original question.

What if we took the pleasure and fun out of food?

First off. Most food companies would go out of business because most of the food we buy is for pleasure, not necessity. Just troll the aisles and most of what we eat isn’t even food anymore by the time it goes into a box on a grocery market shelf. We eat it because it tastes good and our brains sing with pleasure. Is it really enhancing our survival? No. It’s probably killing us, but we still buy it because it is the pleasure part of the equation driving us to eat.

Is there anything we can do to reverse it? Food addiction is serious. In addition to obesity and obesity-related diseases, it can lead to a slew of mental health problems because our brain chemicals go whacky when we eat for pleasure. It starts a vicious cycle of highs and lows that begin to drive our eating behaviors. Skittles are just sugar-coated crack. Pretty and colorful and blissful sugar-coated crack.

Perhaps America could start a national twelve-step program.

“Hi, my name is America, and I’m a food addict.”

Admitting it might be the first step.

Now -- where is that salted caramel pudding?

(Photo robbed from

Monday, April 22, 2013

So Long, Crunchy Friend

Dear Lettuce,

You have been such a dear, always there for me. I will miss you.

It’s only going to be six weeks, but I wanted to make sure I told you how I felt before saying goodbye. Honestly, the thought of living without you for six weeks is unbearable. I have perused my pantry and fridge, and felt no emotional tug with anything but you. There you sit in my crisper, so cool and versatile. Just looking at you, knowing you will not be in my life, brings a sadness I can’t explain. I’m not sure living without you can make me appreciate you any more than I do now because I am so grateful for all you have done for me, Lettuce.

I will miss you mostly as the foundation of my salads, something I eat every single day. Did I tell you how wonderful you are? I can dress you with a wide variety of flavors, nuts, seeds and crunch. I can take you anywhere – to a holiday gathering, a mourning friend or a picnic. You’re wonderful for my digestion, keeping me regular and healthy. You’re the perfect balance of crunch and water and you give me so many rich nutrients right from the ground.

Please know you will be the first I run to when I can chew again.
Forever in health and crunch,