Author Archives: Jean

About Jean

Trying to make sense of it all and . . . for the most part . . . doing it.

Why Do I Eat When I’m Alone?

“Why do I eat when I’m alone?”

That’s what I typed into Google on a summer afternoon in 2016. The first few results mentioned binge eating. From there I followed the White Rabbit through a myriad of tunnels to eventually find the Queen of Hearts herself.

“Curiouser and Curiouser!”

Queen_of_Hearts_bookThe Queen was my disordered eating, born from a lifetime of diets and restrictions. She was stern, harsh and unreasonable. She lured me into each of her plans with promises of health, vitality, youth and virtue.

Vegan. Paleo. Weight Watchers. Plant-Based. Vegetarian. Atkins. Dash. Wheat Belly. Whole 30. No Sugar. Raw. 400-Calorie Fix. The Zone. SparkPeople. Noom. My Fitness Pal. 8-Hour. South Beach. Change One. Low Calorie. The Calorie Myth. 30-Day Vegan Challenge. Eat This, Not That. eDiets. NutriSystems. Forks Over Knives. Low Carb. Slim Fast. Thrive. VB6.  Eat to Live. And even a hybrid — Low-Carb Vegan . . . look it up.

It was that afternoon in my moment of clarity, I had watched myself sneak food the minute Bubba walked out of the house. I mean, he doesn’t judge me. We have plenty of food for both of us. Yet I was covering the evidence and hiding it like I had stolen the Queen’s tarts. And I typed, “Why do I eat when I’m alone?”

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.

Alice_par_John_Tenniel_04Through the tunnels and turns, I learned the difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating. I learned that I needed to quit dieting. Cold. Turkey. Just like that. And so I did. Like an alcoholic setting the bottle down and making a personal pact with my soul, I promised myself I’d never diet again. Just listing those diets above was like smelling the acrid liquid in front of my lips. I wanted to revisit them. Read about and remember them. Employ just one healthy tip. Take one tiny sip.

I rid my shelves of all my diet books. There were tens of them. I deleted my diet apps and meal trackers. There were a dozen. I stopped following countless diet pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

“Who are YOU?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I-I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

So, “Why do I eat when I’m alone?”

Over the years, the Queen of Hearts assigned a morality to the simple act of eating. There was good food and bad food. There were good times to eat and bad times to eat. Good and bad places and ways to eat. Snacking . . . from the fridge . . . standing up . . . without counting it . . . was a very baaaaad thing to do. In this harsh world of Wonderland, it was indeed equivalent to stealing the Queen’s tarts.

Every morning I’d wake up hopeful and ready to start my diet with a renewed sense of willpower. And every night when I laid my head to sleep, I’d hear her accusing words.

“Off with her head!”

Typically, I’m not a fan of those stories that end with the protagonist waking from her dream only to find out the whole story was a metaphor for life. But today I quite like the idea that my eyes are wide open. That I’m not lulled into the false dream that I need someone else to dictate what I should eat and when. I’m no longer thinking about food every minute of every day. What can I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? How much can I eat? Did I really eat that?

There are more important things to think about, like, what can I do? For what am I grateful? Who can I help? Who am I today?

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Peace . . .

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The View From Here

I’m a firm believer that walking can be a metaphor for anything in life. A journey of a thousand miles . . . the path less traveled . . . it’s not the destination, it’s the journey . . . the straight and narrow path . . . two steps forward, one back . . . am I right, or am I right?

I’ve been on a bit of a journey lately, and frankly, I was afraid to take you along. I thought you might jinx it. I felt fragile. Like writing about it might break it and I’d have to go back to the start. Besides, the introvert in me likes to travel alone, and you might talk too much. You might disturb my inner thoughts or suggest a different trail.

Well, I decided it might be good for me, and maybe even you, if I tell you where I’m at, what the terrain looks like, how far I’ve come, and maybe where I think I’m headed.

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The trail is called Intuitive Eating, and there’s a book by the same name. There are many books by other names, and social media pages you can find by Googling Body Acceptance, Self Compassion, Body Love, BoPo, and Anti-Diet. It’s a movement that encompasses bodies of every size, age, color and ability. It’s about inner peace and love, and you know I’m all over that.

I’m not a stranger to beginning a journey. I began anew every morning and by nightfall felt lost. I cried alone in the dark. At daybreak I’d set out again. It’s a cruel circle. I’m talking about dieting. I was a self-proclaimed, out-of-the-closet diet junkie. I’ve described it as trying to stand still in the surf. It’s impossible.

Wading into the water, there will come tides and surges. There is no controlling it, only adjusting to it. And sometimes you need to let the waves carry you in or out a little bit before you find footing again.

Dieting isn’t that. Dieting is willing yourself to stand still. Most of us just end up face-planted in the sand wondering what happened. Then we wake up and try the same thing the next morning, maybe from a different spot on the beach, exclaiming over the roar of the surf that, “Today we will stand!” And expect a different result.

I’m afraid I’m mixing up my metaphors, but let’s just imagine this trail meandered somewhere along the ocean and opened up on a beach. And that’s just it! I’m not sure exactly where this trail is going to go next. But I do know it’s already taken me to some awesome overlooks and some really rough terrain.

unnamed-1So if you can stand the poetic metaphors, I invite you to lace up your walking shoes and join me. If you just want to sit at home and read my posts from the couch, that’s okay too. I’m not a trail expert by any means, but I am an expert on the steps I’ve taken. There are historical centers and information booths I’ll point out along the way, but if you ask me, all I can tell you about is my own experience and send pictures of the view from here.

Peace . . .


Real Paper Notes

Here I am at my coffee shop, sipping on a non-fat latte with an extra shot, or moosed, as our local chain likes to call it.

The damn dog woke me up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning. Lucky for him, he raced out to relieve both his bowel and bladder. It’s the mornings he goes out to bark at the birds that I could just as easily cut him loose. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people who can effortlessly go back to sleep, and so like I said . . . here I am.

There was a time when I used this blog as therapy. I must have worked through several of my issues, because I just don’t seem to need it like I used to. This morning brought back memories of rising early,sneaking off for coffee and writing before Bubba wakes. And so it seemed only natural I should log in and click “Add Post” while the sun slides up in the sky.

A friend sent a note a week ago. Not electronically. She made it with real paper, with a hand-drawn fish on the front. She wrote a few words, not many. “How’s it going?” “What’s new?” but the card said so much more. It made me think about her. She lives on the coast, and fish are ever-present on her mind. Big fish. Like whales. Drawing a fish on a real paper card is so like something she would randomly do, eagerly dropping the envelope into a mailbox on the way to the rocky shore to look for shells, or jellyfish, or whatever the sea rolls in.

I can’t say for sure, but I imagine her finding the little oval cards with their matching envelopes at a humble second-hand shop or old-fashioned drug store. The price was right, and she knew she’d find some way to make someone’s day brighter; the thought of their smile involuntarily igniting one of her own. She has this crooked little grin when there’s something she’s thinking but not saying.

Perhaps she stared out over the waves when she decided what to do with the notecards, or maybe she was pulling weeds in the garden. But I know she spent some time contemplating. I know she thought about each person who would be on the other end while she drew. She undoubtedly laughed at her illustration of a fish swimming through the weeds. And she sent it anyway. Because that’s who she is.

And in this age of email and text messages, what kind of person does this random act of drawing a fish on a plain pink card and sending it in a matching envelope through the mail? It reminded me of how much I miss her unapologetically real and honest soul. If we asked her, she’d laugh and say she is quite unremarkable. And perhaps she’s right. Maybe we want to believe it takes a certain someone to make time for this simple deed. Maybe we’re afraid of learning that if we slow down for just a minute, we, too, hold the potential for honesty, love, following our dreams, and sending real paper notes through the mail.

This little card reminded me just a bit of who I want to be. When was the last time an email did that?

Peace . . .

Check out my friend’s Instagram Account to know her better:

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I’m Talking Colonoscopy Here

At 16 we get our drivers license, at 18 we receive the right to vote. At 21 they allow us to legally drink. After that it goes downhill. At 26 you’re kicked off your parents insurance and at 50, well, they prod you to get prodded. I’m talking colonoscopy, here. Yes, I did turn fifty some time ago, and my doctor’s been lecturing me ever since. She gave me a pamphlet and presumably sold my number to the gastroenterologist. After they realized I wasn’t picking up, they stopped calling. I held out for five years.

It’s not that I’m afraid of the doctor or the embarrassment or even pain. I delivered four babies vaginally without meds for Christ’s sake. It’s the principle. They aren’t looking for polyps. They’re mining my intestines for gold.

The colonoscopy is the poster child for American healthcare run amok. It’s the most expensive test most of us are prescribed. Like other hospital procedures, a colonoscopy in other developed countries is a fraction of the cost we pay in the US. Here, the procedure accounts for the lion’s share of most gastrointestinal physicians’ income. Using less invasive, less painful, safer procedures would also be less expensive, but who wants that?

Sure other tests may have to be done more often, but at the cost of my prep kit (or less), some of them can be done at home and with no disruption to work or life for those of us who are at low risk.

I was told it was no big deal. Well, it was a big deal, albeit temporary. And the argument is that cancer is a bigger, potentially more permanent deal, right? And because we all know someone who has suffered and lost to cancer, we let them win that argument.

Here’s the thing. You knew I was going to tell you the thing, right? I have health insurance. It makes it easy to go to the clinic every year whether I need it or not, and order up smears and cultures, and scans and scopes whenever my doctor deems it necessary. I have a primary physician and even a phone app that will tell me the results of every test I’ve had in the last ten years. And while they go to the effort to make it all seem free it indeed is not. Healthcare is costly, and is not getting any cheaper or accessible for millions of good, hard-working Americans. If, by some miracle, they can afford the colonoscopy, it won’t matter because they can’t afford cancer treatment.

Once I booked my appointment, I had to put in for my day off of work. Not only do I have the luxury of taking a day off of work, I know someone else who is also able and willing to take a day off of work to drive me to and from the surgery center.

Four days prior to the procedure I went on a low-fiber diet. Not everyone can indulge in changing their diet for four days on a whim. They access their food from a food shelf once a month, or clean out their cupboards at the close of every week. Heck, I’ve been there — and not so many years ago. They can’t afford the $18 for the prep kit, or the two quarts of electrolyte beverage.

No one told me I should have considered taking the day before the appointment off of work, too. I was disoriented from fasting, couldn’t think or make decisions. I was ill from overdosing on mega-laxatives. When Bubba apologized for eating dinner in front of me, I told him I couldn’t eat if I tried.

However, by the time we arrived at the medical center, the illness of the power-lax had worn off and I was starving. A woman in scrubs took me to a tiny room and instructed me to change into a gown. When she came back she slapped a pressure cuff on me, inserted an IV needle in the back of my hand, and said goodbye before closing the door. That was the last person I saw for an hour and a half.

I sat in that room after not eating any solid food for 36 hours, while the staff talked audibly outside my door about who was going to lunch, and where. When finally someone came to get me, I was just about at the end of my rope. I made her wait while I slooooowly coiled my phone cord and placed it in my bag. I sauntered down the hall at my own pace, watching her surprise at how far behind her I’d fallen. You’re on MY clock now, bitch.

Apparently I get mean when I’m hungry.

No less than four people made conversation out of how to pronounce my last name. Yeah, that never gets old. The nurses complained about how cold it was and that the music had frozen. What kind of music is appropriate for a colonoscopy anyway? Dirty Deeds? Send the Pain Below?

When the doctor asked me where I’d been hiding for five years, I was thinking, “You know what? The faster we do this, the faster I can eat.” But you don’t argue with a guy who’s about to put a 6-foot tube up your backside. Mama did teach me not to say anything if I can’t say something nice, so after an awkward moment of silence he replied, “Okay . . . !”

Thanks to plenty of sedation and pain meds, the memory of the next twenty minutes is dim. I do remember the doctor asking for more Versed and the anesthesiologist telling me if I let go of her she can get me more pain medication. I remember them showing me the monitor, as if it could distract me like an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Okay, okay . . I’m done going over the details of my colonoscopy like Gramma at the Thanksgiving table. In the end (pun intended), I got a clean bill of health, a free ticket to come back in 10 years, pictures — yes, pictures! — and a blue tote bag out of the deal.

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Hey, be happy I didn’t post pictures of my colon.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that colon screening is unnecessary. I’m saying our health system needs a good thorough check-up. If they really wanted more people to get screened so that less people would die, they would offer more convenient and less disruptive and less expensive options more readily. Healthcare would be for everyone. But then they wouldn’t have all that fun money, would they?

We are aphids blindly sucking nectar off the tender plant while they farm our backsides for the sweet honeydew.

Also, that metaphor is kind of gross.

Peace . . .

Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer Screening: What Are the Options?

The $2.7 Trillion Medical Bill
Colonoscopies Explain Why U.S. Leads the World in Health Expenditures

How colonoscopies illustrate America’s cost problem

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Queen for a Day

When my kids were little, it was very important for me to be the best mom. Not the best of all the other moms, but the best mom I could be. I read parenting books. We made pilgrimages to the Red Balloon Bookstore and the Children’s Museum. I made chore charts, and schedules, and potty charts. I made meal plans, and after-school snacks. We went camping and sledding and hiking. And we sang in the car on the way to them all. This was my full-time, less-than-minumum-wage job and I was going to be the best. I was a crazy lunatic Supermom.

And every Mother’s Day, with the guilt of motherhood itself on my shoulders, my grandest wish was to be left alone. Spending that day with the family was like spending Christmas at the office. Without cookies.

Tradition dictated that we go to church and stop at the greenhouse on the way home. It was torturous. The kids were hungry, loud, and plucking buds off all the plants. I saw all the pretty things we couldn’t afford. Someone always left in tears — usually me. One year we had the car in reverse before we noticed an employee holding our second-youngest by the hand outside on the sidewalk. I felt like the worst mom in the world. Then we’d go home where I’d cook, clean, wipe butts and open cards that said I was Queen for a Day.

Eventually the kids grew up, got jobs and made their own schedules. They went camping with friends, sang their own songs, and cooked their own meals. Parenting grown-ups requires a whole different set of skills, like holding back tears of joy or unsolicited advice. Mostly it’s just easier. My daily tasks are self-centered. The days are quieter. The only butt I wipe is my own. TMI?

Mother’s Days are different, too. I’m sitting with my feet up, a lazy dog on either side. My tummy is full — a disgusting mix of processed fried carbs accompanied by a hot cup of coffee — a breakfast Bubba retrieved at my request. The sun glows in a warm spring sky. The hammock and a good book beckon. Some of the “kids” will be here later and we’ll slap something on the grill and crack open a cold one. It’s the Mother’s Day I always dreamed of.

The gifts are better too. We won’t be picking them out together in chaos at a greenhouse. No, once the kids are grown the gifts are simpler and more profound.

The other day I text-congratulated one of my children on her last day of college. Her response was, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” It’s a reply most parents receive at some point with a hug and a thank you card. But there was more packed into that text than ever could have been said by Hallmark.

The tale is hers to tell, and I won’t divulge it here. There were some rocky years there, with many lessons learned by all involved. Some leave me angry like a mama bear, some are painful to recall. But I believed in her. I went out on a limb knowing it was about as far as I was willing or able to go. I stuck by her when other people who loved her had given up most if not all hope.

So this Mother’s Day I have something to show for the financial, emotional, and social sacrifices I’ve given through the years. Being a mother is knowing how much you have to give, how much each of them needs, and when to hold back. It’s about letting them live their life, make their own mistakes, and find their own solutions. It’s about knowing what they’re made of, and letting them prove it to you.

I have immeasurable pride in all my kids, but there’s a bond that happens when you fight in the trenches next to someone; when you save their life and then watch them make something of it. It’s a gift that you just can’t buy in a store and wrap up in a bow.

And for that, I’ll be Queen for a Day. In my hammock. In my frickin’ pajamas if I so choose. Now where did I put my scepter?

Peace . . .

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Parental Form

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When I was a kid, no one used backpacks. We just carried our books in our arms. So it wasn’t unusual to lose stuff on the way to or from school, or for parental forms to come home with wet dog-eared corners. On one such day, I handed a piece of white mimeographed paper to my mom, the top of the kitchen chair reaching just under my chin as I stood looking up at her hopefully.

She read the form and looked down at me. While shaking her head from side to side, she said, “Girl Scouts. You don’t want to do this, do you?”

That was my first experience with extracurricular activities.

The next was orchestra. Like I said, we didn’t have backpacks, so if you didn’t want your parents to find something, you couldn’t crumple it up and hide it in the bottom. My mom discovered the notice as I was doing my homework at the dining room table. Her face turned dreamy as she said, “Oh, Orchestra! Wouldn’t you like to play the cello?”

Indeed, I had never given a passing thought to the cello. Suddenly, I was getting the vibe that this would make my mother happy, and so I nodded yes.

The cello made my life a living hell. Firstly, unlike the Girl Scout form that I handed to her the minute I arrived through the door, this one had been in my math book for a while and, as such, was the last in my class to be turned in. The orchestra director was a little disappointed at the late submission, but when my mother assured him I could already read music, he accepted my form.

The school was able to find one last cello, presumably from the thrift store, riddled with scratches and graffiti from previous orchestra drop-outs. I wish I had a nickel for every kid who asked me in horror, “What did you do to your cello?”

My social life needed all the help it could get. Sitting on the bus next to a 4-foot instrument didn’t do me any favors. I envied the girls with the cute little flute cases, their hair impeccably braided. Not only did I suffer the slings and arrows of mean-hearted boys, and the sidewise glances from flute-cased girls, no room remained for my closest defenders to sit next to me. Alone in my seat, arm draped grudgingly around the awkward luggage, I intently engaged the changing landscape out the frosted window.

Practice was torture. I knew my parents were out in the living room laughing. I could see their stifled grins when they stopped in to my bedroom to tell me how good I sounded. Even as a kid I recognized a snow job. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star never screeched so bad. Forced to form new unwanted callouses, my fingers burned.

Rehearsals were embarrassing.  Anyone knows that the better one likes a thing, the easier it is to learn. Mom was right — I did know how to read music. But reading it and applying it to an instrument takes devotion. I was more determined to find a way out of it than to learn it. It didn’t take long for me to realize I couldn’t blend in. The director had a keen ear for the kids who played the wrong notes. Lucky for him, I learned how to fake it.

After our first concert, Mom said, “You sounded so great!” I replied, “You couldn’t hear me.” “Yes I could,” she encouraged. Another snow job.

“No, you couldn’t,” I explained, “because I wasn’t playing.” As it turns out, it was easier for me to learn how to move my bow left and right at the same time as everyone else than it was to play the thing. I’d hold my bow just above the strings, so as not to make that awful screeching sound. And being able to read music, I knew when to turn the page, further corroborating my own personal performance. I may have failed at the cello, but my acting performance was remarkable.

The next week she asked if there was something I’d rather play than the cello. I wanted to be in band. I wanted a clarinet, or maybe a flute. “Really?” Mom asked in disbelief. I nodded emphatically and my mother went to the school office and asked for the appropriate paperwork.

She dropped me off early the next morning with the completed form and signed check in hand. The band door was open, the teacher rustling through papers with his back to me. I handed him the envelope buoyantly. I still remember my excitement.

But it was too late. The other kids were a year ahead of me. There was no way he’d let me join unless I was able to take private lessons and catch up to the rest of the band. Even then I held out hope. I had taken private music lessons before. It was hard work, but I thought I could do it.

Unfortunately, it just never came to fruition. Whether my parents were too busy, or I found other interests, or they distracted me by signing me up for bowling and golf and more organ lessons, it just never happened.

Some memories make your heart warm. Some make it weep. We live them and then learn from them and then go on to choose what today will be. We do our best as parents and hope the love we spent was enough to balance the times we broke their hearts. Fortunately for me, the abundance of love I received more than made up for any misdirected parental form.

Peace . . .
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speechless

I imagined starting off this post with all the reasons excuses I haven’t been writing. My computer broke. I’ve been crocheting. I have more. If you’re interested, just let me know. But I highly suspect you aren’t.

The truth is, I’m speechless. At a time when I feel like I should most find my voice, I’m embarrassingly mute. It’s not that I’m disconnected; quite the opposite. I’ve become a news junkie. I go to bed at night wearing wireless earbuds and wake up in the morning wondering what I missed after I fell asleep with them in. It’s that bad.

I’ve always maintained that I can’t change what goes on in the vast world, and so I’m just going to pay attention to those things that I can change. Someone’s day. My outlook. A corner of the garden. That worked for me because I believed, and still do, that the majority of people in the world are good. I believed things would all work out in the end because good conquers evil most of the time.

So now I’m a news junkie and I can’t claim blissful ignorance anymore. I understand that the good majority is poor, and that money buys the world. And what does one do when her voice is small and peaceful in a world that is screaming injustice at the top of its lungs?

I became speechless.

It’s not that I have nothing to say. It’s just that there are others saying it so well and so loud with all the best words. (That’s funny, right?) I can’t compete. Nor should I. Just because I have opinions on the news doesn’t mean I ought to write about it. That’s like somebody who admires and critiques art feeling guilty for not painting.

In the words of one of my favorite millenials, I need to do me. And if my voice is small and peaceful and speaks of wholeness, balance and love, there’s room for it. And maybe someone will hear it and smile. Because if all I do today is make someone smile, that’s enough.

I’ll never rid the world of injustice, prevail over all evil, or move millions to march. But I am enough. For that one person who just needed a hug or a smile or to be seen, I am enough.

So maybe you’ll be hearing more of me again. But you may need to take out your earbuds and listen closely over the roar of the protesters.

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So proud of the women my daughters have become. They love deeply. They think critically. And on this day we became not just mother and daughters, but women standing as one with millions across the globe against injustice, fear, hatred, and bullshit.

Peace . . .


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