The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed.
Peace . . .
“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!”
The 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.
Through 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,
Peace . . .
I am a diet junkie. Any new nutrition fad fascinates me. The latest power food? Tell me! If you walked into my house, you would find diet cookbooks in every room — low-cal, low-carb, paleo, flat-belly, DASH, vegetarian, vegan — have I missed any? You might think a svelte, muscular woman would walk out to greet you. Let’s skip the Match.com body-type description, and just say . . . I’m not.
My mother fought with food all her life. She often said she could live on a good loaf of crusty bread with butter. After the loss of her son and quitting smoking, her eating was out of control. She was the first person I knew to have a gastric bypass. Many things have changed since then, but I think I can safely say that surgery is still not an easy way out, by any means. I watched her recover, and although she was so pleased at the weight loss, she was often tired or ill. There were certain foods that never agreed with her again.
Soon after the bypass, she developed a lactose intolerance. One day they diagnosed her with diabetes. When my father died, suffering from a broken heart, she malnourished herself.
She would look at pictures of momentous life events and remark not over the day itself, but, “Look how thin I was there.” Or, “Oh my, I was heavy.” She tried hard to be a good role model for me, and I think she succeeded. But children notice things like that. I think I joined her on my first diet when I was twelve or thirteen.
After a stroke that left her too weak to walk on her own and unable to keep most food down, her weight plummeted. She joked that this was one way to lose weight. And she was right. When she took her last breath, she was tiny and frail.
My mother was a vibrant woman in life. I spent most of my life living in her shadow. Until the shadow was gone.
And all the things I had watched her do, and say, and be, became relevant. Because at some point I stepped into the light and realized I belonged there. People began to say, “You are JUST like your mother.” And I was so proud, because she was everything I wanted to be. But I was also so afraid, because of all the things I watched her fight. *One day, I said to myself,
“It is so wonderful to be just like Mom. But I am not her. I will live my own life, face my own demons, and clear my own hurdles.”
I think it was at that moment I veered off her path and started to live my life. In the year that followed, I lost 45 pounds. Life and I began a beautiful new relationship. I got a tattoo of a dragonfly, symbolizing the change from nymph to agile predator. No longer content to hide unnoticed, I was spreading my wings and meeting life head-on.
However, habits die hard, and I am still fascinated by this food thing. I’ve found an ebb and flow between the control it has over me and the control I allow it to have. Therein lies the peace. Balance is not a thing — it is a constant shifting of yin and yang.
What I’ve learned is that there are many ways to feed yourself. You can feed the body, feed the mind, or feed the emotions. All three need to consume their own diet. You can substitute one for another, but to do so is not healthy and will never produce good results. It is also true that sometimes you need to let the mind, body, or emotions go without before you can truly feel the pain of hunger and know what is needed to satiate . . .
A good cry . . .
A good book . . .
or a good meal . . .
While one cannot substitute for the other, I have seen all three go quite well together, if necessary.
Peace . . .
Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance through Mindful Eating by Donald Altman
Available on Amazon.com
Yesterday included my annual pilgrimage to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, otherwise known as the Minnesota State Fair. For most, this is a venture into the exploits of gluttony; corn dogs, pork chops on sticks, buckets of chocolate chip cookies, and mini donuts washed down with all the milk you can drink for a buck. For me, it is a metaphysical event; laced with spirits from the past and traditions not yet established. Yes . . . and a temporary lapse into the exploits of gluttony.
I can sense my mother is within me when I start to hum the theme song from State Fair. It was our song on the drive from Fridley to the fairgrounds every year.
Mom actually called in sick for me at school, just so we could go together when the crowds were lower. We arrived before any attractions opened, and sometimes before the kitchens. After eating breakfast at the Pancake House, which no longer exists, we would head straight to the Creative Arts Building. If we timed it right, we would be among the first to enter. There she strategically surveyed each and every piece of handiwork on display, critiquing the judges as much as the crafters.
This year I passed up the Creative Arts Building. Experience has taught me that it no longer holds magic without the magician by my side. But I smiled at the women waiting patiently outside the unopened doors early yesterday.
I ate breakfast sausage on a stick, followed by a double latte with sugar-free vanilla. Really? Sugar free? Was that a feeble attempt or force of habit? I dipped the breakfast sausage corn dog in real, full-strength, high fructose-laden maple syrup. Nutrition is a balancing act, after all.
I only walked another block before the tears came. What set them off, I can no longer remember. But they came, and I searched for a direction to face in order to hide my sudden display of grief. This is an expected reaction, a tradition since my mother’s death; merciless in its timing, yet cleansing upon its arrival.
My kids visited the fair with my mother and I a couple times. Those years Mom always went twice, just so she could spend more time seeing the things she wanted to see. When you have children in tow, there is a different perspective of the place. Sailing down the big slide is something I hadn’t done since I was a child, and probably not again until I have grandchildren. One year we saw piglets being born. The kids and I had our own song we sang on the way to the fair.
Bubba thought about coming with me. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for going alone, but I prefer it. My favorite parts are the talks and demonstrations. Sometimes I can hardly make it from one to the next, weaving through the crowd from the Agriculture Building to the Progress Center in ten minutes flat. If someone is with me, I won’t put them through that.
I learned a lot about pollinators and rain gardens yesterday. I gained resources and education on things like systemic pesticides and edible landscaping. I logged over 20,000 steps, necessitating a half hour break in my car with my shoes off and feet out the window. I texted and Tweeted, took selfies and Instagrammed. I’m just not one to let being by myself hinder my fun.
One of the things Mom used to do before we left the fair every year was to have a beer. She would say that nothing tasted better than an ice cold beer on a hot day at the fair. And so I stopped in the Beer Garden before heading out. I sat there, by all outside appearances alone, and drank to memories, to tradition, to sore feet, and to next year.
I do believe that nothing has ever tasted better.
Peace . . .
It is called the heart of the home. The kitchen is where, no matter how big or small, everyone gathers at the same time. The dinner table of my childhood was in the kitchen, nestled tightly between the basement and back doors, and the pocket-door to the dining room. The traffic pattern rivaled Grand Central Station, yet five of us sat comfortably, served from the white gas range which stood against the wall.
The floor that was there before it was upgraded to linoleum was speckled, as were the counters. The incandescent light was small, and gave off a golden glow amplified by the cheery yellow walls. Frilly curtains ruffled from the window over the sink.
The kitchen is where Dad got me to eat canned peas by telling me they taste better when squished with the back of my fork, and fresh tomatoes by sprinkling them with sugar. He put a scoop of ice cream on cantaloupe, and he dolloped ketchup on his beef stew. Most of his meals he ate with a slice of bread slathered with butter and strawberry jam. I can still summon his spirit with a slice of that goodness.
The refrigerator has changed remarkably since I was a girl. Not only has it gotten bigger with more compartments and easier to maintain, it contains a plethora of condiments, seasons, sauces and flavors that never existed in my childhood fridge. We had ketchup, mustard, Miracle Whip, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Hershey’s syrup, and possibly a leftover jar of pickles or olives from the last holiday dinner. There was no salsa, chili paste, Szechwan sauce, hot peppers, tabouli, pesto, hummus or even minced garlic for that matter. Back then there was meat and there were vegetables. If you were lucky, there was Jell-O for dessert.
Cooking and eating were not the only reasons we spent time in the kitchen. My mother and grandmother ironed things like sheets, handkerchiefs and underwear in there, discussing the best practice for dampening the wrinkles, or starching the work shirts. A child-sized iron and board sat in the corner, for pretending. It really plugged in and warmed a little to the touch.
Haircuts were given to my reluctant teen brothers, who would rather have donned long sweeping styles like that of the Beatles. Draped in towels or old sheets, the boys argued, whined and complained while the buzzers and Dad’s special hair-cutting scissors removed lengths of hair to the kitchen floor.
We shared news in the kitchen. My brother leaving for the Marines, another getting engaged and later having children were all disclosed at the dinner table. Accounts from the day and headlines from the paper were discussed over cups of milk or plates of spaghetti.
The kitchen was a classroom. This is where my mother learned to cook from my father, who learned what he knew from his mother. The grandmother I never knew was one heck of a cook, whose lemon meringue pies cannot be matched to this day, I am told.
My mother, ever the student, one time subscribed to a cooking class encyclopedia. She pledged to take it one class at a time until she was a master at the art of French cooking. She cooked for hours upon hours, and did finally serve a delectable coq au vin in our formal dining room by candlelight, but not after scouring the city for chicken feet, or beaks or some such part. We laughed all through dinner about how she had finally given up and used chicken wings. It may have been the only recipe she ever used from that expensive volume of books.
Of course, I learned my love of food, both eating and preparing, in that kitchen. There were early mornings watching Dad prepare the Thanksgiving turkey. Late nights helping Mom with Christmas cookies. Favorite casseroles cut from the newspaper, salads created from the side of a pasta box. The heart of the home. The home of my heart.
After my mother’s death, the things from my childhood kitchen were laid out, dollars and cents scribbled on tags hurriedly attached on the handles. I will leave this full story for another time, but I was told, “These are just things. They can’t bring her back.” The words were meant to comfort me; to dry the tears rolling down my face. At the end of the day, I did end up bringing home the things that meant the most to me. And do you know what? It does bring her back. Just a little bit.
The photos in this post are some of the things I grew up with in my mother’s kitchen and are now a part of my daily life.
Peace . . .
From Shirley’s Kitchen:
Coat chicken with flour mixture. Brown in oil lightly. Remove chicken, melt butter, add wine and mushrooms; sauté over low heat until the mushrooms release their moisture. Pour over chicken in baking dish.
This may be done the day before baking and stored in the refrigerator.
Bake uncovered 350˚ for 45 – 60 minutes.
Have you heard of straw bale gardening? Are you considering giving it a try? This has been my great agricultural experiment of the summer! I will definitely try it again next year even though it hasn’t been all I had hoped. It all started with a couple of pictures I ran across on the the internet.
They looked something like this:
My curiosity was piqued. Then at the 2012 Great Minnesota Get-Together, otherwise known as the State Fair, I notice that Joel Karsten was scheduled for a demonstration. Joel is the author of Straw Bale Gardens. Positioned just inside the shelter of the agricultural building, his talk included an interesting Power Point and a mini-bale visual aid. I was hooked. Within weeks I was shopping for bales. Getting your straw bales in the fall, I am told, gives you the best chance of finding what you need. Having no previous desire to purchase a bale of straw left me with no sense of where to start. So I threw a couple blankets in the back of my car, found the nearest garden supply, and procured as many as would fit it my Dodge Neon (four). They were low-grade bales, but they seemed better than none, which is how many I was afraid of ending up with.
One month later, at an upscale gardening center, I bought a couple of the quality bales for which I had been hoping. This time I lined the back of my car with plastic, making cleanup much easier!
The six bales of straw were covered from the elements and stored for the planting while we waited for spring.
And waited . . .
The seedlings were patient while we waited some more.
Yet, back in August, Joel had assured the audience that we could start conditioning the straw bales for planting weeks before the gardeners were considering nestling their seeds into the earth. So I positioned the hay bales and started the conditioning process.
For ten days the bales receive a rigid schedule of fertilizer and water. On the twelfth day the straw bales should be ready to plant.
Except on the sixth day, I realized I was not using water soluble fertilizer. There was no turning back, so I let the bales rest for a couple days, found the correct fertilizer and started over on day one. Again.
On May 20th, the telltale mushrooms appeared in one of the quality straw bales I had purchased from the upscale gardening center. Mushrooms indicate the material is breaking down and becoming rich growing matter.
By June 11th, tomatoes growing in this area were the strongest plants in my little experimental garden. In other areas, mushrooms and mold spores were occasionally showing up, yet this first area continued to show more plant growth. Something went right in this straw bale, but what?
Everything else in the garden looked weak. The transplants all looked yellow and weak. The seeds were slow to germinate. I watered with a fertilizer thinking the plants were just “hungry.” Not much helped.
Click images to enlarge.
Then one day I went to work and left the soaker hose running. It ran for eight hours straight. Joel’s statement, “You really can’t overwater straw bale gardens” kept running through my head. Indeed, nothing had been sitting in puddles of water, as they would have in a traditional garden.
Two days later my pole bean put out a runner twice it’s height. I wondered if the plants had just been thirsty.
Today the marigolds that I bought on clearance and were near dead when I got them home, have perked up and are blooming; good evidence that the bales will support life!
I decided to run dirt over the top of the two weakest bales, the preferred method for planting seeds. I will be planting a late summer crop of leaf lettuces in one, and kale in the other. I left the peppers alone, still wanting to see if the leaves will green up by the end of the growing season.
Between the odd weather we’ve had this year, and this being my first straw bale garden ever, I really have nothing to compare. There will at least be a few tomatoes, provided mother nature lets them ripen.
The advantages of this type of garden are clear. There were almost no weeds other than the few straw seeds that germinated. I have had no pests . . . including dogs. In addition, the gardens are raised and easy on my back, which isn’t getting any younger!
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
–Thomas A. Edison
In other words, there is always next year . . .
Peace . . . or in this case . . .
Peas . . .
“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”
In my case, white beans with brown rice, tomatoes, and salsa with a half sandwich of lettuce, smoked turkey and avocado on whole wheat. I am fortunate to work close enough that I can come home at lunch, kick off my shoes for a few minutes and let the dogs out.