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Why I Overcompensate. Even Though the Size of My Hands Is Irrelevant. Join Me.

I wanted my first post-election blurb to be something meaningful that finds the light amidst the fear. Like Stephen Colbert (and this is where the similarities in our comedic ability end because that man is a GENIUS), I am struggling to give voice to what needs to be done and said without invoking even more fear. As Bernie said, “Indulging fear generates hate.” That might be what got us here to begin with.

Marianne Williamson has urged for years that instead of lamenting organized hate, we need to organize love. I believe that is true on a community as well as on a personal level. Here’s what I’m planning to do.

My white friends have long known that it makes me MENTAL when Asian people act like jerks. They look at me bemused while I rail that it’s completely unfair that some people who look like me run around, doing inconsiderate things and generally acting like doofuses. I complain that these actions have consequences for me, despite the fact I was born and raised in this country (and generally only act like a doofus behind closed doors, at least on purpose). They assure me that people definitely don’t think this, and that my fears are unfounded. Here’s what I know now, for sure. They don’t think that, but many people do.

I am very American, and as Jon Stewart mentioned during the campaign, white people don’t get a monopoly on loving their country. It’s my country too and I would choose it over the country of my biological parents ANY DAY.

While I was talking to a good friend (who happens to be a white woman), she divulged in a fit of frustration (and through gritted teeth), “I am SO embarrassed that there were white women who voted for Trump. Now people who don’t know me think I might be an a$$hole.” The dark humor of it is that she and I now share this common experience. So I told her what I have been doing ever since I was in high school.

I overcompensate. I do my best to be the funniest, most considerate, most conscientious, most emotionally intelligent person that looks like me you’ve ever known. Because there will always be a population that just doesn’t get it until they know me. I learned this when I was chosen for Girls’ State in high school by the American Legion Auxiliary.  I remember being taken aback by the emotional conviction in the voice of the sweet 70-something woman whose husband likely served in the Vietnam war. She grasped my hand in both of hers and said “You’re SO American.” What took my breath away was not that she said it; it was that she was amazed it was coming out of her mouth but felt compelled to say it. Thinking about that experience still gives me hope today. If someone with a history like that can find it in her heart to see me by the color of my heart and not my skin, then damn it, there’s got to be hope. It’s not fair that I have to try harder, but if I’m going to be the emotional grown up in the room, then I should. And if you still hate me, well then that’s all on you, sweetie.

This is not the situation I wanted. But it’s an opportunity (Yes, it’s in the midst of crisis. I’m talking about hope, I’m not blind). Want to know what someone’s made of? Throw them in the middle of a crappy situation and see what happens. SEE SOMEONE GOING LOW? Take Michelle Obama’s advice. GO HIGH. GO VERY HIGH.

So here’s what I pledge. I pledge to keep an eye out for people behaving badly. And I pledge not only to out them (we can only address the darkness by bringing it to the light), but I will go high. Very high.

MLK said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that. When the arc of this decision catches up with all of us, I’m going to make damn sure my nose is clean.

I invite you to join me.

It’s About to Get Real in Here…

This one’s a super short post, and it’s about ramping up to the onslaught of holidays that are coming up (and that I know we’re all beginning to plan for). It’s the trifecta. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas/Hannukah.

I use a guiding principle when my mind becomes cluttered with all sorts of demands, small and large. The problem with being a mom is that the small demands are not necessarily insignificant. And the large demands do not need to be taken care of expeditiously. Also, there’s that whole limited-hours-in-a-day thing. Some days it’s easier to maintain equanimity and clarity, and some days, well, it’s a sh*t show. On either day, when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, I ask myself, “What is most important?”

The beauty of that question is that there can only be one most important thing. Somehow that question runs your to do list through the algorithm of what is most important bubbles up: 1) what needs to be taken care of immediately (small or large), 2) if there’s an approach change that has to be made 3) allows you to single task and 4) gives the lovely sense that even if you didn’t get everything done today,  you handled all the most important things you could. Which is all anyone reasonable can ask for.

The G Spot

Ahh, the most wonderful time of the year. When kids go back to school and we start a different routine. The routine that comes with the lure of a regular schedule. And the drain of it.

I forget this every year, but it needs to be said. My kids’ sleep gets really disrupted by the start of school. Each night, we work on getting them to bed at the regular time, especially since now we know that they have a full day of school to contend with the next day (and with core curriculum it’s not like they get a chance to breathe as they go from one thing to the next on the schedule).

But here’s the thing. They can’t always fall asleep. Even when they’re in bed. And their teeth are brushed. And we’ve had stories. And they have warm pajamas. If you were ever a desperate, sleep deprived mom who couldn’t get her infant to sleep, you may have read Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Marc Weissbluth. It’s a good book, but it didn’t work for my first. My second, she was a dream sleeper. She was sleeping way before I figured out that my older had sensory processing issues (caused by B.S. food!) that were making it impossible for his little nervous system to calm the f*ck down.

What I learned from Weissbluth is that the magic sleep time is not exactly the same every night. You’ve got to watch for cues. And if you miss the cues, your kid gets overtired, and then they can’t fall asleep. And the cues can come anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes from the regular designated sleep time. Here’s what that translates to for me. It’s a frikkin’ sleep G-spot! And some nights you know it’s there, but you just can’t get relief. You keep going back to the well, and it’s dry. A little to the left, a little faster, a little slower…nope. Just not gonna happen. Those nights, just ride it out until you pass out. And hope you have enough energy to get through the next day. Before you try again.

After one or two weeks of Stage 1, you’re probably horrified about how rampant the soy and corn is in your diet. It’s estimated that Americans consume about fifty percent of their calories from additives made out of corn and soy. And then there’s sugar, some from corn syrup (made from GM corn, you guessed it) and some made out of sugar beets (also GM).

You know those kids who are allergic to corn and soy? They have a lucky horseshoe up their rear end because they never touch the stuff. Unfortunately, a lot of parents just replace those calories with sugar, not knowing that a lot of the sugar is made from the same corn and wonder why sometimes their kids totally freak out. Not that the sugar helps, but the source of the sugar is a concern too.

Just taking out the processed food might have caused a noticeable decrease in bloat. For women, this is more noticeable in the mid-section, and clothes (especially jeans) will fit more easily. For me, this is the difference between before riding the dragon and after riding the dragon.

Speaking of the mid-section, this is the next step in cleaning out your diet. Clean out the plumbing. To do that, you’ll want to re-populate the flora and fauna in your gut. That means you need to eat good fiber, pro-biotics, and pre-biotics. This is a good time to change out your grains to organic.

Probiotics

The most inexpensive source of probiotics is straight yogurt. WHOLE milk yogurt, raw if you can get it. The lower the percentage is of fat in the yogurt, the more it’s been processed, even if it’s organic. Greek yogurt is touted as being wonderful, and it is, if it’s real greek yogurt. I don’t know a single Greek person who would deign to put Fage in her mouth. We get our yogurt from Sophia’s in Belmont. It’s made from sheep milk (pasture fed in the summer and while not certified organic, damn close if not better) and the plain has a tang that’s out of this world. I’m not a huge fan of additional flavors – you can get the flavors by adding the actual fruit in the morning. If you have plain greek yogurt, you can eat it in the morning with RAW honey. It’s delicious and sating. (Honey decreases inflammation in the body; don’t worry about the sugar content, since a lot of the yogurt going into your system will actually digest the sugar for you.)

Prebiotics

Prebiotic foods are covered by anything fermented. Lacto-Fermented is best, since it means it wasn’t bathed in vinegar made from….GM corn. (It’s ubiquitous, sigh). We get our kimchi from our Vermont farm share.

Fiber

Go get yourself some Psyllium Husk. Whole Foods carries it; it tastes like nothing, but drink it quickly because it solidifies and then it’s really difficult to get down. Psyllium husk has the benefit of being a prebiotic and an excellent source of fiber, so it’s a two in one.

Another wonderful source of fiber and prebiotics is a bar made by Two Moms In the Raw. There are a bunch of different flavors to choose from, and it makes you very regular. It has the added benefit of being easy to bring around with you in the car or to work. My girlfriends and I call it “Two Moms on the Can.”

Water

When you have to clean out the plumbing, you need a lot of water. The standard formula is 2/3 your body weight in ounces. Add 12 ounces for every half hour you work out to account for water loss due to sweat.

While we’re on the topic of water, try to stay away from water bottled in plastic, especially if you live somewhere hot. Ever open a plastic water bottle and smell the plastic? What do you think that’s doing to your water? Treat yourself to a glass bottle, and fill up at the cooler and from your filtered water at home. It’s greener, less expensive, and better for your health.

A bunch of friends have been asking me how to go about making these massive changes in their diet. It’s a mammoth task, and it’s not one that can be undertaken without some sort of plan. Because the truth is, if you think about this stuff too much, you can go insane. Then analysis paralysis ensues, and you need to take a nap before you even start.

With the vantage point of being a few years into this, I have put some thought into how to execute all the modifications in the most consolidated way possible. Please note that I did not use the word easy, because making these changes is SO not easy, and I respect you enough to know that you have already intuited that.

So, enter the concept of doing things in stages. The earlier the stage, the less complicated. Each successive stage involves more planning or work to execute.

Here are the main guidelines for Stage 1:

  • You start reading labels on every single thing you eat.
  • You eat nothing with dye in it. That means anything that has a color and a number next to it. If it says “lake” that’s just the powder form of the dye. It’s made as a by-product from processing gasoline, and it’s banned in China. (Yeah, China. And they’re not exactly world leaders on human rights and caring for their people.)
  • You remove all corn that is not organic. You’ll find it in a TON of food that comes out of a box. If it’s not specified as organic, it’s genetically modified. 88 percent of corn in the US is genetically modified, and it’s MUCH cheaper than organic corn, so it’s a safe bet that the processed food company is not decreasing their profit margin to be nice. That includes corn oil.
  • You remove all soy that is not organic. 93 percent of soy in the US is genetically modified. Also much cheaper than organic soy. Also, any time vegetable oil is referenced but not specifically called out, it is usually corn, soy or canola. Which brings me to the next one.
  • Remove canola oil. Canola oil is actually a created name to represent Canada’s genetically modified rapeseed oil. (“Can” for Canada; “ola” for oil) Rapeseed goes rancid quite quickly and so most canola oil is processed with a lot of chemicals including hexanes so that when the oil goes bad, you can’t tell. 90 percent of canola oil is genetically modified (Even the organic stuff is now called canola because that’s the only way people recognize it. You can imagine the PR nightmare of trying to sell an oil with the word rape in it.)
  • If something has sugar in it, but it’s not specified as cane sugar, it’s likely sugar made from genetically modified sugar beets, which comprise 95% of the sugar beets grown in the US.
  • Just removing these four things will probably put about 80% (possibly more) of the processed food you consume out of play. Which might make you eat more food that doesn’t come out of a cardboard box. Anything left that you need to come out of a box, look for the label that says “non-GMO”.
  • Replace the stuff you used to eat out of a box (especially cereal) with organic granola and raw nuts.
  • God help me that I would have to say this, but NO FAST FOOD. It’s basically composed of GMO ingredients and MSG.

If you lose weight or start to feel better, please comment on this post so we can share our experiences as a community!

The Heart Speaks

It’s another book report. This week I report on “The Heart Speaks”, by a cardiologist named Mimi Guarneri.

It’s rare that I read a book by an M.D. that talks about health outside of the very siloed constructs of conventional medicine. Honestly, I find most conventional practitioners have an excellent handle on what could be wrong with you, and many answers about what drugs might “solve” your problem, but very little to say about how you got there in the first place. Their understanding of “bad diet” versus “good diet” is almost laughable to me because half of them are eating processed foods and acting in ways that they themselves are likely to be pretty ill in the foreseeable future. It’s hard to take advice from someone who doesn’t really seem to have a clue.

Reading this very personal and beautifully honest account by Dr. Guarneri was such a breath of fresh air. I have no doubt that she has a more than proficient handle on all of the miracles of modern medicine, but she hasn’t traded one type of knowledge for another, and she still values the ability of a physician to heal through the act of listening.

She tells the story of her professional path, called to serve others but sidetracked by the system, one which likes “17.9 minute visits”. I myself had a 17 minute visit the other day, which didn’t really fix much, except to give me a physical therapy recommendation. The physical therapy helped some, but in the end it was the orthopedic massage therapist that my neighbor recommended who made me functional again. I paid $300 for tests that didn’t solve anything, which I would have gladly given to Steve Cunningham instead.

Guarneri explains how her patients, after heart attacks and bypass surgeries, were seeking out alternative modes of healing. She came to the realization that her approach might be lacking something. “… later that day, as I stood at my local car dealership, I watched a technician bent over the hood of a patron’s car, explaining his transmission problem and the various options he could try. And it dawned on me that he was spending more time with this guy’s car than I had spent with my stent patient’s heart.”

I think any good book affirms what you know to be true in your being and then goes the next step of calling you out on your shit. Given that I chose to name my blog “Genghis Mom”, you can imagine that the “Echoes of Anger” chapter was not going to tell me I was doing a good job in this department. “There are recent studies suggesting that hostility, in particular, may be more predictive of coronary diseas than more traditional factors such as smoking and high cholesterol.” Damn it!

The book is an artfully crafted anthology of patient cases that call us all to do what I often call for regarding our food; to clean it up. Our emotional diets could use a rehaul as well. My emotional drink of choice is rabid anger of the Melissa McCarthy variety in The Heat. When laced with humor, it’s a steam valve. When not, it’s toxic.

I read the entire book in less than three days. It’s a quick read, and it’s moving. The last chapter is entitled Compassionate Medicine. I can definitely toast to that.

The End is Nigh!

It’s been more than a month since my last post.  You know why? Because last month was May.

This is why Mother’s Day is in May. It’s a pep rally before you run through the most insane month of the school year. It’s like carb loading before the big marathon. And you’d better eat a lot of spaghetti.

May is when all the big projects are due for school. Won’t be doing them in June because – and it’s the truth – the brains start a slow decline once we know it’s the last month of school. The whole month, and I mean every single day, felt like I was running a relay race. Except I was the only one running, so when I finished one length of the race, I got to pass the baton after running full sprint, to myself. Congratu-frikkin-lations, mom.

It’s inappropriate to complain because it’s all great stuff. Graduations celebrating years of work coming to fruition, exhibits and parties honoring the accomplishments of the year, awards and trophies abound. But it’s like drinking water through a fire hose. Water’s great! But I’m full, and I don’t have time to pee. Also, the water kinda hurts.

It’s now June, and the end of the school year cometh. The time is fulfilled. The end is at hand. Time with the kids now becomes prime time, which means I need to get myself in order for the next season. July is when I fully acknowledge how much I appreciate the teacher I just bought that year-end gift, because she didn’t get a break, and she had my kids plus at least 20 others. I’m pretty sure she’s peeing all by herself during the whole month of July though. Lucky, lucky woman.

The Road to Character by David Brooks

It’s kind of a strange first book to take on, but it’s the one I finished on Sunday, so here goes.

Here are my general impressions:

He starts with a great introduction about why he wrote this book. A while ago, he had this experience with a strange juxtaposition of the modern day “Wow I rock!” mentality compared to an old broadcast from the end of World War II which exhibited an example of humility extraordinary to us in that it was the social norm.

This led him to the decision that he would write a series of biographical essays. He chose some incredible people to profile: Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, George Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, George Eliot, Augustine, and Samuel Johnson. Heavy hitters.

Each essay is one person after another struggling with his or her own internal demons. And after each example he seems to keep asking the reader, “This is a good person. He feels tortured. Why don’t you feel tortured? If you were a good person, you would feel more tortured. Crawl over the fucking shards of broken glass, dammit!”

Brooks refers to anything developing or aggrandizing the outer self as “Adam I” and anything related to inner development is categorized in “Adam II”. It’s all very biblical. In fact, that shows up over and over again in the book, almost like he’s selling the whole Christianity bit a little too hard. Considering that he’s a Jewish guy who started out working for William F. Buckley, that’s not all that surprising. He probably spent so long earning his stripes punching that Christianity card it’s become habit to wrap everything up in a big ol’ Jesus bow.

He’s obviously a talented writer. Some of the passages are breathtaking in their combination of truthfulness, eloquence and nuance. And for these passages, the book is worthwhile. For example: “The parental relationship is supposed to be built upon unconditional love – gifts that cannot be bought and cannot be earned. It sits outside the logic of meritocracy and is the closest humans come to grace. ” When I read this I thought, “Wow. Square on the head.”

He loses me in the very next sentence with this: “But in these cases the pressure to succeed in the Adam I world has infected a relationship that should be operating by different logic, the moral logic of Adam II.” I agree that the relationship has been infected. People have become focused largely on doing, as opposed to suffusing their lives with the act of being. But if your guide to being is framed by morality instead of spirituality, it’s like a fallen souffle. The ingredients are there, but there’s no air. Sometimes the nothingness is the very thing that holds it together. You need both spirituality and morality. If his point is that we have decided it’s only about spirituality at the cost of not teaching morality, he might have one. But if his point is that we used to have souffles all the time because people knew a lot more about the ingredients, I don’t think that’s tenable. I mean, people sucked just as much then, arguably more so.

I think the intention of the book is beautiful and it was a worthy cause. Still, it left me wanting. I found the interpretations in his biographical essays too simplistic, not reflective enough of the complexity in these people’s lives, not to mention societal compounding factors.

In my opinion, my friend Melissa has it better summarized (she is not a published author, nor has she ever been on the New York Times Bestseller list): “Everyone’s a dummy sometimes. And sometimes that dummy is you.” She alternates this with “I hate people.”

I think she might be right. Perhaps all that’s required is the awareness that at any moment, you could be the dummy. That should be enough to keep anyone in line, spiritually and morally.

Announcing…The Book Report

One of my best friends and I have a running joke. She is responsible for informing me on the most notable news stories of the day and I am responsible for abstracting the book I most recently read that is pertinent to our conversation. In that spirit, I decided I would start blogging on the books I am reading, which for the most part are centered around food and diet, but I also, when I am feeling industrious, will read books that are reminiscent of something that would be assigned reading as part of a good liberal arts education. This allows me to feel like I am doing my part to be smart, without making a formal commitment to being smart.

This is not a regular book review, because:

  1. I don’t take myself too seriously, as I do not have a degree in literature and so have no structure with which to make judgments about whether someone’s style is reminiscent of Chaucer. If you are looking for a real review of a piece of literature, this is not it. If you are trying to figure out if you might enjoy something after putting your kids to bed and feeling virtuous that day, this might or might not help you.
  2. I will curse when I damn well feel like it.
  3. Instead of limiting myself to the standard 1000 words that is required from a fourth grade book report, I will write about the book until I am done. And often that’s not 1000 words. Because that’s a lot of words.
  4. I am eliciting feedback – if you have read the book and agree or disagree with me – speak up in the comments section!