Fear, Grief, Parenting, Self-awareness

Let’s face it, it’s hard to find many positives in our current shut-down society (if you live in zipper cloudCalifornia anyway). We’re starting week three of shelter in place, only going out for food or necessities, and for my family, homeschooling. These are trying times, indeed. By Friday, school is out and we need that break – from each other. Despite the inconveniences, and hardships for many who aren’t working right now, we can try to find the good, even if we don’t really feel like it (and I can tell you that no one in Target yesterday felt like it, not even a smile could be had). Here they are anyway:

1) We have time at home. By now we may not really want that time at home, but for lots of people, they’re almost never home. Either working, socializing, taking kids to various practices, there are many who are seldom at their own places, but this avoidance of the virus gives us the chance to just “be home.” That can be good if we take advantage of the opportunity to catch-up on the rest that our fast-paced society never affords, clean-out some overflowing closets or cabinets (you’ll just have to wait to donate that stuff), or read those magazines or books that have stacked up. If you’re like me with kids at home, this luxury isn’t always the case or easy to accomplish, but you have the chance now to carve out the time (maybe with the help of a spouse or partner), so do it. We’ll be back to the never-ending race before we know it.

2) Time for kids can play. With no school, except our homeschooling which does not encompass an entire day (unless it’s a day where arguing, pleading, and negotiating is at work), my kids have lots of time on their hands. We still try to limit screen time so they don’t end up coming out of this thing even more zombie-like, and it’s challenging to combat the “I’m booored!” complaint, so they often end up going outside. They have ridden bikes with the neighbor kids (far apart from each other), created a “secret hideout,” and have witnessed spring come to life outside their windows then went out to see it (in real time, people). As tough as it is to have the kids home all day (and trust me, I feel it), we aren’t rushing to the next practice or lesson, and I’m not scrambling to be in two places at once. And while they might be missing their sports right now, they just might appreciate them more when they go back to them (so maybe there won’t be so many complaints over practice? Fingers crossed on that one).

3) Finally, and so important, dogs are happy because their families are home. It might be a small token of gratitude, but I know that our two dogs are so glad that we are all here (all the time). They aren’t waiting around for us to get home, they are happy to accompany us when we go on walks, and they are content to nap next to us while we work (which is what theyCody do most of the time we’ve found). So, even if you don’t own a dog, know that those who do are happier and that’s good (as we know, cats could care less).

To wrap it all up, here are a few coping strategies to get through this time with no foreseen end date:

– Try to remember that this is all temporary. True, that is hard to do when we don’t know any real facts or have a window of time for a goal, but know that it will end and that we will go back to our lives, possibly altered a little, but we will go back.

– View being at home as “safe at home,” not “stuck at home.” I saw this on a Facebook post, and it really is a good way to shift yTPour view for the better. Feeling stuck gets me anxious, frustrated, and clawing at the cage to get out. Feeling safe gives relief and calm. I’m reminding myself of this often.

– Appreciate the simple things. It might sound trite, but try it, you’ll feel a smidgen better. For example, I got toilet paper at Target yesterday – an 18-pack no less. Score one for my family! We won’t be using the leaves I’ve been picking each day. (Kidding? Maybe, maybe not.) Also, here in good old California, we have electricity! Anyone who lived here in the fall knows that power outages for days on end are NO fun. Having lights, heat, hot water, that’s something to appreciate (for real).

Good luck, everyone, stay “safe at home.” This will all be a “remember when” moment some day, really!

Health & Diet, Self-improvement

A new year brings people thinking about eating healthy again, since they completely stopped doing it during the holidays. I’m one of those people too. For the past three years some friends and I have done a cleanse at the start of January, which means cutting out dinnereverything you ever loved about eating. It can be torturous and grueling at times, but it does the job. It clears out the junk I’ve been consuming and the habits that started forming as I reached for another dessert, another glass of wine, another handful of chips… Once the cleanse is over, I am mostly in the groove of eating well again.

That was last Sunday and so far, I’m still doing pretty well. I haven’t gone back to my favorites for fear of starting some avalanche of eating those banned foods I had cut out for the last three weeks. But an article I recently read got me thinking. It was entitled “How I Ditched Dieting for Good,” and it was about the fairly new idea of eating intuitively. What does that mean? I wondered the same. Essentially, it’s means eating what your body wants, when it wants it. So, stopping all that “can’t have that, mustn’t have those,” thinking and just eat what you want. What?! This sounds too good to be true, right?

According to this article, and some blog posts, the idea is to trust yourself and your body about what you want to eat, and basically, eat it! Here are some guiding principles:

-Forget diets and diet culture, for many they are a short-term solution to a problem. You can do them and lose weight, but then soon go back to gaining it again.

-Use a Hunger-Fullness scale to judge when you are truly hungry. That means asking yourself if you are really hungry in that moment (or maybe you just need water), as well, as stopping when are comfortably full. Not sort of full and you’ll be hungry twenty minutes from now, or overly full so you’re lying on the couch moaning, actually nicely full.

-Eat what you really want. Ask yourself what you want to eat, and throw away the ideas of “this food is bad and that one is absolutely terrible for me” (which is hard since we’ve been so programmed over the years). Supposedly, if we just let ourselves have what we are craving, we will have a little of it, be satisfied then naturally choose something healthier (true? who knows).

-Eat mindfully. That means paying attention to what you are eating, slowing down, and really enjoying it. That also includes eating what your body craves, not what your emotions do. Scarfing down a carton of ice cream after a bad day is not the idea.

-Be nice to your body, regardless of its size. Part of what keeps us in the cycle of dieting and eating only certain foods is to change our bodies. Eating intuitively means accepting our bodies, regardless of what they look like.

The author of the article initially had a really difficult time throwing away the ideas of dieting or eating only “healthy foods,” but as time cakewent on and she recognized the pre-programmed messages in her head, she let herself just eat what she wanted. She says that when she wanted peanut M&M’s she would have a few, not the whole bag, and be satisfied. She not only lost weight during this year-long experiment, but said the most significant change is that she doesn’t waste “mental energy agonizing over food or body size anymore.” She says she still stresses over potato chips sometimes, but she doesn’t guilt herself or “promise to make up for it.”

Too good to be true? I suppose it depends on your relationship with food. If you know you eat when you are stressed, depressed, angry, etc, then this probably isn’t the best for you because you can justify eating anything (unless you pay close attention and stop yourself, which is possible). I don’t think I’m ready to jump on this bandwagon yet, but it is definitely food for thought, especially on this snack-laden Super Bowl Sunday.

 

Self-awareness, Technology

My family was one among the many in California who’s power got cut this past week during the “PSPS” (Public Safety Power Shutdown). Electricity went off Tuesday night sometime while we were sleeping and came back on Friday afternoon. Two and a half days ocandlef darkness. We weren’t outraged at PG&E for taking safety measures to ensure that another massive fire didn’t break out and incinerate us all, but it was highly inconvenient. Here are my pros, cons, and observations from the last few days of what felt literally like being “powerless.”

Cons – These are pretty obvious, but I’ll state them anyway. No hot water (so no showers unless we were going to brave the morning cold shower which my husband did, twice), no refrigeration (I wouldn’t let anyone open the fridge or freezer, so pantry food got pretty tiresome), no cell service (for some reason, I think my neighborhood was the only one without that, thanks AT&T). I really felt stranded with no way to communicate with anyone or get any power updates. We live in a rural area and we have no old person with the battery-operated AM radio going (that I know of). There was no school during this outage so the kids and I were getting stir crazy, which led to arguments of varying degrees.

What was most frustrating, and somewhat disturbing, was our utter dependence on PG&E and electricity to function in our “normal” lives. An hour away, where my husband works, it was business as usual. They all had electricity (from a different power company), so there was no disruption to their lives. No so for our community. Most businesses couldn’t operate and those that did were forcepowerlined to be cash only (tough because of our plastic currency dependence). Gas pumps won’t work without power, and all of those generators need that other dependent resource (gas) to run. Of course, many would chalk this up to a “first world problem.” Boo-hoo, there was no power for almost three days, and maybe I agree there. But we live lives that rely on electricity and, even with numerous announcements from PG&E, entire communities felt the effects of this shutdown.

Pros – We did experience some unexpected perks to this shutdown. First, we were forced to be outside, in daylight. My kids still had their devices, but no wifi made them less appealing. While the sun was out, I made them be outside (me too). I sat at the table on the deck and drank tea while I read a book. I can’t say that I have done that recently. Then my son made a rickety skateboard ramp while my daughter created a wagon ride down the small hill of our driveway (and crashed a lot) and I collected kindling. When the sun started to set and my husband came home, we went into our darkened house and lit candles, I lit the stove stop (thankfully it’s gas), and we ate dinner in a candlelight glow. Then we settled in and watched a movie on my laptop. It’s a small screen, but a screen nevertheless. Friends of ours would get out the Uno deck and play with their kids. Instead of breaking up and going off to do our own individual things, we did things together, and it was nice!

And yet, I was very thankful when our power finally did come back on. Hot showers are literally one of the most modern wonders of our time. The router sprang back to life, my kids jumped on and played all those on-line games they couldn’t, and then after a while, I kicked them off. They went outside again, what a concept!

If anything, this experience does make us think about how affected we are by the modern convenience of electricity, how dependent we are on such a system, and how one company can control it all. Even with solar, if you’re connected to the grid (like we are), cutting the power means all that solar electricity generated is useless. Maybe this will force us all to think up better ways of living our power-run lives because if and when this happens again, this “blog post” might be a “carrier pigeon post.”

Relationships, Self-awareness

Continuing on with this blog series about the couple’s workshop that my husband and I attended, this timelarge-home we’ll examine what helps to make a relationship work (last time I covered what doesn’t). There are seemingly subtle things that two people can do to help build what the Gottmans’ call the “Sound Relationship House.” If you have a sound house, then you will have a positive relationship, even when conflict arises. Following are three parts that contribute to the foundation of that house. The Gottmans’ point out that these three levels make up the “friendship domain” of the relationship, but they are also the basis for “romance, passion, and good sex.” Well, okay then, let’s get to them!

Build a Love Map – a love map is essentially a map of how well you know your partner. You might say, “Well, yeah, I’ve known him for like twenty years, so I don’t need a map!” But in this case, a map is more of an understanding your partner’s past and present, your history together, his likes and dislikes, current challenges and dreams, etc. It’s not just knowing that he doesn’t like anchovies on his pizza (though that helps), but what are his current struggles, what are his goals, and what is your role in it all?

And the same goes for him. Does he know those things about you? During the workshop, we did an exercise in which we read cards with open-ended questions and took turns answering in term’s of how we thought our partner would answer. (The other person would either agree or disagree about the answer.) Some examples were: What is your partner’s biggest dream, as yet unachieved? Who is your partner’s least favorite relative? What was your partner’s favorite vacation?

The idea was to see how well we know our spouses. We might think we know exactly how they will answer every question, but sometimes we’re wrong! (I was a couple times.)

Another exercise we did, and one you can do every day, is to ask open-ended questions to each other. Examples would be: If you could re-do any decade of your life, which would you choose and why? What are your biggest worries about the future? If you could live in another country, which would you pick and why?
The idea here is to ask questions that require thought, beyond a yes/no answer, and it’s a way to keep in touch with your partner’s interests, ideas, and goals.

Share Fondness and Admiration – this one seems obvious, but how often do we actually acknowledge the positives about our spouses, and then actually tell them! You also might find that he has something nice to say back if you start with the first nicety. The idea is to build a positive outlook about the other so when certain trouble spots show up, like contempt, it doesn’t hurt so much or come up as often. During this exercise, we looked at list of sixty adjectives, anything from loving to funny to careful to gentle to sexy or kind, circled those we thought fit, then shared them with each other. It was nice to know that we still think of each other with certain positive characteristics. This is something anyone could do at home if you really wanted to, but also just telling each other positives (like “Thank you for helping around the house” or “You look great today”) will work towards building the foundation in your relationship.

Turn Towards – the last level is to turn towards your partner in everyday interactions. The Gottmans’ say that we all make “bids” to one another, which are gestures (either verbal or nonverbal) in which we are seeking attention or connection from our partner. These can be small, like calling your partner’s name or asking “Did you buy toilet paper yesterday?” to large, “I need help scheduling this upcoming busy couple caringweek” or “I need affection.”

There are three ways we can respond to these bids. The first is to Turn Towards, which means acknowledging your partner in a positive way. This can be in answer to the above questions or in small ways like helping him or her out, making a favorite meal, giving a spontaneous hug, or bringing out the garbage. The second way is to turn away, which means ignoring your partner completely (we realized in this workshop that giving no repsonse to a question is still turning away, that one of us does this, and it’s really annoying!). The last way is to turn against. Turning against means responding angrily like, “No, I didn’t buy toilet paper. Go buy it yourself!”

From research and observation, the Gottmans’ saw that newlyweds turned towards each other 86% of the time. Of those newlyweds, who got divorced six years later turned, they turned towards only 33% of the time.

The Gottmans’ say that each interaction in which we turn towards contributes to an Emotional Bank Account. Positive interactions are small deposits in this bank account. When we run into trouble (i.e. conflicts or fights), this emotional bank account of positive interactions helps us through. They say “small things often” can help our relationships overall.

To me, this idea applies not only to our spouses, but to our kids, family, and friends as well. What do you do to contribute to the Emotional Bank Accounts in your relationships?

Relationships, Self-awareness

Last month, I posted about a couple’s workshop that my husband and I attended. It was called “The Art and Science of Love,” created by John and Julie Gottman. They have studied and researched couples and marriages for years, and they have learned a lot!

To continue on with what I learned during the workshop, following are problem-causing behaviors and what the Gottmans’ call the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Apparently, they are so detrimental to a marriage that their namesake says it all. They are as follows: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, Stonewalling.

Criticism – we all know what that is; we’ve all given it and received it at some point! They are referring to statements like, “You’re so boring (lazy, annoying, stupid, etc),” and using statements that begin with “You never” or “You always.” Essentially, these criticisms imply there is something wrong with your partner’s character. They found that women often criticize more than men (don’t worry, men aren’t perfect either). Their guess is that women may feel ignored by men with they complain then these complaints escalate to criticism over time.couple fighting

Defensiveness – is any attempt to defend or protect oneself, as well as to ward off any perceived criticism. It can be seen in righteous indignation or the innocent victim stance, as well as counter-attacking or whining.

Contempt – is the worst of them, according to the Gottmans, and the most harmful to a marriage. To be contemptuous means a spouse will put the other down and feel superior. They label it as a position in which one thinks “I’m better/smarter/kinder/stronger/etc than you are.” They also find a certain mindset that can accompany contempt: a negative pattern or habit where the spouse scans the situation or environment for the other’s mistakes rather than what can be appreciated or what is positive (thus leading to criticism). By observing contempt, they found it to be the best predictor of divorce or break-up.

Stonewalling – is the last and the one they found that men do more than women. Essentially, it means withdrawing from the conversation/interaction, etc. The spouse would stay in the room, but not give any cues that he is listening. He might turn his body away, look down, or cross his arms. He is basically shutting the other person out. They point out a common pattern here with the woman criticizing while the man stonewalls.

Are you good friends with any of these horsemen? Being critical and defensive stands out to me as things that I probably do. The Gottmans liken criticism and contempt to fighting, being defensive as a form of flight, and stonewalling is like freezing up. I guess I’m willing to fight then run away!

Thankfully, they offer antidotes to these buggers, and I’ll post them next time. In the meantime, you can observe your own relationship (or others) and see if any horsemen are hanging around. An interesting experiment!

Self-awareness, Self-improvement

Last month, I convinced my husband to go to a couple’s workshop with me. “Couple’s workshop?” you may be thinking, “Why would you ever want to go to one of the those? We don’t need that kind of help.” Well, we’ve been married for fourteen years, and together for nineteen. We are used to each other and our own, personal, quirks. We also still like each other, thankfully, but after kids come, so does the lack of time spent together. When you have babies, forget about it, then, even as they get older, the carefree days of taking off to do something fun, just the two of you, ends. And distance and disconnection can grow instead, things we have both felt.

This idea all began because I heard a podcast with an interview of a psychologist named John Gottman. He and his research partner had been studying couples and divorce for years. They could observe a couple for an hour and predict with over 90% accuracy if that couple would get a divorce in the coming years. I thought that was incredible, and although I didn’t want to sign up and be observed, I looked more into Gottman and his methods. Turns out he has numerous books on the subject, co-authored with his wife, Julie Gottman, and they also have formed seminars and workshops about marriage. Again, I was interested in what they teach and what they have learned over the years by observing and researching couples. After digging around I discovered that there was a couple’s workshop, entitled, “The Art and Science of Love,” created by the Gottmans and it would be in the Bay Area, somewhat near us and fairly soon.

I approached my husband with the idea who looked at me with skepticism. “A couple’s workshop?” He wasn’t too excited about it, and thought that he and our relationship would be under a microscope. I honestly wasn’t too sure about what would happen, but I thought it couldn’t hurt, maybe we would feel better about ourselves as a couple, and if anything, I would have a topic for my monthly blog! I didn’t think our marriage was in any danger to begin with, but we also were pretty stuck in our ways of seeing each other briefly between work, kids’ practices, performances, sports, etc. We both felt a little disconnected. He agreed (because he’s a nice guy and a good husband) and we both waited, with some anxiety, for the weekend workshop.

We walked in on an early Saturday morning of an overcast day to a room full of many different couples: old, young, various ethnicities and backgrounds, a same-sex couple, but everyone had the same sense of interest and apprehension of what was to come. The room was set up with rows of chairs and a projector. It was more of a classroom setting than a group therapy session. I think we were both relieved! Over the next two days we were taught by two marriage/family therapists many things about what the Gottmans have learned over the years. What helps couples stay together (being good friends, and doing small things for each other often were some examples), what predicts divorce (more negative interactions than positive, feeling alone, unable to resolve conflict), and how to resolve those conflicts when they arise (or what to do when you can’t).

Overall, it was an interesting lesson in what makes marriages work, according to their research, and what causes them to slowly disintegrate, then ultimately end in divorce. If we all started out learning these things, the rate of divorce would surely be less! (If anything, because a person might decide not to marry a potential spouse in the first place.) I’ll be posting more of what I learned because I think it can be helpful in any close relationship. As for my husband and me, we still like each other, even after sixteen hours of examining our marriage!

So long ago!
Near the beginning, so long ago.
Fear, Self-awareness, Self-improvement, Technology

I recently bought the book, How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price. I felt like I was spending far too much time looking at and preoccupied with that screen in my pocket when I could be doing many more productive things (like writing for instance, or reading, or even, dare I say it, doing nothing!). The studies that Price present are astounding and frightening, like a New York Times analysis that calculated that Facebook users were spending collectively 39,757 years’ worth of attention on the site, every day; or that as of 2017, Americans were spending an average of more than four hours a day on their phones. We really are becoming a nation of phone zombies. My family is no different. I try to limit my kids’ screen time, but it’s probably far more than what is recommended.

What is really interesting in the book is how much the phone (looking at it, checking it, scrolling endlessly) is simply a habit. She describes Charles Duhigg’s definition of a habit (from his book, the Power of Habit, it’s a good one), which is “a choice that we addiction-phones2deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.” And how habits are loops made up of three parts: the cue (or trigger), the response, and the reward. In the case of the phone, it could be me bored while waiting in line somewhere (cue or trigger) so I check my phone (response), and find that I have email I could read (reward). And so it goes. First in situations of boredom, then in times of avoidance (say, when I don’t want to hear my kids complaining), and finally, just because. How many times have you looked at your phone simply because someone else did? Or checked your email or texts, thinking you heard that little ding, but it was just your imagination. (If you can believe it, the term for that is phantom ringing syndrome.)

I haven’t finished the book yet because it is broken up into two parts that take a while. The first is just information about how hooked we have all become, the second part is a 30-day plan to break up with your phone (I’m about halfway through) with tasks to do each day. She recommends small daily changes like turning off notifications so you’re not constantly checking every email when you hear the ding, or installing an app that tracks your usage so you truly know how much time you look at your phone, or even just pick it up.

It all accumulates into taking a complete vacation from your phone for twenty-four hours, meaning turning it off completely and putting it away for a full day and night. For some people, that’s seems impossible and anxiety-producing. For me, I’m not so sure. At first, I think,phone addiction “No problem,” but then I seem to think of reasons why I might need it on (my mom for instance, or some excuse I think is “important”). In the end, it’s just silly anxiety running the show and making me think that the world will end in those twenty-four hours simply because I (the all-important legend in my own mind) don’t have my phone on (in reality, I guess, it is the phone running my show). I will post a follow-up when I complete my thirty days of phone withdrawal and let you know how it went!

Grief, Self-awareness

My donkey died last month (no, really). He was nearly thirty, which is about their life span, and he went very quickly. In the morning, Marcus was eating his hay breakfast with this buddy Olivia, and our two goofy goats, then by late afternoon, he was laying down at an odd angle (which isn’t typical) and looked dead. But he was still barely breathing.

By the time the vet got to our house, Marcus was staring vacantly, and she realized that he was a goner. She went to her truck to get the medicine to put him to permanent sleep, but in that short time, he had died. He gave one last breath while I sat next him, and was gone. We buried him in the dark. Mercifully, it had stopped raining that day during our very wet winter, but the mud and muck remained and we sloshed through it to his grave site.

My family said their last words to our donkey as he lay lifeless in a five-foot hole (tractors are a tool to be grateful for). Both of my kids were upset. Both of our donkeys have been around since before my kids were born. Marcus was a constant presence, even if it was in a pasture braying for his breakfast. He was always around, following his lady, Olivia, in a humdrum kind of fashion. A.A. Milne wrote Eeyore well because both that donkey and Marcus shared many characteristics.

donkeys
Marcus in the front with his buddy, Olivia, in the back.

I was sad about it all, especially the speed at which he went down. Could I have done something more? I wondered. Were there warning signs that I didn’t notice? These were my thoughts that night and the next day.

Then, by the third day, I cried. And cried, and cried some more. I questioned why I was getting so upset over a donkey? I mean, I liked this donkey. He was a good donkey, as far as donkeys go, but I didn’t have a special bond with him like people do with their horses. I told my best friend the news who put it all into place. “You’ve had him since you moved there,” she said. “It’s like the end of something.” Aha! She was right. It was the end of the something – the end of the beginning.

We moved out to the country almost fourteen years ago. We got Marcus and Olivia soon after that as adoptees. They were there at “the beginning.” It was when we decided to move from Southern California after only living there for a couple years (we didn’t care for it there), when we decided that we wanted “some land” (and five acres was a lot to us, suburbanites), it was the beginning of a new phase of a newly married couple’s life.

It’s funny how time can pass so quickly once you live in a place you love, how having children accelerates time, and how you don’t notice that all of us are aging – human, dog, donkey, it’s all going by so fast, you don’t take note. With Marcus suddenly dying, and me realizing that he had reached his actual lifespan,  I had to accept that it was officially “the end of the beginning,” and I cracked.

marcus1
Marcus featured on our Christmas card.

Like the death of any pet or person, the end of one’s career, the milestone of a graduation, they are all endings to beginnings. “The end of an era,” my dad always says. It certainly was with Marcus. But with the end of things comes the paradox of a new beginning.

So, though I do mourn the death of my donkey and the beginning he represented, I know this means the beginning of something new. Possibly a place with only one donkey to bray at us in the morning, or maybe welcoming a new donkey  into the family.

R.I.P. Marcus – we will miss you.

Health & Diet, Self-improvement

This January I embarked on the Arbonne 30-Days to Healthy Living Cleanse. I did this last year too and wrote about it (the Power and Pain of the 30-Day Cleanse). However, this year I was not alone. Somehow, I managed to talk others into doing it too (besides my husband who probably felt that he had little choice). Four other couples and two additional women did it with us, and oh, what fun it was!

green smoothieFor those who don’t know about this cleanse, the following foods are cut out for thirty days: wheat, sugar, dairy, peanuts, corn, soy, caffeine (except for green tea), canola oil (which is in many foods and is inflammatory), all vinegar except apple cider, pork, beef (except grass-fed, once a week), starchy foods (like potatoes), and sugary fruits (bananas, pineapple, etc). Why, you might ask, would anyone voluntarily cut out ALL of these foods? And, what does that leave a person to eat?!  I did this cleanse again because last year it helped with my migraines, my husband did it to lose weight (and he’s a nice, supportive guy in that way), it’s also a good way to get rid of the guilt-ridden pounds and general yuckiness felt after overindulging during the holiday season (which we both did). Those who joined us did it for a variety of reasons: for some it was to lose weight, others wanted to get rid of the guilt too, some wanted to get a good start on the year by eating right, and one other person had mysterious pain issues and wanted to see if a diet change would help alleviate some of the pain.

The cleanse did help with all of these issues. Everyone lost weight. My migraines improved. All of us felt “good” in general (either from not eating so crappy anymore or for paying penance from the month before, we don’t know), and the person who had the pain issue said her body felt better (though it didn’t all go away). If that’s the case, why don’t we eat like this ALL of the time, then? And here is where the list of drawbacks begins.

Convenience: it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to eat out or grab something quick during this cleanse. No restaurant or quick eatery has entirely cleanse-compliant menu options (Chipotle is the one exception, and even then, there is one or two items on the menu to have). Meal-planning is essential, which was good in some ways because it forced me to plan, but for those of us who aren’t very creative or enjoy figuring out meals, it was hard. Which leads me to the next one:

Lack of variety: there are only so many ways to cook a chicken, especially when most marinades, vinegars, or any type of sauce is forbidden. I don’t eat meat, so it didn’t bother me, but others who did the cleanse groaned, “Chicken…again?” Grass-fed beef is an option, a very expensive one. Most chicken sausages have a pork casing. And for me, the vegetarian, beans – yet again – got pretty old. After it was over, though, we definitely appreciated some simple foods that we couldn’t have – regular old potatoes, for instance, or tofu in my case.hungry with donut

Missing out: many of us had certain foods or beverages that we realized were hard to let go of. For most it was the beloved coffee, but after the three to five days of withdrawal, many were okay (some weren’t). My nightly cookie with tea was dearly missed, or a Friday night beer (a glass of wine for others). How much of this was habit or actually hard to give up? We’re not sure.

The length of the cleanse got to me in the end. I was flying through it for the first two and a half weeks, finding that it wasn’t so hard because I had given up a lot of these foods anyway (mostly wheat, dairy, and coffee), but after fifteen days, I hit the wall – hard. I was tired of eating the same old things. I wanted chocolate. I wanted my old salad dressing back. I wanted to stop thinking about what to eat for the next week. I asked my husband why we ever decided to do this stupid cleanse (and he said, “I don’t know, why did you decide that we would do this stupid cleanse?”).

But we got through it, just like we did the first time. And, like before, we felt better – all of us did. Now, nearly a month has passed, and some of us are slowly going back to our old foods, others have dived in headfirst (with G.I. payback), and some have given up a few foods entirely. Last night, I asked most of the fellow cleansers if they would do it again, and many said yes. Despite the pain, the inconvenience, and the difficulty of following such a restrictive diet, we would do it again. (Well, I might change it to twenty days instead!). I think that shows how many of us knew we were making the right choices, filling our bodies with real food, and not feeling guilty for eating things that we knew satiated just our brains, not our stomachs. There must be something to that. I’ll let you know next year. Or would you care to join us? 😉

Kids, Self-awareness

Two days before Christmas last month I went to a Walmart store in an unfamiliar neighborhood in hopes of finding Queen’s Greatest Hits for my son (“We Will Rock You” had become his anthem). According to Walmart’s website, it was in stock at this particular store in an area that I did not know. In the past few years, my shopping has mostly been done on-line – no lines, no cranky people, but also no interesting experiences.shopping-carts

This particular Walmart was chaos contained in 50,000 square feet. The parking lot itself was a challenge with people zooming all over, all trying to get the best spot; there was a truck sitting in one of the main lanes not moving, possibly not running, while everyone tried to get around or figure out how to back up. I was driving our big truck because I had to get hay for our animals. I already felt out of place maneuvering this huge vehicle and trying to squeeze myself into a spot at the very end of the lot where I could hopefully get back out again without damaging other cars.

“Get in and get out,” I told myself walking into the store.  I sucked in breath as I saw the madness of Walmart near Christmas. The register lines were endless with people of every nationality looking frustrated and stressed, the displays at the front had been damaged from so many people going by, and the chorus of children crying drowned out the bad Christmas music over the speakers.

“Music section, music section,” I directed myself through the throngs of assorted disgruntled shoppers. I had no idea where that would be. My luck usually dictates that it would somewhere completely across the store and I was not disappointed: it was in the very back corner. I finally reached it only to find the CDs in absolutely no recognizable order; if one happened to be in the right alphabetical spot, it was only by chance. And, as I guessed, Queen was nowhere to be found. In fact, there was were nothing in the Q section that started with such a letter. I halfheartedly looked through the surrounding area and the closest I found to classic rock was Poison.

An overweight and bored employee attempting to put CDs in their rightful places asked me if I needed help.”Have you seen any Queen around here?” I asked doubtfully. He laughed as though I asked him if there was a pot of gold at the end of aisle six. I told him that Walmart’s website said that it was in-stock here. This made him laugh harder. He then went on to tell me about an outside website where I could buy an entire MP3 album for $1.50 instead of playing $10 at iTunes. I told him thanks, noted that there was no employee loyalty lurking here, then went to get a gallon of milk so I could get out of this place.

Throughout my adventure in the store the loudspeaker kept announcing that “Giovanni has lost his mom” and would she please come to the front to find him. At first, I was concerned for both parties, being a mom myself I would be distraught if I lost my kid. After the fifth announcement for poor old Giovanni, I started to think that maybe his mom didn’t want to find him. Finding the milk, I politely said “excuse me” to another shopper who was staring into the case. I opened it, got my milk, then held it open for her as I assumed she was getting some too. She looked at me, rolled her eyes, and kept going down the aisle. “OOOkay,” I said to myself, resolving to leave this place and not linger another moment.

I walked up to the registers to find that the chaos had settled somewhat. I found a line that looked promising and watched as a mother and a teenage daughter argued over going back to get something. The girl’s attitude suggested that she was not doing it, but the mother’s bigger attitude prevailed, and the girl went to get whatever missing item they forgot. I noticed that they were next in line but the woman did not look like she was willing to let anyone past, even if that meant she held up the line for the next half hour. “Next line,” I said to myself. I went over one register and found a person trying to buy something with no price and attempting to argue with the cashier over the real price of the item in broken English with no success. Another woman in back of me kept sighing very loudly and saying things to herself about the scene.

This went on for another five minutes. I noticed that Giovanni had finally been reunited with his mom, who had four other children with her and looked like she didn’t care if she had ever found him again. Finally, another cashier opened up and I dashed for it only to find another woman trying to get there faster. As usual, I heeded to the other shopper, not finding it worth the effort to argue over who was there first. To my surprise, she told me that I got there first and to go ahead. “Really? Thanks!” I said looking over at the line where the teenager had still not returned and the people behind the mother getting thoroughly pissed off while the mother looked completely unperturbed, if anything she was seeking a challenger to fight.

The cashier was an older African American woman who was very friendly and helpful, and didn’t seem to mind the Christmas craziness. I paid for my milk and got out of there as fast as I could. The line with the mother and absent teenage girl was starting to get very heated, eyes were starting to bulge and chests heave. “Thank the lord!” I said to myself, dashing to the truck only to find three carts piled up behind it. I got them lined up and moved them to the overflowing cart return, not seeing an employee in sight who would be taking them any time soon.

Getting in my truck, without the CD that I originally sought, I watched as the public transit whizz by, heard horns honking in the distance, and just wanted to leave this store and this place and never come back. I wanted to go home to our very quiet and nature laden neighborhood, where I don’t see another house next to mine, where three cars constitutes a traffic jam, and where animals are more prevalent than people. And I did, after squeezing through the parking lot where the same truck from earlier had not moved; I drove forty-five minutes north east of there, and breathed in the country air, and was glad for it.

Visiting this Walmart in this an unfamiliar neighborhood was good for me, however, because it truly made me appreciate what I have and where I live. I unloaded the hay and was glad for the sweat and effort that it took. I realized that it would be very hard for me to live in an area anywhere near a Walmart, even though I have lived in suburban and somewhat urban areas in the past. We worked hard to get here and it suits me; it would be difficult to live any other place.

It also made me realize that living on five acres in the country is my attempt to hide from reality. In this case, I was trying to hid from Christmas insanity, and it showed me why I should shop ahead and on-line where I deal with no people. But what are the countrysideconsequences of that? Besides getting to maintain my sanity, am I depriving my children and myself of seeing other ways of life? Will my kids be unable to handle a chaotic situation surrounded by unfamiliar people one day because I avoid these places?

In truth, I barely take them to any retail store beyond the grocery store because I don’t want to hear about all the things they want. We often avoid retail entirely so they can’t see and don’t know what they don’t have.  However, I do think that my way of life “in the country” is a shield from other realities; and I have found that I am not the only one. Most of the people near us live out here for a reason: for some it is their retirement and they want to “get away from it all;” for others, it is wanting their kids to grow up in a place where they can get dirty, and some have just lived here their entire lives and are content with that way of life.  Either way, I’ll take my isolation, be glad that I am not Giovanni or his mom, and next year, shop ahead on-line, at least near Christmas time!