Breaking the Rubber Band – Equestrienne

Me and my new friend Kojack

In 2011, I decided to do one thing per month that scares, challenges, and pushes me past my self-imposed limits. You can read about it here and here and here. And I did this . . . for three months. Then life happened. I stopped with the experiment, I just got busy and lazy, and a couple of years later, I stopped trying to push myself entirely. I convinced myself over time that I should work on acceptance instead of change, that I should not be Type A but Zen instead, that I was too obsessed with results and my own rigid ideals of success. I needed to learn how to accept myself as I was, a person with limitations. But at the same time, I also convinced myself that was a failure. I’ve spent my whole life ensuring my perfectionism. I have years of report cards covered in As to prove it. I’ve failed in many ways over the past several years, and it has silenced me, drawn me into my shadow, and also dammed my creativity. But my path has been the right one. Letting go of my expectations was the right trajectory for my growth; I had much inner work to do over the past few years. I’ve faced tragedies, I’ve faced the darkness and mystery of my inner incubation, “I’ve been one acquainted with the night,” as Robert Frost might say, and it’s made me stronger.

I’m back. I have a new relationship with anxiety, with myself, and with the realities of life. I’m more willing to allow discomfort and uncertainty to exist. I’m getting old, and I’m tired of feeling sentenced to smallness. So I decided to try the experiment again. 2019 will be a year of trying new things, of sitting alongside my fears rather than fighting and feeding them, of ignoring their voices but expecting that they will be present, of living and not just dreaming of a someday, a magical day when everything falls into place perfectly. There is no someday; life starts now. I have twelve months to push myself and to create new neuropathways. And I don’t know where I’ll wind up in a year. I hope beyond my wildest dreams. But maybe not as far as I’d like. Maybe right back where I started. Maybe I’ll fail and stop playing in another three months. But hopefully, if so, I’ll start it up again. Maybe the experiment will take me three years, or thirty. It doesn’t matter. I want to keep trying. I can find both ends of the spectrum—give it all I’ve got, and then let go of the results, or for you yogis out there, abhyasa and vairagya.

Before 2019 officially starts, I did face one small fear on Christmas Eve. I really couldn’t wait until 2019 to get started, so I jumped. It wasn’t something that actively terrified me, but rather something unsettled for the past thirty years that I never got around to doing. Let’s take a trip back to 1987, where I, as a mere girl of eleven, took my first horseback ride. My dad had a friend with horses, and so my brother and I went along with him to the small nearby town of Penrose where the man’s teenage daughter, my brother, and I saddled up their three horses and began to ride down the dirt road. I don’t remember many details. I doubt that this teenage girl gave me much instruction on handling a horse, and I was meek and small anyway. I was also a brat. Not far into the ride, I got scared and claimed that the horse was walking too close to the trees and trying to scrape me off. I got off the horse and walked back to the house, content to play with the family’s litter of kittens and convincing myself that I preferred cute, fluffy animals to large, powerful ones.

Fast forward two years to a traumatizing two weeks I spent at Girl Scout Camp. The homesickness I endured made me an emotional, anxiety-ridden mess. When it was my group’s turn to go horseback riding, I refused to go. I stayed behind and sulked while my group rode horses. The lady working at the stables showed me compassion and encouraged me to pet the horse Tweed, whom I would have been riding. I brushed him and totally fell for him—Tweed was the sweetest horse and had the kindest eyes. She even convinced me to climb up on the saddle, and she proclaimed, “You’re a natural.” With that, my heart swelled with regret that I hadn’t been out there riding Tweed with all the other kids. I longed to ride him but missed my opportunity as my group came back soon after. I had just needed a little more time and encouragement (the story of my life). I spent the rest of camp being jealous of the girls in the horse classes. After camp ended, I even told my mom that I might consider going back to camp the next summer to be in the horse program. By the next summer, I had no desire to repeat camp. I forgot about all of the positive experiences and how I had survived the whole two weeks, how I grew to love Tweed, and instead I zeroed in only on the negativity, how hard it had been, how much I had suffered. And for years, I forgot about ever wanting to ride. Mostly I remembered the fear and my own failure, that is what stuck. I never had another opportunity to ride horses, and it all faded away with the passage of time.

 

Recently it occurred to me that I’d like to try to ride a horse again, that it would be a small and manageable symbolic way of moving on from one of my childhood fears. I settled on Christmas Eve because it looked like it would be the warmest day of my Winter Break. My dad agreed to come along with me because he hadn’t been on a horse in years. I made reservations at Academy Riding Stables for a ride in Garden of the Gods. This was happening; I couldn’t back out of it. Leading up to the ride, I only felt mild apprehension, wishing that the experience were over. More than anything, I worried that riding might bring on my sciatica, although brief images of me falling off the horse and becoming paralyzed, or of my horse galloping off with me unable to stop him did sneak in. I was paired up with an Appaloosa named Kojack. Stepping up into the saddle, I felt a swell of freedom and love, just as I did with Tweed so long ago. Dad was paired with a beautiful, big, white horse named Silver. As our horses walked in a row with me behind Dad, the very last in our group, all my fears disappeared as one of the staff told me, “I would trust my five-year-old with Kojack.” Right away, I loved riding Kojack. I loved the rhythmic clomp-clomp of the horses’ hooves on the cement as we made our way down the street to the Garden of the Gods. I loved people in cars waving and smiling at us. I loved being in the very back and unable to hear much of what our leader was saying so I could just be present with this horse. I loved the rhythm of the movement, and at times, I even wished that I could go just a little faster. I challenged myself throughout the ride by riding one-handed so I could take pictures along the way. The whole experience was a meditative one; I felt perfectly calm and at peace, enjoying the warm (for December) weather, the beautiful surroundings, and the joy of bonding with this powerful and loving being.

After the ride, I felt a wave of confidence and freedom, a release of old fears holding me back and a welcoming of new adventure, new energy. I loved horseback riding and regret not going back to camp thirty years ago to learn all about horses. But I remind myself what George Eliot once said: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

As it stands now, I’m sure that I’ll never own horses, I’ll never be a hot-shot wrangler, but I can’t wait to go horseback riding again! I already found another stable in town that I want to try and another in Estes Park, which I visit at least every year. I can’t wait to ride horses through Rocky Mountain National Park—what a beautiful way to see the scenery! I have this surge of success now, and there’s no going back. As I move forward and confront bigger fears, I am determined to remember the joy and peace I felt riding Kojack, how I not only freed myself an entanglement of the past, but I found space in my heart for a new love.

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It’s Harvest Time!

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I love this time of year with the vivid colors of the mature flowers, a parade of the yellows and the oranges to usher summer out with pizazz. I love the chilly mornings and evenings that force me to wear light layers. I love the warm days that still allow for outdoor activities. But mostly, I love the abundance of fruits and vegetables, a reward for months of watering and weeding.

This year I had a bigger vegetable garden than ever before with two raised bed planters; however, it still wasn’t big enough. I hope to add another couple for next year. I enjoyed the lettuce, spinach, radishes, and occasional tomatoes and kale from earlier in the season, and now suddenly everything is starting to happen in the garden. The growth of zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash have kept me giddy with anticipation and watching daily for signs of ripeness and maturity. My only poorly performing plant this year is the pumpkin. Sad, because I always enjoy pumpkin everything for months at a time. Oh well, I guess there’s always the farmer’s market.

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I’ve been getting occasional zucchinis for several weeks now. Enough to keep me on my toes with filling the menu with zucchini noodles and zucchini cakes as well as freezing it for future zucchini breads and muffins. The picture here shows my first four zucchini. I’ve had probably eight more since then and have five growing in the garden right now. It feels weird to be so excited about zucchini because I used to hate it before I went paleo. I would refuse to touch foods with zucchini in them, even shuttering at the sound of the word zucchini—ugh! People would question my bitter hatred of it, saying, “How can you hate it so much? It doesn’t taste like anything.” Then a year ago, freed from the gluten fogging my brain, I tried zucchini and found, to my astonishment, that it doesn’t taste like anything. Okay, not true. It tastes subtle and fresh and takes on the other flavors in the dish. Now I would say that zucchini isn’t my favorite vegetable, but I really like it now.

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I’ve also been drowning in apples. No, I don’t have apple trees, but my mom and I ventured to Penrose, Colorado three weeks ago to pick apples and returned with three huge bins of them. I probably brought home 75 pounds worth of apples. The apples have some hail damage, but overall they taste good and are perfect for baking. I have already made four double batches of applesauce and probably have another two batches to go. Now the apples are in danger of getting too ripe, so I need to make haste and cook them all up. Our sun porch has been smelling super sweet and attracting fruit flies for weeks, and our freezer is full. Still, I hate to waste any of these apples.

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We also picked some pears that day, which I have already finished, thanks to a two or three batches of pear-berry crisp. The pears ended up with thick skins and mushy insides, but they were delicious when cooked. And I wonder why I’ve gained five pounds.

So yes, I’ve been busy in the kitchen, wondering where all my free time is going. I feel frantic trying to squeeze in not only all of this cooking but getting outside and enjoying the nice weather while I can, gathering my rosebuds while I may. So excuse my elementary school letter ending, but I’d better go now.

Seven Life Lessons I Learned From My Dog’s Recent Sickness

Me and Emma in March

Me and Emma in March

A week ago, my dog Emma fell ill with pancreatitis. The details are of no importance and included a trip to Emma’s vet, two trips to the emergency vet, and lots of gross bodily stuff. Emma is a diabetic, so maintaining normal glucose levels added another level of concern. Emma is doing much better now and acting pretty much normal again thanks to her wonderful vet, but for a couple of days a boulder pinned down my heart with the reality that at age ten, Emma won’t be with me forever.

When Emma started eating again, my heart swam in a sea of gratitude, and my attitude about life in general shifted with the wisdom of seven life lessons bubbling to the surface of my consciousness. These truths about life felt obvious in a way that they hadn’t for a long time. They are things I previously have come to understand, but they are easy to forget in the day-to-day reality of our busy, contemporary lives. In times of worry, pain, and darkness, everything that matters most in life becomes clear.

  1. Live in the now — Trying to live this truth has been a major focus in my life over the past several months, and it’s something that I constantly have to remind myself about. It’s so easy to let my mind wander into the past or future. But it’s a common problem for everyone, I think. I remember writing a paper in high school saying that people tell you to live for the present, but what if you’re miserable right now? The future can give you hope. The past brings bittersweet remembrances. It’s hard not to believe this philosophy and it’s hard to accept misery when it’s breathing down your neck, but I’ve learned since then that misery, while uncomfortable, is the fertilizer for spiritual growth. We cannot evolve without it.

    In Emma’s sickest days, my mind automatically jumped to “what ifs.” What if Emma doesn’t eat again? What if I can’t get her pills down? What if she <gulp> dies? I worried constantly about what could happen to Emma even though at her worst she still limply wagged her tail and got up to go outside. A vet tech told me she had seen much worse. As both my dogs are aging, I have come to see how important it is having them as my loyal friends and companions, and I want to cherish the time that we still have together.

  1. Celebrate small victories — I rejoiced the first time after not eating for days that Emma cleaned her bowl. I feel lighter every time I successfully get a pill down her throat (she has become proficient at finding the pills stuck in the middle of food and spitting them out). I can’t dwell on what happened yesterday even if it didn’t go well. I have to buck up and tackle my challenges right now. In the same way, I have to give her another pill in two hours. I don’t want to waste my evening worrying that it won’t go well because I always have gotten her to take her pills, even if it sometimes takes several tries. I need to work on celebrating more small goals elsewhere in life, too.

  1. Money is not important — I’ve been struggling to achieve my financial goals of paying off and staying clear of debts as soon as possible (with the exception of my students loans which, if I don’t win the lottery, will haunt my for a very long time.) It feels like the odds are stacked against me, if it’s not one thing coming up to nickel and dime me to death, then it’s another. I had a plan in place. I was going to save money soon. Then Emma got sick.

    Emma’s medical bills with her diabetes run a couple of hundred dollars a month. Her illness during the past week set my credit card debt back another $1500. But I did not hesitate to whip out said card to pay for anything that Emma needed. With her health and life at stake, money does not matter, and I’m happy to push my goals of financial health aside to help save my beloved dog, who is more important than a large bank account any day.

  1. Trust in the goodness of others — I’m a trusting person in general, but during Emma’s sickness, I relied on our veterinarian and numerous vet techs to take care of Emma, to do what was best to make her better. From inserting IV’s and comforting Emma while she had to stay in the hospital to advising me on how much insulin to give her if she didn’t eat or only ate some food, I could not have gotten through this episode without the compassion and knowledge of others. Plus, my family gave me much support during these difficult times. My dad even met me at the emergency vet and stayed there until 1:30 am with me because he worried about Emma and worried about me being out alone that late at night.

  2. Follow your dharma The focus of the month of July at my yoga studio was dharma, and I have been searching lately to find my dharma. With Emma’s illness, it became clear that part of my dharma is taking care of my pets. When Emma got sick, I felt that I had no choice, that I would do anything to take care of her. I have three pets right now, all were strays and had rough early lives. I have worked hard to give my pets good food, exercise, and most of all, a lot of love. I feel fulfilled doing this, so I understand that this is my dharma. While I think my dharma is more complicated, has more components than this, and involves a writing and art aspect, I definitely think that caring for my animals is a vital piece of it.

  3. “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”Ah, the wisdom of “Nature Boy.” Need I say more? And speaking of songs from Moulin Rouge, to further quote the film: “Love is a many splendored thing, Love lifts us up where we belong, All you need is love.” While I love Emma and my other pets like only a mother could, there are millions of kinds of love, and love of any kind is clearly the most important part of life.

  4. Feel gratitude I am so grateful that Emma is feeling better! I want to continue discovering my gratitude for all the miracles of life. As the days pass, I hope to focus not on the negative, even though there is so much of it in the world, but to focus on what’s good and sweet and beautiful and extraordinary and even what’s ordinary and to be grateful for it all.

I Eat Well on Paleo (Proof with Pictures) And Thoughts on Bad Food Photography

In my last blog, I wrote about how eating grain-free, dairy-free, and soy-free has helped me feel better than I have in years (or maybe ever). https://jessicafeis.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/my-path-to-paleo/ I also wrote about how I’m enjoying cooking and the food we eat tastes much better than most of the food we ate before adopting a paleo diet. I took some pictures of some of our meals over the past few weeks to share the kinds of foods we eat. These are all meals that I’ve taken from cookbooks. I wish I were creative in the kitchen, but just as I seem to have troubles improvising with music and deviating from a sewing pattern, I am a strict, left-brained following-a-recipe type of person. Maybe I will try to push myself in the future to come up with my own recipes, but for now I am just sharing my interpretations of others’ recipes (with credit, of course).

***Note on the terrible quality of these photos. I call myself a photographer, and this is the best picture I can take?!? Even though I have multiple really nice cameras, tripods, and the like sitting around my house, I seem to be unable to use them to photograph food. I always pull out my smartphone for this purpose, even though I never use it any other time. The results are always somewhat blurry. I guess it has something to do with the non-permanence of food and the manner in which social, digital photography has shifted to one of transience away from its traditional roles of heirloom keepsakes. I’m not going for quality here, just to share my creation that soon after vanished. So sorry for the blurriness. I won’t make a habit of it with anything other than food.

My Path to Paleo

As I prepare a new soup recipe for tom kha gai, which sent me to the Asian Market for ingredients, I think back to how far my cooking and eating has come in the last year. Ten months ago, I told my nutritionist Lois (at her suggestion of giving up all grains, dairy, sugar, eggs, corn, soy, and peanuts for three weeks to test for food sensitivities), “There’s no way I can do that. I hate cooking, and three weeks without all the foods I love feels like a death sentence.” Now, with the exception of eggs, I eat that way every day, and I can’t imagine going back to my previous diet.

I went to Lois with a multitude of problems, such as frequent respiratory infections, low blood sugar issues, and anxiety and depression. Through my own research, I diagnosed all of these as symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Reading that adrenal fatigue can be treated with diet and supplements, I made an appointment with Lois. After doing tests, I learned that I not only had adrenal problems, I also had poorly functioning small intestines, large intestines, vitamin and mineral absorption, sugar handling, thyroid, pituitary, immune system, and cardiovascular system. How could I continue my life with all these problems? I was only in my mid-thirties!

It took much patience on Lois’s behalf as I took baby steps to eliminate various foods. Corn and peanuts were easy. Even sugar went flawlessly as I started to feel better and my tests started to show improvements in a short time. Giving up the rest was more difficult. I sent Lois daily food journals for months, and she emailed me back with suggestions and encouragement, educating me with articles and online radio programs about the poor state of America’s nutrition, the prevalence and horrors of genetic modification of wheat, corn, and soy, and how our bodies have not evolved to digest a lot of the staples of the American’s diet.

Despite all of Lois’s encouragement, I remained stubborn and resistant, especially with the idea of giving up wheat. Finally, I asked Lois in desperation if there was a test I could take rather than eliminating the foods. She suggested a $300 test which would decipher if I had a gluten, dairy, soy, or egg intolerance. My logic in paying for this test was that I probably wasn’t allergic to any of these foods, therefore I wouldn’t have to spend a miserable three weeks in misery not eating them. However, while waiting for my test results to come back, I began to grow nervous. One Monday after having given up wheat for the weekend in a promise to Lois, I ate a slice of bread and got an instant migraine. Not being prone to migraines, I began to fear that I did indeed have a gluten intolerance. I was right. What I wasn’t prepared for was that I also had an intolerance to dairy and soy. With my test results, I gave in and prepared myself for eating tasteless food forever. The write-up on my results suggested that I give up gluten completely and permanently, and since it was a genetic condition that my family also get tested. Lois had taught me that gluten can cross-contaminate with other grains so they should all be eliminated, and besides, all grains cause spikes in blood sugar levels. So I was committed to giving up grains. My only bright light on the horizon was that Lois told me that after six months I could try to reintroduce dairy again (she suggested that I give up soy permanently since it is genetically modified) because gluten intolerance can cause other sensitivities that can be reversible, and that after letting my body heal I might be able to tolerate dairy again. By the time six months had passed, I felt so good that I had no desire to reintroduce it.

Within weeks of starting my new diet void of grains, dairy, and soy, I started to feel like a new person. Since then, I have lost over twenty pounds. I lost weight everywhere—I even had to get my wedding ring resized—and have had to buy a lot of new clothes because everything was too big. In fact, I just bought a pair of size 2 pants. I never thought it was possible for me to be that small! I also have improved energy; my blood sugar problems have virtually disappeared (I don’t have to carry food with me everywhere I go to stave off sudden, desperate, gnawing hunger); I am also more even-tempered, positive, and upbeat. I have been starting to test my anxiety by doing things that used to cause intense fear. So far, they have been much easier. I still have some sinus problems, but they are probably 90% improved. I felt so good that I stopped needing to see Lois only two months after adopting this diet.

It wasn’t just the elimination of the foods that brought about my health. Lois also taught me to eat proteins and vegetables with every meal (even breakfast), to drink half my body weight in ounces of water each day, to eat fermented food every day to help heal my gut, and to eat slowly and purposefully. The way I eat now has been completely transformed.

I now little desire to reintroduce dairy because now I’m eating better tasting food than ever before. Not long after discovering my sensitivities, I found that how I’ve been eating has a name, paleo. Paleo is based on the fact that our bodies have not evolved much beyond the way that cave men ate. It is based on healthy proteins, good fats, fresh vegetables and fruits, basically the way that I have had to eat. I learned that thousands of people have turned their lives around by eating this way, reversing health problems much worse than what I endured. I also bought some wonderful cookbooks, and I have now gone from someone who hated to cook to someone who makes almost everything I eat from scratch. Best of all, I discovered that I can bake breads, muffins, and desserts and still stick to a paleo diet by using almond flour or coconut flour and fruit or a little bit of honey or maple syrup for sweeteners. (Yes, I feel a little guilty eating honey and maple syrup, but I tell myself that I gave up grains, so my body can tolerate a little bit of sweets.) Now I think these paleo desserts taste even better than the wheat flour/refined sugar variety. I can bake everything paleo now, from chocolate chip cookies to donuts to fruit pies, and Lois has asked me for baking advice.

I’ve learned how to substitute for nearly everything (except cheese, sigh). For example, coconuts are my best friend. I use: coconut flour in place of wheat flour, coconut milk in place of milk and cream, coconut aminos in place of soy sauce, and coconut crystals in place of brown sugar.

There are some downsides to eating paleo. It’s expensive. It’s hard for me to keep under $1000 a month for grocery shopping for the two of us. I will definitely be gardening more this summer to save money. It’s also difficult to eat out in restaurants. I only trust a handful of restaurants as places where it’s safe to eat. Mostly, we don’t go out at all. Why spend $30 on food when we can make something that tastes even better at home? I also spend around ten hours a week in the kitchen, but I don’t consider this to be a downside anymore. I love being alone in the kitchen, listening to NPR or music, and creating healthy, tasty foods. It puts me into a kind of meditative state. And now that I have more energy than before, my legs don’t ache from all the standing like they would have a year ago.

I recently read a quote by supermodel Kate Moss: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” I can relate to that now. Whenever I feel lazy or tempted to eat something I shouldn’t, I remind myself how far I’ve come, both physically and mentally. Plus, my husband encourages me. He thinks we eat better than ever before. I love hearing his compliments after working hard in the kitchen. He often reminds me how I used to survive on chips and salsa, Totino’s pizzas, or sad burritos made of a tortilla, salsa, beans, and cheese when I first met him. Now he thinks I’ve become an excellent cook. Mostly, I like how the paleo diet has made me feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have more confidence in myself now and actually feel optimistic about the future.

Whenever most people hear of how I eat, their first reaction is pity. What CAN you eat? My answer is that I eat all kinds of foods. I watch co-workers drinking soda and eating donuts and feel sad for them, for the diets of most Americans, because I understand how addictive sugar and wheat can be but how easy it can be to break free of them. And I’ve come to truly believe that many of our society’s problems could be ameliorated if more people, if organizations and the government itself, put more effort into healthy eating for every person, not just those who can afford it. By merely cutting down on refined sugars and processed foods, our society could vastly improve. So don’t feel sorry for me. Chances are I eat better than you do. And as for the tom kha gai? It had depth of flavors and tasted authentic. My husband even said it was one of the best soups he’d ever tasted. Not bad for the person who used to hate to cook.

The Kitchen Klutz

I made Tandoori Chicken last night for dinner. This is one of many new recipes that I’ve been trying out over the last few months. I’ve enjoyed expanding my cooking repertoire in efforts to eat healthier and enjoy our meals more, but I’m still a long ways from being competent in the kitchen. You could even say I’m still a kitchen klutz. I still can’t create my own dishes or deviate much from recipes. I have, however, come a long way.

Putting more effort into cooking has made me think back to how I used to eat at various times in my life. I’ve never enjoyed cooking, probably because no one ever really taught me how to cook. I’m not writing this as a criticism, but my parents never particularly enjoyed cooking either. Growing up in the 80s, I don’t remember eating very well. Maybe I’m blocking out the healthier meals, but most of the meals I remember eating involved “TV dinners,” take-out pizza, and strange creations such as my mom’s tortilla pizza (pizza toppings on a tortilla for a crust). McDonald’s was a real treat back then. And then there were the school lunches I ate every day back when ketchup was considered a vegetable. I would eat things like a hot dog on a white bun, barbeque rib sandwich on a white bun (made of an odd, rubbery mystery meat). And then there was the sugar. . . We drank a lot of “pop.” Every summer I survived on Slurpees, ice cream, and popsicles. It’s a wonder I’m not diabetic.

Despite all this, I think my mom was more interested in nutrition than a lot of parents were back then. She grew veggies in her own garden. I remember her eating things like homemade spinach lasagna and zucchini bread, but I was such a picky eater that I wouldn’t even try these things. Into my high school years, my mom did make healthier meals, but I was still hopeless in the kitchen. I remember one Saturday night, my dad and I decided to make green chili. The recipe called for three cloves of garlic. Neither of us knew what a clove of garlic was, so we figured a clove was the entire head. I spent about an hour preparing three heads of garlic to put in the chili. As my dad noted, no vampires came close to our house that night.

When I got on my own, I didn’t have the knowledge, skills, or interest to cook. My husband likes to remind me that when he met me, I survived on chips and salsa, take-out pizza, and tortillas with peanut butter and honey. Cooking still doesn’t interest me much, but I’ve enjoyed it more over the years as I’ve tried to live a healthier life. I’ve suffered from some minor health problems and often wonder if I could have avoided these ailments if I had grown up eating organic like I do now. I like the way that eating healthy makes me feel.

In the 80s, it seems that everyone was nourishment naïve. I would think that the next generation would be wiser since many people have now taken an interest in gardening and eating healthy and organic. But working with kids, I have been appalled by all the sugar kids still consume. Recently, after Valentine’s Day parties, I saw kids sucking on Pixie Sticks like they were crack, leaving school with such sugar highs that they might as well have been on crack. I’m in no position to lecture people on feeding their kids well. I don’t have kids and have enough trouble getting my cat to eat. I know kids can be picky eater. I know how I was. I’m just saying maybe there shouldn’t be a choice in the matter. My husband was raised to drink weird concoctions of green juices by his strict Chinese mother, and now he rarely gets sick. I agree with New York City’s decision to ban large sugary drinks. I do understand why the judge blocked the ban, but sugar has become an epidemic in our society. If people can’t control their sugar intake themselves, maybe drastic steps should be taken.

Standing in the New Life

Oceans

by Juan Ramón Jiménez

I have a feeling that my boat

has struck down there in the depths,

against a great thing.

                       And nothing

happens! Nothing. . . Silence. . . Waves. . .

 — Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,

and are we standing, now, in the new life? 

In the beginning of June, my boat struck a great thing down in the depths that has rocked me into “the new life.” It came in the form of a virus, and since then I’ve never quite felt the same again. I won’t elaborate too much on the details of this virus that has refused to completely let go for over three months. The acute phase lasted only a day or so and attacked my inner ear, which started suddenly with frightening vertigo. Since then, I have been able to function on a semi-normal basis but its tenacity has been the hardest thing for me to accept. I have gradually gotten better, then sometimes worse. At first, I had trouble driving and riding in the car, I had trouble functioning in rooms lit with bright, fluorescent lights – which made grocery shopping difficult, even sitting at the computer seemed like too much effort. Normally, my mind is filled with a million projects and ideas, but this summer I experienced something rare in my world: boredom.

Some of the medications prescribed made matters even worse. A steroid that I took for two days (and then threw away, convinced it was satanic) made me think I was going crazy for over a week until I finally purged it from my system. This episode coincided with the Waldo Canyon Fire in my hometown. The sadness about those who lost houses and all the acreage in places that I’ve lived and loved, along with the fear that the fire might spread farther, and my feelings of helplessness and confusion about why this had to happen in the first place made this one of the worst summers of my life.

It still makes me uncomfortable to even write about this summer because even though fall is looming, I’m still not out of the woods. I worry that I may never be back to “normal” again. But overall, I’ve gotten a lot better, my mood has risen, my mind is active and engaged, I’m working again and finding it not too hard most of the time, and I’ve started back with my graduate classes that I set aside for the summer.

I’ve known all along that my symptoms were subtle in the grand scheme of things, that many people suffer much worse than I do, that I’ve been blessed with good health most of my life, that bouts of poor health come to us all, yet I’ve struggled with the meaning of this virus. Why me, why now? From the beginning, I’ve suspected that it came to me for a reason, to make me stronger, to catapult me out of the feelings of complacency that have left me stuck in a rut for too long. And as I got over the worst and started feeling almost normal again, I waited for the new life to begin, my big break to start on a new path, to put the new wisdom I’ve gained about the ephemerality of life to work and become a better, more fulfilled person. And nothing happens! I didn’t get the new job, didn’t meet a literary agent randomly in an elevator, didn’t come into any money, didn’t get discovered in Schwab’s Drugstore springing my childhood dreams that I long ago set aside finally into fruition.

I’ve been shaken to the core, and on the outside, it seems that nothing has happened. My life seems almost exactly the same as it did six months ago. I don’t want this all to have been for naught, to sink back into complacency, to defer my dreams, so I’ve realized that this virus has been the fuel to reignite the fire inside of me, but I’m the one who has to light the match. Lately, I find that fears are slowly becoming less important, that I’m no longer letting other people and their ideas about me stand in the way of my transcendence. I have many new ideas that I will soon be launching. While it seems that nothing has happened, I know that everything has happened, that this is the beginning of the new life – I just have to make it so.