The Right Direction

Late February into March is always terrible in New York. Spring is just over the horizon, but you wouldn’t know it, because the landscape is bleak and dark, the ground is snow and ice covered, and the air is painful. The spirit just deflates around so much winter.

New Yorkers are a tough breed. We send our kids outside to play in 18 degrees and the general attitude is “Get used to it.”

I have lived in New York for almost 10 years now, so I am used to it. I am used to the cyclical nature of things, the lightning fast, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-spring, that morphs overnight into two oppressive months of sticky, sun-soaked summer, followed by a short wonderland of fall. Then snow upon snow upon snow. I’m already thinking about all the things that must be done when spring is here. But since I can’t do anything about it yet, it has put me in a contemplative headspace (which is a dangerous gear for my brain to get stuck in). I am thinking a lot about all the things I want to do. All the things I need to do. Planning trips for when the weather is better. Thinking about what I want this year to look like.

While I’m sitting here gnashing at the bit to do all these things, I’ve been holed up in my little house, killing time reading. One of the things I’ve been reading is a blog I like, and this week the topic has been the slow decline and death from cancer of a friend of the blogger. This person left a life half-lived, and died regretting that they hadn’t gotten in shape, traveled the world, and generally done more with the time they had.

And this of course triggered a whole avalanche of memories about my aunt, who died in 2017 of a brain tumor. She, too, died before she had a chance to live the life she dreamed of. And I think about her every day. I miss her. But my love for her is complicated by the fact that she is also my cautionary tale. The person I most look to and say I do not want to grow up and have lived life like you did. I do not want to die at age 65 never having achieved any of the things I always talked about achieving. I’m also angry at her for acting like she had endless days to turn her ship around.

We do not get endless days.

I hope wherever she is she’s not offended (because I would be deeply offended if I was someone’s poster child of a misspent life.)

Sometimes it feels like she is hovering just over my shoulder, cheering me on for having the bravery to go after the things she did not. Because the life I’m living now is because, for the last 4 years, I’ve continually asked myself What didn’t Aunt Rhonda do?

She didn’t leave her crappy marriage to my abusive uncle, who treated her like garbage and cheated on her repeatedly. In fact, every time they divorced, she ended up right back with him. Once she told me that she felt like God himself had gifted my Uncle to her. That, and her purpose in life was to love him in spite of their difficulties.

I still believe that is the biggest steaming pile of bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life. That she had it the wrong way around. She was the gift to my Uncle, her and her love for him, a love that he chose not to accept, not to treasure, and not to nourish.

My personal philosophy is that when someone doesn’t want the gift you’re offering them, you take it back to the store, return it for a refund, and use that refund for something for yourself. Or non-metaphorically, you just divorce the bastard. And stay that way.

I kept all of this in mind as I navigated my own divorce. Don’t be like Aunt Rhonda was my mantra every time it got hard. I looked at my aunt’s relationship with my selfish, dismissive uncle and kept telling myself, “She deserved to be loved back. She deserved a man who appreciated her. She deserved to be treated with respect. And I do, too.

Aunt Rhonda was also the supporting actress in her own life. She always put others’ needs ahead of her own, and never demanded her due. If she had, she wouldn’t have died with so much left unfinished and not experienced. I think about that often as I go about my life. She deserved to selfishly follow her dreams. She should have taken those trips, alone if need be, and seen what she could have of the world.

I am determined to go to the nursing exhausted from a life well-lived. If I’m breathing, I will always strive to do more. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is that I control my own life story. My life story shouldn’t control me. So I try to write new chapters as often as I can.

That’s why I went by myself on a 40th birthday trip to Dublin. I wasn’t going to let money, or a lack of traveling companion, or fear, or whatever, hold me back. It was something I wanted to do for myself, needed to do for myself. I could see with my own eyes the cost of not following my dreams.

That trip, incidentally, changed the course of my life. I came back from it super glued back together, my spirit restored.

Aunt Rhonda also struggled mightily with her weight, while always saying she was dieting, but not dieting really. As my weight began to creep up, I would look in the mirror and see my body carrying weight like hers had. I saw all her struggles, saw all the ways her weight gain held her back, caused her pain, and made her life harder. Toward the end of her life, she seemed resigned to it all.

I’m not going to let what happened to her happen to me. As I’ve written before, I’m determined to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and get back to a healthy weight, even if it means I can’t eat the foods I love.

My elimination diet has revealed that I have some food intolerances that I wasn’t expecting and there are foods I have to cut out of my diet permanently. I’m sad about it. But I want to feel good more than I want to eat ice cream. I’ve been at it for almost 2 months now and have already lost a clothing size. I have a much better idea of what is safe for me to eat and knowing my body better makes me feel so much stronger and more in control of my health.

Because so little available in stores is safe for me, Jeremy and I bought a food dehydrator and a chest freezer so I can start stockpiling foods that are healthy for me. I spent the weekend making banana and strawberry chips. It’s good to feel like I’m making healthy decisions and moving in the right direction.

I Sing The Body (Not So) Electric

I am finding it hard to write (much less think) about the new realities of my 43 year old body. Somewhere along the way, it decided to go rogue, and now I don’t feel like I have any control over it anymore. It is the honey badger of bodies.

Today is day 45 of the AIP diet for me and I’m really struggling. To tell a foodie like me that for the foreseeable future, they cannot eat any grains, any dairy, any nightshades, any sugar, any edible peas, no beans, seeds, or nuts, no alcohol, no coffee, no cocoa derivatives, and no spices derived from fruits, nuts, or seeds (including the ubiquitous black pepper), it’s a seriously depressing proposition. But you know what else is a seriously depressing proposition? Gaining weight despite a relatively healthy diet, chronic, inconvenient, and unreliable stomach issues, unexplained aches and pains, paint points in the tendons and joints, massive chiropractor bills, not being able to work out due to pain, and feeling old before my time.

I’ve written before that taking these foods out of my diet resulted in some pretty positive changes straight out of the gate. My skin tone changed within days, I’ve lost an inch or two in my waist, and my stomach is flattening. My clothes fit better. I’ve gone down a size and even they are loose. Plus, the weird aches and pains have gone away. And all this while dealing with major stomach issues despite doing everything right.

Turns out, consuming coconut oil/milk and avocado oil do not agree with my body. It’s like fire bombing my digestive tract. As soon as I cut that out and went back to using strictly olive oil, my stomach went right back to normal.

But now I have to add coconut to my list of no-no foods (whole avocados aren’t a problem for me).

I am so bored from this way of eating that I’ve started trying to add things back into my diet, with very mixed results.

Hard cider, my alcoholic beverage of choice, makes me break out in hives. Weirdly, one glass of wine sent me spiraling into an all-day depressive funk that came out of absolutely nowhere. So, looks like alcohol is out.

White Rice seems okay. I knew before this elimination diet that I was intolerant to gluten and quinoa, and corn makes my joints ache, so I’m not going to reintroduce any other grains and pseudo-grains back into my diet.

Pinto beans seem okay.

Tomatoes caused pain points to appear on my legs the next day.

Small amounts of jalapenos (in Chipotle guacamole) haven’t bothered me, and whatever spices they use on their Carne Asada are ok, but a slight sprinkle of Tabasco sauce made pain points appear on my hips. Guess that means nightshades are out. Goodbye potatoes and Buffalo chicken. We had a good run. 😦

I don’t even know where to go from here.

The AIP diet says to try to reintroduce these items first (yes, I’m a maverick and ignored the guidelines): egg yolks, legumes (with edible pods), sprouts, nut and seed oils, seed-based spices, fruit and berry based spices, ghee, occasional coffee, cocoa/chocolate.

1. I don’t like eggs and consider them unpalatable without cheese or in a baked good, neither of which I can eat at the moment.

2. Ooh peas… so exciting (not really).

3. Sprouts (gross).

4. Nut and seed oils (no thanks, apparently I’m sensitive to weirdo oils. I’ll stick to what’s working, thanks).

5. Nutmeg. Yippee. Just what I was craving (not).

6. Ghee (see #4).

7. Coffee is not a friend to my stomach, and even if my love for it overrode that reality, I’m not going to drink it black. Sugar, dairy, and coconut milk are out, I’m allergic to almonds and soy too, so I’ll just sob quietly every time I pass Starbucks.

I’d need the dairy to make cocoa palatable.

Reintroducing most of these items are contingent on mixing them with other things that I cannot eat, so…. on to Phase 2.

Phase 2 says to reintroduce nuts and seeds (tricky one, since I’m already allergic to almonds and historically nuts and seeds haven’t been well tolerated by my cranky stomach–so not something I’m used to eating anyway).

Wine (well, we saw how that turned out).

Egg whites. Butter. Coffee every day (weeps).

Where is the real food added back into my diet? I am not going to pack a stick of butter in my lunch. I am so bored with my food choices right now. Please, for the love of angry cats, is there nothing on this diet I can actually add back in?

Let’s look at Phase 3: Nightshades (eggplant, sweet peppers, paprika, peeled potatoes (I already know this won’t end well). Lentils, split peas, garbanzo beans. (Womp. Womp.) Grass fed dairy (Hallelujah! Something I actually want!). But if grass fed dairy triggers me, my heart will break. I’m afraid to know the truth, so I’m postponing reintroducing this one.

Phase 4: All the other nightshades (No). Alcohol (No). White rice (Yes). Other gluten free grains (No). Other legumes. (Womp womp again.)

Sorry, I just can’t get thrilled by beans.

You know what would thrill me right now? A giant, breaded, Buffalo chicken sandwich covered in blue cheese crumbles, on perfect toasty bread, with an ice cream float made from chocolate espresso ice cream and a Starbucks iced mocha, slathered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce, for dessert.

Instead, breakfast this morning was a banana, some bacon, some applesauce, instant pot meatballs and rice.

I need to eat more vegetables. That’s the goal for the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I will try not to think of all the foods I’m missing that I’ll likely never be able to eat again. 😦

Figuring It Out

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression from the title–I have, most definitely, NOT figured anything out. But every day I’m getting a little closer.

On Sunday I was hired to work as an instructor at a local paint your own pottery shop and I’m looking forward to getting started. It’s exactly the sort of place a person like me should work, full of creativity, and color, and whimsy. And as I said in my interview, the world is getting more serious and prescriptive by the day. Places like that are a haven for the out of the box thinkers and creative types.

One of the saddest things I’ve seen so far as a substitute teacher was in a kindergarten class. There was a poster on the classroom wall, showing the students how to color. The rules were simple. 1. Stay inside the lines. 2. Leave no white space. 3. Make sure the colors are realistic. In another classroom, once again, not only were the students asked to color a picture realistically, they were told what colors they were supposed to color everything.

My inner artist was having an internal Donald Duck tantrum at how demoralizing and limiting that would feel. Maybe it’s for the best that I’m not an “official” teacher, because that poster would never see the light of day in my classroom, and I would be all about encouraging my students to experiment with their coloring, realism be damned.

In any case, at the art studio, there are no rules about such things and it will be great to witness people express themselves with wild abandon, flaunting all the rules they were given when they were 5.

It’s been a good few days. I got that job and then I got another full manuscript request, so I figured to heck with my diet, I’d go to Applebees and get crazy. I had vegetables cooked in butter (not allowed), green beans (not allowed) seasoned with pepper (not allowed), and a hard cider (also not allowed). And it was awesome. Until I came home and immediately broke out in hives.

My stomach issues have resolved since taking coconut out of my diet, and clearly something I ate last night (my money is on the alcohol) was problematic. So I’m considering starting the diet all over again, removing the rice I’ve been eating, omitting all coconut, not cheating with green beans and butter, and give my body a chance to really heal, as intended.

I don’t want to do this. But my face is still itchy this morning.

I could also try a low histamine diet. It sucks for someone who loves food as much as I do to have to eliminate so much from my diet. But I want to be healthy and I’m determined to figure it all out.

Successes and Setbacks

I had a very productive last few couple of days, full of successes and setbacks.

Success: I spent Saturday evening researching literary agents to query and Sunday morning sent out a new batch.

Setback: There aren’t a lot of agents looking for southern historical fiction in the first place, and most of them want dark and gothic. Which my book is definitely not. I’ve only found a handful of agents that seem like a good fit for my book, and it’s disheartening when I get a no back immediately and they say it’s not a fit for their list. But someone might say yes to it someday, so I continue to query and hope for the best.

Success: I’ve started a new novel and it’s coming along nicely. It’s at 17,000 words now, which is about 1/4 the length it needs to be.

Setback: I had set a (probably unrealistic) word count goal for the weekend–hoping to get to 26,000 words and fell short of it substantially, but I did write about 3,000 words to add to my total word count and that’s not shabby. I was also derailed by crafting, but is that really a setback?

Success: I love gnomes and a couple of weeks ago I posted a picture of Valentine’s and Easter sock gnomes. My friend Kira suggested we get together and try to make a few. Sunday we spent a couple of hours hard at work. I plan to take the gnomes to the middle school and teach them at makers space. I think the kids will enjoy making them.

This is how they turned out.

Setback: Well, first we ran out of socks. And there’s a distinct lack of cute socks at the local big box stores right now. Also, I’m really struggling to make the beards symmetrical. I’m having the same problems with it that I once had trimming my bangs. Maybe eventually I’ll figure it out.

Success: I have been doing the AIP diet now for a little over three weeks, and at first I thought I was imagining it, but there is a definite difference in my skin. It would appear that the mucin/inflammation is subsiding and it is soft and pinchable again. Prior to the diet, my skin had no give to it, and it was impossible to pinch the skin off the fat layer. When I went to the chiropractor yesterday, he was amazed at the changes he noted, too. He doesn’t know much about the AIP diet, but said to keep doing whatever it was, because it’s working. I feel like I’m on the right path, except for eating rice for my stomach. It’s not allowed on the AIP diet, and there’s a huge disagreement in the Paleo community if people should eat it. I feel like it helps me feel better. But I also tend to stick to fruit and starchy vegetables, given my druthers, because they are so much easier to digest, and really the diet discourages this in favor of healthier, greener vegetables.

Also, Instant Pots were on a GOOD sale at Target and Jeremy convinced me (I didn’t need much convincing) that we should get one. Mostly, it was just a matter of getting over my shock that my husband wanted to buy a fancy kitchen gadget. (I grew up in a family where men didn’t help cook, and didn’t express an opinion about kitchen-y things, so my mind was blown for a minute.) So anyway, we got the Instant Pot and our Sunday project was figuring out how it worked and testing it on an AIP Swedish Meatballs recipe I found. It turned out to be delicious! So last night we made Mango Chicken. I initially wanted to make rice, but Jeremy nudged me to steam some cauliflower rice. The meal was awesome. Light and filling.

Setback: I woke up at 2am feeling like an alien covered in battery acid was gnawing its way through my digestive tract. At 3am I took a hot shower trying to relax my muscles. And I didn’t fall back asleep until 5am. I had to cancel a sub assignment for today, which I hate to do. But I couldn’t very well teach doubled over in pain, sleep deprived, with gastrointestinal carnage possibly imminent. My body isn’t one to hold things in for long. I spent the very early morning snuggled up to a heating pad and trying to figure out what, if anything, set this off. It may just be my stomach trying to heal and get whatever crap is in my body out. Or I might have issues with foods that are hard to digest – ie. cauliflower. Or I might have issues with FODMAPS ie. cauliflower and/or mango. Who knows? I’m taking notes in case a pattern emerges. And in the meantime, I wait for this to pass.

It’s so frustrating that I can’t just feel good, and eat normal food without all the drama. I’ll admit I’m disappointed that I’m still having stomach issues when I’ve eliminated so many foods already. I’m also disappointed that I’m one of those people whose health prevents them from doing everything they want to be doing. I keep hoping I’ll eventually figure this all out.