Sunday, December 14, 2014

Unexpected Gift

Once Less Talk, More Therapy had been up for a day, I posted on Facebook that “the most amazing thing is that my piece is the number one Most Emailed Article on the New York Times right now.”  I went on to say that the second most amazing thing was that it did not land on the list of 10 Most Recommended for Me articles. I said that to be clever, but it was a lie. The second most amazing thing was how I reacted to the readers’ comments.

I am a person who can easily get sucked into online conversations, either as a participant or a voyeur. I don’t even want to count how many hours of my life I’ve spent reading other people’s opinions about things. I buy shoes and books based on online reviews and many of my political views are shaped by gorging on thread wars.

When that essay went live, I vowed I’d not read the comments – a promise I did not entirely keep. Early on the allure was too great and I just wanted to sneak a little peek. Within hours, a commenter chalked the entire essay up to my being psychologically vulnerable, the therapy Ann E. practices being nonsense, and the article being “witless.” And then 189 people give that comment a Thumbs Up.

Oddly, miraculously and inexplicably – I didn’t care.

This reaction shocked me. Friends texted and emailed their support, reassuring me that in spite of some naysayers, most of the feedback was very positive. At another moment in my life I’d have  hung onto those emails like a life raft. But on this day, I didn’t need the buoying. Uncharacteristically, I read that comment and felt it had nothing whatsoever to do with me, a reaction I’ve never had toward any personal feedback about anything, ever.

For me, this was a gift that felt even bigger than the long-sought after, much coveted gold ring of Times publication. To hear criticism and not become attached. To know someone thinks I’m witless and not take it personally. I’m still stunned that’s even possible.

I did end up skimming some of the comments (there are over 400!) and there were many others that were negative. My favorite was from a woman in Oklahoma who said what I really needed was to get some friends, exercise three times a week and talk more often to my mother, which, except for the mother part, is not really bad advice at all.

Reading the negative comments was actually good for me. It makes me want to try and be less judge-y in the world. It reminds me that I don’t have the slightest idea what someone in pain actually needs. It shows me how much of what comes out of our mouths is almost entirely about us and very little about the other person – and how hard it is to move beyond the lens we view the world through. In reading comments, I expected to feel attacked or misunderstood, two places I go without much provocation at all. And instead, I ended up feeling somehow better.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Little More on Source Point Therapy

This was posted as a comment, but I thought I should repost it as a post in case anyone finds it helpful. Thanks, Jason!

HI Folks,  I was happy to see this piece come out. The practitioner in this article,  Ann E and I have been friends and study partners for the past 8 years. Since she wishes to remain anonymous, I am chiming in here. We met in a mentorship with a brilliant  Structural Integrator/Rolfer named Liz Gaggini. About 4 years ago, Liz understood our inclination and sent Ann E and I to Study SourcePoint Therapy® with Bob Schrei and his wife, and co-creator of the work Donna Thomson.

Rolfing Structural Integration® and SourcePoint Therapy® are two distinct but correlative modalities. Both are very elegant and efficient platforms for therapeutic intervention. As Rolfers, many of us work with bones, joints, muscle tissue, organs, arteries, veins and nerves in order to resolve chronic strain patterns in the body and in orientation. The goal is to bring about a condition of ease and balance in the body with a corresponding effect on the mind. On the subject of SourcePoint Therapy, here's an excerpt from a piece of writing I did for the coordination of workshops in NYC last year:

I have not encountered a platform that for me works more efficiently to affect appropriate change in the tissue, and bring order to the body.  Whether used as a platform for manual therapy or by itself, SPT is a very precise and powerful modality within which to address pattern in the body and in perception. Having cultivated a relationship with the contents of SPT has allowed me to attract and have consistent success with clients who present very complex structural, functional, emotional/perceptual patterns.

The basic principle of SourcePoint Therapy, simply put, is that there is an energetic blueprint of health that gives rise to, maintains and repairs the human body. Bob describes it in this way: "Unlike other forms of energy work, SourcePoint utilizes a wide variety of touch from deep penetrating touch to gentle touch. SourcePoint does not make a distinction between the body and the energy field. The body is the field, the field is the body. Working deeply in the body is as much energy work as a light touch. The inquiry is what kind of appropriate touch is needed for this person at this time to bring the information of health to the body. This is different for each person at different times. The focus is not on a particular style of touch but on whatever is needed to help connect the client to their own ultimate resource, the information, energy, and light of the blueprint of health for the human body/mind/spirit."

I would be happy to speak by email with anyone here who is curious about this work. I have also listed a few relevant URL’s.


Jason DeFilippis
Certified Advanced Rolfer™

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More About Ann E.

My piece in the New York Times, Less Talk, More Therapy, has received a lot of attention, and I feel compelled to add and clarify some information.

First, I make the assertion that “being with Ann E. feels a little like being in psychotherapy.” This is due both to the nature of our conversations during sessions and the information she imparts. Our conversations emerge organically; often we talk about our pasts and our relationships. The fact that she’s a wise woman and a good listener make it feel “a little” like therapy. But make no mistake, she is a body worker.

The other “psychotherapy-like” aspect, to me, is that she discusses and demystifies how the body works as an organic entity in a way that I have never experienced through talking to doctors. She has a paradigm for understanding the body that she shares with me, the way my psychotherapists have instructed me about how my mind “works” – triggers, patterns, explanations for reactions. Again, this is her style – the way she does things. Most body workers I’ve been to (which, admittedly, are not vast in numbers) happen to be talkative. But not all of them have reminded me  of being in psychotherapy. This is why I wrote about her for Couch.

I originally had included the type(s) of therapy Ann E. practices in the piece, but the editor and I believed that that information wasn’t germane to the story. Silly us. We had agreed that we didn’t want it to sound like I (or the Times) was somehow endorsing a particular type of therapy. The essay was meant to be a personal story, nothing more.

At the time, I had no idea there were so many people in so much pain.

Ann E. practices a combination of two types of therapy: Structural Integration (she calls it “soft Rolfing”) and Source Point Therapy (which is the technique she uses that engages the body’s energy, the one where her hand remains inches away from the body). Her teacher/mentor is located in New Mexico. Here is a link:

I have not spent a lot of time on the site, but I do know there’s a place that invites you to contact them to locate practitioners in your area. Rolfing seems easy enough to find anywhere in the world.

Another thing that was cut from the article that you might find useful is reading Dr. John Sarno’s book The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain (or really any book by him). This was probably my first introduction to the idea of real physical pain resulting from emotions. I offer this up because many people I know (myself included) have moved through a tremendous amount of longstanding physical pain simply from reading his book. It’s maybe a $20 investment, and fascinating stuff.

I wish I were able to provide contact information for Ann E., but she’s a solo practitioner who works from her house and the sheer volume of phone calls would take her down.

I hope some of this is helpful, and if you ended up here because you’re in pain, I hope that you’re able to find relief in your life. I’m quietly rooting for you.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Less Talk, More Therapy

I just got my first piece in The New York Times!

I'd love for you to read it. If you're inclined to comment, please say something nice!

To see the essay:

Less Talk, More Therapy

(My title was "A Place To Unwind," which they liked, but not enough to use. But I wanted to share that because I think it goes kinda nicely with the piece.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Running You In

My friend Jane runs marathons. Once she said to me: Sometimes when I run a marathon, Henry (her teenage son) meets up with me at mile X and runs me in. She said that just having someone at that really hard part of the race to run along with, to keep pace with for a five-mile stretch, gave her what she needed to keep at it.

When I was starting Week 6 of my first Whole Life Challenge, Sharon Egan ran me in. She didn’t do much except tell me that she, too, did not tend to lose any weight for the first many weeks of the challenge, and then it came off at the end. “Just stick with it,” she texted me. It doesn’t seem like much, maybe, but at the time it was exactly what I needed to get to the end.

Although I consider myself analogy-impaired, I am going to offer you a metaphor that occurred to me this morning, because I've been trying to wrap my head around how to explain my impression of why it takes so long for the weight to come off.

Imagine you have a huge basement full of clutter and crap that you’ve been tossing down there for years. Then, one day, you decide you want a clean basement. (I’m sure you think you know exactly where this is going, but just humor me.)

Yes, it will take a lot of time to clean all that stuff out – you need to get a dumpster (that always takes time) and maybe a hazmat suit. But even if you devote an entire weekend to doing nothing but purging your crap, what you find under the crap is not necessarily the newly-renovated rec-room you were dreaming of. The walls may be peeling; there are big gaps in the baseboards that you’ve never even seen because they were obscured by all your overflow of stuff.

Now, imagine your basement is a self-repairing entity. Meaning, all that stuff that needs fixing is going to fix itself. Your only job is to get rid of all the garbage. But, all of it.

So, here we are. Weeks of "cleaning out." And you’re wondering why your basement is dragging its feet about its end of the bargain.

“Look,” says your basement, “I’m not going to fix all these baseboards just yet because chances are, you’re just going to dump more crap down here. That’s what you’ve been doing for years.”

And you’re like, “Fair enough. But I’m really not going to this time. No more junk. I swear.”

And your basement is like, “Well, what about that little pile of junk you threw down here yesterday?”

And you’re like, “Well, that was just small. And besides, I had an Indulgence Token.”

And your basement is basically, like, “Fuck the Indulgence Tokens. If you want me to start fixing things, I really need to know that you’re not going to junk things up again.”

And you’re like, “Seriously? I used to throw stuff down here with abandon, and now I barely do.” But your basement is feeling like maybe you really don’t know what belongs down there and what doesn’t.

That’s what I’m talking about.

I’m not saying you can never have cheese or bread or chocolate ever again. All I’m saying is that it takes a long time for your basement to trust that you’re going to keep things pretty clean. And the only way it knows that is for you to prove it, over what feels like an unspeakably long time.

But once your basement really believes you know what you're doing and doesn’t need to deal with your errant clutter anymore, you will not believe how spiffy it will make itself. You can just sit upstairs brewing hot, buttered coffee. It will do all the repairs on its own.

I’m not sure how that’s going to go over with anyone. I’m not a runner and maybe this isn’t inspiring at all. But if it is…consider yourself “run in.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

Old Dogs, New Tricks (WLC)

Sometimes, when I talk about this “food challenge,” people get the impression that I have a great deal of will power.

I don’t.

Anyone who knows me even a little bit, knows I have practically no tolerance for discomfort of any kind. And breaking habits is uncomfortable.

I was talking to someone the other day and explaining how a big part of “changing the way I eat” has had to do with changing when, where and why I eat – maybe even more than “what” I eat. Early on, I made a pact with myself that I would try and only eat when I was actually hungry. And I would eat however much I wanted at that time, until I felt satisfied. 

When I have something to write and am not sure how to attack it, my first response is to go eat something. When I go out and run an errand, as soon as I return home I go to the kitchen and eat something. Even if I’d just eaten 15 minutes before. When I have to make order out of chaos on my desk, I eat something first. I’m rarely ever hungry during these times. It’s more of a habit – something I do to soothe myself, something I do to transition to the next thing. Those were the habits I broke early in this challenge – and they were as hard (if not harder) than giving up sugar. Partly, because I was forced to figure out other ways to soothe myself. Or (far worse) exist in a state of unsoothiness. (Yes, I just made up that word. But, I’m pretty sure I’m going to start using it often.)

I now do not eat if I’m not hungry. Even if I’m at a party, or out to dinner. I need to be hungry to eat. That’s the deal I made with myself. It may seem completely insane from the outside looking in, but to me, it feels like the first sane way I’ve approached food in my entire life.

There aren’t that many weeks to go on this challenge. If you have habits you need to break, use this challenge and the support here to try breaking them. It takes a long time (some people estimate 3 months, others 6 months) to develop a new habit, but certainly the early weeks are the hardest.

I don’t give food a second thought on this challenges, but the lifestyle challenges – decluttering, getting more sleep, stretching – are things I still need to develop habits around. Here, I get a taste of what my life could be like if I get more sleep for a week, and I can decide if it’s worth the effort to make that a priority. You can too.


Monday, September 22, 2014

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

After a week on The Whole Life Challenge everybody seems to report feeling better. But a lot of people are complaining that they're not losing weight.

I mentioned this before, but now that you have a week under your belt, I'm going to mention it again. You will, in all likelihood, lose weight on this plan...but it probably won't happen for a few weeks. This was the pattern for most everyone in previous games. I was despondent by week 2 that I had been 100 percent compliant and not lost a single pound. I felt great, but I didn't give a shit about that...I wanted to be thinner.

Captain Sharon urged me to stick it out, sharing that she didn't lose any weight until the very end -- and then dropped like 13 pounds. I did stick it out and the scale did not move until week 6. Yes, that is a lot of weeks with no cheese and no weight loss to show for it.

But in that time, even though my weight was the same, I could already feel my body starting to change. Yours will too.

I know, I know, I's too long.

I don't know what to tell you except to say this: Your body will work better without sugar and bread in it. Period. Your body will work better with plenty of healthy fats in it. Your body will work better with lots of nutritious fruits and vegetables in it. And once your body really believes that you're going to feed it properly, for the long haul, it can finally let go of the fat it holds onto because you've been (nutritionally) starving it.

I, like you, thought I used to "eat healthy." If anyone told me I was starving my body nutritionally, I would have just told them flat out they were wrong. But I don't think I understood the toll it takes on our bodies to process all the "crap" we put into it in addition to the healthy stuff. I'm on the verge of using a grade-of-gas-in-your-car metaphor, but I don't really think I have to.

Is this true? I have no idea. But a lot of new research bears it out and, besides, you feel good, so just hang in there.

As soon as I have time I'm going to try and write about hormones and how they seemingly play into this whole process.

(If you're not feeling better yet, I would try to get off all sugar completely. Even if it's just for a week.)


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Is That A Banana In Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Last night at Back to School Night, l ran into easily a dozen people doing the challenge. Most shared with me that they were packing almonds and bananas for their journey out. I (perhaps weirdly) love that feeling of all of us being in one place and "in it" together. The Whole Life Challenge website has been a mess — the most distressing to me is the fact that we all can’t see and respond to each other’s reflections. That was the one thing that made it fun the first time I did it — because giving up cheese and chocolate was decidedly unfun.

First, I just want to say, I’m sorry that the website has been a bust. I am still optimistic that it will get sorted out soon, and I know it’s not “my fault,” but somehow I feel responsible for dragging y’all into this and making you deal with a less than perfect system. Mostly I feel bad about the reflections, because aside from it being the fun part, it also ended up being a really helpful part, for me anyway, getting people’s encouragement and tips on how to cope.

I’m very big on coping tips.

I feel like I’ve covered food here at length, but still I get a lot of questions about what I eat all day. (And I do…I eat ALL DAY.) In fact the other day, a friend stopped by on her way to the market and asked me exactly what she should buy. These are some of the things I have on hand all the time (I know this may be a repeat of earlier posts, but this is very specific, if you like that sort of thing):

Broccoli, Cauliflower, Portabello Mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash, Onions, Asparagus  - these are veggies that I oil and roast ALL THE TIME. Olive oil, salt, garlic powder. I either roast daily or I roast big batches and keep them in the fridge and heat them up for snacks.

Chicken Sausage and Chicken Breasts - I cook up batches and keep them in the fridge to throw into other things, like soups or veggie stews.

Eggplant, Peppers, Carrots, Zucchini, White Mushrooms - I keep these on hand and make ratatouille in big batches, or some cooked vegetable melange that I throw on brown rice or quinoa.

Cucumber, Calamata Olives, Grape Tomatoes, Celery, Avacado, Red Onion — I make Mediterranean salads, with or without chickpeas — just oil and lemon and salt, and eat it with hard boiled egg, or tuna or mixed in a batch of quinoa or brown rice.

Eggs — hard boiled or scrambled with sautéed veggies

Romaine lettuce that I top with tomatoes, red onion, hard boiled eggs, pumpkin seeds and avacado — often I put fruit on it, either mango or pear, which is unbearably delicious, and then oil/balsamic/mustard as dressing.

Plain Greek yogurt, banana, walnuts, chia seeds (I eat this once a day).

Frozen blueberries, almond milk, banana, yogurt smoothie (I make smoothies with anything; this is really good if you need something sweet. If you need it sweeter, add a stevia packet.)

Oatmeal and fresh berries and a few raw almonds (this is my breakfast every morning) (I like eating the same thing every day.) (I also sometimes have it at night if I’m hungry and need a filling snack.)

Lentils (to make soup) and cans of beans (to throw in everything). Once, someone on FB asked her crowd for a good lentil soup recipe and I "captured" five of them which I make in nearly constant rotation.

As you can see, there are very few things that come in a package. No one is more surprised by this than me. A year ago, if you told me I wouldn’t be eating anything from a package by September 2014, I would have laughed in your face. In fact, I probably would have laughed while ripping open a bag of Tostitos.

On Sunday, I cooked for a few hours to have things in the house and ready to eat all week. Doing this makes me unspeakably happy because then I know I have food available for many days. I am a reluctant cook and have discovered that the process is much more pleasurable with a great iTunes playlist or the Classic Rock station on Serius XM blaring in the kitchen. This Sunday, while hitting “repeat” on Heart’s “Crazy on You,” I made:
  • Chana Masala (a chickpea and tomato stew)
  • 5 different roasted vegetables (broccoli, cauli, mushrooms, squash, Brussels sprouts)
  • Chicken Sausage
  • Baked Chicken
  • Baked Rice
  • Red Lentil Soup
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Also one of my friends dropped off a hot quinoa/vegetable thing that she’d made extra of. (I love you, Ann!)

For my birthday last month, my son's girlfriend got me a Vegetarian cookbook from Anthropologie. I cook out of it all the time, omitting the cheese. I like eating vegetarian, so, again, this is not hard for me.

If you are craving sweets, I really urge you to try nuts. As a “Weight Watcher,” I used to mete out almonds, eating them 6 at a time, no more than 24 in a day. This will not do if you’re trying to get on top of a craving. My friend, Laura, believes that when our body is craving “chocolate,” what it really wants is “fat.” So, I mainline the nuts to get through a craving. I pour myself a small bowl (in a restaurant it would be called a Monkey Dish) of roasted salted almonds and salted sunflower seeds, and I eat the whole bowl. And if the craving is not gone, I have another bowl. I have adopted an ABC approach to the craving — Anything But Chocolate — and I give myself permission to eat ANY compliant food, and as much of it as I need to, in order to feel sated. This has worked for me consistently over the last 8 months.

Would it be easier to just eat some chocolate? Probably. But I know me. I’m not a person who will stop at one Ghirardelli square. I will eat them all and then eat more of them tomorrow. That’s possibly the only good thing about being a middle aged woman. You know exactly where you stand with chocolate.

If I need something truly sweet, I might add raisins to the nuts. Or I’ll put some frozen bananas (yes, I keep bananas frozen for emergencies) in the Cuisinart with a little coconut milk or almond milk — it tastes like soft-serve ice cream. Or I’ll have the sweetest fruit in the house (often mango). Or I’ll make a smoothie. Or, my favorite, is a cup of Chai tea with stevia and almond milk, which is sweet and soothing and allows you to still feel really good about yourself the next day.

Side note: If you all go buy up all the Greek yogurt in town, as seemed to have happened on Sunday, I'm not posting anymore. :-)

If you're new to the party, this series of posts started here:  My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gulp! (WLC)

The only thing left that I know about on this challenge is Water, and I don’t really even “know” about that.

This time around, one daily requirement is to drink a third of your body weight in ounces of water. During my first two challenges, this was a “Lifestyle” challenge — meaning it was a special thing you did just for a week or two — and it was half your weight in ounces. I literally prayed each day that I would lose substantial poundage quickly so I didn’t have to drink so much water.

Silly me.

One of the reasons it’s become a regular staple of the challenge is because everyone could quickly see the benefits of the water-drinking. In January it was our very first Lifestyle Challenge, it lasted two weeks, and at the end, everyone wrote in their reflections that they were going to continue the practice throughout the challenge, even though they would garner no more points for it.

I like water and it has always been my beverage of choice, but that much water was painful for me to drink at first. At 150 lbs I had to drink 75 oz of water. That may not sound like that much to you, but even as a regular water drinker, it was going right through me.  I could not stray far from a bathroom and if I had to travel into the city, I strategized the hours preceding my trip to make sure I would have an empty bladder during that 45-60 minutes.

Then, after about eight days, things changed. I could hold the water more easily and didn’t panic so much about being out and away from a loo. Not surprisingly, my skin started to look better and I started having a lot more energy. I came up with a theory (although I can’t remember if I came up with it on my own or if my friend Amy Romano, fitness and nutrition guru extraordinaire, came up with it for me).

Imagine a houseplant that is withering because you haven’t watered it in weeks. You feel bad because the dirt is all dry and dusty and the plant itself is droopy and lifeless, so you get your watering can and give it a nice, big drink. What happens? The dirt is so dry, all the water runs straight to the bottom of the pot and out the drain holes.

That’s us. Most of us are dehydrated — very, very dehydrated. I didn’t think that was me because I thought I drank plenty of water every day. I was wrong.

Eventually, the plant will  absorb the water, the soil will get moist and the leaves will perk up, but it takes a few days. When we start this water regimen, that’s what we are offering our dry, shriveled cells. Once they’re hydrated again, they start to work better. They’re able to receive the nutrients in our food, which they really weren’t receiving before. (Amy definitely told me that part.) So this combination of hydrating your cells and eating nutritious REAL FOOD creates this awesome Super You — a You that probably needs less sleep, can bound up stairs, can work out harder — all because your organs aren’t so starving for food and water that they can do their job with a fraction of the life-energy they required before. And all that extra life-energy goes to you!

As I said, Amy told me about our cells’ ability to process nutrients, but I may have made the rest of it up. It totally makes sense to me and has been borne out by my experience, but it may have no basis in science or fact. If that’s a sticking point for you, feel free to disregard all of this. But commit to the water-drinking with a vengeance nonetheless.

I used to think drinking water on a “diet plan” was about filling yourself up so you didn’t eat as much — a strategy that has never, not once, worked for me. Now I think it’s about making us big, lush, frond-laden houseplants, which is kind of a nice image, don’t you think?


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Everything I Have Left To Say (Almost) About The Whole Life Challenge

I realize this should go without saying, but all this stuff I’ve been writing—they’re my stupid opinions, based on my personal experience. I say things about fat and butter — you need to read up on it and figure it out for yourself. This is all what I have done. You’ll do the challenge YOUR way.

That said, here’s a few things I want to leave you with as the challenge begins:

1. Your antidepressant is NOT a supplement. One person asked me that (as a joke, obviously) but a lot of people don’t know what to take. If that’s you too, take Vitamin D. We are all deficient in Vitamin D, unless you’re laying nude in the noonday sun for hours every day. If that’s you, take acidophilus.

2. If you are doing the middle or highest level, you may be freaking out about what to put in your coffee. I was a decaf drinker and only liked coffee with half-and-half; almond milk was not a viable option for me. So for my first challenge, I just gave it up. I realize that’s not an option for most people. Since then, I’ve discovered Bullet Proof Coffee, which is coffee blended (in a blender) with unsalted butter and coconut oil. I really like it and have started drinking caffeinated coffee again after 20 years because I like it so much. The guy who trademarked it uses  fancy ingredients. I make it with regular old coffee, regular old (organic, virgin) coconut oil and Kerry Gold Unsalted Butter. Read about it. Make it. Enjoy it. Or go black.

3. When I make someone a Bullet Proof Coffee and they see how much butter I put in, they plotz. I did too. “How many calories in that much butter???!!”  I’m sure a lot. But here is a new paradigm we all need to wrap our heads around: Fat burns fat. Here’a a piece on NPR about fat. I don’t know how to convince you that eating more fat is going to be good for you except to say this: Fat will fill you up and you won’t feel hungry. I have eaten more avocados, nuts and butter in the past six months than in the previous 25 years combined, and for the first time in my adult life, I weigh what I did in college. Here’s the skinny on the butter: yes it’s a saturated fat, and you should do your own research on it, but from what I’ve read, this PARTICULAR BUTTER — grass-fed from Ireland — has less of the stuff that’s really bad for you in butter than any other butter anywhere (and that Bad Stuff is apparently some toxic something or other that ends up in the cows’ milk glands from eating grain). Grass fed butter provides important micronutrients that you cannot get elsewhere (namely Vitamin K2). The whole thing is debatable -- whether net/net it's "good for you" or "bad for you," and I’m not actually interested in debating it. I’m fairly sure organic, Irish, grass-fed butter won’t kill you over 8-week's time, but I’m not positive. And if I’m wrong, I apologize in advance. 

Asana House on Valley Road in Montclair (across from Tierney’s) is selling WLC compliant coffee. If you go there, tell him you’re doing the WLC. I urged him to get it up and running by today for us, and he has!

4. Don’t forget to record your scores each day. The website prompts you as soon as you log on and during one challenge I think they even sent a reminder email each day. Your scores represent your behavior for the PRIOR day. So what I do today will be scored tomorrow. Last time I set an alarm on my phone to remind me each day.

5. If weeks go by and you are not losing weight and you’re really concerned, change stuff up. Eat fewer grains, fewer nuts, less alcohol for a few days. See what works for you. As I lost weight my sex drive increased and I started having more sex and started dropping more weight. (It was with my husband, so I feel as if it’s ok to share that.) So you can try that and see if it works. Not with my husband, necessarily. Maybe find your own person to have sex with.

6. It was really, really helpful for me to have prepared food around ALL THE TIME. I would cook up a storm one day a week and have big containers of chana masala, ratatouille, quinoa salad, hard boiled eggs, chicken sausage, lentil soup.  I was able to get through cravings and habitual eating much more easily when I had something filling right there for me when I was hungry. This might have been the single best strategy I developed on this challenge.

7. Do take your measurements, weigh yourself, and, even if you don’t post it (which I never have) take a full body BEFORE picture. This is your only BEFORE opportunity. I did not take a picture of myself when I started this in January and I really regret it.

8. Sharon, our team leader, owns Halcyon (Walnut Street, Montclair) and I’m pretty sure is offering one fully compliant special on the menu every day of the challenge. If you’re freaking out about going out to eat, go there.

Ok, here goes nothing. God, I hope this is fun. :-)


Friday, September 12, 2014

Full Disclosure (WLC)

I just looked on the website and am slightly dizzy about how many people have joined this challenge. I’m feeling a little like if y’all don’t lose weight, I’m going to get run out of town. At the risk of sounding like I’m backpedaling, I have something to say…

I’m not going to name names here, but some of the people who have signed up for this challenge are already very small.  You people may not lose weight. I know: when I say that to your faces, you delight in lifting up your tee shirt and showing me your copious belly fat. Really, unless you’re fourteen or a runway model, most of us can grab onto a handful of ourselves somewhere between our neck and our ankles. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that doesn’t mean you’re “fat.”

I lost weight on this challenge because I had the excess weight to lose. But it didn’t come off quickly. I didn’t lose a single pound for many weeks, and I was one hundred percent compliant. I texted Sharon, our fearless leader, and basically said: WTF!!?? And she told me the same thing happens with her. Her weight doesn’t come off until the very end.

By the sixth week of my first challenge, I’d lost a pound or two. Then a little more in the subsequent weeks. I felt incredibly good and energetic eating this way, so I did not “go off” the eating plan at the end of 8 weeks, and it was then that the weight started to melt off.

I’m telling you this so you don’t freak out, but mostly so you don’t give up. Most of us are used to going on a diet and seeing instant results. That may not happen here.

As I’ve mentioned, the eating plan is designed (at intermediate and advanced anyway) to eliminate the foods that most often cause inflammation in people. One friend, a nurse, had said to me that it made sense to her that the weight takes a while to come off — because it takes a long time for inflammation to go down in the body. Think about when you injure yourself and you swell up — a lot of the swelling goes down in the first week, but it takes quite a long time before it all goes away and things are again working as they had been.

Don’t go into this making it all about weight.

At the end of my second challenge, I actually had gained two pounds. It came off in a week or two, and by that time I didn’t worry about it, but it was still an unwelcome surprise.

It’s hard to say what parts of the challenge are going to challenge any one of us, but I promise you: some of this will be easy and some of it will be very hard. The first lifestyle challenge is going to be No Electronics During Any Meals. This is going to KILL me. We did this last time and I don’t think I got through a single day that week being able to check off “Yes” on that box. I’ll try again this week and see if I can do better.

We give things up when we’re ready, but also when we get a little push. The Whole Challenge is that push.

I cannot promise you will lose a lot of weight, or all the weight you hope to, or that the part of you that you grabbed a handful of and shook at me will recede back whence it came and leave you sinewy and hard bellied. But I can almost guarantee that eight weeks from now you will feel better  — by a lot.

I’m going to try and do a post about Coffee and Fat before tomorrow, but if not it will be up over the weekend sometime.

I’m so psyched all of you are doing this with me…I need all the support I can get!


If you're late to the party read: My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Constant Craving (WLC)

As I may have mentioned, I’m a picky eater, I hate to cook and I loathe change. So everything about the Whole Life Challenge was initially very difficult for me. I’m afraid that sometimes I make it sound too easy: Oh, I lost a bunch of weight and all I had to do was give up sugar! 

Giving up sugar was, in fact, very, very hard.

You must think of sugar as a drug, not a food. And you are an addict. You have to get through the withdrawals and then you will be fine. Most people can get on the other side in a few days. Three…five…my friend Laura was an extreme case and took nine. Sugar will beckon to you and you will either be stoic and avoid it, or you will give in and have to detox again. Because once you have a little, the cravings come right back. I’m sorry to tell you that, but it’s the truth.

Here’s what I did:

My kids have food allergies, so for a few days, I carried around an Epi Pen, like a method actor, pretending I was deathly allergic to sugar and if I ate just a smidgeon I might go into anaphylactic shock. Yes, I really did do this.

I attempted to white knuckle through the cravings and I was a raving bitch to everyone in my family. Over the course of the three worst days, my husband begged me to go eat a cookie. “Please eat a fucking cookie and give us all a break,” may have been his exact words.

Then, a strange and miraculous thing happened. Into my email landed a link to a website that happened to have a video on it of a woman "Tapping Away" a sugar craving. I’m sure you are now asking, What could that possibly mean?

“Tapping” (also known as EFT) is a psychological tool/technique that is far too complicated for me to explain here fully (partly because I don’t really understand it), but you can simply think of it as (to quote my friend Jamie Wasserman) a descrambling of your mental energy. Basically, you tap on different points on your head, face and upper body – points that correspond to acupressure points – while saying (out loud) some things that rejigger your mental state about a certain issue, in this case: sugar.

There is no doubt about it, this is weird. But I was desperate, and I did it, and, for me, it worked. Meaning, after following this video and “tapping” along with this woman for 10 minutes, my sugar craving vanished. Like, in an instant. One minute I could think of nothing but chocolate, the next minute I couldn't care less about it. My craving came back a few weeks later, I pulled the video up again, tapped again, and again it disappeared, this time not coming back at all.

I was a person who could not go a day without a cookie, or a white chocolate macadamia nut Clif Bar, or (many) Chobani Strawberry yogurts, or some kind of chocolatey goodness. I have not had any sweet treat since the middle of January and it's been completely effortless. In fact, when I started the challenge, I made sure I had several different kinds of dark chocolate around for an emergency, and I see those boxes in my fridge and in my pantry every single day and they have nothing on me.

The most cynical among you will roll your eyes at this video and say, There is no way I’m doing that. That’s fine. But when you text me and ask me how to get through your sugar DTs on Sunday, this is what I’m going to tell you to do.

You can find the Tapping Video here. Use the one called Overcoming Sugar Addiction.  Bookmark it. This is your methadone clinic.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Do I Eat Away From Home? (WLC)

Like you, I was once nervous about what I might eat at a restaurant while on the Whole Life Challenge. But this was before I realized that I can now, for the first time, permit myself to recklessly eat a few things that I have denied myself completely for decades, the main one being butter.

At the risk of sounding overly glib or insensitive, restaurant eating seems like a complete no brainer. You can eat practically every kind of meat on the Whole Life Challenge, nearly every vegetable, every kind of fruit, butter (!), and (on my level) brown rice. What’s left? Bread, pasta, cheese. Sorry, no dessert unless you can get someone to whip you up a bowl of fruit. Have tea.

When I go out for lunch, I either get an omelet, soup or a salad and ask for it with no cheese. I often have grilled chicken or shrimp on the salad, or hard boiled eggs and maybe bacon. Usually I’m braying to whomever will listen that, “this is the best salad I’ve ever had in my life!” Because, the truth is, when someone else makes your salad for you, it’s just tastes better.

For dinner, I usually have chicken or fish because I don’t eat red meat at all (though I consider bacon a food category unto itself, and I do avail myself of that at times). If I did eat red meat, I feel like I would have endless choices at restaurants. My big modification is usually this: when I order an entrée that comes with potatoes, I ask for no potatoes and an extra vegetables.

Eating vegetarian is sometimes the hardest, because restaurants add cheese to a lot of dishes in a way that you cannot extract it. Or the dish is laden with some soy-protein ingredient. I thought I’d have my pick of the litter at a vegan place recently, and there was literally one single thing on the menu that was compliant. Oh well.

Chinese food is tricky because of the soy. My favorite place does a Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables with Garlic and Ginger Sauce over brown rice, which I love.

Once I was at a Japanese place and I wanted some of their specialty rolls (I get them with brown rice). I wasn’t sure whether there was added sugar in the sauces, so I just took off a point for the day.

Recently at a Thia place there was some roasted pumpkin thing I ordered with grilled shrimp. I asked them to hold the (white) rice. I would eat this dish every single day of my life if I could.

Much more difficult is if you’re somewhere for the day where you aren’t really being “served” food – a soccer game where all you have access to are the chips at the concession stand. What I do is just bring food with me, as if I'm a cranky toddler that always needs snacks at the ready. I rarely go anywhere without a bag of almonds in tow. Often I have an apple or banana. Some people take hard boiled eggs with them. I know a woman who keeps a bag of cooked black beans in her car and snacks on them throughout the day. Having protein at your fingertips will help you through those situations.

This requires a bit more planning, but it’s neither impossible nor especially difficult. People ask me if there are any Protein Bars they can have. I’m not sure — there may be something listed on the website forum. Mostly those “protein bars” are really just glorified candy bars. If you want to feel better, you need to eat Real Food.

A few people have asked me, “What if I’m traveling for an extended period?”

Yes, it’s harder to be compliant if you’re not in control of your food. When I go somewhere, I try and stop at a grocery store wherever I am and get some fruit and nuts for my hotel room. I drink a lot of tea. I try and keep yogurts or hummus around. If I go to restaurants while away, I eat really filling dishes – eggs, meat, rice – so I don’t get hungry so quickly.

If you’ve done programs like Weight Watchers, you need to get out of the Portion Control mindset and just eat what you need to eat to fill you up and sustain you until you are in control of your next meal. I was really scared of this program at first, so I was eating the Whole Life Challenge Plan, but also counting Weight Watcher points and I was feeling like there wasn’t ever anything for me to eat because I considered a lot of things verboten.

I now often wake up in the morning excited because there’s so much I can eat. It’s not a drag to eat anymore. It’s fun. It’s just not sugary fun.

I feel like  the crux of this Challenge is about being mindful about your decisions. Making everything you do for your body count in some way. What is it about a certain restaurant food that we feel especially “entitled” to, or truly deprived of if we do without? Why do we think we’re going to feel happier or better taken care of if we have full access to the focaccia basket? Focaccia really only makes me happy for about 7 minutes. I’ve actually timed it.

When people on the team of my last Challenge would go off plan, they’d usually talk about it in their reflection in either of two ways:

“I enjoyed that pizza more than I’ve ever enjoyed any pizza in my whole life.”
“That was so not worth it, I felt like shit afterwards.”

There’s really no way to predict which one of those will be your truth. You’ll try it one day, and you’ll see.

*Initial post: My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Can I Be Invisible? (WLC)

The question I’m asked most often about this challenge is: What do you mean, “Team”? How much do I actually have to interact with other people?

I think people are asking a lot of different things with this question, so here’s what I hope answers it all:

When you join the challenge you have the opportunity to also join a team. The “team” is an online entity. We never have to see each other.

Here’s what I think/know about teams:

1.    You don’t have to join a team -- you can play as an individual.
2.    You can join a random team where you don’t know anyone (I’m not sure how, but I’m pretty sure there’s a way).
3.    You can join a team where you know others and never ever post any reflections (or read anyone else’s), which means the only way anyone will know you’re there is by your stats on the leader-board.
4.    You can join and never post, and just read other people’s reflections, like many of us do on Facebook.
5.    You can join under an assumed name (which others of us do on Facebook).
6.    Or you can just full out play.

Your teammates can see your stats -- how many points you amass each day and your total points to date -- and I think that's it. You can go into your profile and change your privacy settings so no one sees anything. You don't have to post a picture. No one will know you're there.

I was very intimidated by the Team thing the first time. I only knew the team captain and sort of knew one other player and was convinced that person didn’t like me.

I thought that if I didn’t do well (didn’t get points – which collectively go to the “team”) I would be considered Dead Weight (no pun intended) and others would resent me for dragging them down.

As far as I can tell – NO ONE CARES! Not on this team anyway. Maybe on the teams that are formed by fancy LA gyms. Not the teams formed among middle aged women who are just trying to get back into their jeans.

The “reflections” are just that. A sentence or two about how it’s going for you, what you’re learning, what you like/don’t like. There’s a minimum and a maximum character count. (Not “word count,” “character count.” That’s how short they are.)

“I hate this today!” is too short to count. I’ve tried it.

In the past, they've given a couple of bonus points for every 5 reflections you post. I like to write and do not feel that pesky need for privacy that most people do, so this was a very easy way for me to amass points to make up for blowing off stretching or exercise one day.

That’s it. Like most things, it’s not scary after you do it once.

Plus, feeling like we’re all doing it together is the thing that’s going to make it feel fun.

If you're late to the party, here's my first post on the Whole Life Challenge:
My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post


Monday, September 8, 2014

Foods You Must Ditch (WLC)

The Whole Life Challenge Food Component is basically a modified Paleo diet…modified in that you can eat beans even on the strictest level.

The 3 levels of “play” are essentially levels of strictness. The very strictest level, for example, permits no grains of any kind. That’s not an option for me; I would not last a single day. You should pick a level that stretches you, but that you can sustain – ideally sustain beyond the 8-week challenge time.

People ask me what I can’t eat. The eating plan is designed to eliminate all the things that are generally known to cause inflammation in people. (It actually takes quite a while for our bodies to de-inflame [I may have just made that word up], which is why, perhaps, many people don’t see actual weight loss for many weeks. Do not be discouraged. Your body is healing so it can start using nutrients and burning fat efficiently, something it probably has a hard time doing in its current “inflamed" state.)

In a nutshell, here is what I don’t eat:
    •    Sugar – of any kind, except for Stevia, which is a plant-based sweetener.
    •    Anything with flour in it.
    •    White rice
    •    White potatoes
    •    Dairy products with the exception of plain yogurt, butter and kefir. (Some people think eggs are dairy – they’re not. Eggs are fine to eat.)
    •    Soy (I think getting rid of soy is about the gluten, so gluten-free soy sauce might be ok, but you’d have to check the website.)
    •    Corn (I think now you may be able to eat it in the new version; not popcorn, though.)
    •    No artificial or processed ingredients except for a few they "ok."

The Whole Life Challenge website has a sheet about exactly what you can and can't eat. I don't know if you need to sign up to access it (I can't link to it here for some reason). Go there and try clicking on HOW TO PLAY and the list should be accessible from Number 2.

The intermediate level is now way more lax about sugar. I will tell you this: sugar is a drug, not a food. You will go through withdrawals from it. Having “a little” may make it harder to not have “a lot,” so it’s up to you how strict you want to be. I say get off it completely. I really believe that single thing has been most responsible for how good I feel.

I believe you can now have one glass of wine or spirits per day at the intermediate level. As I’ve said, when I did it, it was one per week. I am not a drinker, so this was not difficult for me;  if you can limit alcohol as much as possible, you’ll probably lose more weight – just saying.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Can I Snack On? (WLC)

The Whole Life Challenge Website has food lists for each of three levels of play. I play at the middle level, which is challenging enough for me. At my level, I can have yogurt and oatmeal, two of my go-to snacks. (Real oatmeal, not the packets.) I think every other snack I list is compliant at all levels of play.

I’m a very picky eater, so I’m sure there are dozens of other yummy things to eat that I just won’t eat. That said, here's what I snack on:

    •    Plain Yogurt – full fat Fage is my favorite. I put banana and walnuts in it and sometimes a touch of vanilla. I would urge you to stay away from non-fat yogurt. You will be hungry again in 15 minutes.
    •    Avacado and Tomato (This is the perfect time of year for this, add salt and maybe a little balsamic.)
    •    Almonds/Sunflower Seeds with or without Raisins
    •    Roasted Sweet Potato “Fries” (OMG!!) (Cubed, coated lightly with olive oil and salt)
    •    Smoothies (I add stevia if I need something really sweet, but mostly just fruit, almond milk, a dollop of yogurt, a touch of vanilla.)
    •    Roasted Cauliflower, Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts (Roast ‘til caramelized and crispy. Better than chips. Seriously.)
    •    All Fruit
    •    Raw Veggies with or without Hummus to dip in
    •    Apples or Bananas with (healthy, no-sugar-added) Peanut or Almond Butter
    •    Chai Tea with Almond Milk and Stevia*
    •    Bullet Proof Coffee (This is coffee blended – in a blender – with organic, grass-fed, unsalted butter and a little coconut oil. It fills you and is delish.)
    •    Soup or Leftovers (I sometimes have little meals if I need a snack. Yesterday I was starving at 4pm and heated up a tiny piece of leftover salmon onto which I piled cut up mango and salsa and capers because that’s all we had around. It was scrumptious.)

I don’t eat much from a package anymore, but technically these are compliant (I'm sure there's other packaged'll have to do some investigating):

    •    Sweet Potato and Carrot Terra Chips
    •    Brown Rice Cakes  (check ingredients)

People ask me how much of any of this stuff I eat. I eat until I feel satisfied. I have tried really hard in this challenge to parse out what’s Hunger, what’s Boredom, what’s Procrastination, and what’s Habit when it comes to snacking. If I’m actually hungry, I eat until I’m not hungry anymore. And the thing that satisfies me most (even when I want chocolate) (especially when I want chocolate), is roasted, salted nuts. I might eat two big handfuls of almonds and sunflower seeds. At first I freaked out about eating so much “fat.” I now don’t give it a second thought.

I’m home a lot, which makes things both easier and harder. I can easily make myself something to eat, but I also have a kitchen 25 feet from my workspace that beckons to me every time I can’t think of the next sentence to write. All I can say is this: if you’re out in the world and you want a snack, go somewhere and eat Real Food. Get a salad. Get a cup of soup. Go to a juice bar. Go get some bananas and nuts. Keep a bag of almonds in your car. Once you get in the habit of doing this, you will not believe how difficult you once thought it would be.

Once the challenge starts, you have access to the Forum, where people ask questions like, “What can I have for a snack?” and lots of people answer them, with ideas, recipes and encouragement.

Yes, you will miss cheese. But you’ll get over it.

*Stevia is a natural, plant-based sweetener. I think it's compliant at all levels. I get it in little packets at the supermarket and carry them with me, like my grandmother used to do when she stole all the Sweet n Lows from the sugar bowls at restaurants.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post

I didn’t write down the date I started my first Whole Life Challenge, but I’m pretty sure it was in mid-January of 2014. I had lost some weight on Weight Watchers a few years earlier and had gained a lot of it back. This completely freaked me out, because largely, I was eating a Weight Watchers-condoned diet. I talked to my internist and my gynecologist about it and they both just nodded their heads. “Women your age…”

I know it’s harder to lose weight now than it was when I was 30, but I know plenty of Women My Age who are slim and fit, so that wasn’t totally making sense for me.

However many of those women are hungry all the time. That’s not an option for me, as I’m too cranky when I’m hungry. So I talked to this woman in town who does a one-on-one nutrition/exercise/lifestyle thing with you and texts you all the time to make sure you’re toeing the line. What she said to me made a lot of sense – we talked about hormones and how our bodies don’t have what they need to run efficiently – and I was all ready to sign up with her, plunk down a big chunk of change that I really didn't have, because I considered it my only hope.

Then, my friend Sharon posted something on Facebook about the Whole Life Challenge. I knew she’d lost some weight on it in the past and I was slightly intrigued – but only slightly, because really anything with the word “challenge” in it is a complete turn off to me. I find it challenging to make dinner every day and take a shower. That's enough challenge for me.

I hemmed and hawed for a few days and then the start date came and went. I wanted to kick myself. It cost $49 to join this 8-week challenge and I blew it off because…I don't even know why I blew it off. I guess because I thought I would fail.

A day or two later, I had an uncharacteristic moment of clarity and decided I’d try it, quit if I hated it and, if it didn’t work, suck it up and plunk down the money to do the more expensive one-on-one program. I joined the challenge, joined my friend’s team and then completely – and I mean completely – changed the way I eat.

The Whole Life Challenge is an 8 week challenge that you participate in or “play” online. You’re asked to pick a level to play at (I play at the intermediate level) and you get a list of food that you can no longer eat. You’re asked to exercise every day for at least 10 minutes, and that exercise is anything you choose – whatever YOU consider exercise. I walk or do yoga or play tennis. None of it is particularly rigorous, but my body is in motion for a sustained period of time every day. You’re asked to stretch for 10 minutes every day and you’re asked to take a supplement of some kind every day. A supplement is anything you choose to improve your innards. I added a daily acidophilus pill because I’d recently read that our immune systems start with a healthy gut. I used to take acidophilus only when I was on antibiotics or if my stomach felt “off,” but apparently taking it every day is really good for you, so I committed to that.

Finally, you’re asked to take on a “lifestyle” challenge. When I did it the first time, this would be a week-long activity that you’d be told about via email. One was: Ten minutes per day of meditation. Another was: Read a book for pleasure for 10 minutes every day. Another was: Get 7 hours of sleep every 24 hours. These were all pretty simple, but not always easy.

Finally, you were invited to share a little message with the group everyday on the message board. The message board consists of your teammates and the message has a minimum and maximum character count. They’re short. This paragraph would not fit in the message slot. Every five times you post a message you get some extra points.

Points are amassed by being “compliant.” If you do your exercise, you get points for it that day. If you do not eat any foods you shouldn’t be eating, you get points for that. Every day you amass points for your team, based on how you did with all your little challenges on that day. Most people did not get a perfect score every day and many people did not get a perfect score most days. Meaning: people have vacations, or parties, or are too busy to get to the gym – they all just do the best they can.

I had hoped to lose 5 pounds. At the end of 8 weeks, I’d lost about 8 pounds and a few inches around my middle. I lost one full chin. My “skinny jeans” fit again. But the most profound thing was how much better I felt. I had way more energy, right from the beginning. Like, after a week, I felt 10 years younger. (Maybe not 10, but at least 7.)

I have found this way of eating so energizing that I simply kept going after the first 8-week stint. I went from 150 to 135 pounds and a size 10 to a size 6. My skin is clear and my mood is usually pretty upbeat. I’m never hungry. I don’t feel deprived. I don’t find it difficult. But that’s just me. You have to find a thing that suits you – and this happens to suit me.

I’ve told a lot of people about this experience – what it was like to Give Up Sugar (hard and ugly), how I lost inches long before I lost pounds, how drinking the water they require was one of the biggest challenges and ultimately changed my life.

I have a lot to say about this challenge and now a ton of people I know are doing it along with me. I am blogging about some of the specifics because I don’t have time to talk or text with each individual person.

I will share with you my perspective on How Invisible You Can Be (a question I get a lot), about What To Eat At A Restaurant (another popular terror), How To Get Through Cravings, What To Eat At Home, etc. I will try not to go on and on as I did here, and also try to keep the number of posts brief, because I know these posts end up in people’s mailboxes. If you’re not interested in this, I apologize in advance. If you haven’t signed up but are intrigued, I’ll post a link at the end here.

Not surprisingly, there’s a TON of information and resources on the website, far more exhaustive than what I will provide. But until y’all feel comfortable, we can just ease into this together.


The Whole Life Challenge website


Saturday, June 28, 2014

I Love Eighth Grade Boys

The following is running on Huffington Post -- you can comment or share it directly from the site by clicking here.

When I used to work with kids on their writing, my favorites were always the eighth grade boys. They didn't even pretend to like to write. "I'm a terrible writer," each would say. Even though that was rarely ever true.

Eighth grade boys would sit at my dining room table and do almost anything to avoid writing. They'd stretch their long limbs. They'd take apart pens. They'd wage bets. One boy always wanted to bet on word meanings. He knew he could kill extra time by offering to get the dictionary from the next room and then feign difficulty looking it up.

Eighth grade boys often make words up, using a logic and understanding of language that was never evident in their horrendous seventh grade selves.

Is there anyone more hubrant than an eighth grade boy?

That's the type of sentence they'd write.

Hubrant?" I'd say.

"Yeah. It means: a person who has a lot of hubris."

Not even, "I think it means..." During this small moment of their lives, eighth grade boys are absolutely sure about everything.

I love eighth grade boys. (Although not in a creepy way.)

Because they are at once impossibly full of themselves and catastrophically insecure. Because you can finally start to see the young men they'll eventually become. Because they're quick and irreverent. But mostly because they are usually very, very funny.

A friend once forwarded me this email, written by her eighth grade son to his science teacher:

"Here is my frankly extraordinary project. Filled not only with fantastic revelations of elements but also how, in an ecclesiastical way, [they] correlate to our humble beginnings as stated in the Judeo-Christian book of prayer. This is an epiphany I realized only after trawling though thousands of gigabytes of information as well as after participating in a confirmation retreat, which explains the slight tardiness. But the quality obviously makes up for the time. Did Italy ask Michelangelo, "Why haven't you finished the Sistine Chapel? I told you to do it Monday!" This is because Italy knew that with quality comes deep soul searching that cannot be bound by social or time constraints. So considering this project is pretty much the scientific equivalent of the Sistine Chapel and it was emailed to you by the correct date, I think that it is superfluous for you to read it and much more economical and health conscious just to give me 100 percent. I say health conscious because I am worried about the long-term effects when this paper on Boron trifluoride blows your mind. Furthermore, I have a clay model of Boron trifluoride that you will see on your desk before first period starts. And if you consider the diagram technically late, remember that in Italy it would basically be the day before, so in Italy, the home country, this paper is on time."

His mother pointed out, "It's full of inaccuracies, such as the fact that Italy is ahead of us time-wise, not behind us, and Michelangelo was constantly pestered to get the Sistine chapel done. Luckily his teacher seems to have a sense of humor."

Eighth grade boys can see most of what's ludicrous about the world and when they put those notions through their middle school meat grinder of a brain, brilliance comes out the other end.

One boy used to come in and plunk down a five-page literary analysis that was due the following day.

"Is this bad?" he'd say as he pushed his paper toward me across the dark oak table.

I'd pick it up and start to read.

"Is it bad?" he'd ask again.

"I'm not even through the first paragraph."

"I know, but is it bad?"

And then, a moment later, he'd grab the pages back from me, flip to the end and announce, "I feel a bit of genius coming on," as he'd start to scribble a new conclusion.

The other night I was trying to finalize the title of the book I was editing, helping the author choose between three decent options. I decided to take it to my son and his friends, curious how a roomful of eighth grade boys would approach the decision. I briefly explained the idea and content of the book, what it was apparently about and what it was more deeply about. Then I gave them the title choices, explaining that one title (the author's favorite) also already happened to be the title of a different book.

"That doesn't seem to matter though," I told them.

"You're saying it's okay to give the book a title that's already being used by another book?" asked one eighth grade boy.

"Yes, different books can have the same title," I said.

"Then I would just call the book Harry Potter," he said.

What must it be like inside that eighth-grade head?

I imagine it as that magical middle school moment of being the biggest ... the oldest ... the top of the heap, when your wit and intellect suddenly converge and you become one part boy and three parts awesome. Maybe the sweetness is due to how fleeting that moment is. How, once you step out of middle school, you land in that vat of social and academic muck called high school, a stew that you need to wade through for years before finding your balance again. Maybe it's because you don't see that pure, unadulterated self-possession in young men until after they've survived something -- something worse than middle school, that is. 

My son graduated eighth grade last night, and although I feel completely done with middle school, I'm a little sad. Because there truly is no one as hubrant as an eighth grade boy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Best Night of The Year

Last night was our town’s high school graduation. After the ceremony the kids get on buses and are driven throughout the town for maybe an hour before they are shepherded away to a secret location to spend all night together. My neighbors throw a lawn party for the event and when night falls and the buses pass by, a hundred of us line the streets banging on pots and pans, standing on top of parked cars screaming and clapping and waving to the newly minted high school graduates. Sometimes someone hauls a drum set to the curb. One boy plays the bagpipes. The procession is led by a flashing police car and fire truck and lasts no more than 10 minutes, but the joy is palpable and it’s incredibly moving. And while it was happening I was thinking that I would give anything – anything -- to be celebrated like that just one time in my life.

I turned to my friend and said, “Maybe we should have this kind of procession for women who’ve been married 20 years. We could all pile into buses, be driven through town and people could cheer for us.” Not because 20 years of marriage is especially hard, but, like high school, it’s a long haul and often fraught with bullshit. Then, tired and depleted, we would all spend an unspeakably long time together at some gaming arcade. The sun would come up and we’d be ferried back home, never so happy to crawl back into our own beds.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Next Stop: Dorm Sheets

 New piece on Huffington Post:

So. Your kid got into a college. Or maybe a few colleges. And the decision has been made. You think you can sit back and relax now because that year of stress and arguments, all those months of waiting, they're all behind you, right? Um, not so fast. No sooner will you send in that acceptance deposit than you will start to receive offers for items that will make your child's college life the dream come true you've been hoping for. And the most insidious of these offers will be for dorm gear. If direct marketing dollars are any barometer of importance, you will quickly start to feel that there's nothing in your life more urgent than purchasing dorm sheets.

My son's school sent us a brochure -- ok, many brochures -- about "packages" they offer for the dorm. Sheets, towels, blankets, a hamper. A little light that clips onto a headboard. The brochure guarantees everything will fit his particular dorm furniture. It says the package can be sent directly to his room, there when he arrives at school. It says I can save hundreds of dollars buying it all this way. Who wouldn't want to do this? It's such a great deal! They even throw in a memory foam mattress topper!

No, don't get the package sent to the school! You need to wash all the sheets and towels first. Plus, the memory foam needs to be opened up so it can "breathe" a bit. Of course. I knew that.

The brochure provides no actual details about the sheets. Only colors. You can't tell how they feel or what they're made of. But if I buy it from a regular store, how will I know I'm getting all the right stuff? What if he needs under-bed storage? A clip-on bed fan? A mini-fridge? A microwave? Who knew that buying sheets for college would be more stressful than the application process itself?

I asked about the dorm package on Facebook and got 63 responses.
Do the package.
Don't do the package.
It's a bargain and convenient.
It's a rip-off.
The package is for losers.
The package sheets are fine.
They pill.
They're stiff.
They fall apart.
They're perfect.
I would never send my child to school with "package" sheets.
Try Garnet Hill; they have 100 percent cottons in extra long. 

Garnet Hill? I don't even buy sheets for myself from Garnet Hill.

ME: Do you want the package sheets or should we go shopping for sheets?
HIM: I don't care.
ME: The package sheets are probably some kind of poly/cotton blend.
HIM: Whatever.
ME: They say we have to order really soon if we want our choice of patterns.
HIM: Ok.
ME: So, should we order?
HIM: I don't care.
ME: But they're your sheets. It's your bed.
HIM: Mom, just do it however you want.

I know. I know. I know. They're just sheets. Why, then, does it feel like they're so much more?
When I went to college, I took sheets from our linen closet and stuffed them in a milk crate. Actually, now that I think of it, I totally bought new sheets. I can still picture them: ivory with pale blue and orange paisley, a little brown detail. I remember the brown because the second set of sheets were solid brown and I sometimes paired the brown pillowcase with the paisley one since they complemented each other. I can't believe I remember my college sheets. It's settled. This is too special. No package.

ME: Do you want one set of sheets or two? If you bring only one set, you have to wash, dry and put them back on the bed all in the same day. If you bring two sets, you can take one set off, put the new set on and then wash the first set when it's convenient.
HIM: need to wash sheets?

Don't buy the memory foam anywhere but Target or it won't fit properly.
I just got one somewhere else.
Can you return it? It's going to be too short.
But it will just be short down where his feet are, right? His feet don't need memory foam, do they?
Ok. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Of course we all managed to get through college without memory foam mattress toppers. But when I google dorm beds, it looks like the mattresses haven't been replaced since the eighties.

ME: Honey, pick out the sheets you like. They need to be extra long.
HIM: I like these.
ME: Those?! Those are 400 thread count! After the year you just put me through, you don't deserve 400 thread count. Two hundred, tops.

From mid-August to mid-September, my Facebook feed is littered with parents' pictures of their kids' decorated dorm rooms, each one looking like a page straight out of a catalog. One friend confided that her son's room looked too much like a prison cell and she might find a local designer to put together some window treatments.

I'm feeling guilty about the thread count.
He doesn't care about the thread count.
But what if he gets sick and he doesn't feel cozy?
He'll be so happy just being on his own, he'd be fine sleeping on a rock.

But what if there's a bellyache, a fever, a day when a bed must be crawled back into -- a pillow hugged, a blanket pulled up and over a head? Don't those days deserve the best and softest sheets money can buy? If anyone told me 18 years ago, while my son was still wrapped in his first tiny flannel blankie, that I would someday give his college sheets more than three minutes of consideration, I would have deemed them insane. Yet, here I am, having spent three months on it. Is that to obscure the fact that maybe I haven't prepared him enough to go out into the world on his own? Or simply because I'm terrified about what will fill my brain once his day-to-day care is out of my control?

Is buying sheets my last chance to mother him? No, don't answer that.

To share or comment on HuffPo, click here

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dead After 50

 New essay on Huffington Post!

Last Thursday night, I texted a friend: "What should I wear to a Dead show? No tie dye available," and got back, "Tank top, no bra."

"I'm afraid that ship has sailed," I wrote.

I'd been invited to see Bob Weir play. I mostly listen to NPR these days, but the concert was only a mile from my house. I haven't seen the Grateful Dead in decades, but really, how much could have changed?


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What Price Karma?

 I have a new essay on Huffington Post!

To read it (and I hope you do) click here:

What Price Karma?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Food Is Not My Friend (or "Happy New Year!")

The ground turkey was about to expire. That’s really the only reason I started making a Mexican casserole. Later, when it was all assembled and about to go into the oven, I sent a text message to a friend: “Right now I’m cooking something that no one in my family will eat, including me, and I’m becoming more depressed with each passing moment.”

This is not the type of message one should be texting on New Year’s Eve.

My youngest son is a picky eater, loathe to try new things even at 14. Still, I thought I might have a shot with this – packed as it was with tortillas and cheese – but at the last minute I added black beans, which I knew would extinguish any possibility.

My husband, I just learned, also now avoids black beans, but even if he didn’t, the casserole contained salsa, which is made of tomatoes, which are verboten for his blood type, as he is an Eat Right For Your Blood Type zealot. Whether you buy into that premise or not, I’ve watched him go from eczema laden to eczema free after giving up a few key foods, so I don’t scoff. Much.

The fact is, all four of us have different blood types and our natural predilections bear the theory out: there are very few single meals all of us enjoy. I think Shrimp Scampi might be the only one. Still, my older son would probably have eaten the cheesy casserole, even with his latent dairy allergy, but he was away for the week and I was sure I’d have thrown the casserole away by the time he returned.

There’s no real good reason for me not to eat this casserole as it contains a few of my most coveted foods (cheese and tortillas), except that I feel like I’ve become really fat over the last few days and indulging in my favorites does not easily fit into the rules of abstemiousness that I so tenaciously cling to.

“Do you want to try my Mexican casserole before you go out?” I asked my 14-year-old. He looked at me as if I’d suggested he drink gasoline. “I think you might like it.” (I had little to lose by pressing.)

He countered with a firm, “No.”

I could have made something entirely different with the ground turkey, something with marinara sauce that I would have spooned over quinoa pasta and not hated myself for eating, but instead I chose this casserole and I’m still not sure why. Even as I opened the oven door to pop it in, I was chastising myself for wasting perfectly good food, envisioning, as I was, scraping the whole thing into the garbage the next morning.

After the casserole cooked, cooled and had been refrigerated, I dropped my 14-year-old off at a New Year’s Eve party and my husband and I went to a dinner party nearby where I ate a virtuous (cheeseless) vegetable-only dinner and scurried off to the living room alone when dessert was served. At half past midnight, my son sent word that he was heading back to our house with some friends and my husband left our party to meet them there. I got into an engaging conversation on my way out the door and ended up staying for another hour.

When I pulled back into our driveway it was 1:45 a.m. Before I even got out of the car, I received a text message from my son: “Where are you?”

I hurried into the house, reading into his question some sort of peril, but found him and his friends in the TV room playing a video game, not a peril in sight. “Is something wrong?” I asked.

“Yes. We’re really hungry. Can you make us food?”

“It’s two in the morning,” I said, a statement that was not only inarguable but also fully conveyed my lack of enthusiasm for meal preparation. “Plus, I don’t even know what we have in the house to eat…”

And then I remembered the casserole.

I addressed my son’s friends directly. “Say, do any of you guys want some Mexican casserole?” I was about to launch into a small sales pitch but there was no need. Their eyes had already widened and I could detect salivary glands coming to attention. I heated it up and watched our three guests devour it. “This is really good,” one of the boys said to my son. “Why don’t you want any?”

My son and I exchanged glances, both of us acknowledging that I was claiming a sort of quiet victory, although one that would ultimately amount to nothing in my ongoing family feeding travails. Still, I took it as a good omen for the start of a new year.