I want you to read this book

I inhaled Hunger by Roxane (one n) Gay. I don’t mean it in the food metaphor way, I mean it in the breath-way, you know, the normal way we think of inhaling. I took it all in in three long breaths, filling not only my lungs with it, but my heart, my brain, and my body.

I want you to read this book if you are a parent, or a child. I want you to read this book if you have been in a family and that family dynamic has left you unable to tell the truth about you, about your body, about what you do with or has been done to your body. I want you to read this book if fat* makes you feel ashamed, or if you feel like fat is who you are. More, though, I want you to read this book if you think fat is a character flaw, a moral outrage, or a thing that only slovenly, lazy people become.

In a nutshell, I want YOU to read this book.

It’s an easy read, offered in 88 chapters, which may sound like a lot, but she serves it up in pieces that range from a paragraph or two to five to seven pages.

It’s an easy read more so because Gay is a gifted writer who tells the story as she needs to—going in and out and around an issue as she would if she were sitting next to you telling you the story.

It’s an easy read because the words are chosen carefully and provide you the exact words you need to understand her life.

And it is a hard read because the truth is never easy.

This truth, this memoir of her body, is both personal and universal and when I tell you I want you to read it it is not because I think you are fat, but because I think you are as afraid of fat as I am, even as I am swaddled in the protection it provides, keeping me from doing things that thin me would have done easily, recklessly, harmfully.

I want you to read this if you are thin and especially if you are parenting a fat child. I want you to read it because maybe you will see that what looks like laziness is actually fear, or horror, or a protective body response. I want you to stop trying to fix your kid’s “fat” and find out who they are and what they are hiding and how your family dynamic might be creating a distance that may, one day, be hard to draw back.

I was particularly moved by Gay talking about her family dynamic, about how her parents were persistent in changing her body, but not entering into a conversation about the why of it. Maybe her parents thought they were doing that but it isn’t how it was registered for Gay. How horrible to carry trauma around for decades—and how many of us do that?

I came away from this book wondering all the ways I used shame as my children were growing up—shaming them, shaming myself, amplifying the “bad” behavior. It’s only recently, as my children have become women, that I recognize all the signs of ignoring the why while focusing on how that why manifests. I remember a very hard conversation with one of my daughters that switched on a dime when I said “what’s really going on? This is not about a five dollar hamburger?”

Translate “fat” into drug or alcohol abuse, or self-harm, or perfectionism and ask yourself how am I really parenting this kid? What am I doing or not doing to find out the root of the behavior rather than responding only to the behavior.

I want you to read this if you are afraid of your body—of owning it, of expressing it, of loving it (just as you are), of being it.

People sometimes say that we are not our bodies or that our bodies are just a container for who we are. Hunger may make you rethink this. Who I am is shaped, in large measure by my body and while I could change my body and work harder to make it lean and then maybe fly more comfortably to a foreign land, my body is also shaped by who I am.

I want you to read this book.

I want you to read it for it’s lyrical nature and for the insights it might give you into your own body, but mostly, mostly, I want you to read this book because it will change you from the inside out.

I want you, too, to inhale it, deeply, and then exhale love and understanding to the people you know, but more so to those you don’t: the woman on the train, the homeless warrior, the mother who yells at her kids in Target, the people whose lives don’t fit your mold. I want you to wonder why you are the way you are and others are the way they are. I want you to consider that our culture offers only a limited number of “acceptable” or “normal” standards and how much you miss when you limit yourself to those few options, too.

I want you to read this book.

Really.

*I use fat here as a descriptor, not to denigrate. I use the word fat because it is the correct word. What you bring to that word may be your work to do.

Watermelon Days

It was a chilly day for summer, but still I sat on the deck as the wind ruffled the pages of the book I was reading and tried (and failed) to keep the watermelon juice off the pages.

I had cut the watermelon the way my mother always did: in half, then halving the half, then halving the fourth, so I had a wedge that contained a part of the sweet heart of the fruit. That’s why she cut it that way, she used to tell me–so that everyone could have part of the very heart of the melon. Though “everyone” in our family turned out to be my mom, me, and an eldest sister who left the house when I was 12.

She taught me to start from the point of the wedge, to use both fork and spoon: one to scoop and one to flick the seeds onto the plate. Start at the back, she said, and then lift the heart and eat it last.

Sitting on the deck yesterday afternoon while my youngest daughter napped and my husband worked, with those pages doing everything but laying flat while I tried to eat that watermelon, I remembered afternoons doing the same with my mom. Now, there are no seeds, though, so no reason to use a fork and no scary tales of how if you swallow the seeds, fruit will grow out of your mouth and nose and even your armpits (among other places).

I savored the sweet and juicy slice of memory that crept up on me like the big orange cat. It was a small memory, but one that stood in for much more:

  • A flash of the table we gathered at when I was quite little and my father was still a minister and the story of the seeds and how they would grow became an even bigger tale when relayed by older siblings.
  • As a long, lean teen, stretched out on my belly on a towel, with the plate of watermelon and a book splayed out in front of me–still a challenge to manage both fruit and page at once.
  • As a mom, sitting on the deck and spitting seeds out into the lawn as my daughters clamored on the swingset, only one of the three even remotely interested in anything but the spitting.

Here’s maybe what’s best about lazy summer days: you go where the memories take you. Or, maybe, you start with a familiar and simple thing and find yourself following the memory the familiar brings. Then the wind and the sun and the lazy orange cat who nudges at your hand and prods you into putting down the book or the phone to pet him allows you to remember the details that may or may not have been true: the table you gathered at and the yard out the sliding door that was really just the parking lot of the church where your dad worked. The tricycle your brother always stole from you and then whipped around that parking lot, his foot on the back step of it, his hands on the handlebars with the long white streamers that flew back as the peddles spun rapidly round, footless, because he was using his other foot to push himself with all his might and speed, because he didn’t care for watermelon, only for constant movement, as fast as he could go. And your other sister, the one closest to you in age, wearing the matching, though slightly bigger, romper your mother sewed for you in the 1960s when sewing was less expensive than buying and every town had a fabric store that became the place you went to most with your mother, second to the grocery store, and how you know, now, how hard that must have been for her, and still she went.

I think summer is the time we invent ritual, both in time and in memory. The days without structure that seemed endless and full of hula hoops and skip rope and forts made in empty lots of dirt clods, tumbleweeds and forgotten brick, or in living rooms made of blankets and pillows. And reading. Lots of reading and watching television shows over and over and over again.

Summer is a lazy and relentless opening for creativity and possibility.

And watermelon. Always watermelon.

 

26. A Slender Season

Some argue
there is no such
thing as a bad
cobbler

And they would
be right

But then there are
those cobblers
from tree-ripened
peaches

Peaches so
perfect you
might want
a sluice for
the juice
that drips all
in the cracks
of your fingers
as you peel that
fuzzy skin
right off

Peeling directly
over the bowl
so as not to
waste any

Peaches so
tender and firm
that  you have to
peel twice as many
cuz half of them
end up straight
in your mouth

It is peach season
dearest
and blueberry, too
a slender season
of juicy delights

Don’t let it slip
by
without at
least one
of those
cobblers.

So many dimensions and none holds all of you

The photo is flat
remember that

While it hints at your roundedness
and attempts to capture
your sparkle

It will always miss
or only partially replicate
the synapses firing
behind and under that
funny hair that
refuses to hold
beach-y waves.

Oh, my dear,
you are rounded
and edgy and
full of air and
snap
that no photo can
ever hold
It’s a replica of a body
you inhabit,
not the whole of you
or the floor of you
or even the you of you.

The mirror?
It’s flat, too.

Come,
live with me in your
3-D life.

Fall Sausage and Apple Hash recipe (I know, right? A recipe?)

I’m not usually a food blogger, but I love food. And I love to cook. Friends on my Instagram and FaceBook feeds have been subjected to my endless posts about the complete gutting and rebuilding of our kitchen. Yesterday, I got the go-ahead to use the kitchen again, as all that is (still) left to do is transition trim between the kitchen and the other rooms it borders.

I started to pack things back into the kitchen (first things first: the coffee pot!!). But then I got hungry and my daughter came home with my car. “You know what I’ve been craving?” I said to her, as she and I would be the only ones home for dinner. “French Toast!” Her eyes got big as pancakes and she said, “and sausage?”

So I cooked in my cleaned up kitchen and today I kept bringing things into the kitchen bit by little bit. (I’m actually wondering if I can keep things where they are until I need them and at the end of a few months, give away what I haven’t used–what do you think of that strategy? Other than it leaves the rest of my house in utter disarray, I kind of like that idea. A lot.)

I was driving back from a doctor’s appointment and knew I needed to get home so my daughter could use my car to get to work and I was daydreaming about what I might cook for myself for dinner. (Daughter at work, husband away again.) I remembered the seven uncooked breakfast sausage links and the apples still in the crisper since before the kitchen got torn up. And it came to me: sausage and apple hash.

This has been a favorite fall meal-in-a-dish dinner in our home for several years. The recipe varies based on what I have in the kitchen, but since I didn’t have much else in the house, I made a beeline to the produce section of my grocery store. I grabbed a red pepper, celery, 4 red potatoes, a head of garlic and a yellow onion. (I then bought some Halloween candy, but that’s only because I’m not sure I’ll get to making the cookies I plan on making after I clean up my kitchen, again.)

And here is how the hash came together:

I roughly “chopped” the sausage links and threw them in my trusty cast iron skillet which was well seasoned so didn’t require any additional fat. While it browned, I chopped about a third of that very large onion and threw that in with the sausage and let those brown and sweat together while I diced the potatoes and put them in a bowl.  About the time I was done dicing, the sausage was browned, so I removed it and the onions from the pan and added about 2 TBS of butter to the hot pan. Because … butter. (Oh, I missed you, butter.)

I added the diced potatoes to the buttery pan, threw a little salt and pepper on and tossed them around the pan til everything was well coated.  While the potatoes cooked, I chopped up the red pepper, the celery, and minced two large cloves of garlic. I put the garlic in with the potatoes which I stirred often while I was chopping the other things.

Once the potatoes were fairly browned, I added the sausage and onion back to them and then threw in the other vegetables. I added in another TBS of butter because, butter. Duh. I stirred it all up again and let it all sizzle and pop while I chopped up one apple (smallish). I leave the skins on mostly because I’m lazy and hate skinning apples. Once they were chopped, I threw the apple on top of everything and gave it another good stir and let it sit for a bit. (Not too long cuz I was starving. Well, not starving, but rather hungry.)

I added a little more salt and peeper and then I just ate it.

If my kitchen was totally unpacked, I might have added a little sage, cinnamon and/or nutmeg to get that full-on, in-your-face fall feeling, but I thoroughly enjoyed the taste of this as it turned out.

Other ways I’ve prepared it is to use chicken sausage–that’s actually how I started making this, because I bought one of those packages with 4 fat links in it and I had 5 people to feed. It made sense to slice it all up and add stuff to it. Sometimes I’ve added in apple juice or apple sauce instead of more butter, but it really depends on how wet you want it to be. I’ve also been known to throw a little bit of beer into the mix.

It’s all about fall tastes. I’ve used sweet potatoes before, too, but you really have to up your savory elements if you use that or it is just too much sweet. I could see using a squash, too. I like the red potatoes because they are fairly firm fairly fast. You could, I suppose, also use hash browns.

My favorite thing about cooking is the experimentation. Whatever you’ve got, try it. It’s not like it’s Thanksgiving dinner so you can mess about with it. But, that being said, Thanksgiving leftover dinner is really the inspiration for my first hash: I was trying to emulate the after big dinner casserole I make with all the leftovers.

You really can’t go wrong with this idea: Sausage, Apples, Potato, and whatever vegetables you have around. And butter. Don’t forget the butter.

If you make something based on this, let me know how it turns out.

Now, I’ve got some cookies to bake. After I clean up the kitchen.

My New Kitchen/My Old Life

There was this moment last night
when I started to unpack my old
kitchen into my brand new one,
and after I’d bought the cleaner and the
special cloths to make the sink sparkle
but hadn’t yet done so

When I noticed the tiny scratch
in the small sink
and then another
miniscule etch–almost like a
comma “benext” to it

Benext. The word leapt up
from memory when a toddler
charmed us all with words
that weren’t words
but ought to be.

Well, I thought, as
benext floated out and the little comma
came again into focus,

It’s mine now.

Like the new car with
black paint scraped off
and white paint scraped on
when a child learned the hard way
how not to park the car,
this kitchen is mine now.

It doesn’t have to be perfect
cuz it never will be
and I imagine the first nick
in the butcher block
will take the wind out of me
like a sock to the gut

But then, I’ll breathe out
and keep dicing, slicing,
and making food for people
out of kitchen
that isn’t perfect

but is the perfect
backdrop to this life
I have created.

Lonesome cookies

We have been inhospitable.
Waiting for the kitchen faucet
to be replaced in the whole
remodel.

Waiting for things to be set
and secure and …
perfect. We have not invited you in.

And I miss you.
The stories, the liquor,
the food … oh, I miss the food
and the way my friends
tell me how good my
cooking is and how
grateful I am to be able to share it.

Soon. I say. Soon.
We’ll light that bonfire and
set out the bat signal to summon
you all here.

But soon isn’t soon enough.
Come join me, dear ones,
in my imperfect home,
with my ugly pies and lonesome
cookies.

We are waiting.

The Spice Cupboard

spiceSo, I started the spice cupboard.

It’s not the same as getting a job or writing a novel, but I started it.

I didn’t finish it, yet. I just emptied it. We call it the spice cupboard, but it also held some (but not all) baking supplies as well as tea and an odd assortment of other things not categorized elsewhere. But, of course, that is true of all of our cabinets. They hold mostly one thing and then a number of riff-raffy things that make my organizational structure suspect to all who see it from the outside.

In an attempt to not write and still feel productive, I emptied that cupboard onto the island. Once it was emptied, I decided I didn’t have the moral strength to push forward, so I came back downstairs to write. It’s not a good system, but it is mine. In the end, I have to finish two things that I started rather than one at a time, but I do tend to spend more of my time in the dopey middle. Not quite started with one thing, not quite finished with the other.

I really want that spice cupboard cleaned out, though. I want to know that the only things in there are things that we use. We have at least three (unopened) bottles of tarragon in there. Remember when tarragon was the hot spice? Yeah?  Me neither. I think it was the 90s. Can I tell you a secret?  I HATE tarragon.

I’m sure that’s why we have so much of it. My husband likes it, so when he cooks he uses it, but because I don’t use it, he must think we don’t have any, and so he buys more. That’s my theory and I’m stickin’ to it.

As I stood looking at the collection of bottles and tins on my counter and decided I should really be writing, I had the feeling that I often have–of staring into the abyss without a compass. What am I supposed to do with these things? How am I supposed to store them? Cook with them I can do–but store them in a way that makes sense and which I can duplicate?  Not so much.

I’m not asking for help here. I can google it and find all sorts of ways to store spices that look elegant and easy, but my problem here (and in the rest of my house) is that I can’t maintain it. It’s been true of all of my efforts to lead an organized life. I start out great and then my brain gets muddled and confused and I try to make sense again and I ask myself the question, “what do normal people do?” What do people who are organized–what do they do? (Yeah, I know, I should ask THEM and not me!)

So I stood there staring at the open cupboard like an empty, gawping mouth and rather than load it back up with the same stuff in the same way that made sense last time I did this, I ran away. It’s not really running away; it’s “processing.” That’s the word all my minister friends use: processing.

You know what is actually going on in that wicked, disheveled brain of mine? Eight different ways I could accomplish this task, none of which works the best way so don’t start any of them. Yet.

This is not a big deal. It’s not even a deal at all. It’s a nuisance that I’m trying to correct, but it is also a very instructive process–to watch myself do it and come down here and chronicle it. I’m not saying the spice cupboard is the metaphor for my life, but, well, I guess I am saying that.

Too often we assume we are moving in a straight line toward a goal and forget to stand back and look at the path we actually travelled to get there.

There’s that commercial out there now, the one with the guy who says he’ll never get married, never have kids, never move to the suburbs, all the while doing all those things. It came on the other day while my husband and I were watching TV and I could feel his eyes all over me with a grin wider than that gawping cupboard. “Don’t say it,” I said, averting his eyes and that smile, “just don’t say it.”

It’s me. The most notorious “never” was the time I uttered that I would “never, never, ever, ever, never, ever, NEVER,” move to Indiana. That was 24 years ago. We’ve only been here for 18 now. I wasn’t going to get married or have kids or move to the MidWest. I was going to go in a straight line toward being a writer of great repute.

This time-out I’m taking is allowing me to stare at that journey in the same way I stood in my kitchen earlier, processing my next steps on this road that has been anything but straight.

It’s a lie we are told. Only a few people actually know what they are going to be when they are little and grow up to be it in the straight line that is education, job, family. It’s a lie we are told that success means more, better, bigger. I’ve known this for so much of my life that I’m appalled that I ever thought it was true. Success is different for each of us. For some it is clean living after years of addiction; for others it is giving back more than taking; for others it is chronicling through art of various mediums what is true and human in this world we have created.

Success, nay, Progress is moving toward a goal, but you have to know the specifics of that goal or you’re just going to stand around gawping at cupboards. More, better, faster are not worthy goals in and of themselves. A system of organizing things so that routine is routine–now that’s a goal. A small one, I know, but a goal. And I’m getting there.

Once circular step at a time. (And in the most amazing cowboy boots of all time, I might add.)

All blessings to you and yours on this journey,

Tina

 

Lentils, Mr. Bill, and Letting Go

A few weeks ago, my husband handed me this lentil salad recipe he found in the paper and said, “do you like lentils? Maybe we could try this.”  In 26 years of knowing each other, you would think he would have figured out that I don’t eat lentils. Ever.

Instead of saying, ewww, lentils, like a five-year-old, I agreed that it might be worth trying.

Have you ever had a food when you were a kid that ruined it for you for life? Lentils would be that food for me.

At some point as I was growing up, my mother instituted a “everyone cooks one night a week” rule. Which then made her shopping so much easier because I always made spaghetti, my brother always made tuna rolls, and my middle sister, God forgive me, made something else that must not have been offensive because I cannot remember what it was. Or, she always had track practice and got out of it. I’m not sure which.

Then there was my oldest sister. This was the 1970s, by the way. And my oldest sister became a version of a hippie and a vegetarian. And we had lentils. Lentil soup. Lentil loaf. Lentils, lentils, lentils. (If you are a Brady Bunch fan, you have to say that last ala Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.)

At least that’s how I remember it. I also remember it tasting and feeling like eating gravel. Gooey gravel sometimes, but gravel none-the-less. Again, this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

So forever and ever, lentils have been dead to me–which means I passed over a lot of potluck offerings at our Unitarian Universalist church over the years. A lot of potluck offerings.

But here’s the other thing that has happened in the decades since I was first introduced to lentils: I’ve become a good cook with a repertoire vastly larger than spaghetti with meat sauce. And so, I sucked it up and learned to make a new food this week. And … they were edible. Maybe even good. You see, I don’t have anything but my memories of gravel-gate to compare them to, so they were actually edible. My husband liked the salad very much and didn’t share my concern that they weren’t cooked long enough.

I’m going to give the lentils another try (because there is still a large bowl of the salad in my fridge) and start looking for tasty recipes because as I read up on them, I realized that this is a superfood that my husband and I need to incorporate into our diets. But I also learned another little lesson here, a harder one and one that I will be processing much longer than I will the legume.

The lesson has to do with letting go–letting go of things that are no longer true or may never have been. This post may seem to be quite banal but it was, in fact, very hard for me to write. It opened up doors I nailed shut some time ago. It made me think about my sister’s bad cooking and a funny story about rice she made for my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary that was inedible and so we siblings and cousins got together and made our own little Mr. Bill show using it. And I laughed.

And I remembered being a family intact (if not in tact), which we are not now. Most notably missing is that very same sister from whom we all–except my mother–are currently estranged for reasons I can’t or won’t process here, now. The laughter over Mr. (Rice) Bill has turned hard and sad. Like I said, I’d pretty much locked and nailed that door shut, and here it is opening up all over me over a silly little legume.

So what, exactly am I letting go of here? I’m letting go of the lentil for now. I’m going to let it be what it is and not tie it up in my memories that get way to tangled for any little hard thing to have to take ownership of.

And I’m letting go of the door. I’m going to let that door open as it will, when it will, but I’m going to stop throwing my weight against it, my fingers in my ears, singing “la, la, la, la, la.”

And I’m going to go watch that Mr. Bill montage again because damn, that stuff was funny.

Thanksgiving

I am thankful that today I woke up thinking of all the people who will gather at my house later NOT of a list of things I needed to accomplish. Faces came to mind this morning, not tasks.

Let’s let that sink in for a minute because this is something quite huge for me: Thankful for the people gathering rather than worried about what time to put the bird in.

I love these people and I love that they are grateful for a place to gather in love and friendship–and maybe a little cat hair. They come to be together, to share in thanks, bringing their piece of the Thanksgiving pie. I’m mindful of who is coming as well as mindful of who is missing. I’m mindful that I can gather my friends and family to celebrate while others are gathering in mourning, missing loved ones who recently passed from illness, accident, or violence.

The trees have released all the leaves and I sit here now with a quiche in the oven that smells divine, looking out at brown branches, thick and thin, veining through a gray sky, with snow clinging to rooftops. And the bathroom needs to be cleaned, the floor needs to be swept, and the tables need to be set.

But for now I offer this moment of thanks, of deep gratitude for all that and who has been presented to me in this lifetime that has led me here, now. And I realize that it is not one day of thanksgiving, but a practice of gratitude, recently cultivated, that has me here, now, in my pajamas with so much else to do, pausing to say Thank You.

A blessed day to you, my friends. Today and all the days.