Book report: The “good old days” weren’t all that great for women

51Ja3naWT8L._SY346_Frequently we hear folks of a certain age bemoaning progress and the passage of time. They wish for bygone days when life was simpler. Not me. Especially after reading  Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times  by Jennifer Worth.

The author first gives us a little history of maternal healthcare before 1948 and the advent of Britain’s National Health Service.

“It is hard to imagine today that until the last century no woman had any specialist obstetric care during pregnancy. The first time a woman would see a doctor or midwife was when she went into labour. Therefore, death and disaster, either for mother or child, or both, were commonplace. Such tragedies were looked upon as the will of God, whereas, in fact, they were the inevitable result of neglect and ignorance.”

“In the mid-nineteenth century, maternal mortality amongst the poorest classes was around 35-40 percent, and infant mortality was around 60 percent. Anything like eclampsia, hemorrhage, or mal-presentation, would mean the inevitable death of the mother.”

Worth graphically describes— in sometimes intimate and cringe-worthy detail—the conditions and very real life and death struggles of the residents of the London Docklands just after WWII.

“Children were everywhere, and the streets were their playgrounds. In the 1950s there were no cars in the back streets, because no one had a car.”

Many of those children were born into two-room tenements without a toilet–or even running water–where four or more other children were already present. Some lived in ruined buildings left standing after the Blitz. Domestic violence and mental illness were common and mostly untreated. A girl “in trouble” was ostracized and–after surrendering her child for adoption–was many times forced into a life of prostitution. And while races bumped into one another frequently and companionably in the streets and at work, a mixed-race baby was unthinkable.

Those were the “good old days.”

What difference did reliable birth control make?

“The Pill was introduced in the early 1960s and modern woman was born. Women were no longer to be tied to the cycle of endless babies… Women could, for the first time in history, be like men, and enjoy sex for its own sake. In the late 1950s, we had eighty to a hundred deliveries a month on our books. In 1963 the number had dropped to four or five a month. Now that is some social change!”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fans of the television series, Call the Midwife, will enjoy becoming acquainted with the real-life Jenny, Trixie, Chummy, and Cynthia, as well as Sisters Julienne, Monica Joan, Evangelina, Bernadette. Dr. Turner and Fred are here as well.

But mostly this book is a reminder that things have gotten better. We know that access to affordable healthcare—especially birth control—matters. And to the most vulnerable women and children among us–the poor and the sick–it is a matter of survival.

Advertisements

Book report: What mental illness looks like from the inside

61a2pUIojSL._SY346_If you or someone you love is living with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things is a must read. Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) is seriously funny and honest about her struggles with mental illness. But rather than wallowing alone, she invites others in.

Why would anyone want to share what crazy feels like? Because by sharing her own struggles with mental illness Jenny has saved countless others who thought they were alone. Imagine how reassuring it is to read about pain that mirrors your own. “You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Jenny has chosen to be Furiously Happy.

 “We all get our share of tragedy or insanity or drama, but what we do with that horror is what makes all the difference.”

“I can’t think of another type of illness where the sufferer is made to feel guilty and question their self-care when their medications need to be changed.”

“’No one ever died from being sad.’ Except that they do. And when we see celebrities who fall victim to depression’s lies we think to ourselves, ‘How in the world could they have killed themselves? They had everything.’ But they didn’t. They didn’t have a cure for an illness that convinced them they were better off dead.”

“I remind myself that depression lies and that I can’t trust my own critical thinking when I’m sick.”

“I wish someone had told me this simple confusing truth: Even when everything’s going your way, you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.”

Jenny mentions Christine Miserandino’s useful “Spoon Theory” as a way of explaining that dealing with chronic pain or illness—even though a person might not look sick—limits what a person can do. Each of us has only so many metaphorical spoons to spend on a given day. Dealing with pain or anxiety uses up a lot of your spoons. If you are ill you may not have enough spoons for a PTA meeting or even getting out of bed.  You try to save your spoons for what has to get done. You have to prioritize.

For those of us lucky enough not be be seeing crazy from the inside, this book helps us be a bit more compassionate to those who who are. And if you are on the inside, know this: you are not alone. Recommend.

Jenny Lawson“Jenny Lawson is a very strange girl who has friends in spite of herself. She is perpetually one cat away from being a crazy cat lady.”

 

 

 

 

Breakfast solutions with less dairy and fewer eggs

Closeup on hands framing a heart on a woman belly

A few months ago, my Nurse Practitioner and I determined that a three-day bellyache was the result of an intolerance for milk protein and eggs. Since that time, I’ve cut back on both. Especially challenging has been finding breakfasts that have enough staying power (i.e. protein.) I also want these to be high on taste and fiber while staying low in fat, calories, sugar, and hence, Weight Watcher Smart Points (SPs). Yes, after over fifteen years on Maintenance, I still follow WW. Mostly.

17761121_10207658299809385_726946750173356849_o
According to this guideline, I need 64 grams of protein per day.

Certainly, I could make a smoothie with veggie protein powder, but a tall, frosty glass of anything isn’t appealing when there is snow on the ground. And frankly a smoothie isn’t a very satisfying meal in general. I like to chew my food. In fact, the chewier the better.

With that in mind, here are a few breakfasts I’ve put into the morning rotation with no unborn chickens and only a little dairy now and then. It seems to be working. The Smart Points (SPs) are given, because that’s how I roll. For perspective, my daily SP budget is 23. All protein and Smart Point counts are estimates based on my calculations.
Something on toast: Tofutti cream “cheese” on half a bagel (6 SPs, 7 grams protein) or Better ‘n Peanut Butter on a Thomas Double Protein English Muffin. (7 SPs, 11 grams protein)

Bulgur wheat porridge: I’ve been making a big batch with almond milk instead of water. It takes about 20 minutes to cook but saves nicely in the fridge in an airtight container. I can simply microwave a portion for a few minutes, then add whatever fruit and sweetener I want. Berries or a banana are very tasty. 1 cup =5 SPs, 8 grams of protein made with almond milk and without added sugar

f20d7229b7d92a84d722656d69f4a757
Garbanzo flour mini-frittatas: I found the recipe for these on Pinterest. Sauté whatever veggies sound good (spinach, zukes, onion, peppers, mushrooms…) and portion it out into muffin cups. Put ¼ cup of the “egg mixture” on top and bake. It makes a dozen, so I freeze 3-muffin portions in zip-lock baggies. They are a bit bland, so I splash on some green Tabasco before I eat. 3 mini-frittatas= 6 SPs, 10 grams of protein

apple sausage
Apple & turkey sausage pita pocket

Apple & turkey sausage pita pockets: I admit this one is a little weird. Maybe it’s my German heritage, but I think it’s super tasty. 1 chopped apple, 3 fully-cooked turkey sausage links cut into discs, 1 pita pocket (I like Josef’s), 2 Tbsp syrup (I used sugar-free, but that’s just me). Toss apple chunks into a fry pan that you’ve sprayed with some Pam. Start browning. Add turkey sausage. Cook and stir until they are browned a bit. Remove from heat. Stir in about 2 Tbsp of syrup. Spoon the mixture into two halves of a pita. 2 filled pita halves= 4-5 SPs, depending on pita, with sugar-free syrup, 13 grams of protein

BOB201
Bob’s High Fiber Cereal: I can only find this online (or at Bob’s store in Portland, OR when I’m there), so I order a case and store it in freezer bags in the deep-freeze. Here’s my favorite way to make this: In a large-enough-to-allow-for-bubbling microwavable bowl, measure 1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill Organic High Fiber Cereal, ½ Cup (or more) frozen mixed berries, and a scant 2/3 cup water. Microwave 5 minutes on 70% power. Top with 1 Tbsp brown sugar and ¼ cup of fat free plain Greek yogurt. Yes, yogurt. As long as I keep milk products to a minimum, my belly seems to be fine. One serving=6 SPs, 13 grams of protein when topped with Greek yogurt.

I still enjoy Eggo Low-fat toaster waffles with berries and yogurt from time to time and indulge in a couple of perfectly poached eggs on toast every few weeks. So far, so good. I have yet to explore the world of scrambled tofu. Maybe that’s next?

tofu scramble
This recipe looks promising.

 

Book Report: Two friends, one survivor

51f58wzlTRL

Cat, now a young woman, remembers one difficult year and her friendship with the manic Marlena. With its troubled, reminiscent narrator, this tale goes deep and dark. Divorce, poverty, neglect, alcohol, meth, and the Oxy epidemic all get the “up close and personal” treatment. While the writing is beautiful and rich, the themes make for an emotional journey.

Acclaim (what drew me to this book):

A National Book Critics Circle Leonard Prize Finalist
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Named a Best Book of the Year by Vogue, BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, NPR, NYLON, Huffington Post, Kirkus Reviews, Barnes & Noble
Chosen for the Book of the Month Club, Nylon Book Club, and Belletrist Book Club
Named an Indie Next Pick and a Barnes and Noble Discover Pick

Just a few samples of the gorgeous, insightful writing because I can’t say it any better than the author, Julie Buntin.

On adolescence

“Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
At fifteen, I believed that I would grow up to be the exception to every rule.”
For a teenage girl, a beautiful mother is a uniquely painful curse.”
I loved her, as my mom and as a person, for everything, for being the one who stayed.”

On opioids

“Our universe was limited to each other, hemmed in by the perimeters of Silver Lake and the towns around it, where Oxy had already laid down roots, farmed out by doctors treating pain that most everyone seemed to have.”
There were kids like us all over rural America, I’d find out late; we were basically statistics, Marlena especially, members of a numb army, ranks growing by the day. Alone in our bedrooms, falling asleep in class, meeting in parking lots and the middle of the woods.”
Now it strikes me as a profoundly American thing—an epidemic that started as an abuse of the cure, a disease we made ourselves.”
…but I never tried Oxy, not after watching how it scraped at her with its long fingernails, leaving nothing but a body.”
I’ve never believed in the idea of an innocent bystander. The act of watching changes what happens. Just because you don’t touch anything doesn’t mean you are exempt.”

Like I said, it’s deep and dark, but worth it.

Intolerant? Me? No way!

bellyache

A few months ago, I suffered a bellyache that confined me to the couch with a heating pad for three days. Of course, it was over a weekend, so I waited until Monday to call my doctor’s office. Of course, he couldn’t see me right away. And of course, by the time I got in, the bellyache had pretty much resolved itself. When I finally got in, the wonderful Nurse Practitioner asked questions and listened as I described my symptoms. She grew suspicious of food allergies and sensitivities.

“I don’t have any,” I protested with a shrug. “I eat everything.”

She nodded, then ordered an ultrasound (to rule out anything really scary) and blood tests—a regular panel and a food sensitivity panel.

Guess what?

The test revealed a HUGE (like off-the charts) intolerance to milk protein (casein, not lactose). And eggs, especially the whites. Some sensitivity for beef and pork as well. Oh, and wheat. WTF?!

“The good news,” she assured me, “You’re not allergic to chocolate.”

But, why now?

It’s hard to believe that after 67 years of consuming milk, yogurt, and cheese nearly every day, that this could be the case. Nonetheless, I reviewed what I had eaten in the day or two leading up to that bad belly. It was my daughter’s birthday and I baked her a cheesecake. The filling hadn’t all fit into the pan, so I had cooked the extra separately. I had consumed some of that overage AND a generous slice on her birthday–as well as a slice (or two maybe? Don’t judge) of homemade deep-dish pizza. Are you counting up the dairy servings here?

Basically, I had OD-ed on dairy.

Some personal history

For over a decade I’ve stuck to a pretty healthy regimen of lean protein, whole grains, and lots of fruits and veggies. It’s allowed me to maintain the thirty-five-pound weight loss I achieved with the help of Weight Watchers. So, like anyone who is in the habit of looking at food labels and weighing the pros and cons of almost everything that goes into my mouth, I sought out nondairy alternatives for my favorite foods. I found many substitutes, some of which actually taste okay. Not delicious, but okay.

I learned a few things. For example, “nondairy” creamer contains casein, the milk protein. I also discovered that many of the milk substitutes offer little nutrition, especially protein and calcium. Some items (I’m looking at you, almond milk yogurt) are higher in calories than the items I’m trying to replace. Sure sorbet is dairy-free, but nowhere near calorie-free. A predicament for someone intent of maintaining what’s left of her girlish figure.

milk nutrition

Breakfast protein has been my biggest challenge. Certainly, there are plenty of dairy-free, egg-free protein sources out there–nuts, beans, edamame. But will I eat a bowl of garbanzos for breakfast? Probably not.

What now?

For me the idea of never having a fro-yo, a poached egg, or a slice of Tillamook sharp cheddar again is unthinkable. Therefore, I’ve decided on a “middle of the road” strategy for now and have applied the 80/20 rule. 80% of my diet will accommodate my food sensitivities, especially dairy and eggs. No more than 20% will be from the forbidden list. With that in mind, I’ve cut way back on my cheese and yogurt consumption, substituted almond or soy milk in my lattes, enjoyed eggs just once a week, and spread Tofutti cream cheese on my bagel. So far, so good. No bad belly.

If you’ve faced similar food issues, what are you eating now? Have you discovered any helpful resources? Please share! I’ll post here from time to time as I figure this out.

Furthermore, since I don’t want troublesome foods gang up on me again, I won’t risk Eggs Benedict, fondue, lasagna, and cheesecake on the same day. Not even on my birthday.

I am water

creekWell, 90% water anyway.

With that in mind, I began my New Year’s meditation with a babbling creek. This is the image I intend to focus on this year. Just as a stream flows gently, effortlessly around logs and boulders in its path, I will find my way around every obstacle in my path. I will grow neither angry nor frustrated. I am water. I always find a way through and past a boulder. Even a dammed creek can only be held back for so long until it flows over the top or creates a new path. Nothing can withstand the persistent force of water. And in time, water erodes obstacles, dissolving them, turning them to sand.

I am water.

Book report: Entering Christina’s world

 

 

A teacher once pointed out that the young woman in Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, was a real person who couldn’t walk and whose entire world was the house in the distance and the field surrounding it. Christina Baker Kline’s A Piece of the World  expands my appreciation of this famous painting by letting Christina Olson tell her own story in a first-person, present-tense narrative that immersed me deeply into her life.

Christina is stricken as a child by an unknown illness that leaves her unable to walk without stumbling awkwardly. She recovers but becomes more and more disabled as time goes by. As an adult, she rarely leaves her chair on the ground floor of her three-story house. She defiantly refuses a wheel chair, preferring to scrape her wooden chair around the kitchen to prepare meals for her parents and brothers. She crawls on her elbows when she wishes to go elsewhere, even to the home a friend a mile away.

“I wonder, not for the first time, if shame and pride are merely two sides of the same coin.”

“To me using a wheelchair would mean I’ve given up, resigned myself to a small existence inside the house… I see it as a cage…I am willing to risk injury and humiliation to move about as I choose…

She cuts herself off from many well-meaning neighbors in the nearby town of Cushing, Maine.

 “These neighbors leach pity the way a canteen of cold water sweats in the heat. The slightest inquiry is freighted with words unsaid. Worried about you…feel sorry for you…so glad I’m not you.”

When a young Andrew Wyeth appears at her door, she reluctantly lets him take over a room upstairs as a summer studio. He returns every summer to paint the fields, the farm, the house, the rooms, her brother, and her. He alone seems to see her beyond her infirmity and her crankiness.

Wyeth tells Christina…

“…I think you’re used to being observed but not really…seen. People are always concerned about you, worried about you, watching to see how you’re getting on. Well-meaning, of course, but–intrusive. And I think you’ve figured out how to deflect their concern, or pity, or whatever it is, by carrying yourself in this ‘–he raises his arm as if holding an orb–‘ dignified, aloof way….Like the Queen of Sweden…Ruling over all of Cushing from your chair in the kitchen.”

712+k2CX+fL._UX250_
Author Christina Baker Kline

Kline researched the very real people and places depicted to create a sensitive, insightful, and thought-provoking exploration of a familiar image. Recommend.

You gained HOW MUCH on that cruise?!

FB_IMG_1485373261825While being interviewed a few days ago, one of the ship’s food and beverage managers said that passengers gain an average of one to two pounds per day on a cruise. Per day! Not bad if this were only a weeklong cruise. But this one lasts eighteen days.

Could I actually gain thirty-six pounds? Not that I don’t like a challenge, but that’s how much I lost fifteen years ago and promised myself I’d NEVER have to lose again. Besides, I gave away all my fat clothes.

So this is one area in which I am determined to stay well BELOW average.

I do expect the scale to be up a bit. After all, I’m on vacation and the food is delicious and plentiful. The dining room offers modest portions of delectable dishes, appetizers, and desserts, all included in what you already paid for the cruise. So, it’s practically free.

Or one can choose to eat at the buffet. It’s a more casual atmosphere and there are more choices.  Besides, you don’t have to share your table with eight strangers as you do in the dining room. That’s helpful if, like me, your traveling companion resides at the extreme end of introvert spectrum.

Trouble is, at a buffet you can take as much as you like of anything and go back for seconds. Or thirds. Or— you get the idea.

And then there is room service. Food, drinks, whatever you want, brought to you. Day or night.

To counteract this increase in intake there is a well-equipped gym, a running/walking track, fitness classes, and stairs. So many stairs. Yoga, spin, belly dancing, and boot camp give passengers plenty of opportunities to burn off a few of the extra desserts and cocktails. 

However, I’ve learned you can’t out exercise a bad diet. I can eat way faster than I can run.

I just have to make good food choices and move my lady-like keester. You know, that motivation thing. Overcoming excuses–too hot, too cold, ooh look, ice cream! And setting priorities– I really ought to finish reading that book, or work on my novel, or check my email… You know, that stuff.

That being said, I’m at the gym the other morning, using the elliptical when I notice a middle-aged Asian gentleman on a stationary bike. He finishes, reaches for his collapsible cane and feels his way to the towel rack and the next machine in his circuit. Yes, he was blind. By himself. On vacation. On a boat. And did I mention he was blind?

My excuses paled in comparison. I hung my head and powered through a few more sweaty minutes and a 30-minute stretch class before climbing the stairs to breakfast. Then I strolled right past the sweet rolls and pancakes, the biscuits and gravy,  and the explicably ever-present baked beans on toast. I selected poached eggs, wheat toast, and as much fresh pineapple and melon as I could fit on my plate.

Day 15 and I can still zip and button my capris. I’ll take that as a win.