Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Late to the Pity Party

Early last week, I was floored by the power of social media.  Again.  I received a Facebook message from a woman living in a St. Louis suburb who had a baby in May.  And survived SCAD a few weeks later.  I can't begin to describe the bittersweet feelings that pooled behind my eyes and in my throat - so happy she survived, but so empathetic for the emotions and feelings and road ahead.  As far as I know, we're the only SCAD survivors in the area (I have no idea how many people SCAD has killed). And, though I've yet to meet her, I feel less.... alone, freakish, helpless....

There's this commonality of experience between SCAD survivors (and perhaps other groups of people living with various diseases) that I think is worth mentioning.  We all have our cheerleaders - spouses, friends, family members, co-workers - who decide to sit in our corner.  They listen to us, support us, help us with meals, give us the opportunity to be a better spouse/friend/daughter/sister/co-worker, exercise with us, and never let us breakdown (unless of course, we really need it, in which case, they bring wine and chocolate to the pity party). And then, for lack of a better word, there are the "frienemies". Perhaps these folks have had a life-long presence and are near and dear to you. But for whatever reason, they get tired of hearing about SCAD pretty quickly. 

"You look healthy, stop complaining." 
"Why do you keep talking about what happened to you?! It's in the past!!"
"Oh god, here she goes again. I'm going to the bathroom."

I haven't counted the number of SCAD ladies who've lamented the loss of these friends/friendships, but I assure you that we each have dealt with a frienemy. And lately, I really wonder, is it really a loss?  

"People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do."

I am a firm believer in this - don't get me wrong, sometimes it reaaaalllllyyyy sucks. But, I think it's okay if friendships don't survive. Perhaps, they lasted through the "season" in which they mattered most (to both parties). Sometimes, people just change. In fact, people change all the time.  For little tiny reasons and for colossal reasons, like SCAD. And it shouldn't feel like a bad thing to "break-up" with a former friend or put a dying relationship out of its misery. More importantly, SCAD has connected me with a whole new community of like-minded women - a whole pool of potential bosom buddies that I would probably never have met otherwise.  

The American Heart Association recently released a retrospective study of SCAD. It was hard for me to read and frankly, felt a little grim.  At 4 years, 21% of SCAD survivors have a recurrence.  At 10 years, 30% have a recurrence.  And, 47.4% of SCAD survivors will suffer an additional MACE (major adverse cardiac event) at 10 years. I'm sure there are many factors to be considered (damage done by SCAD, course of treatment, adoption of heart healthy lifestyle, smoking, etc).  But still.... I have made it a priority to share my experience of heart disease with anyone who'll listen and this study admittedly makes it a teensy bit harder to be bright and shiny.  There's still so much we don't know. I want to turn 40. And see Cameron off to prom. And celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary (insert pity-party wine, chocolates and spouse/toddler snuggles here).

But what I do know is that I'm going to meet my St. Louis-SCAD-survivor-sister on Friday. And I can tell her that there's more out there on SCAD now than there was 15 months ago.  And I can listen.  And I can be her friend for a reason, season or a lifetime. 

"What would you do if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
And I'll try not to sing out of key.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I get high with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends." - The Beatles

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Heart Healthy Summer in the Suburbs

"Cook cook cook, rest awhile, then cook some more. The world needs it."

"What if life is as simple as figuring out what people like and then making it happen? What if cooking works because making people happy works? Maybe we could all have better lives, with many more positives and far few negatives, by simply weaving the spirit of cooking throughout the way we live."

I love to cook because I get pleasure from eating a great meal and I look forward to sharing as many meals as I can with people I love.  When first faced with the challenge of transitioning to a heart healthy diet, I really wasn't sure what to expect.  I definitely went through the 5 stages of grief:
  • Denial: "This is not happening! I have a whole drawer of celebratory I'm-not-pregnant-anymore- and-can-eat-soft-cheeses AND have some wine drinkin' to do!"
  • Anger: "This is so unfair! Why is this happening to me?! I am so young and healthy!!"
  • Bargaining: "Everyone else gets to eat all the red meat and brownies they want! Maybe if I exercise more, I can allow myself some extra 'cheats'! "
  • Depression: "We all die sometime.  The damage is already done.  Is there even a point to trying this?!"
  • Acceptance: "This is real.  I can either make this work so my heart is as healthy as possible or not.... it's not even a choice."
Living a heart healthy diet requires some foresight - you need the right groceries in your kitchen and time to cook fresh meals.  You learn to pay attention to the nutrition label (fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar) and look for ways to get the most out of meals (puree veggies into pasta sauce! add nuts to your salad! toss some flax seeds into your granola parfait!) You ask for the nutritional information when dining out - bonus points for waitstaff who don't stare at you blankly when you inquire.  And, you find ways to prepare meals for the people that you love that they will enjoy sharing with you.

Over the last few weeks, the delicate heart healthy balance I've worked to build over the last year has been a bit disrupted, by a villain known as THE DAILY COMMUTE.  In my temporary living situation, my drive to/from work has gone from about 7 minutes each way to about 40 minutes each way.... and it seems, this 80 minute loss cuts into a few things I've made very important - Cameron/mommy time, Rachel/Brian time, cardiovascular exercise, and meal planning/making. Quite frankly, it's exhausting.  To all of you who commute regularly - tell me, how do you do it?!  When I moved back to St. Louis after college, I drove from Shrewsbury to Chesterfield for work and found that tiresome..... and at that point in my life, I was single, childless and rather carefree!

A small digression - While we were in Hawai'i, the Atlantic Monthly published Why Women Still Can't Have It All, and I have to make a few comments-
  • "It All" means many, many different things, depending on who you ask
  • I think women CAN have it all - but perhaps, not at the same time
  • It's important to note that with plenty of two-parent working households, more and more men/fathers don't really have it all either....
So, back to the heart healthy lifestyle juggling.  I may not be able to do everything well all the time.  But, I can make the most of my time at the gym.  And, I can put plenty of thought and love into every meal I prepare.  I can snuggle the heck out of my crazy toddler and enjoy dates nights out or in with Brian.  I am decidedly not a pro at this - more like a work in progress.

Recently, I spent an evening out at a street fair with Brian, Cameron, my best friend, her husband and their little one. Out of desperation to find a restaurant without a wait, we seated ourselves at a rather fancy establishment.  My best friend referred to this meal as "the best meal we'll never remember." While we shared this meal, our kids lost their shoes, threw some dirt, tried to run into traffic, flirted with other baby-passerbys, and unleashed general almost-bed-time-mayhem. It was chaos.  We all could have benefited from a shot (but really, who wants to see four adults with two small children in tow knocking back lemon drops.....)  I don't really recall what each of us ate, but I know there was cheese on my plate..... Regardless, there was TONS of laughter and some great memories made.

A few days later, on a Sunday afternoon, I found myself with a nice chunk of time to prepare a great meal.  So while grandma, grandpa, Brian, Cam and the doggies played outside, I sipped some red wine and got to work - roasting two salt-free jerk spiced pork tenderloins, preparing my favorite mushroom and onion twice-baked potatoes, and letting Cam make his first dish - a bean and corn salad with cumin and lime (this works because toddlers like to dump stuff from one container to another... squeezing the lime is another story). It was healthy and delicious and full of my love and gratitude for my family. So... I know I've said this before, and I somehow always seem to forget it - "balance", at least in my opinion, is an unrealistic expectation. Being present and focused on one thing - be it toddler, dinner, work, etc - leaves behind the best feelings and the least regret.

For those of you who tell me you always cry when you read my blog - well, I really hope this one made you laugh :)

"Much of the success of cooking comes from the way, when it is done right, its says 'I see who you are, I like who you are, I support who you are. And I love you.'" Bill, Penzey's Spices

Monday, July 9, 2012


Fifteen months into motherhood, it seems I have reached an impasse.  Cameron and I have outgrown the rocking chair. 

Perhaps he is a shade too long or more likely, my lap is has become a shade too small; whatever the case may be, bedtime has become a bit complicated. I shouldn't be surprised - you've all see pregnant pictures of me - Cameron outgrew my frame in the second trimester of his gestation!  Some nights are easy - he's tired enough that he'll sit beside me while we read (current favorites are Miss Mary Mack, Foodie Baby, Going to the Apple farm and pretty much anything with elephants or cars) and then climb in my lap to enjoy some snuggles before drifting off. Other nights, when he's not so tired,  I feel like a jungle gym.  First he'll start with his head on my shoulder and his legs scrunched up at my hips.  After a few minutes, this gets uncomfortable.  So we shift into the happiest-baby-on-the-block position - but the chair is not wide enough to accommodate my gangly-legged toddler. At some point, he'll roll on to his belly and be all superman-sprawled across my lap.  Not comfortable.  So THEN, he winds up sitting sideways in my lap with his head tucked under my chin and his cheek on my sternum.  No matter what, one of us is uncomfortable, hot and pinched in someway.  Usually, I give up first and put him down in hopes that he'll be much more comfortable with the space to stretch out.  Sometimes this works - but mostly it doesn't.  Brian usually saves the day - thank goodness for daddy's broader shoulders and bigger lap. 

Realizing this - that Cameron isn't my little teenie-weenie baby anymore - is very bittersweet.  I love watching every little discovery toddler Cam makes and all the words he says and the little things he finds so funny - but gone are the days of the wide eyed infant.

While Cameron was busy outgrowing my lap, our family was quite busy outgrowing our house.  Our story is typical - single man buys great starter house in city..... then gets married...... then buys dog......... then has kid. And somehow, all of a sudden, your house shrinks exponentially and it's time for an "upgrade" - or whatever it is that comes after the starter house.  House hunting is STRESSFUL - how do you know you are making the right choice? How do you pick the right community for your family and make sure you have a nice yard for the kid & dog and a big kitchen for entertaining and enough closet space for all your clothes?! How do you pick somewhere to live for 20 or 30 years?  In this process, I realized that in the last 10 years, I've lived in two different cities and called 6 different places home. I should note that this really is a good problem to have these days.... I've heard one too many stories of families going into foreclosure or downsizing or not really knowing what the next month will bring.  Still, outgrowing things is hard... especially when I wasn't ready yet.

I suppose all you can really do is grow into something new.... which is hard to do if you don't know what or where that something new is.  Wish us luck on the house hunting :) As for the chair, well... Cam and I won't be cozy there anytime, but he's so busy growing into toddlerhood that mommy just needs to go along for the ride too!

"Just as we outgrow a pair of trousers, we outgrow acquaintances, libraries, principles, etc., at times before they're worn out and times - and this is the worst of all - before we have new ones." - Anonymous