Faith

BLOG-FAITHAn Alpha-fetoprotein test indicated there might be a problem with my unborn baby’s health. The good news was that this particular blood test often showed false positives.

The bad news was that the test could be right.

I thought I was the kind of person who’d need to find out if my baby was healthy. I figured I'd have an amniocentesis done and within two weeks, I'd know.

My husband and I went for genetic counseling, a requirement before amniocentesis was preformed at the time, and we learned that our chances for having a sick child were exactly equal to the chance of me having a miscarriage due to the procedure.

Five months in, my stomach the size of a soccer ball, I was already attached to my unborn baby. Wanting it, I decided at the last minute that I could live with whatever my higher power had in store for me but that I couldn’t live with a miscarriage that was my own doing.

The rabbi encouraged me to pray with all my heart as if anything could happen but believe, simultaneously, that everything was going to be okay.

I spent the next twenty weeks of my pregnancy not knowing.

Thankfully, the baby was healthy.

Looking back, I don't how I did that.

A Tip for My Uber Driver

BLOG- 5 STARSI’m a nervous traveler so when my Uber driver informed me about two accidents and huge delays on the 405, he contributed to my already high anxiety. After riling me up, he tried to calm me down by assuring me that LAX was pretty cool about allowing check-in as close to 30 minutes before flight time.

I’d planned my arrival at the airport, allotting one hour and 15 minutes before flight time. (I like to stand in long lines at Starbucks and get coffee before a flight.) 30 minutes was not going to cut it.

I was not happy.

And then to top things off, my driver wouldn’t stop talking.

He talked even though I read emails, head down. He talked even when I gave one-word answers. He talked and talked and talked.

And then I started to worry. Was my Uber driver judging me?

It was in Maureen Dowd’s article, Driving Uber Mad, that I learned Uber drivers rate their passengers. And it did cross my mind, since I wasn’t in the mood to chat, that he could find me unpleasant and consequently, give me a bad rating, which would make other drivers wary of picking me up in the future.

On my behalf, I will disclose, I’d just completed a grueling weekend where, over four days, I hiked a total of 36 miles, a great deal of it uphill. And some at 18% incline.

I was exhausted, totally wiped out.

And I’d spent four days in a group. I needed to unwind. I needed to spend time in my own head. I needed a blog post idea.

I can reason about all of this now, in retrospect. But at the time, I felt bad about being unfriendly.

Was I being mean?

Rude?

Reluctantly, I listened as he talked about L.A. traffic, his previous fare and how he kept his car clean.

I listened to how he used to live on the east coast, and that even though most people in the east like the foliage and the fall; he preferred spring.

And then the conversation veered when he said, “I’d like to get a five star rating from you. If there were any issues with this ride, I’d like to hear your comments. Just be upfront.”

As much as I wanted to say, “Besides your non-stop talking everything was fine, I simply said, “I’ll give you five stars.”

After all, as far as service went, I convinced myself, he’d done a good job. In the end, because of his navigation system, his determination in maneuvering away from the 405 and his constant up-to-the-minute reporting, it appeared I was going to get to the airport on time. The only problem with the ride, I deduced, was my mood, and that I wanted some quiet.

And then he asked, “You want to know your rating?”

Over the weekend, everything I did was rated in numbers: how many miles I hiked, how much I weighed, how many inches I lost. This was just one more scale I could place myself on.

“Sure,” I said feeling confident. (You’d feel confident too if you’d hiked 36 miles in four days and lost eight inches.)

“You know, only a cool driver would tell you your score.” He glanced at me through the rearview mirror.

I waited patiently for my results to appear.

“4.8,” he said.

I didn’t think that was so bad but according to my driver, it wasn’t good. And I wondered what I’d done that got me less than five stars.

“WHAT? WHY?” I asked, all of a sudden feeling knocked down a peg (or .2).

“I don’t know,” he chuckled.

And I could tell he was thrilled to reveal this less than perfect (and supposed to be private) score.

He went on to say that the rating system was flawed, that someone gave him four stars because his car wasn’t clean. “Look around,” he said. “My car is spotless.” And to his credit, it was.

He told me that he thought I was the perfect customer. He said that I was respectful and I hadn’t kept him waiting.

“Unless someone throws up in my car or is disrespectful, they get a five,” he said.

“Well, I’ve never thrown up in an Uber. And I’ve never been disrespectful.”

“I have a friend,” he said, “who gives a four to anyone who doesn’t tip.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Tip? You don’t tip Uber. That’s the point. That’s the best part of Uber. Isn’t the tip included in the price?”

SIDE NOTE: Even though I consider myself a good tipper, I have to admit, I hate tipping. Especially after drinking a glass of wine at dinner.

I hate that it’s arbitrary.

I hate that I have to do mental math.

Just last week, at a restaurant in L.A, my bill came on a touch pad and all I had to do was press 15%, 18% or 20% tip. I pressed 20% and the total was added for me. All I had to do was swipe and sign.

Brilliant.

That I didn’t mind.

*****

What was my Uber driver trying to tell me? Was he going to take away a star if I didn’t tip him?

“Actually,” I said, “I thought you weren’t supposed to tip.”

“Well, it is discouraged,” he admitted.

But then he went on to tell me about the price of gas and how it’s gone up. He told me he believed the Uber App should have a place to add a tip.

And since I loved the aforementioned experience at the L.A. restaurant, I agreed that would be a good solution, even though I’d only moments before learned there was a problem.

As he pulled up to the curb at LAX, my driver said, "It’s because the founder of Uber doesn’t believe in tipping.”

Like-minds!

Me too, I wanted to scream.

SIDE NOTE #2: Don’t misunderstand. The way things are set up presently in restaurants and beauty salons, for example, tipping is important. And tipping generously is even, in my view, a moral obligation. Workers rely on their tips to make ends meet, to put food on their tables.

But there's a problem with tipping. It’s too subjective and when to do it is not always obvious. And of course how much to tip is suspect to fluctuating or arbitrary criterion like mood swings or income level.

Why not have flat rates? A standard tip included. I thought Uber was on to something.

Why should a worker’s income be placed in my hands, or any (cranky or lazy or stingy) customer’s hands, and not their employer’s hands? *****

As my Uber driver helped me lift my luggage from his trunk, I said, I’ll trade you five stars for five stars.”

He laughed and said, "Okay."

But I’ve been thinking. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to make a deal. Maybe I should’ve given him four stars (or less) for chewing my ear off for over an hour and trying to manipulate me into giving him a tip.

The ride, overall, was an uncomfortable reminder that we are always being graded or weighed or rated or judged.

Here’s a tip Mr. Uber driver- Proceed with caution. Yes, you’re in the driver’s seat and can steer conversations wherever you want; but your passengers shouldn’t feel trapped as if the air bag has just blown up in their face.

Someone less congenial might take away a star, or two.

All (Fat) Talk and No Action

BLOG-EXERCISEWhen I was young, I had an aunt who repeatedly called herself fat. I believed her.

But she wasn’t.

In The Problem With Fat Talk, Renee Engeln reports that in a 2011 survey, 90 percent of college woman admitted to engaging in fat talk. Only 9 percent of them were actually overweight.

Shaming the body is a big deal. It makes people feel bad and it brings others around them down too. Plus, it's contagious.

Studies show that fat talk is common in women across all ages and all body sizes.

For most of my life, I was spared that destiny. I didn't engage in fat talk, count calories, compare low fat diets or eliminate carbs. I could eat as much as I wanted and was still naturally thin.

Until I wasn’t.

Or until I thought I wasn’t because technically I was still thin, just not as thin as I’d always been.

My body started changing in my forties when I grew a fibroid the size of a honeydew. (I know in my post Attachment Theory, I said it was expected to be the size of grapefruit; but it wasn't.)

It was huge and I wasn’t used to having to hide parts of myself under clothing. Around that time, feeling defeated, I succumbed and began fat talking.

But the fibroid was removed 9 months ago, and up until a month ago, I was still at it. Fat Talking, I mean.

I’d stopped exercising, gained some weight and felt bad about it.

I was fat talking myself into a tizzy and I didn’t recognize myself. Who was this woman talking about getting fat all the time?

And then one morning, I had enough.

I booked a stay at a spa.

Four days of rigorous hiking, exercise and diet.

I did this to take care of myself. I’ve always believed exercise was important and I couldn’t believe how I let myself get so out of shape. Not literally as in my physical shape (although that too) but strength-wise. I used to be athletic: a cheerleader, a track runner, a tennis player. How was it that a set of stairs had me huffing and puffing?

For a month now, I’ve been exercising regularly; Pilates, treadmill, weight training, stretching, a little bit more each day.

I’ve been cooking with less oil, reading lists of ingredients and drinking water with lemon and cayenne pepper.

It’s only been a couple of weeks so it’s not that I look all that different; but I certainly do feel different.

I have some goals: build strength and tone. And never again let myself be all (fat) talk and no action.

Friendship Matters

  BLOG- MAGIC 8 BALL

Once I was in a gigantic slump and my friend, Susan, came to my house to comfort me. We laugh now, looking back, that my child’s Magic 8 Ball was the only solution she could offer.

I held the ball in my hands, hopeful.

Q: Will everything work out? A: Hazy, try again later.

“Well, do it again,” Susan said. “Don’t give up.”

Q: Will this misery pass? A: Don’t count on it.

Q: No, I mean will it eventually pass? A: Very doubtful.

But Susan held strong. “Shake it up. Try again.”

Susan is not Kim. Kim is a psychotherapist, and other best friend. Kim believes in talk-therapy. She would’ve listened, less solution focused. Empathetic, she would’ve had tears in her eyes too, and begged for a turn with the 8- Ball. Susan is not Pam. Pam would’ve wanted to get my mind off things. She would’ve wanted me to stay busy. She would’ve suggested a trip into Manhattan, a couple of drinks, shopping.

I shook the ball again and prayed for a proper outcome.

Q: Will I feel better soon? A: Cannot predict now.

Susan sat next to me as I overturned the ball again and again until...

Q: Will I feel better? A: Most likely.

My friendships are dear to me. Essential. And so I was disheartened to read that friendships are fading.

In a Harvard Medical School study, researchers found that not having close friends leads to increased stress hormones and blood pressure; and it could be as detrimental to your health as smoking. Not having close friends leads to feelings of isolation, depression and emptiness.

So it is a shame that we don’t always have the time to nurture these relationships. Or we don’t make the time. (See this article from The New York Times: What My Friends Mean to Me.)

My friends tease me that when they call, I treat them like telemarketers, which of course, I think is totally untrue.

And this is because of what is true, which is that they mean the world to me.

These are friendships that go back decades and whether we are being as adventurous as Thelma and Louise or as kooky as Lucy and Ethel, we have been there for each other through all of life’s challenges: problems with our kids, marital discord, divorce, bouts of cancer, financial issues, and even losing a spouse.

These are things the Magic 8 Ball can’t fix. But a friend sitting next to you on your couch, as you cry, a Magic 8 Ball in your hands, while you make up outrageous questions to ask it—loony enough to make you laugh—even when it was the last thing you could imagine doing.

That could fix things.

Q: Will these friendships last forever? A: It is certain.

 

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.


“Yes, Piglet?”


“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

 -A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

BLOG- WINNIE THE POOH

Brave New Me

Blog- Movie Brave New WorldGrowing up, I detested Star Trek and anything futuristic. I had no interest in science fiction, and to this day have never seen Star Wars.

In high school, because it was assigned, I read Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but left to choice, never saw The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi or The Matrix.

Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with science and technology, space travel, time travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life. And truthfully, for the most part, those things didn’t interest me.

I’m not one for dramatic change, and science fiction forced me to participate in scenarios that required a lot of imagination, and even if only for the duration of a film, acceptance of a life that looked way different from the one I was living. I didn’t want to contemplate an existence with aliens or a future bleak with Big Brother. Those things, and Spock’s ears, frightened me.

BLOG- SCIENCE FICTION

Turns out, I was right to be frightened because science fiction movies and books have predicted our future.

"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley portrayed a world in which people escaped through the use of mood-enhancing drugs called "soma".

"By this time the soma had begun to work. Eyes shone, cheeks were flushed, the inner light of universal benevolence broke out on every face in happy, friendly smiles."

Huxley wrote about mood- altering drugs in the 30’s, years before antidepressants became prevalent.

And in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), written by George Orwell, government control was questioned. Orwell described a future where "Big Brother," knew exactly what you were doing and when.

"There was no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system…It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time."

With surveillance cameras, computer hacking and information forever stored in the cloud that concept is not so far-fetched today.

As a young girl, I couldn’t have imagined a future world without landline phones, encyclopedias or marriage. And yet those things are either already obsolete or on there way to being outmoded.

The same way I couldn’t have imagined a world without those things, I’ll bet you can’t imagine a world without food. And yet science is taking us there.

Interestingly enough the concept of not needing food was depicted in a 1973 science fiction movie called Soylent Green. I’ve never seen the film but it takes place in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans and other problems due to the greenhouse effect.

In the movie, people survive on wafers called "Soylent Green"; and as if an overpopulated, polluted, world weren’t horrifying enough -spoiler alert- Soylent Green, viewers find out at the end of the movie in a surprising twist, is made of human remains.

BLOG-Soylent Green

In 2012, three young men ran into financial trouble while working on a technology startup. They needed a way to cut expenses. They found food was a problem: costly and time-consuming.

Rhinehart, who was studying electrical engineering, began to think about food as an engineering problem and concluded that food was an inefficient way to get what you needed to survive. Rhinehart put his startup on hold and focused on nutritional biochemistry. He invented a potion made up of 35 nutrients required for survival, and being a bit derisory called it Soylent. He started living on it. Only.

Rhinehart claimed Soylent was saving him time and money and physically, he wrote, “I feel like the six million dollar man. My physique has noticeably improved, my skin is clearer, my teeth whiter, my hair thicker.”

Read: The End of Food published in The New Yorker for more details. The article describes how meals in the future will be separated. There will be meals for utility and function, and meals for experience and socialization.

Liquid food has played an escalating role in diet regiments for years. We have Ensure and Muscle Milk and because of health concerns and time constraints there is juicing and green drinks and smoothies.

Tim Gore, the head of food policy and climate change for Oxfam says, “The main way that most people will experience climate change is through the impact on food: The food they eat, the price they pay and the choices they have due to availability.”

The New Yorker article states that Chipotle announced it might phase out guacamole due to climate change.

This might be proof that Gore is right.

In Interstellar, a recently released science fiction movie, humans can no longer survive on a dying planet Earth and a crew of astronauts travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity.

Blog- Interstellar

It doesn’t sound like my kind of movie but I’m reconsidering if I’ll see it. That’s what art does: it shows us who we are, and what we want. But also what we fear.

Teach Children and Change the World

BLOG-EDUCATION On October 9, 2012 the Pakistani Taliban shot 15 year old Malala Yousafzai in the head. She was on her school bus.

On April 14, 2014 Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist organization, kidnapped 276 female students in Nigeria.

On December 15, 2014 the Pakistani Taliban killed 141 people (132 of them children) in a school in Peshawar.

Terrorists understand that education corrodes extremism.

Terrorists understand that education is the most powerful force to transform society.

That’s why they keep attacking schools and school children.

It is unthinkable and utterly disturbing.

In a New York Times piece, What’s So Scary About Smart Girls? Nicholas Kristof writes, “When terrorists in Nigeria organized a secret attack last month, they didn’t target an army barracks, a police department or a drone base. No, Boko Haram militants attacked what is even scarier to a fanatic: a girl’s school. That’s what extremists do. They target educated girls, their worst nightmare.”

In a more recent essay, Kristof states, “I’ve concluded that education may be the single best way to help people help themselves.”

So what’s my point?

Is it that…

A. American leaders should know this too and should invest more in education both domestically and overseas?

B. Individuals will find power in getting educated?

C. Parents must educate their children?

D. All of the above.

Malala Yousafzai miraculously survived and is now an activist who speaks on the rights of children. She brought worldwide attention to the mission: BRING BACK OUR GIRLS after the kidnappings in Nigeria.

Sometimes, I feel helpless because it seems there is little I can do.

But in an effort to be a part, albeit a small part, of the solution, I support Room to Read, an organization that envisions a world in which all children can pursue a quality education, reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world.

It has been said that the most influential of all educational factors is the conversation in a child’s home.

What’s the conversation at your house?

Attachment Theory: Letting Go Of My Uterus

Screen shot 2014-08-29 at 1.54.22 PM I’m attached to my uterus.

I’m attached to a lot of things. People mostly.

But I’m sentimental so I get attached to my clothes, my books, and yes, even my uterus.

Sometimes what you resist persists, right?

Life has a way of teaching us what we need to learn and so my children have grown and I’ve had to work hard at healthy separation, I live with two daughters who steal all my clothes (especially when I’m out of town) and we had a fire in our house a few years back- bye, bye books.

Now it’s my uterus that’s on the line. I’m scheduled for surgery in 2 days to remove a 10 cm (that’s the size of a grapefruit) fibroid (a non-cancerous tumor) from my uterus. The discovery of this fibroid was one of the scariest days of my life. (More on that in another blog post.)

Not wanting to part with my uterus, I’ve put this off for years. The surgery is considered elective but I’ve grown tired of regular sonograms, more than my fair share of scares, feeling six months pregnant and having to leave the dinner table doubled over with cramps.

Maybe I should have done this sooner but like I said, I’m sentimental and my uterus has been good to me. Five children have grown in there. I don’t take that lightly. So it seems reasonable that I’d be attached. Plus, it seems perfectly normal and logical to be attached to all my body parts. Doctors talk about removing a cervix, ovaries and fallopian tubes as if they were manicurists removing nail polish.

“When the fibroid goes, my uterus goes too,” I explained to my oldest daughter. “And the problem is?” “I want my uterus.” “That’s weird. You don’t need it.”

And of course, she’s right but need is a funny word. My uterus feels connected to my youth and so there is a sense of loss. Plus, why’d I grow the fibroid in the first place? Unresolved emotions. Pent up anger. Who knows? I will tell you this- fibroids are common. Forty percent of women get them. But they are most common in African American women, women who are obese and women who eat lots of red meat, especially ham. I am none of these.

I tried to explain to my daughter that I didn’t believe you could just cut these things out. It’s the size of baby’s head. Coincidence?

“Okay, that’s super weird. And gross,” she said. “Just get it out. It’s a foreign something growing in your body.”

But that’s just it. It didn’t feel foreign. And for a long time, I wasn’t ready to let it go.

Along the way, I’ve had to fight to keep other body parts. Literally argue. Up until recently a woman’s ovaries were thought to do nothing after menopause (just for the record, that’s still years away) and were taken out without much discussion. It is now known that ovaries actually continue producing hormones for years. Hormones that I want! I had a similar debate over my cervix and fallopian tubes. All of which are staying.

As my mother says, with not a small amount of disdain, “You have to be your own doctor.” The point is you must do research and ask questions.

One doctor wanted to morcellate the fibroid, cut it up into small pieces so I wouldn’t need a big surgery in order to get it out; and a different doctor said morcellating wasn’t a good idea.

Turns out, even though the numbers are small, it is possible to have one bad cell, which once exposed could spread disease. (Yes, getting that information was one of the scary days.)

So it has taken time but I have accepted that my uterus will go. There comes a time for things, and when the right moment presents itself, you know.

When my youngest son was three, my mother asked, “When are you going to cut the umbilical cord?” Like I said, separating is difficult for me but I did separate from him; and now he lives on his own, holds a steady job and plays drums in a band.

Everything in due time.