What The College Girl Brought Home

Our daughter came home from college, diploma in hand and South Korea-bound.  She’s here at home for a few months to get all the paper work in order and while here she has brought us happily into the world of 20-somethings – alternative music, trending topics, exercise in the late afternoon, and The Whole30 Program.

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If you aren’t familiar with The Whole30, it is more of a cleanse than a diet.  For 30 days we commit to forego all refined sugar of any kind. In addition to the obvious sugar vehicles, we must turn our backs on alcohol and all grains.  Additionally, the Whole30 adherent gives up those hearty legumes except beans that are more pod than bean, like a snow pea.  Finally, all dairy is excluded with the exception of clarified butter or ghee which probably isn’t available in our town, but I could be wrong.

So what’s left?

8 days in to the 30, here’s what’s left:

* Actual real unprocessed original food.  Grilled chicken breasts, grilled peppers, stuffed cabbage, whole berries, homemade mayonnaise, avocados, lettuce wraps.  A steamed potato is the unsung understudy to butter and sour cream.  But let it have center stage and a star is born.  Yes, I know I sound like a sound-bite, but I’m not kidding.

* The chance to taste again.  I had not realized that I wasn’t really tasting anything anymore, partially because the original food was so submerged in other things, but also because this plan forces us to slow down, prepare, taste, savor.

* Kitchen time, touching food and thinking about what’s good.  At first it is annoying because nothing is fast or quick-grab on this program, and I have a busy life.  Aside from an apple or a banana, if you want to eat you have to cook.  So you have to peel, chop, seed, simmer, steam, wait, smell, think, wait, not sip wine, and wait.

* The good feeling of hunger.  I had forgotten that, too.  When was the last time I approached dinner actually hungry and having to wait?  I can’t remember.

* The deep thought that technology is not neutral. Neil Postman said this, I believe, and the gist is that advances can be detrimental.  We’ve developed ways to eat fast, convenient, and extra large, and much is lost in that.  We all know this, but Whole30 eating is a three-times-a-day illustration of it.

* Being able to eat a lot!!  We’ve eaten like kings for these 8 days.  Vegetable soup, fruit smoothies, lots of meat, oven roasted asparagus, Cuban pork chops and plantains, scrambled eggs, steamed salmon en papillote, to name some recent meals.

* But never feeling that sick stuffed feeling.  You know what I am talking about, that feeling that makes you hate yourself.

A wreck of a kitchen.  We’re in it all the time and every gadget we own stays out on the countertop – pressure cooker, smoothie blender, food processor, handheld and countertop mixers, and all their different lids, blades, and accoutrements. Come to think of it, I don’t know how I would do this during the school year. But the family is together and every meal is an event.

* Character challengesThe Whole30 founders say this program is not hard.  And what they mean is that it isn’t hard compared to actual hard things like cancer and car wrecks.  They are right.  But it is hard to say no to ourselves.  And when we do it our character is flexed and strengthened.  This program makes you say to yourself, “You mean you can’t give up cream in your coffee or the evening glass of wine for a mere 30 days???  What if the apocalypse happens and your family needs you to man-up and find shelter?  Will you collapse for lack of half and half?”    It’s one thing to be forced to give up something, but to do it by choice when it is available at hand, well, that’s a character builder.

* The freedom to make modifications.  Now the minute I say this, The Whole30 founders will say that I am no longer on their plan.  I respect that.  The purpose of doing this program is different for each person.  Andrew and I have decided that living almost half a century earns us the right to draw a few lines of our own, within reason, of course.  So, we have added the Asian grain millet or the Egyptian grain kamut for breakfast.  That and the tiniest splash of 2% milk in my coffee.  Drinking black coffee is like drinking Comet.  Otherwise, we are hard core.

* And the challenge to reject food righteousness.  It is a short jump from hard core to self-righteous, isn’t it?  And food can be a beautiful platform for raising my brows at the pizza-eaters and saluting my gnostically-enlightened fellow snow-pea eaters. Or raising my brows at them too and being what C.S. Lewis calls the truly superior man who thinks he sees through both sides as no one else can  (Screwtape Letters, Letter 10).  Yes, this program is a humbling opportunity to refuse to be enslaved by things that enslave me but not to be proud or judgmental about it.

* Moments for grace and politeness and empathy. Within these 30 days in May and June, we have weddings, birthdays, a family reunion, and graduation celebrations.  It can be tiresome when people dominate an event with their dietary needs.  This is my chance to find that I sympathize with the impulse to talk about the intracacies of a particular food path, but to conquer the urge. When handed the cake and champagne, I can participate fully by holding it and at some point just putting it down. Easy.

Well, these are my meditations at Day 8.

What?  Side effects?  A few headaches, a coping G.I. tract, and sluggish running. No euphoria or slumps, but these are early days.

Will we make it the whole 30?  I’ll keep you posted.

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The Leak – Part II

3:00.  Do not ask for whom the bell tolls.  It tolled for me.

Will donned work boots and commanded me to leave the leak to him and to go about my day.  And I would gladly have done just that.  But I knew from grim experience the quickest route to the leak.  I knew he would need a gofer to run back and forth to the street to turn on and off the water and then into the kitchen to run the water through the fridge to take the pressure off the line every time we turned the water off.  He needed to take a towel, tape, scissors, his cell phone, kneepads, flashlight.  But mothers need to back off sometimes. So in he went. Cold turkey.

I waited.

Could I please turn the water off?

Indeed.  I was poised and ready, but I discovered a hitch.  The city had replaced the valve at the street and our convenient re-bar tool, a giant reverse screwdriver, no longer fit the valve head.  OK.  Vice grips.  From under the house, Will told me where they were and I trotted there.  Yes.  You are dead right. I am stove-up now from all this trotting and squatting.

Vice grips in hand, I approached the valve.  Had the valve been level and flat this story would lack a certain Facing-the-Giants element.  But the valve was a little tilted and at the bottom of a 6 inch deep hole.  So the vice grip handles couldn’t turn 1/16th of a revolution without hitting the sides of the hole, repeatedly knocking the pinchers off the valve, dinging my knuckles, and ruining the manicure I had gotten for Adrienne’s graduation.  It was a physics problem I couldn’t solve, and could have been the proverbial straw.  But here is where being a Category 2 came in handy and downright saved the day.

Remember, we 2ers weep over novels.  The novel I am weeping over right now is The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  When you finish reading this, go get a copy.  It is a glorious recounting of the battle of Gettysburg from both sides’ perspective.  And though I am a proud southerner and my gut twisted to know we were going to lose this particular battle, my admiration for Union General Lawrence Chamberlain literally knew no bounds.  The God-given idea to fix bayonets and charge down Little Round Top against all odds was breathtaking.

And so, when I managed to get the valve turned and the water off and to trot back and resume my prone position holding the flashlight and Will said, “Now I can’t tell exactly where the leak is anymore.  Could you turn the water back on?”  I was able to summon my inner Chamberlain and say, “Fix bayonetsCharge!”

I would do this 10 more times for various reasons until my trotting became walking, then listing, then limping, then staggering.  “Fix bayonets.  Charge,” I whispered on the tenth wrestle with the vice grips on the valve, knowing too that the grips were stripping the valve head down to the shiny metal and giving evidence of my bumblings.  I rubbed a little mud on it to cover mein kampf.

I found out later that my neighbor, watching my mud-covered, repetitious trips to the valve hole, thought I was planting a tree.

In the end Will patched the leak sufficiently that the duct tape is still in place and the hose hasn’t been replaced.

And Chamberlain and his Maine regiment have just been moved to the center of the Union line, right where the Rebel George Pickett is about to aim his noble charge uphill and exposed and utterly magnificent.

I am Chamberlain and Pickett.

And I am a Category 2!

The Leak – Part I

All people can be divided into two categories.  Psychologists may quibble with me on this, but it’s simple.  The first group sees a problem and says, “Here, hand it to me.”  Think of surgeons in the OR, generals under siege, camp-directors on the rainy day, and my husband.  The second group may or may not notice the problem, but if they do they give a distracted, “Hmmm,” and go back to weeping enthralled tears over their novel.  Good examples would be Christie Mulkey and me.

On rare occasions, a soul from Category 2 is forced into Category 1.

This is my story.

A cool May morning, my husband was out of town and I was at the family helm.  As a staunch Category 2er, it is remarkable that I even noticed the sound of running water as I stood in the kitchen at 7:25 a.m. on a gym-duty Tuesday, laden with the multiple bags required for one day of school.

Unbagging myself, I assumed the crouch and head-tilt of a tracker of the woods.  Silent.  Listening.  Homing in.  Here.  Yes.  Just here.  I pulled out the refrigerator and found the tracker’s equivalent of the broken twig and partial hoofprint.  No water was evident, but the sound increased – steady, not drippy but spraying.  It thrummed against something taut and echoey.

Resolving to pray that it didn’t get worse, I pushed the fridge back and headed on to school like any good Category 2er would.  God hears us because we need Him more than Category 1ers do.

 ~

A Category 2er can’t live with a Category 1er for 26 years, as I have, without some 1 rubbing off.  So I did have a sense of urgency as I returned from school around 1:00 and trotted up the back steps, game for the task ahead.  But the phone rang and it was Eliza.  So we chatted for awhile.  2ers respect the need for quality time.  Soon, though, garbed in grungy shorts (a mistake) and clunky shoes I opened the door to the crawlspace under the house and mentally heard Edna welcome me to hell.

We live in a long rectangle of the 1969 brick-rancher variety.  The crawlspace door is at the east end and the problem site was at the west end.  Also at the west end the crawlspace finally peters out into the garage slab.  So the space narrows of course the farther one crawls on one’s knees and belly into the lair of mole-crickets, meth cookers, and general boogeymen.

I confess here that I moaned aloud.  I did.  As I crawled I moaned.  And I laughed at myself and moaned more and became a little hysterical the farther I got in.  Dodging ductwork, cursing the builders for putting the ductwork just where I needed to go, I swung wide and homed in on the thrumming sound.  A healthy spray was coming from the ice-maker hose and hitting the tarps, filling the wrinkle troughs and making mud where the tarps didn’t meet.  It was a mess.

So I called Andrew from the inky depths.  Breathing heavily, trying to sound game on point, I said, “There’s no shut-off valve, so I call a plumber, right?”

He’s a Category1er.  1ers don’t call plumbers.  1ers become plumbers.

“Oh, no.  We can fix this ourselves.”

He said ‘we’ here metaphorically.  He was 400 miles away.

He continued, “You’re going to need to turn off the water at the street.  Dry off the hose. Duct tape it thoroughly.  And I’ll replace the hose when I get back.”

I think I blacked out at this point.

When I came to, I was crawling my way back out, around the ductwork, moaning, muddy, knees shredded and stinging causing me to wonder if some vile under-the-house chemical was entering my bloodstream.  I also wondered if any of the kittens had discovered the open crawlspace.  But I couldn’t worry about them.  They were on their own.  The circle of life and all.  The door spat me out heaving on the pine straw, and I lay there looking at the blue sky.  Life.  Birds.  I had survived.  But I would have to go back in.  Could I do it?

~

I would bolster myself with lunch and then make a plan.  My legs were like rubber because I had done a good bit of crouched-ape walking under the house before I realized that this was going to be a full-body slog.  I am embarrassed to admit that my hands shook, too.  Delayed claustrophobic response, no doubt.  So it is not surprising that when I reached overhead – I am a short person in a tall people’s world – to get the lemon squeezer dish, I bobbled it onto the tile floor and it shattered.  It is a testament to my fuddledness that my first item of lunch was a lemon.  But anyway, I stood muddy-legged and barefoot amid chunks and slivers of my lemon-squeezer.

I might have blacked out here, too.

In that dark moment, when I most needed an authentic 1er to walk in and say, “Here, hand it to me,” instead one of the first wasps of the coming summer hove in through the kitchen window.  Have you noticed how gigantic those early wasps are, and how malevolent looking their dangly things?  I had to pick my battles. So I ignored the wasp, swept, palsied, and dropped things, finally plopped some three-day-old slightly funky chicken salad on a plate and retired to the porch to meditate.

Under a house, I concluded, is an unnatural place.  It is like the dark side of the moon, literally unfit for the human life form and containing the embodiment of all fears.

I couldn’t face it alone.  I would wait for Will to get home from school.

Stuffed Up

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I need a theology of stuff.  This need has come home to me recently both in sober and in light-hearted moments.

To begin with, my mom, my in-laws, and my aunt are all in the process of downsizing and moving.  That is 6 people times 70 years each of stuff accumulation.  That’s 420 years of stuff. Enough to get my attention.

Then, during my parents’ recent house clean-out, we contemplated a yard sale.  We abandoned the idea quickly for many reasons, one of them being the jarring task of putting prices on their stuff.  What does 25 cents mean when it is stuck on the carved box from Honduras?  In the end it was easier to let the box go for nothing.  As a gift it retained some of the value Dad gave it by bringing it home with him.  For a quarter it did not.

Next, on a recent evening out with a friend who manages a storage facility, she described to us the world of storage facility dysfunction.  The place is a psychologist’s dream.  You probably never considered a storage facility as anything other than an off-campus garage for extra stuff.  Oh, no.  It is far more than that.  People who cannot pay rent and are homeless have storage facilities, for stuff, that they manage to pay for by hook or by crook.  They have no home, but their stuff darn well does.  Others spend thousands and thousands of dollars over years housing stuff that isn’t worth a tiny fraction of the storage fees.  Legal battles and illicit lock-cutters rage over access to certain units because the relationship is o.ver. and she wants her stuff, but his name is the only one on the paperwork.  Her stuff is his leverage and he wields it like a third-world chieftain.

And then, the clincher:  I looked at my bedside table the other day and saw something chilling.  Here’s how my thoughts went:  If I suddenly go on to glory, someone will be cleaning out this table and drawing conclusions about me.  This stuff, they will say, most sums her up.  This is what she used every day. This stuff tells her story.  Fine, no problem.  Except that among the Bible, lotion, and back-scratcher, was a hilarious little dictionary on flatulence.  I didn’t buy it.  It was given to me.  I have laughed over it several times. And somehow in the cleaning and flux of books that come and go, that one has stayed there.  Why, I don’t know.  But the chilling part was the thought of someone on the ‘Allison’s-gone-to-heaven’ yard sale crew thinking that I cherished that little book.  You know?  Go look at the table by your bed.  You’ll see what I mean.

So, I reasoned, our stuff tells a story of our life.

Yes, I agree with you; the real story of our life lives in the people we love and influence during our time here.  But, like it or not, our stuff tells our story too.  It is a story read and interpreted by the ones who handle our stuff when we are no longer here to do it.  And what if they get it wrong?  Like the obit might read, “A loving mother, among her precious possessions was a flatulence dictionary.”  For the first time I find comfort in James telling me “You are a mist that appears for a little time, then vanishes” (4:14).  No one will remember me.  Thank goodness.

Unless I become famous.  Because I do worry about that.  My biographers will include the little dictionary.  They will inflate it into an obsession.  400 years from now, A.D. 2415, after a ho-hum unit on Shakespeare, American students will thrill to finally get to study the odd turn-of-the-millennium gas-obsessed blogger.  Such are my daydreams and nightmares.

Yes, one day it will be our stuff – yours, mine – out in the spotlight and telling stories.  Like Pip in Great Expectations I will find myself hoping then for people to look on me with a kinder eye than I deserve and to forget my faults.

And I can sure mock those stuff-enslaved storage folks until I try to clean out the bins of baby memorabilia.  Ha!  Try to throw one thing away that baby wore or touched.  It’s like an amputation.  I can’t do it.  And one day, stuff – rooms, beds, food, books, toys – will be the way I love my visiting children and grandchildren.

So, stuff.  It’s inescapable.  It’s odd.  I’ll be working on a theology. What do you think?

(With thanks to Carolyn Byer for the dictionary, and with acknowlegment that larger things are happening in the world, but what can I say about Baltimore that Jen Hatmaker hasn’t already said well?)