Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How Do You Cope with a Cold?

Mara here:

I think I'm getting a cold.

I get sick easily and it generally happens when there's any kind of change in the weather. It's gotten chilly, well, as chilly as L.A. gets, and I was just traveling, so it's not surprising that my body is telling itself it's time to get sick.

I don't always interpret the signs correctly when I think I'm getting sick, meaning I don't always end up getting sick. But every time I get sick the signs are there.

So here are my signs:

—I am cold all the time
—I have trouble sleeping at night
—I sneeze more than usual
—I have a scratchy tickle in the back of my throat
—I realize there are piles of tissues following me all over the house


So what do I do about it?

Previously, I had all sorts of vitamins and meds I could take to prevent a cold. And they did help. They usually kept me from getting a full-blown cold. But they never seemed to actually make me healthy. They simply put off the inevitability of my getting sick. So I can delay getting sick, which is sometimes helpful.

But at some point it seems as if my body needs to go through the process of getting sick and then healing itself to truly clear the virus up.

So now, when I feel like there's a cold lurking, pretty much all I do is take some extra vitamin C and I nap during the day if I can. I make sure I stay warm and I keep a box of Kleenex with me at all times because my nose will soon become a fountain.

I don't have any tried and true methods of preventing a cold or for quickly recovering from one.

If and when I finally succumb to a cold, usually I just have to give up. I have to just revel in it. I lay in bed and feel sorry for myself and carry tissues around and talk at my family members with my snuffed up nose in a very pathetic way.

Otherwise I do the opposite and try to pretend that I'm not sick. Although this is my preferred method of dealing with getting sick, I've found that it's not particularly successful and generally makes my body force me to acknowledge that I'm sick by turning whatever I started out with into strep throat or bronchitis.

So I've learned to just give in. I've learned to politely say, "Hello cold, my old friend" and give it some space. It usually takes two weeks for the whole cold process to run its course.

The cold starts with my feeling generally run down and a ticklish throat. Then the sneezes and stuffy nose appear. At some point, all ability to regulate my body temperature disappears. Then the watery eyes. Oh those annoying watery eyes that make people think you're crying.

This is followed by a hacking cough that is rough for a few days then tapers off until it's just an annoying cough that sometimes manifests itself as a tickle so intense that my eyes water and I can't talk, breathe, or basically do anything until I drink some water or suck on a cough drop,

And I don't know where the eating-chicken-soup-when-you're-sick cliché came from, but it is my mantra when I get sick. Usually all I want to eat is chicken soup. It soothes my throat, makes me warm, and doesn't make me feel uncomfortably full. So I eat a lot of chicken soup.

Then finally after two or three weeks I wake up one morning and realize I can once again breathe through my nose and I'm no longer coughing.

And for a day it feels like a complete miracle that I am no longer sick.

This cycle for me tends to repeat itself three or four times a year. Usually once or twice a year I do end up with an infection that requires antibiotics. I am prone to strep throat and, because of my asthma, it's not uncommon for me to get bronchitis. On the rare occasion, I get a sinus infection.

But usually it's just a cold.

Toni here:

Mara's piece was a "blast from the past" for me. Why? Because, since I became chronically ill in 2001, I rarely get an acute illness. I've had two colds in the past 16 1/2 years. 

My best guess as to why this is the case (and several doctors have agreed) is that my immune system is "upregulated." It never returned to normal functioning after I got the viral infection in 2001 that triggered my illness that now goes by the name ME/CFS. By upregulated, I mean that my immune system is actively on high alert all the time. This means that, on the one hand, it's able to fend off acute illnesses, but on the other hand, it's always in a heightened state of "sickness response." 

(I have no medical training so this is a lay person's understanding based on a lot of research about how the immune system works.) When people get an acute illness, they don't realize that it isn't the actual virus or bacteria that makes them feel so sick. The sick feeling ("the sickness response") is a side-effect of the immune system going into action, for example, producing cytokine cells to fight off the offending critter. That side-effect is worth it; your immune system may be saving your life when it does this. But it's hard to bear when your immune system doesn't return to normal after the immediate threat has passed.

One infectious disease doctor I saw described this way. He walked over to the light switch in the examining room and said, "It's as if the light went on to fight the acute infection you got in 2001, but then never went off. We need a reset button for your immune system but we don't know how to do that."

I guess it's a blessing that colds and the flu pass me by, but to be honest, I'd trade feeling sick all the time (and the house-boundness it imposes on me) for those acute illnesses.

Mara and I would love to know about you? Can you tell when you feel a cold coming? Do you have tricks for recovering from a cold quickly?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

It's Okay to Hate the Holidays

Mara here:

"It's the most wonderful time of the year."

That's what everyone tells us. It's Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years! Everyone is happy, right?

I was recently with a friend who hates the holidays, and I could tell she feels a lot of guilt about feeling that way. And then she feels angry that she feels guilty. Most of all though, she simply doesn't want to have to endure months of being surrounded by reminders that it's a time when everyone thinks you should feel happy even if you don't.

She's not alone.

We grow up thinking we have to like the holidays. We grow up thinking when it's the holidays, everyone feels joyful. We grow up thinking there must be something wrong with us if we don't feel the same way everyone else does.

For many of us, when we were children, the holidays were magical. Houses got decorated. We got time off school. There were candy and baked goods all over the place. And, of course, there were presents. It's not until we're adults and suddenly have the responsibility to create this magical happiness that is supposed to appear out of nowhere at the start of November, that we realize the holidays are a mixed bag.

What people don't like to talk about is that the holidays come with a lot of pressure.  First of all, there's pressure to celebrate the holidays at all. (Some people don't.) There's pressure identify with a religion. (Some people don't.) There's pressure to have loved ones to celebrate with. (Some people don't.) There's pressure to have money to decorate houses and buy lots of gifts. (Some people don't.) There's pressure to stop everything in your life to accommodate the holidays. (Some people can't.) There's pressure to have happy memories of holidays past. (Some people don't.)

There's a lot of pressure to love the holidays. Some people don't.

Here's the thing...just as with everything else in life, we all have different experiences. For some people, the holidays are painful. Some people had childhood experiences that make the holidays hard to enjoy. But since most people don't run around wanting to air their personal experiences in public, people who don't enjoy the holidays feel they have to pretend to enjoy them anyway.

Because if you don't express love for the holidays people will question you. Or worse, people will automatically think there's something "wrong" with you.

There's nothing wrong with not feeling love for the holidays.

It's okay to not enjoy them. It's okay to not feel the same way everyone else does. In fact, a lot of people feel dread when Fall rolls around and people realize that the barrage of festivities is about to bear down on them.

Even someone like me who does mostly does love the holidays, feels the stress of holiday madness. There's a lot of forced cheerfulness. There's a lot of expectation. There's a lot of change of routine.

For many families, the holidays are a huge financial burden. You can love Christmas and still feel a huge amount of responsibility (and subsequent stress) to live up to other people's expectations. So many of those expectations are directly related to money. We need money in today's world to celebrate the way everyone tells us we should.

Even though I have the good fortune to not feel overly burdened about the financial aspect of the holidays, buying presents is still very stressful. There's all this pressure to give good gifts. There's all this judgment about how thoughtful gifts are. And there's a lot of judgment about whether gifts are made versus bought and the stigma against gift cards or cash. 

Good grief people! We need to seriously give everyone a break. I buy lots of gift cards and give out a lot of cash. It's not because I'm lazy or don't care. It's because I feel a huge amount of anxiety about buying presents people like. I feel awful when I feel as if people don't like the gifts—not because I feel rejected or my feelings are hurt—but because I honestly want people to have gifts they will enjoy.

So for older kids, I started giving them cash for everything. If people want to think it's because I can't be bothered to think about personal gifts, they are welcome to think that. It's really because it's not worth it to make myself crazy and end up not giving a gift because I'm too worried that recipient won't like it. And seriously, why would anyone complain about cash?

Enough about presents. Let's more onto family.

Ah, family.

We all love our families, but that doesn't mean it's easy or that we always have a good time. Relationships with our parents or siblings are complicated. And just because we are related to people doesn't mean we choose to spend a lot of time together. You can love people without liking them. You can even love people without wanting to spend a lot of time with them.

Even in families who have good relationships, getting together under circumstances where there is an expectation for everyone to be "happy" can be difficult. It's a busy time. There's a lot going on in everyone's lives during normal times. Add in parties, buying gifts, wrapping and shipping gifts, decorating your house, sending out holiday cards on top of your already busy life...and by the time we actually manage to get to wherever it is we're going for the holidays, we're usually exhausted.

And being exhausted can make it hard to enjoy ourselves and that makes us even more unhappy. There's guilt associated with telling ourselves it's wrong to feel the way we feel.

In addition, there are a people who don't have family or close friends to share their holidays with. There are people who have lost loved ones. And, for many of our readers, chronic illness has made being with family and friends impossible. Holidays can be particularly hard for people who feel isolated.

I won't pretend to have all the answers. I don't. All I really hope people will keep in mind is that there's no right or wrong way to feel about the holidaysThere's no should or shouldn't, and other people don't have to understand or accept why you feel the way you feel.

If you're not comfortable with the feelings that you have during the holidays, it's perfectly valid to explore those feelings. If you're feeling unhappy about how you feel, instead of worrying about feeling the feeling, take the time and energy to explore how you could change the way you experience the holidays. If doing holiday-themed things isn't fun for you, plan things that you do enjoy. Or plan to have no plan.

Do whatever works for you. And give yourself as much kindness as you can; you deserve it.

It's okay to love the holidays.

And it's okay to hate the holidays.

Here's what I asked my mom about this subject:

As someone who is chronically ill, I know the holidays are hard for you. Can you share some of your feelings?

When I first became ill and couldn't travel to see family or even hang out for long with them when they came to our house, it was heartbreaking. I cried a lot. I was bombarded with a lot of painful emotions: anger, resentment, frustration...and a general sense that life was being unfair to me and that I was letting everyone down.

It took me about five years to start to accept that this was how things were for me and that my negative reactions were only making a difficult situation worse. I still feel bad at times, but it's nothing like it used to be and I'm able to bounce back from it more quickly.

How has your Buddhist practice helped you accept the effect of chronic illness on the holidays?

The Buddha's teachings have made all the difference to me. In fact, I've written several articles for Psychology Today online on this very subject. Here are two of them:

"How to Ease the Pain of Isolation During the Holidays" and 
"Surviving the Holidays When You're Chronically Ill."

In these articles I talk about how I've learned to make the best of the holidays even though illness and pain limit so severely what I can do. Rather than repeat what I said it them, I'll just tell you what you'll find if you read them. 

The first article covers how to cultivate self-compassion, how to learn to feel happy for others who are able to celebrate the holidays fully, and a practice called tonglenwhich comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition (not my particular Buddhist tradition), but is a powerful way to ease suffering when you're feeling isolated.

The second article contains four strategies for making the holidays as stress-free as possible. I wrote it with the chronically ill in mind, but re-reading it right now, I think these are good strategies for everyone.

Take good care of yourselves during the holidays, dear readers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Turkey or Ham for Thanksgiving?

Mara here:

So yesterday was Thanksgiving.

I actually visited my parents for a couple of days and then my daughter and I flew home early Thanksgiving morning to spend the rest of the day with my husband. In a moment of madness a month ago, I thought that catching a 6:30 a.m. flight was a smart thing to do. We'd get home early and there would be a much smaller likelihood of getting delayed.

However, faced with the actual prospect of having to deal with my teenager at 5:00 a.m. to get her to the airport made me rethink that decision.

Let's just focus on the good things.

Turkey. I love turkey. I love the turkey wings. I love the whole idea of eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I even love the turkey leftovers. I think to myself every year that I might make turkey soup. It hasn't happened yet, but it might.

So it was very confusing to me when I married my husband and he asked me if we were going to have turkey or ham on Thanksgiving.

Um, what?

I had never heard of not eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I didn't even know that was an option. If you have ham there's no carving of the turkey. There's no wishbone. There's no turkey sandwiches.

How can there be no turkey?

Apparently, lots of people prefer other meats to turkey at Thanksgiving. I am suspicious of these people, but they do exist.

My husband loves ham. It's not that he minds having turkey. He likes turkey. But given the choice, he'd probably pick ham over turkey. And I'd probably agree with him on every other day of the year...but not on Thanksgiving.

Here's a funny story about when we were living in London. One of our local friends very kindly hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for us. It was surprisingly strange to be living somewhere where Thanksgiving wasn't celebrated.

So we arrived at our friend's house and one of the dishes served was a root vegetable medley. He wanted to know if that was a common dish because he had looked up "American Thanksgiving Meal" and that's what had popped up. We sheepishly admitted that "No, we don't usually eat root vegetables on Thanksgiving." I can only guess that he was looking at Martha Stewart's menu for a colonial American meal. The dish was delicious and it was such a sweet gesture. We were so thankful for his friendship.

This year we made a turkey because, although I no longer insist there be turkey, I prefer it. It always gets my vote.

So what about you? Do you prefer turkey, ham or something else for Thanksgiving?

My mom and I are so thankful to everyone who takes the time to spend a few moments reading our blog. We hope everyone had a wonderful day!!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Coming Thursday: Stuff Your Face Day and Think Thankful Thoughts!

Mara here.

Thanksgiving is almost here which means it's time to reflect on how grateful we are and be thankful for the bountiful gifts we have in our lives.

I'm kidding. Let's face it, it's about eating.

I'm mean, yes, it's a good time to remember to think thankful thoughts and project out there into the world that Thanksgiving is all about gratitude. But in the grubby real world (not the shiny Hallmark world) for those of us who are lucky to have close family and friends to spend the day with, the holiday is really about eating until we're so full we want to cry and then sleeping over the long weekend.

Don't yell at me and tell me that I'm wrong and you are proof that there are people who spend the day piously having thankful thoughts all day. I will concede there are some people who make that the focus of the day.

But I'm not one of them.

And the people I know who come close to putting a jubilant "Thanks" in Thanksgiving are pretty much like that every day. So it's just another regular day for them...with lots of food.

But I'm not completely hard-hearted to the sentiment of having a day of thanks.

The other day while I was doing dishes, Malia (my daughter) was asking me about my relationship with Brad. (For new readers, that's my husband and her father.) Because, while Brad and I have many faults, being outwardly appreciative of our marriage and each other is not one of them. We are grateful for each other.

So she was asking me if we had the same relationship now as we did when she was younger. She wanted to know if we had always been so happy together.

And I had to think about it. My initial instinct was to say, "of course." But if I am being honest, that's not true.

Malia was born when I was 27. Looking back I cringe at how young I was. But at the time, I felt very adult. I didn't realize how much life changes—constantly. I thought, "Well, here I am. I'm an adult and this is just how it's going to be for the next few decades until I'm 'old'."

Hahaha. I want to pat that 27-year-old me on the head because life has changed dramatically since then.

And one of the biggest changes is my ability to recognize how important gratitude is and to actively be thankful for all everything and everyone who makes my life what it is.

That twenty-seven year-old me was a bit too hung up on wanting more instead of being thankful for what I had. And while I was always very happy with Brad, the younger me didn't appreciate him as much as I appreciate him now. And the 30 to 40-year-old me wasn't as thankful as I am now for all the amazing things that have happened in our family. 

The forty-three year-old me of today is thankful all time in my own kind of sarcastic way. I mean there's still stuff I want. And I get irritated all the time. But I no longer believe that my happiness is dependent on things that may or may not happen in the future. I don't assume having something or getting something will make me happy. And that has been a huge change for me in my life. 

And for that I am truly thankful.

Whatever it is that you are thankful for, I hope you have a wonderful holiday next week! I hope you get to eat lots of food! I hope you think about being thankful and what it means to you! (But mostly I hope you get to eat lots of food!)

For those of you who struggle during the holidays, we will be doing a blog post about that next week!

Here are two questions I asked my mom about being thankful and about celebrating Thanksgiving.

How do you maintain an attitude of thanks even when it's not Thanksgiving?

Before I start, I want to acknowledge that we have a lot of readers who don't live in the U.S. and so either don't have a Thanksgiving holiday or celebrate it on another date. (I lived in Canada for several years where Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October.) To all those readers, I hope you enjoy our reflections even if you don't have a big feast coming up on Thursday!

As to your question about maintaining an attitude of thanks, it can be hard, especially when this chronic illness limits what I can do so much. Just last weekend, as you know, your dad went down to Berkeley (a little more than an hour from where we live) and spent the evening with Malia and Brad and with your brother and his family. And where was I? At home in or on the bed as usual. 

Readers of my first book, How to Be Sickwill have followed my struggle to come to terms with missing out on so many of life's joys, such as last weekend's Berkeley gathering. I came to terms with it with the help of a lot of wisdom from the Buddha. (There are many wise teachers out there; he's just the one I drifted to.) With his help, I learned to accept my life as it is and to be grateful for what I do have (a supportive family, a roof over my head, food to eat, the ability to connect with others on the internet—to name a few). 

I've also learned how to keep from being resentful and envious when I can't do things. I practice what's known in Buddhism as muditawhich means empathetic joy, that is, feeling joyful when others are happy. I used this to help me handle missing out last weekend. I knew that everyone was having a good time, so I practiced feeling happy for them and feeling thankful that they could gather together even though I couldn't be there. When I'm able to tap into that joy and thankfulness, resentment and envy fade and I feel at peace with my life as it is. It's the life I've got; fighting it only makes me feel worse. Resentment and envy are formidable emotions, but the peace that comes from feeling happy for others and being thankful for what you do have is a good way to tame those critters.

We've never really had set traditions in our family for Thanksgiving. (I'm reminding you of the year dad decided to make a polenta pie thing instead of turkey ... I wasn't traumatized at all can you tell?) Did you have Thanksgiving traditions growing up?

Ha! I don't even remember that "polenta pie thing." Maybe the trauma it inflicted on the family made me forget! But you know your dad. He can be goofy and he likes to swim against the current, so I'm not surprised he did that. His heart is in the right place though.

As for when I was growing up, my family always ate the traditional Thanksgiving meal—turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce (which I've never liked), and pumpkin pie. All I remember is eating a lot!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How Do You Survive the Flu?

Mara here.

I was sick last week. That's the main reason we only had one blog post, because normally I write the second post mid-week, but I just couldn't get my brain to work last week.

I'd been feeling run down for a while. I thought I was sick a few weeks ago, but never really got sick-sick. Then I thought I got better, but was still achy and  feeling run down. I wasn't sick enough to allow myself to be sick, but I was feeling unwell enough that I was taking Advil constantly and wondering if I was developing some other kind of weird chronic problem. Or I thought maybe it was just allergies.

And me, being me, I was suffering through my daily jogs. Sometimes I would have to walk because I felt so exhausted. And other times they felt okay, but the jogs felt harder than they seemed like they should.

Everything just felt hard.

But then I woke up last Wednesday and everything in my body ached. It felt as if I had run a marathon in my sleep. All my muscles ached. It hurt to move.

And I had to just recognize I was sick.

It's hard for me to allow myself to be sick if I don't have something I can label. If I get bronchitis—I'm sick. If I have a cold and can't breathe through my nose—I'm sick. If I have a high fever—I'm sick.

But just feeling achy? Just being exhausted? That doesn't seem "sick enough" to me most of the time.

But last week, I gave in. I was sick. I didn't have a fever or infection, it was just some strange virus. I basically had a generic flu. I was completely exhausted. I couldn't concentrate. Everything felt overwhelming. My whole body ached and no amount of Advil was relieving the discomfort.

So I gave into it. I didn't force myself to go on my normal jog, and I didn't sweep the house or do the dishes. I didn't write the blog.

And as is always the case when you're forced to step back from things, you realize that it's fine to be sick. The world doesn't fall apart and people don't really care if you can't do all the things you normally do.

So what did I do?

Malia and Brad went out of town, so I was on my own, which is ideal for me when I'm sick. I'm not a person who wants to be taken care of. I really just want to be left alone. When other people are around, I feel as if I should be doing things for them. But if I'm alone, I can sort of melt myself into bed and shut the world out.

So here's what I did. I got out my heating pad. I don't normally use one, but when I get sick it helps me with my aches and keeps me warm. So I turned it on and let the heat soothe me. I binge watched a 12 hour Australian baking competition show on Netflix called Zumbo's Just Desserts. I like watching cooking shows because I don't have to really concentrate much to follow along. And if I fall asleep and miss part of it, it's not a big deal. When the show was finished, I schlepped out of bed and took a shower, ate chicken soup and returned to bed. Then I watched a movie called Megan Leavy on (cried at the end and had to do some intense cuddling with my dog Pidu) and fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up—still achy. So I watched the first three episodes of a series on Netflix called Alias Grace. I took a break at some point and ate some candy for breakfast. Then I took a long hot shower and took a nap. When I woke up, I watched the rest of Alias Grace. When that was finished, I ate some toast and more candy. I then watched Florence Jenkins Foster on I was watching it on an iPhone, so I could wander around while I watched it. I watched it in bed, then I took it into the kitchen so I could eat some chicken soup and toast with jam. Then I crawled back into bed to finish it, but I fell asleep before it ended.

The following morning I woke up feeling better. I was still tired, but the intense aching was gone. I allowed myself a lazy morning. I went back and finished the last 15 minutes of Florence Jenkins Foster. When that was done I got up and took a shower and assessed how I was doing. I definitely felt better. Malia and Brad were due home that evening, so I cleaned up the house and did some laundry. I even managed to go to the grocery store and pick up some food to make for dinner.

I still felt a little tired, but I was definitely perkier than I had been in a while. The sick time I had allowed myself had paid off and I was feeling on the mend.

So that's how I survived the flu. It took me many years to figure out that when I get sick, I need to just allow myself to be sick. When I was younger, I would fight it until I pretty much collapsed or ended up with an infection that would necessitate a trip to the doctor. It was only if I had "permission" from a doctor that I would allow myself to be sick.

But now I don't want to push myself that hard anymore. I don't need to. (I never needed to.) I try to allow myself to be fallible. It's okay that sometimes I don't feel well, and it's okay that sometimes I need to take care of myself.

Toni here. I enjoyed reading about how Mara handles an acute illness since I've been chronically ill for over 16 years. I wake up every morning feeling as if I have the flu. Mara's experience is a short version of what I went through when I initially got sick in 2001. At first, I refused to accept that I hadn't regained my health. Readers of my book, How to Be Sick, will remember how I forced myself to go back to work because I simply could not believe that I hadn't recovered from what appeared to be a simple virus. I'd go from the bed to the classroom, teach a class, and return immediately to bed.

What took Mara a couple of weeks to accept about her acute illness ("I'm sick; I'd better take care of myself") took me about 5 years. Five years is a long time to be fighting what's happened to you. In fact, it was only after I accepted that I was chronically ill that I was able to start writing books. It's as if a whole new door opened for me. I write them from the bed and it makes me feel as if I'm contributing something to the life of others who are chronically ill.

The one thing I'd like to pass on is something Mara mentioned at the end of her piece: it's okay to be sick. Acute or chronically. Okay, I admit that some days, it's still not okay with me and I cry out to regain my health. But most days, I'm okay with being mostly housebound. This is what's happened to me in this life and I don't want to make things worse by fighting a battle I can't win. So, I give in. (You might like my piece on this subject: "When You're Chronically Ill: Giving Up Versus Giving In."

So, how about you? How do you survive an acute illness like Mara's flu? What do you do to rest and recover?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Holidays: Pumpkin Spice Everything!

Mara here: I'm going to blame Starbucks for the fact that it seems as if, on the stroke of midnight, November 1st, before the sugar high of Halloween had worn off, it was suddenly gingerbread and pumpkin spice season.

When I was younger, after Halloween, came Thanksgiving. And then once Thanksgiving was over we moved to Christmas. But now there's a generic "holiday season" that starts when school goes back into session in the Fall and gets going full steam after Halloween.

And it's a mix of a lot of holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah.

I was walking around the grocery store early Halloween morning and employees were busy putting holiday wreaths over all their freezer sections. (At least all the ones that could hold them. The one on aisle 5 is apparently not wide enough.)

And while it seems kind of crazy that the holidays literally blend together, one right after another, in today's commercial world, I have to admit I don't mind it.

I love holidays.

And I especially love the run of holidays from Halloween to New Years.  As far as I'm concerned, the more Christmas there is, the better.

Christmas trees, turkeys, wreaths, shiny balls, sparkling lights—all of it just makes me happy.

But one thing that does make me pause is the sudden influx of items that are scented or flavored with  gingerbread and pumpkin spice.

I remember people making gingerbread cookies when I was younger. But most people didn't really love them. It was more of a tradition. People preferred chocolate chip cookies or sugar cookies with frosting. Gingerbread was the default cookie that was there because it felt like it should be there.

But then Starbucks popularized the Gingerbread and Pumpkin Spice Lattes and there's been no turning back for commercial America.

I actually saw pumpkin spice scented toilet paper in the store.

Seriously people, there is a line.

I enjoy a little pumpkin spice aroma wafting past as I walk through the mall, but there is such a thing as too much. Pumpkin spice dog treats? Do people honestly think their dog wants that? I mean, dogs want anything so of course they want it. But do you really think your dog wouldn't prefer a nice chicken scented treat?

There's even an image of Pumkin Spice Balogna making the rounds on the web. (Pictured below.) I think it might be a joke but the sad part is that I don't know for sure! I wouldn't put it past the fine people at Oscar Meyer to think there was a market for it.

I do occasionally have a Gingerbread Latte. We always make apple and pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving. And in the Fall, my husband often makes a delicious spicy pumpkin soup that is a family favorite.

I do love the holidays. I am happy to hear Christmas music playing right after Halloween. But I'm not on the gingerbread pumpkin spice everything bandwagon. I love pumpkin pie, But I don't need every item in my life to smell like one. I know there are people who disagree. (My daughter is one of them.)


Toni here. I loved Mara's piece and got a kick out of how we have different feelings about when to celebrate the holidays, particularly Christmas. I think it has to do with my upbringing. My dad and his sister owned a gift shop on Hollywood Boulevard. Not surprisingly, Christmastime was the best time of the year for sales. 

When they first opened it (they eventually expanded to three more stores in the L.A. area), similar stores to theirs put up Christmas decorations on December 15. Yes, December 15th! It was unheard of to even be selling Christmas stuff before then. Then the 15th became December 1st. Then it became right after Thanksgiving. Even though, as I said, this was their most profitable time of the year, they felt sad that Christmastime was starting earlier and earlier every year.

My dad died while he was still young and my mother sold the store, so he wasn't alive to see how early in the year Christmas starts (I think it's August by now). 

And so, I hate to be humbug...but I'd prefer that Christmastime celebrations begin at the earliest in December.

Now, as for pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING, I'm with Mara. A line must be drawn!!

Mara and I would like to know about you. Are you a fan of the gingerbread and pumpkin spice invasion that takes over everything during the holidays?

Is it real? I don't know. Would I buy it? No.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

How Quickly Do You Feel the Burn?

Mara here. There's an old parable about how if you put a live frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put the same frog in a pot of cool water and slow heat it up until it's boiling, it will sit calmly until it boils to death.

Not really a testament to the survival instincts of the frog, but definitely an interesting perspective on how we, as animals, adjust to change.

When it's too abrupt, our instinct is to rebel against it.

When it's slow and steady, we adapt and adjust.

I was thinking about this idea of accepting change because of something my daughter said in the car the other day. We were talking about learning to drive, and she said, "Well my kids probably won't even have to drive. Cars will just drive themselves."

And my initial reaction was to feel alarmed. No drivers? Full automation? That's dangerous! That's a world out of control! Machines can't be trusted!

But then after a moment, I realized she's probably right. And then I felt a pang of sadness. I had a moment of sentimentality that made me feel like pushing against the idea of allowing change. And I was fascinated by that reaction.

My dad has always been an early adopter of technological change. (And sociological change for that matter; after all, I was one of the first interracial adoptions in our town.) We had one of the first Macintosh computers. I was the only kid I knew with a computer for a long time. We had a VCR before any of my friends had one. And my husband is the same. He likes to buy the latest gadgets.

But what would feel like too much? And why do some people wait so long to jump onto the newest trend bandwagon?

There's an interesting scene in one of my favorite TV shows, Downton Abbey, where the matriarch of the family is alarmed at the new electric lights. She found them garish and unpleasant. Today, this sounds silly, but electricity was a huge change for people at the turn of the 20th century. For some, it was scary. We find that attitude quaint, but think about some of the monumental changes we are facing today and ask yourself what would feel scary to you?

Sociological changes are even harder for people to adjust to. Changing the way people view others, such as race or gender, has proven to be hard for many people.

As we've discussed before, change is constant and most people find it uncomfortable. But people clearly have different tolerances for how quickly they can absorb and accept change. My daughter is ready for there to be driverless cars today, whereas I complained the other day about the fact had changed the design of their boxes!

For the most part everyone keeps up with the tides of change even if they find it uncomfortable. After all, I don't know anyone who doesn't have electric lights or a cell phone. And I don't know anyone who would (at least openly) say that women or people of color shouldn't be lawyers, teachers, etc.

But people's tolerance for change varies and people adapt at different rates in different ways. We all have different tolerances regarding when we start to feel uncomfortable. If we were frogs, we would all boil at different rates.  

Here are some questions I asked my mom on this subject.

Could you have imagined that the world would change as much as it has from when you were a child?

No way! My guess is that most people would answer as I have except perhaps for science fiction buffs who learn to expect the unexpected; perhaps they're not as surprised by change as the rest of us are. 

I think it helps to remember that as much as change can make us feel uncomfortable, it can be a great thing. I wrote an article about this for Psychology Today. It's called "Romanticizing the Past Makes Us Feel Bad about the Present." The link is here

Have there been any major technological or sociological changes that initially made you nervous?

Good question. I remember reading that when TV first became available in the home, some people thought it signaled the end of Western Civilization, as the expression goes. I doubt anyone would say that today.

I can't think of any technological changes that initially made me nervous, but I will say that, despite its great value (and I do value it a lot), the Internet makes me nervous now.

Yes, it's been and continues to be invaluable to me in many ways. A couple of years ago, I managed to diagnose a rare spinal infection that my dog had by spending a few hours on the Internet doing research on her symptoms. It was pretty amazing. Even our vet was impressed. And because I'm virtually housebound, I connect with others mostly through the Internet.

And yet, I no longer trust what I read online and I no longer assume that a photograph is authentic until both been confirmed by multiple sources. I can adjust to that, but it troubles me a lot that a false story or a doctored picture can go viral and ruin a person's life even after the falsehood has been revealed. And so the Internet has become a technological change that makes me nervous. No doubt about it.

As for adjusting to sociological changes, I'm having trouble adjusting to the fact that it appears I've been terribly naive about the state of race relations in this country. Two years ago, I didn't worry about the fact that both my children are in interracial marriages. Now I worry. I had no idea there were so many white supremacists living in our midsts. It scares the living daylights out of me. And so, I'm "feeling that burn" right now.

I hope some of our readers will contribute to this discussion.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Baseball: To Love or Not To Love, That is the Question

Mara here:

I love baseball.

The 2017 World Series will be over by the time this blog is posted, and it was a particularly great series. The teams were very well matched and the games were mostly been close and exciting.

In fact, the excitement of Game 2 prompted me to post on Facebook that I couldn't understand how people could dislike baseball and I got a wave of responses from my friends who are baseball haters.

Okay, they're not haters. But they clearly are not fans. They don't get it. They think it's boring and they can't understand why some people are so invested. The most common complaint is "It's too slow."

Baseball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I never played myself, but my brother played as a kid and then all through high school. And my parents were avid fans of the San Francisco Giants. When I was in junior high, we had season tickets, so I went to a lot of games. 

I didn't always love baseball. In fact, for many years I didn't even like it. Like many of my current friends, I thought it was boring. To the young me, it seemed as if the players didn't do much. It was usually hot out when the games were played, so I was sitting in the hot sun for hours watching what looked to me like nothing. And I was forced to go to countless numbers of my brother's baseball games, which became slightly more bearable when I discovered I could get my parents to buy snow-cones and candy.

As a young child, going to Candlestick Park for professional games was a particularly torturous affair. It took a couple of hours for us to get to San Francisco and then the games were long. Once again, the only saving grace of these outings was my love of some of the food, this time chocolate malts and hot dogs.

But something changed for me around 7th grade. I started to understand the game. This was around the time my parents had season tickets, so I found myself at a lot more games. I became familiar with the players and started to understand the rules. The nuance of the various strategies finally made sense to me and I found myself looking forward to the games.

And the games were suddenly exciting! What used to feel boring was suddenly filled with tension and suspense. The fact that the games are slower gives you more time to wonder what the next move will be. It makes everything feel like there's more at stake. You can really analyze what the players are doing. And when the action does ramp up—it's thrilling! There's nothing like watching a pitcher walking a batter to load the bases...or the thrill of a double play that ends an inning that could have changed the outcome of the game. When you become familiar enough with the game to know that there's decision-making happening at every moment, then game is no longer boring.

My love of the game became so extreme for a while that I spent hours making posters and collages of all my favorite players. I bought the programs at the game and would meticulously cut out pictures of the players and glue them onto poster boards and hang them on my walls.

This obsession with the game went on for a few years. I'm not sure what happened to stop it, except I think I just got too busy to follow closely enough to feel as involved. These days I don't watch all the games. And I don't actively follow any particular team. I will always have a love of the Giants, but I don't dedicate the time to being an active fan every year. But when World Series time rolls around every year, I like to watch the games. It's always great when the Giants are one of the contenders, but I'm happy to root for whichever National League team is in the series.

And I always feel a little sad when people don't appreciate the game. I understand how people could think it was boring. We live in a fast paced world, and baseball is more subtle. But I always think to myself, "If they just gave it some time, they would discover how exciting it truly is!" Maybe not...maybe there are people who just don't like the game. But I am glad that I am one of those who love it.

Toni here:

I love baseball, even though I don't follow it as closely as I used to. I second everything Mara said about the excruciating tension that can take place when the game is on the line: bottom of the ninth; the home team trailing by one run; two outs; runner at third. Will there be a hit? A wild pitch? An attempt to steal home? It can be so exciting!

Mara and I have switched places geographically so I loved reading that she still has a fondness for the Giants. She grew up near Sacramento, where either the Giants or the Oakland A's are the "home team." I grew up in Los Angeles and was an avid Dodger fan. My brother and I would take the bus to the games and sit way out in left field next to the bullpen. Some of the pitchers got to know us and would come over and chat. Those outings are one of my favorite childhood memories.

Now I'm the one who lives near Sacramento and Mara's the one who lives in Los Angeles. I have to admit that, as a fan, I switched my loyalty from the Dodgers to the Giants. I'm sure it's partly because it was such a great family outing to go to all those Giants games at Candlestick Park. 

Unfortunately, now that I'm chronically ill, I can't go to baseball games but I'm hoping to be able to go to a softball game that my granddaughter Cam is playing in this weekend. Her team is traveling to the Sacramento area so it won't be too far from where I live. It will be such a treat!

Mara and I would love to know about you. Do you love baseball? What is it you love or don't love about it? Do you have a favorite team?