Lesson #75: When Winter Gives You A Lotta’ Snow…

Make cute Save The Dates!

Snowman Save the Date

Yes, I had to Photoshop out my all-too-red nose and weather Chicago’s -30ºF polar vortex in a tank top. But the pain’s just a memory, with the results totally worth it!

More diy wedding ideas coming soon!

Lesson #74: Stop

My dream, last night, was one of those I was sad to wake up from…

We all lived in a world of routine. It was our duty to get up early everyday and take a dimly-lit underground train a single stop. We’d disembark and head off to our various “Groundhog Day”-ish lives: in mine, I was still in high school / college, and a deep anxiety about missing several math classes was eating at me. Being behind in math class and failing is a reoccurring theme in my dreams — one which I blame on a mean, overbearing teacher I once had.

Like everyone else, I was wrought with stress and wondering what I was going to do about my problems. I entered the train on a new day to hear whispers and rumors that some were bucking the system and staying on the train past the one stop we all knew. Some were eager to break away and see what would happen to them. And chatter like this went on for a couple of days, with additional instructions to wear a white shirt if you were going to go.

The talk filled me with both with fear and excitement. I was terrified that I’d be captured, killed or harmed if I passed where I was supposed to. I was scared that past the end of the line there was… nothingness — and that I’d be lost in it. Missing another day of my life would leave me even further behind with everything I had to do. I’d be disappointing people. There were so many reasons not to go. But to have… rest. To break the routine. Just those simple reasons to go seemed enough.

On the third day I ended up seated next to Japanese guy and his friend (appropriate, because it reminded me of the whole calm, spiritual lifestyle I so loved in Japan — a lifestyle forgotten in my current life) who were excited and decided on going past. I was unsure what I would do when I got on the train, but I became convinced as I listened to them. I took off my black winter coat to reveal my white shirt, I watched the doors close on what we all understood was the single stop… and I waited.

The few of us, now bonded together only through our dedication and desire to get out, said nothing — we just looked at each other occasionally — looking to see if we all shared the fear of what we were doing, speeding through blackness.

But it wasn’t long until the train started to ascend, then was surrounded by the greenest of grasses, bluest of skies and with fresh air like we’d rarely been able to breathe underground.

It slowed to a stop, and we exited the doors into a large field of rolling hills, grass as far as our eyes could see. There, thousands were gathered, all in white, sitting in lawn chairs, sharing food. A bearded old man came up to welcome us, congratulate us on our decision, and we were invited to pick and join in to any line-up of chairs. Everyone was overjoyed — people looked each other in the eye, smiled and were eager to get to know each other. Stresses didn’t matter anymore. There was no where to get to, no one to answer and no one to disappoint. There was just this glowing, white place — and the only goal was to know your neighbor and be a good friend.

The founders of this place sat in the center and held a sign which said they’d been doing this for 100 years. I knew I’d come back every year — no matter where life took me. I felt alive for the first time in ages.

As the dream ended, I was in a car with my friends. One asked if any of us had heard the rumors about what’s at the end of the train, and I about jumped through the roof with excitement to take them. Despite my explaining that it’s best reached by train, they insisted on driving there, parked across the street, and just looked at the now dwindling crowd left from afar.

“I don’t get what’s so cool about this,” one said walking away, “and I have stuff to do”. I explained it was best enjoyed by sitting down with them on the hill and getting to know each other. A couple people came with me to do that, but continued to talk about problems and miss the point. The others either mocked us or left us there, finding reasons to get back to their lives.

But this morning… I woke up energized. Finding this community felt real, and I had this desire to tell people about it. The discovery of what happens when you stop: stop giving in to your anxieties, stop your routine and just stop — even if for a moment – to really see each other.

Lesson #73: How to Behave at a Trade Show

I spent last weekend working as a Brand Ambassador at Chicago’s Home and Housewares Show. This particular gig involved demonstrating a new cooking device and, while I assumed it’d be a simple, story-free weekend… I quickly discovered I was wrong. The  American public needs me. Apparently, we’ve forgotten how to behave.

Three Tips for How to Behave at a Trade Show:

Tip #1: There IS Such a Thing as a Stupid Question

Keko64 @ FreeDigitalPhotosYour teachers told you wrong. Mama misguided you.

Folks, there IS such a thing as a stupid question. To demonstrate — lets look at those rapid-fired at me as I served hamburgers, french fries, gooey chocolate chip cookies and the like out of this new machine.

Here I am, wearing an apron with the brand name large across my chest. I’m taking french fries (that look like french fries) out of the steaming machine with tongs. Over my head, there’s a sign on the wall that says in large print: “Now Serving: French Fries” — This hangs on a wall printed with the brand name and company logo in large, glowing text. The brand name of the machine is also printed on the machine, eye-level with the customer. Without fail, time and time again, here’s what would happen:

Question 1: “What are those?”
Answer: “French fries.”
Question 2: “Did you make them in this machine?”
Answer: “Yup.”
Question 3: “What do they taste like?”
Wish I Could Answer: “Chicken.”
Question 4: “What’s this red stuff next to the fries?”
Answer: “Ketchup.”
Question 5: “What brand is this machine?”

Please, folks. Pause. Observe. Use common sense. It’ll save everyone else time, energy and their voice.

Tip #2: Don’t Bleed on the Food

By: ImageryMajestic @ FreeDigitalPhotos.netIt’s lunchtime. The aisles are crowded, and food fills our counters for people to sample. One man appears particularly eager, as he sprints, then dives towards the counter.

“Napkin! Napkin!” he gasps, and we quickly realize that he’s got blood all over his hand, cupped in front of his nose.

Now, this adult male proceeds to behave like he’s never had nor heard of a nose bleed. “What do I do!? WHAT DO I DO!?” he keeps repeating in a panic, as my coworker calmly talks him through it.

“Clench you nose tightly with the napkin and lean forward,” she tells him. And he does lean forward… over the counter and right over the food.

Now that I think about it… I forgive the people who asked me “What’s that red stuff next to the fries?”. Perhaps they know more than I do about what goes on at these events.

Tip #3: If You Want to Know What Something Tastes Like…Eat It

A sequel to Tip #1…

By JoePhotoStudio @ FreeDigitalPhotos.netThis time there’s hamburgers, complete with buns, on the counter. The sign reads: “Now Serving: Hamburgers”. And here we go….

Question #1: “What are those?”
Answer: “Hamburgers.”
Question #2: “What do they taste like?”
Answer: “Hamburgers. Just like any other hamburgers you’ve had. These are free samples – go ahead and try.”
Question #3: “I’m full. I don’t want one. Did you make them with this machine?”
Answer: “Of course. Yes. This machine grills and fries.”

And this time… the fun continues:

Question #4: “So… what does it taste like?”
Answer: “Again, you’re welcome to sample. It tastes like a typical hamburger.”
Question #5: “I understand I can sample. I don’t want one. I just want to understand what it tastes like. Can you explain that?”
Answer: “It’s literally a hamburger. Juicy… tastes exactly the same.”
Question #6: “Yes, but the texture?”

This goes on, hopelessly, for several minutes. When prompted again to take a hamburger, the man became irate. “I’m full! I don’t want a hamburger!! I just want to know what it tastes like!”. He then asks if he can “look at it”. My coworker nods. He proceeds to pick up the burger, polk at the meat with a single finger and tear it, layer by layer, from the bun. He then reassembles it, and puts it back on the serving tray.

Poor man, even trying to taste the meat with his fingertips, never did find out what a hamburger tastes like. If you want to experience food, everyone — you’re gonna’ have to eat it.

So — that was my weekend. And all three tips can be summarized under one common theme: slow down and pay attention. We once lived in a world, before Google and smartphones, where people sought out information, paid attention to their environments, used common sense and thought for themselves. If about 80% of us are to the point we don’t know what french fries are without being told…

Lesson #72: What Do You Like on Your Corn?

By kai4107 @ FreeDigitalPhotosSuccess! Though many said it couldn’t be done, buried among the tables at this year’s Farmer’s Market I found what I believed was some of the last non-genetically modified (non-GMO) corn left in the U.S. I carried it home with pride, delighted in the ridiculously juicy corn on the cob we ate and felt satisfied — like I’d eaten a good, healthy meal.

Months later, in the dead of winter, I had a chance encounter with the farmer of this very corn. The nicest guy, proud of the family business he’d helped build over 50+ years, I found myself really wanting to continue to support his product and be on his side.

However, the stories he told about his practices (and corn in general) left my friend and I mortified as to what’s happening with the foods we eat. All in all, I may never eat American corn again.

First, let’s go through a bit of a botany lesson to understand just how corn works. The corn plant has both male and female sections within one stalk. The burst of silk at the top of the cob is the male portion, and this releases pollen into the air to hopefully encounter the the silk found on the inside of the “shell”, below — the female portion. When a piece of pollen comes into contact with the female silk, the silk retracts until it reaches the cob. The fertilized silk, then, is what forms a kernel.

Corn’s biggest enemy is a small worm. These worms thrive among the kernels and have to be battled by the farmer. In an attempt to control this worm problem in a cost-effective, mass way, Montsano genetically modified corn to include pesticide in its very DNA. According to this farmer, the company sold its GMO product rampantly within the United States with no one any the wiser until the corn products reached Europe. With far stricter standards for their foods, the Europeans quickly said, “What is this you’re sending us? It’s not corn,” and rejected GMO products. This brought GMO corn to the attention of the American media.

Now, there really is no consensus as to what GMO products actually do to a body when consumed, but many American consumers have made a choice to eat non-GMO corn, not wanting to ingest these pesticides. I was among them. Last year I had a softball-sized cyst removed from my abdomen and, after the surgery, suffered many ill-effects: among them, 34 food allergies and incredible food sensitivities. Wanting to avoid pesticides, I make the extra trips to the Farmer’s Markets, pay plenty extra for my food and believe(d) that I was making the healthiest choices I can. For me, this is survival.

Now, let’s talk about this farmer’s non-GMO corn. During a tour around his facility, the farmer explained that each kernel is planted in the ground with up to (6) different powdered pesticides on it. These protect the kernel from insects and other issues from the root up, and a specialized, red powder is made right there on the premises.

Now back to that botany lesson. From the time the male portion of the corn bursts until harvest, the corn is sprayed with pesticides daly — this is over 20 times, and intended to keep the worms out of the corn.

And this extra effort I (and much of the public) am making to go to the local Farmer’s Market to get our non-GMO corn? We can get the exact same corn at Costco, Jewel and many of the other large retailers. The corn from these exact fields goes to Costco and is also picked up by local “farmers” who carry it to the markets.

But what he told me over lunch, if it’s true, is the worst “organic” myth of all. Upon finding out that I eat organic, he and his coworkers shook their head in pity at me, laughing as they did.

They went on to explain that a handful of years ago, Wal-Mart came out and said that they would accept all vegetable product: whether it was GMO, non-GMO — it didn’t matter. With GMO corn being more cost-effective to produce, many farmer’s decided to start dividing their land, producing GMO corn for Wal-Mart, and going as far to certify their other land organic.

Now, to be certified organic, the fields need to test time and again pesticide free. Good news. However, there are NO regulations, according to the farmer, for what happens after that. 

So… Within one farm there are certified organics and GMO. These are harvested… and often mixed together within the same barn. Therefore, the farmer’s perception is that when we purchase organic, there is a better chance we’re getting an organic product… but there is still a larger likeliness that the product came from the GMO field (or non-certified organic field) at the same place.

So the question becomes… how do you like your corn? Because no matter how you take it: popped, on the cob, in chips, tortillas, etc. — you’d better get used to a smidgen of pesticide.

Lesson #71: What Not to Say to a Sick Person

There’s a really great article from the LA Times circling the social media realm. Called “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing”, it details an exercise that was designed by a woman with breast cancer after her best friend barged into her hospital room and told her that “this wasn’t all about her” — that she should forgo her own needs to comfort her friend’s concern about her.

The exercise is great. The gist — You put the person who’s ill at the center of a target, and they get only positive attention, empathy and help aimed at them. You place others close to them on the circles of the target near them. Then, wherever you fit, you’re only allowed to vent and seek support about any stress their illness is causing you outward, away from the bullseye, to people who have less to deal with it. You send only positive thoughts  and support inward, towards the center. It’s good stuff.


LA Times illustration by: Wes Bausmith

And I can’t get it out of my head since reading it…

Earlier this year I had surgery to remove a softball-sized cyst from my left side. During the surgery, something went wrong, and whether it was because this cyst was attached to my bowel, or whether it was due to “illius” (a condition where your bowel never wakes up from anesthesia), my bowel was paralyzed, I was unable to go to the bathroom and have been in an intense amount of pain, since (finally easing, thank goodness).

This exploded into a whole realm of problems, setting off a series of autoimmune and other issues that have lingered under the surface for years, all free to run rampant due to my weakened immune system. I have Celiac disease. Hashimoto Thyroiditis, killing my thyroid. I have terrible blood immune allergy reactions to 34 foods that I’m not allowed to eat: egg, dairy, garlic, tomato, corn, soy, yeast, vanilla, turkey, sugar, etc. The most common things, found in almost everything.

I’ve lost 17 pounds I never really had to lose. I have gastritis and pancreatitis on top of it all. Health insurance won’t cover a lot of my treatment. Life has been what I believe I can fairly call… a challenge.

Part of that challenge — in fact the majority of that challenge, for me, has been dealing with people. I can honestly say that I am a whole lot less angry that this has happened to me than I am about the things people say and the ways people behave. The narcissism the author experienced above — it’s become a disease:

1) “It’s about time you stop fighting — it’s not a choice you make — whether you stay sick or not. You should probably think seriously about getting on disability.”

This is probably the.worst. thing you can say to someone you experience fighting for their lives. They’re looking for any reason to believe that things are going to get better. They’re looking for support. They’re terrified. They’re looking for people to carry some of the load and help them through the fight. Not tell them they’re probably going to lose.

Never, ever tell them to stop fighting. Never.

This was said to me by someone looking to advance their own agenda, focusing on career and business over… being human. Unfortunately, this attitude has become a more prevalent one in the world.

This makes me angry to this day. Yet I also have gratitude for that moment — Because it just made me fight even harder.

2) “If I had to live like you I’d kill myself. I’d just let that be the end”.

This statement or ones like it have been said to me by more than one person. This usually comes after a list they recite to me of all the things I’ll never eat again — because people seem to think this is super helpful, as well. Pizza. I’ll never have pizza again. That’s probably the worst. Followed by the sad thought of how I’ll never have a birthday cake. Chocolate chip cookies. The cookies rank up there with pizza (I suffered a two day ache for one bite weeks ago, just to taste them, again…).

But you know what? My boyfriend has figured out how to make me blueberry pancakes. A chef made me a most glorious steak this weekend, covered in whipped goat cheese and potatoes. When I get down because of the pain of cravings — and they have become, literally, painful — I can’t help but be angry at myself for my own self-centeredness. There are people in the world who starve. Who have only rice their whole lives long. Oh, poor me that I have to eat delicious steak and potatoes. It’s so sad that I can’t eat out very often. Tell that to a kid who doesn’t even have clean drinking water.

There are people who have it a lot worse than nearly any situation you’re likely to encounter. Please consider these people before you make harsh statements like preferring death to another’s existence. Consider how terrible it sounds to the person living that life and struggling to feel okay about it. That’s not exactly easy to get over.

3)“Well, can’t you just call ahead and fix things so that I can do what I want to do?”

I’ve said more than once, and I mean it. If someone could fix me for just one night so that I could eat pizza and ice cream, I’d pay them $10,000 for the experience. I mean it. $10,000. I have visions of just plopping scoops of chocolate chip ice cream right on top of the pizza and eating it all together. I’d have no shame.

Given that offer, um… no. I can not get Chili’s to somehow suction the marinade from their pre-marinated steaks. There is no such thing as salsa without tomatoes — no such thing as pizza without cheese, tomatoes and everything that goes into crust.

But yes – For one night, for that one meal you who choose to dine with me, you are going to have to go somewhere that can accommodate what I can eat. For one meal you’re going to have to sacrifice exactly what you want in favor of… other delicious food from a vast menu. And I feel really terrible about that… That I will sit and watch you eat cheesy, delicious pasta while I have a salad. Spending my whole life unable to have those things you’re craving right now. That must be so hard for you.

I’m begging people reading this… begging people. Can we have a revival of conscientiousness? Could you maybe not hand a cake over to someone who can’t eat it, laughing at how many things your ill friend can’t have? Could you not be “so disappointed” that the meeting you scheduled at a pizzeria, where they can eat nothing, has to be moved? Could you get over what an “inconvenience” the other’s illness is to you, in favor of being grateful you get a break from the restrictions, and you don’t have to suffer?

A friend of mine from high school posted about her students the other day — She’d forgotten that one of the kids in her class was allergic to corn, and served popcorn as a snack. One of the comments beneath this post read, “Allergic to popcorn? That’s not a real thing. What would you do at the movies!?”

Well, it’s a real thing. And I eat a fruit strip or apple at the movies. And it’s really difficult — the butter smell is intoxicating.

Allergies and illness are a real thing. Even if you don’t experience them directly… stop to imagine what it would be like if you did. Stop to realize that there is a real place in this world for empathy and awareness.

And please… think about what you say. Build people up… help them fight. Don’t break them.

Lesson #70: The US Medical System Needs Some Good Ol’ Psychotherapy Part 1

Photo by: imagerymajestic and freedigitalphotos.netWhen one trains in university to be a family therapist, there is one principal that stands out on top of all others: “Get as many of the people who are involved into the room that you can.”

This makes perfect sense: If a kids’ misbehaving at home, there could be a hundred different reasons why, all of which the kid, themselves wouldn’t be able to iterate. Are the parents wishy-washy with punishing bad behavior, do the parents disagree with each other about what the rules should be, is enough time spent with the child, are siblings involved and instigating, etc.?

I once saw a woman in therapy for six months who complained of the inconsiderate, terrible treatment she received from her fiancee’. I was onboard with her story and thought she was this weak, scared and sad being… until he joined her. He sat there, all meek and humble, while she *shrieked* terrible insults at him for the entire 60 minutes. And my eyes were opened a bit more to what was wrong.

Well, this brings me to the first in a series of points I want to make about the US medical system. Why in the world was it allowed to be set up the way it is, now?

If one has a problem with their thyroid, for example, here is the rough list of symptoms: hair / skin changes (Dermatologist), bowel problems (Gastroenterologist), menstrual irregularities (Gynecologist), depression and anxiety (Psychotherapist) and neck pain (chiropractor).

The truly “fun” part is, NONE of these doctors will ever get into a room and talk to one another. Sure — They’ll send records back and forth… IF you remind them to. But with 15 minute, back-to-back appointments booked from morning until night, and the time outside of that it takes for them to fill out their own documentation… you can bet they’re not studying up on your file before they see you.

Let’s say in the above example that you go to your Dermatologist, first, with breakouts or dry patches. The Dermatologist will prescribe some topical cream and give it a go for weeks, maybe months, to see if it works. Then you end up at your Gynecologist due to skipped periods to find out if you’re pregnant. Pregnancy test comes back negative. Maybe they scan to rule out ovarian cysts, etc. All this broken up treatment is taking up time, letting the real illness run rampant in your body.

Finally, I have question that is a bit of an aside, but also fits in with this topic:

How the heck did dental get separated from medical treatment, altogether, and require its own (usually crappy) insurance?

A tooth infection can affect the blood. The roots of teeth can cause sinus pain. Conditions of the jaw can be related to swollen glands or other illness. Why is the dentist not right in with all the other specialists?

This division and lack of communication is one of many problems with the US medical system I will begin to explore. In my next entry, I plan to look at how doctors are rarely held responsible for their mistakes.

Lesson #69: The BS of the TSA (a.k.a. How Air Travel Has Become Darn Near Impossible)

We’d spent a few hundred bucks extra apiece to make sure we truly didn’t “worry about a thing” on our Jamaican vacation. To have a “luxury experience”. To return well rested and ready to get back into the daily grind…

When our American Airlines jet was announced to be taking off roughly twenty minutes late from Montego Bay to the states due to mechanical issues being repaired, we didn’t fret. Afterall, twenty minutes didn’t matter to our schedule. This’d be no big deal.

But then, once in the air, the plane seemed to stay up in that air much longer than estimated. We’d turned off and packed up our cell phones, so couldn’t be positive of the time but, sure enough, the captain finally came on overhead to announce that, due to storms on the ground, the Dallas airport had denied letting us land, forcing us to circle for an extra hour before nearly running out of fuel. We were diverting to Houston and would receive further instructions on the ground.

However, instead of pulling up to a gate, we remained out on the taxi-way. An ambulance, fire truck, police car, SUV and a fully armored bomb unit surrounded our plane on either side. Once again, we heard from the piolet that we were merely diverted due to rain, and would be receiving word about next steps shortly. “But do they tell you if you’re about to be blown to smithereens?” I wondered out loud, doubting that they’d want the chaos. I called my dad and told him I loved him and sat back for what seemed like the longest and most tense hour of my life.

Finally, the emergency vehicles left and a fuel vehicle took their place. This was incredibly comforting, as it wouldn’t be the best-laid plan to pull a fuel vehicle up next to potential explosives. We breathed a mass sigh of relief at the fact we were now out of the woods, and never did receive an explanation as to what that warm greeting was about.

As if things hadn’t been harrowing and ridiculous enough, a whole new set of nonsense began. Despite the fact we could get rebooked onto a flight from Houston to Chicago with no issues at this point, the TSA wouldn’t let anyone off the plane, even passengers from Houston who were in their hometown, insisting that we all fly back to Dallas due to our international flight status. Already, the 5 hour flight had had no meal service, and we were informed that there was no food on board. Still on the tarmac, the captain started a feature film, settling in with no knowledge of when we’d finally take off. Four different times a plug discussing all the money American had spent for “rebranding” played overhead — which just reaffirmed how much I dislike this Airline. Spend your money on taking care of your passengers — not “rebranding”, you fools.

Once on the ground, and conveniently forgetting that this entire chain of events had been put into motion by the late take-off entirely their fault, American Airlines refused to rebook us the same day and refused to offer lodging. We were told that rooms at the airport and at all nearby hotels were all booked overnight. And we were stuck with some cots we happened to find behind a garbage can in Terminal C, where we were told we’d take off from first thing in the morning.

Before finding “beds” (which we’d later forgo to try to sleep on the floor), we ran the food areas of the airport out of starvation. The only thing left open was a T.G.I. Friday’s which looked boding across the way — it’s gates half down. These were being pulled down as we sprinted up, and I’ll never forget the kindness. The manager kept the restaurant open an extra hour and a half to feed everyone stuck on our plane. BIG kudos, Friday’s.

The meal was the high point of the night. We scarfed our food, so terribly hungry after the long day. Then, no sleep would come. Starbucks was under construction and loud machinery ran all night. We finally found a nook and took the floor, realizing the cots made us all the more cold – the chilly terminal air both above and below you that way. We cuddled up on the floor for warmth, just to have the wall open and reveal a loading dock, open all night and running lifts.

Worst night ever. The TSA, American Airlines and the whole lot are completely out of control.