Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks

According to social scientists, gratitude can help us all lead happier lives.  I have tried to create an atmosphere of gratitude in my family, and I have failed.  I try to give thanks before meals.  My son is not thankful; he is resentful.  Why should he be thankful?

He doesn't seem to understand that it is only by chance he was born a white male in the United States where his chances for survival are greater than his chances for survival as a black male or a female of color or a person living in what we call the Third World.  But guess what?  If he lived in Washington D.C., he could live to be eighty-four while a black male may not live past the age of seventy-one!  (  This privilege is invisible.  He not only can't see it -- it's too abstract for him to grasp.

I don't blame my son -- it is not his fault he cannot appreciate what he cannot see or feel or know as fact.  If he hails a taxi in New York City, a taxi stops.  He doesn't know that taxis don't pull over for people of color.  How can he know these things?

I googled Peggy McIntosh who wrote "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack" way back in 1989.  I remember this article circulating person to person before the Internet, and it is easily available there today.  So I printed out the shorter version, and I began a discussion at my Thanksgiving table.  If I am going to be asked by our culture to share a meal of Thanks, then Thanks has to be on the menu.

I was not met with much interest.  It is difficult to present the topic to white males.  But I presented it anyway, along with my sugar-free dessert, and got a polite nod from my husband and no interest at all from my son.  I announced that we would be learning from the list of invisible (white) skin privileges for the next month as we move toward the end of the year holidays in the hope that we will learn to notice and know what we have taken for granted so that we might better understand our world and become better allies to the people of color who do not share our skin privileges.  I believe that if we can see this invisible privilege as members of the dominant culture, we will be able to make better choices, and we will begin to question our society as conscious, conscientious citizens.

So I am grateful for the opportunity to try to educate myself and my family, and I am grateful to Dr. McIntosh for her brilliant article that opened a conversation years ago that clearly still needs to be continued since we still live in a culture where privilege goes around thinking it did something to deserve all the respect it gets.

Here are the first five privileges on the list:
1.  I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2.  If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.  (I think this is more class privilege than skin privilege, but it's still privilege.)
3.  I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
4.  I can go shopping alone, most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed. (I assume this means harassed by store personnel.)
5.  I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the newspaper and see people of my race widely represented.  (I assume she means to say represented in a positive light.)

This may seem old hat to many, but I think it's time we discuss it again, for Michael Brown in Ferguson, for Trayvon Martin in Miami, for Eric Garner right here in New York City, and for many more than I could list here.  Let's give more than thanks -- let's give some time to figuring out how to move forward justly in our unjust world.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Splurging in The Country of Control

Since I am unable to digest and absorb most (typical) American foods, I sometimes feel as if I am on a diet.  But who wants to be on a diet?  As a malnourished (thin) person for most of my life, I have had the pleasure of being able to shun diets.  I've been able to say that they are not good for us; they don't really work; they create a sense of scarcity; they cause rebounding and bingeing; and on and on…  And yet the word diet itself is really harmless -- it means what we eat.

Our culture today has caused the word "diet" to mean that cruel device we torture ourselves with, but it actually means what we put on our plates, our diet.  My diet is mostly breakfast.  I love my breakfast: steamed greens (dandelion and mustard greens, the bitter greens to help my liver), some kale or chard or collards, and some purple cabbage for color and fun.  I cover my plate first with ground flax seeds (almost two tablespoons worth for fiber) and then I add raw sauerkraut (for pre-biotics) on the side with two or three sardines.  (My husband eats the same thing but adds a tablespoon of chickpea miso.  We are soy free.)  We put a dash of olive oil on our mounds and dive in.  (I cover mine with over 450 billion bugs -- probiotics made by VSL#3 without which I would disintegrate!)  Afterwards he has Greek yogurt with cherries and honey. I have plain blueberries for the antioxidants.  This is breakfast.  We eat like Royalty in a Very Strange Country.  The Country of Control.

Why do we eat this?  Because my mother died when I was nineteen, and I am still angry about it.  Because it is terrible to lose a mother.  Because it is hard to live a long time without one.  Because the week I became a mother, it was inferred (by several doctors) that I had lung cancer.  Tests were done.  And I took the possibility of death to heart.  So for years now (over a decade), I have been terrorizing myself (and my husband) saying, we have to be as healthy and responsible as we can possibly be, because we are parents now!

So we eat everything we think we are supposed to eat, and we actually like to eat it, but it probably doesn't keep us alive.  It probably doesn't protect us from whatever future is out there waiting for us, and yet we cling to it.  I cling to it.  I believe that this "diet" is part of what keeps me healthy and alive for my son.  If I die young, he won't be able to blame the Doritos!  And since I can't control much else, I control my diet.

How do I do that, you ask?  Isn't it hard?  When I stray from my diet, I get sick.  Profoundly sick.  So no, it isn't really hard, because the consequences are so awful.  (Not the consequences of a few extra pounds or a hangover, which are not great either, but Celiac Disease and Ulcerative Colitis consequences are painful, embarrassing and potentially deadly.)  But I still sometimes feel deprived and need a little something to ease my cravings.

Tonight I had a few dates.  The sweet kind with 18 grams of sugar in each!  Last night I boiled some water and thinned some cashew butter (two tablespoons) with a teaspoon of coconut oil and had that over my blueberries. (Technically my blueberries are a splurge alone so this is really super decadent for me.)  Once in a while, I'll have some cantaloupe!  If I overdo it, I get sick.  Not the fun kind of sick, the sick that involves blood, ruined clothing, accidents…  I have great respect for the digestive system, because mine demands it.

I am glad I can still digest my amazing breakfast.  I am grateful that I am still here.  I am four years older than my mother ever was.  I try to give myself a break, cut myself some slack, indulge in a few bites of gluten-free pizza every once in a while, but mostly I want to be around for my son, so I usually let him have the rest of it and enjoy every bite of my bitter greens.  I recommend a dash of Umi Plum Vinegar with some olive oil to dress them up.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Organic Chicken Broth

Why make my own organic chicken broth?  It's cheaper than buying it.  Many brands add sugar!  I go berserk with sugar, so that can't happen.  But even if I search for the organic kind that doesn't add sugar, it is really easy to make and free with the chicken that I buy already, so I hope this inspires you to do it yourself.  It's 730pm, and I'm blogging about it, so it can't be that hard.

So I buy organic chicken, because it's actually cheaper for me to buy the one that's already cooked at the store than to cook a raw one myself, plus my oven has been broken for over a year now, and that's a different story.

So I buy rotisserie organic chicken from Fairway for $12.99, and for an extra $1.00 they will throw in two sides.  I get green beans and broccoli rabe.  I checked with the store, and their squash has added sugar, so I can't buy that.  I don't buy peppers that aren't organic, so I can't buy the regular broccoli side because it comes with pesticide-peppers, and I won't eat that.

Do I sound like a freak about sugar?  The thing is that once I have some, I crave more, and on and on it goes.  Sugar messes terribly with my intestinal flora, and since I have Celiac Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, I can't afford to mess around with my flora.  In fact, I spend a lot of time and effort cultivating good flora (the only garden I can't show off)!  So sugar is out!

So for $13.99 I get three to four meals a week, for all three of us.  I mostly eat green stuff (broccoli rabe, kale, chard, spinach, brussels sprouts, etc), so the chicken is not even half my plate.  I might have six to eight bites.  And I love organic potatoes!  Who knew the regular kind is sprayed heavily?  Environmental Working Group ( knows, and I love what they do!  Check them out for which items to get organic and which to buy regular.

My son will have one drumstick and a salad and call it dinner.  Sometimes he won't even touch the potatoes.  My husband eats his chicken in a sandwich for lunch and goes light for dinner.  He does the King-Prince-Pauper Diet where you eat a lot in the morning and then lunch and burn your calories all day... so for dinner he has a grapefruit and some almonds.  

Now that it's almost winter, and we're back and forth to Vermont to ski and snowboard, we like soup, so I'll make broth with the chicken I get at Fairway today.  They have a lot of flavors (plain, latin, barbecue, etc).  We like the herb or the lemon garlic.  They post all their ingredients, so it's easy to know what you are getting.   After putting the groceries away, I bone the chicken.  (I save the drums for my son, but everything else -- boned!)  If there is garlic, I press it out of its skins and save that too!  All the bones go into the crockpot and get covered with water and set on high.  If you add a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar, the calcium in the bones will be released into the water.  After four hours on high, the bones are soft.

All the chicken goes in a freezer baggie for our trip to VT.  The sides go in baggies too -- easier to carry and takes up less room in the cooler.

I got home from the market around 2pm.  After dinner (6pm) I turned off the slow cooker and let it cool.  After an hour of cooling, I strained the chicken into mason jars (5, plus a lot spilled), and don't forget to leave a lot of room in the top of the jar if you freeze your broth.  You don't want the jars to burst!  I leave a finger's worth of space before the neck.  Once my jars are cool, I will freeze a few and put the others in freezer bags to take to VT -- easier to carry!

So now I have two drumsticks for my son, about three pounds of chicken (out of a 5 pound chicken) for dinners and sandwiches, and five jars of broth for soup bases, plus two sides for $13.99.

Meshugunah, our dog says, thank you for the chicken skin, Mama!  (She'll turn 16 next week -- that's 112 years old in human terms.)

Monday, December 2, 2013


I recently logged on to my old blog -- I haven't been here in years!  And I have over a thousand views.  This shocked me.  I had no idea that anyone was really interested in what I was writing (back then I was writing a lot about adoption, because that was what I was living).  Well, that got me to thinking, maybe I should just do this.  Maybe people will be interested in what I have to say.

I have to say that I have been working really hard to turn my life back on.

A little background here -- I used to be a playwright with an MFA and teaching credits loving my NYC single life in an amazing apartment in Chelsea, and then my grandmother died, and then my father died four days later, and then as I was grieving all that, and trying to move to pay my father's estate taxes, and then 9/11 happened, so yes, we're talking history here, and I moved uptown, way uptown to where I can see the Harlem River meet the Hudson River, and I fell in love with my gorgeous new 'hood called Inwood (which is in Manhattan, even though many NYers don't believe me), and I met my husband, and we got married and had a baby.  And then we couldn't have more, so we adopted a little boy from the Congo.

Long story short, we unadopted our little boy from the Congo.  Even though he was (and is) amazing and wonderful and lovable, he could not live in our family because everyone in a family must be safe in their home, and our older son could not be kept safe with our little one around.  Izzy is now living with his new family, and he is fine.  There are no little ones anywhere near his age for him to compete with, and he will thrive and be loved as he deserves.

Turns out that many adoptions don't work out (almost 25% according to Child Welfare Information Gateway), and I have spent the past twenty months or so trying to grieve our loss and move toward living in a family that I love in a joyful, positive way.  We have been healing and helping each other to let go of the worst of the reality of what we lived through.  And this holiday season, I am finally feeling as if we are done with all that.  Maybe this year I will send out holiday cards once again (I didn't last year -- I couldn't).

So here I am, still married to the same amazing man, still mom to the same amazing child I birthed just over a decade ago, but no longer working to get back to my playwriting -- instead I am actually doing it!  I am happy to report that I completed two full-length plays this year, and three short plays, and I am sending them out to theaters/directors/friends, whoever wants to read them, let me know!  I am thrilled to get feedback!  (Wish list -- I could use a group of writers interested in sharing and caring uptown on a monthly basis!  I am even happy to host us.)  

What I want to do with this blog is write about many different things.  I am thinking FOOD (cause I love it, and I want everyone to know how to eat more healthily and with ease, because cooking can be simple if you get prepared and have some tips).  I am thinking KIDS (because I have one, and I ponder issues relating to him all the time, like how can I protect him from everything without denying him his independence???  I am thinking HORMONES -- I have been reading Dr. Sara Gottfried's book, The Hormone Cure and loving it!  On Day 3 of my Vitex and Vitamin C solution, because apparently I have high cortisol, low progesterone and high estrogen, and I will be working on all that as I move closer and closer to the big M of menopause, and I want to do it as JUICILY as possible!  And other stuff will crop up, so please keep reading and responding, and I will try to stay on top of my NEW BLOG!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Another Mother

How to build a poem after the death of Adrienne Rich
is the most necessary impossibility of my life.
First I cannot even choose or find the right pen
            or is that dumb or wrong or phallic
She would shoot me a glance -- don't be stupid
I hear her and then I hear another, my biological mother interrupting

Adrienne might put her hand on my cheek, say munchkin or liebkind,
some gentle forgiving words the way she did in my dreams.
Adrienne looked like my mother if my mother had lived in black and white
never full color full blown and unbearable            both short Jewish women
with arms that might run combines, harvest wheat in Russia, pull beets from the earth
with rough hands         making borscht with onions and sour cream.

I wanted Adrienne alone or even in a room full of one thousand
other pairs of ears while she spoke into the microphone bent beside her mouth
on a box behind a podium                I wanted my eyes to trace
the outlines of her shoulders, jawline, breasts           and now
she's dead I refuse to let this mean that I am lost
I am not lost.      

I can find her in the empty parts she left inside her words.
I remember first stealing those              big gaps, considering the Holocaust
a subject to assume, new words including oven, grasp and skin
women as in two women, something else to write about
Oh, how I tried to become a lesbian for this tiny angry poet
who wrote my life to me before I lived it                 tried so hard to show everyone

what real was, felt and tasted like            She breathed into me
the desire to work so hard to get good at it until I could be
denigrated by famous men in Iowa for liking her, loving her,
for putting her on my short list, and it was years after she had become
her own pillar          the fortress of words in the shape of a woman
ten times the size of those penis-people who tried to put her down

It is hard to be a mother of small boys and feel true to her,
the mother of small boys, how did she do it?  Surviving to write it all down
living eighty-two years, honest, responding, highly definitively real      how
dare she leave us all to grieve and grope            at the hole she imparts
a hole no one can fill               only play Nina Simone
reread all she wrote and cry              another mother dead!

And a voice, and a heart til now beating through a life
that stood up to every insult, poet in this world that spins too fast
for words to heal              Adrienne, finder of the ways to pen
a balm for wounds without softening or trying to hide the scabs
resultant scars and hobbled parts we can be proud of
and through these tears I'm smiling             even though I never got to thank her.    

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day

Last Father's Day Israel weighed twenty-four pounds and clung to my husband, calling him Papa in a tiny French accent.  I couldn't pry him off his Papa.  And he was so sick, he had night sweats from TB, and he slept on Scotty all night, soaking him and kicking him.  There are many good reasons for newborns to be small.  Israel, when he was newborn to us, wasn't small, and his kicks landed and bruised us, and we hadn't had any time to learn to love him yet.  Adoption can be a difficult road.

We didn't go anywhere to celebrate Father's Day because we were in shock just like brand new parents with a newborn.  We worried all the time that we were freaking him out.  We shouldn't have worried so much.  He was totally freaked out, but he has almost no memory of it at all.

We took him to Vermont.  Papa taught him to fish, and he taught him to swim.  Papa played shark with him in the water, and let him ride on his back and play whale-rider.  Papa was the father in the pool with whom all the other kids tried to play.  Papa also taught him to ski.  Now Izzy wants to learn to snowboard, and he just calls him Pop.

Israel had a low of awe for Scott when they first got home.  Scott ran a mile, carrying luggage and Izzy on his back, at the airport to make the plane.  Scott carried Israel out of the Congo and fed him pizza.  Now Israel knows that I am the person who will feed him, but he is starting to grasp the idea that even though I buy and cook all the food, it is Pop's money that pays for it all.  In this year's Father's Day card, he thanked him for Costco.  

Here are a few things that Scott did as a parent for Israel this year.  He sent him to violin school.  Israel had music theory classes, group music lessons, and private lessons all year long, and he is now learning his seventh song.  Scott attended his two big concerts, including one at Carnegie Hall, plus three recitals.  Scott also had Israel converted to Judaism with a ritual mikveh bath and a naming ceremony.  He paid for small group French classes every week.  He also spends time with him over the weekends and in the mornings before work when they play ball or ride bikes in the park.  Scott has stood by Israel in the emergency room and shared his iPad with him.  Most of all, Scott supports our choice to keep our family as close as we can  through homeschooling.  So Israel was not sent to daycare or preschool this year, and he won't be starting kindergarten in the fall.  He is with his brother Eddie and me all day long, and we try to help him learn what he wants to learn.  The most important thing Scott is helping him to learn is that we are his family.  

This Father's Day Israel weighs forty-six pounds and really looks like the five year old that he is.  He is cured of TB.  He has lost his little French accent.  Not a newborn anymore.  No longer new to us either.  He is our Izzy.  He still insists we are not his real family, and he threatens to leave us the minute he turns eighteen, but the next moment he is hugging us and hanging on us and hard to pry off, telling us how much he loves us.

One of the first things that Eddie did when Israel arrived was to sing to him from the Broadway show, Oliver! "Consider yourself at home!  Consider yourself part of the family!"  So Izzy quickly got to love that music, and I'll never forget when Scott sat down to dinner one night, and Izzy sang to him.  "I'll do anything, for you, dear, anything, for you mean everything to me!"

I hope for Father's Day that Izzy will sing it again, or if not, at least Scott can remember it as part of his first year as Izzy's Pop.

Balancing on the Tree Railings Again

This particular block between Broadway and Columbus in the West 60s is apparently not where I should be walking with my son Israel, because one week after the incident I described with the doorman and the super, we were balancing on the tree railings yet again, when we were passed by a well-dressed grandma-type, with a gold and turquoise Mogen David around her neck, and except for that, she could easily have been my own mother or mother-in-law.  My own mother and mother-in-law would never wear visible signs of their Jewishness the way this woman does, but then my mom and mother-in-law didn't and don't live in New York City.

She stared at us.  I thought, doesn't she think we're cute!  She glared at us.  I thought, oh no, not again!  Then she passed us, and I thought, phew!  But then she turned around and stopped.

"Is he yours?"  she asked.  She didn't smile.  She wasn't asking nicely.
Since we were on our weekly mission to balance on every single railing on the south side of the street, we continued forward.  She had to turn and keep up with us.
"Yes, he is!" I said, proudly with a big smile.  "Isn't he cute?"  I challenged.
She smirked.

"He's been home a whole year now, from the Congo!"  I told her, again with pride, again with a big smile.
She softened.  Maybe she thinks: war, famine, charity.  I am not trying to get her to feel badly for my son who is doing great, no longer licks his plate clean, would prefer bread without crust these days.  I am just trying to get her to think.

"Mama, no talking!"  Israel tells me.
"Oh Israel, this nice lady wants to know about you.  She's curious."
I know Israel hates it when I tell people stuff about him, and yet, I have a hard time not letting people know who he is and how proud I am of him.  I believe that there are people who need to know.  

"What is his name?"  She now wears the look of horror that I prefer not to take in, so I keep my eyes on my little guy.
"His name is Israel," I tell her, emphasizing the three syllables distinctly.
"Isn't that a bit, uh, ironic?" she asks.
"Actually it was his birth name, and yes, I think it's very ironic, since although I am Jewish, I am not a Zionist."  I let that sit in her craw for a moment.
"A lot of orphanages give biblical names to the children.  I think it has to do with hope," I say, and again, she softens.  And I notice that in myself I have softened too.  I am no longer angry with her for intruding.  I smile for real now.  She smiles back.
"Well, good luck, Israel," she tells him and leaves.

I think we all have these softer and harder places, like lakes often have warm and cold spots, and it is really just a matter of finding them, noticing if we get stuck in a cold spot, or, if we are in a soft spot, learning to stay there, to let compassion be where we live.