Friday, December 30, 2011

I Believe In Miracles

It’s hard to get through the Christmas season without hearing the word “miracle.” This word has special meaning to me, as I believe I have witnessed modern-day miracles. Real ones, not something dreamed up by marketing executives. (Finding a brand-new Lexus in your driveway with a ginormous red bow on top might be unexpected, but it is not a miracle. As you would naturally understand a few months later when the repo dudes come to take it back to La La Land. I digress...)

The miracles that are nearest and dearest to me involve my dear husband. Those of you who have poked around this here blog a bit know that I call my dear husband “Miracle Man.” For the one or two of you who don’t know me personally and are wondering why on earth I use that moniker for him here, now seems like a good time to tell you. Gather round, chid’rens, and hear the story of the time an ordinary man scored himself one humdinger of a miracle.

Picture it: Silver Spring, Maryland, 1972. A healthy baby boy enters the world, screaming his head off and waving his angry little fist in the air. He goes on to have a relatively normal childhood – except for the debilitating headaches. The doctors write the headaches off as migraines and tell his parents he will eventually outgrow them. As he gets older, the headaches give way to neck aches, which give way to back aches, which give way to the occasionally tingly extremity. Along the way, doctors write each symptom off as something unrelated to the others. "Nothing to worry about," they said. "Probably just stress," they said. "Take this pill, and here’s a referral for therapeutic massage." Which is doctor speak for, “Meh, you’ll be OK. I need to see other patients now.”

Then one sunshiny day in 1993, our young hero was rear-ended by an old guy going about 25 miles per hour. As one would imagine, this accident resulted in a considerable amount of pain in Miracle Man’s neck. “Whiplash,” the doctors said. “Take this pill and wear this brace; you’ll be OK in a few days.” But he wasn’t OK. The pain got worse. And it did not go away. Finally, the doctor who had once ordered massage to treat his chronic neck pain ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed the cause of the seemingly disjointed symptoms that Miracle Man had experienced since birth: Arnold-Chiari Malformation. Whew! Glad they solved that puzzle. 

Ummm, Sassyfats? What the frick is Arnold Chaka Kahn Malformation?

Funny you should ask. First things first - repeat after me: kee-ARE-ee. (You already know how to pronounce Arnold.) Arnold-Chiari Malformation is a rare condition in which patients have a slight malformation in the cerebellum at the lower rear of the skull where the brain and spinal cord connect. This malformation causes part of the cerebellum and brain stem to protrude downward through the foramen magnum and create enough pressure on the spinal cord to interrupt the flow of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), which can cause an array of symptoms - from headaches to full-body paralysis.

Translation: The bottom of your brain smooshes out through your lowermost skull hole, which can seriously eff you right up.

The good news in 1993 was that Miracle Man was young and otherwise healthy. He had a decompression surgery around the malformation that got his CSF flowing again. The headaches and neck aches stopped, he didn’t have any more tingling extremities, and everything seemed just peachy. He resumed his normal life after the recovery period and figured he was set to live happily ever after. Unfortunately, he ain’t no Cinderella, and this ain’t no fairy tale.

Fast forward to 2005. Miracle Man and I were married suburb dwellers living the TIOM lifestyle (two incomes, oppressive mortgage). We had a preschooler (Daughter1), a bun in the oven (Daughter2), and a rather large cat named Mickey (may he rest in peace). Around Thanksgiving, Miracle Man got this nagging, hacking cough. His voice got all hoarse and gravelly, and he felt like crap a good bit of the time. He went to his regular doctor, who treated him for a sinus infection. He took the antibiotics but didn’t get much better. So he went back to the doctor, got more antibiotics... and stayed sick. Here was a man who NEVER got sick, and he just could not shake this cold/sinus infection/bronchitis/whatever. The doctor kept prescribing different antibiotics, but nothing really helped. Then the doctor went the route of antifungals, but they didn’t really help either. Miracle Man got sick of going to the doctor, so he decided to call it “allergies” and get on with his life. After all, our already busy lives were about to get a lot busier by the pending arrival of Daughter2.

By the time Daughter2 finally arrived in March 2006, Miracle Man was in rough shape. He was still coughing a lot, he sounded like Harvey Fierstein when he talked, he was gaining weight like it was his job, and he was starting to have dizzy spells. He kept going to the doctor, who kept prescribing antibiotics and telling him to lose weight. As the loving and supportive wife I am, I got frustrated with his ongoing ailments. Here I was all bloated with child, and I was the one dragging myself to work every day, taking care of Daughter1, and picking up the slack around the house because he had the sniffles. It was still several months before we discovered that all his complaints were tied together in a neat little package that had nothing to do with his sinuses.

Fast forward a lil’ bit more to the summer of 2006. As I wallowed in a bout of postpartum depression that nearly killed me (I promise, I’ll write about it eventually), Miracle Man’s complaints had broadened to include debilitating back pain. The doctor blamed his recent weight gain and was reluctant to look further than that, but eventually conceded to order an MRI of the lumbar spine and send Miracle Man to a neurologist. Given Miracle Man’s medical history, they decided to also get an MRI of the upper spine as long as they had him in the tube. That’s when we discovered that Miracle Man’s Arnold-Chiari malformation had a little friend named syringomelia. Yay! Another puzzle solved!

Ummm, Sassyfats? What the frick is sirenginormelella?

Funny you should ask. First things first - repeat after me: suh-RING-o-MEE-lee-a. Arnold-Chiari is rare, but syringomelia is like its distant cousin from the third moon of Voltore. Outside of a neurologist’s office, even firmly established medical professionals give you a blank stare when you speak its name. Many neurologists can have long, successful careers and never even see a case of it. Syringomelia is characterized by syrinxes (let's just do it here: SEE-rinx-es), or cyst-like bubbles, in the spinal cord that can inhibit CSF flow and cause an array of symptoms - from dizziness to full-body paralysis (sound familiar?). Syrinxes come and go at will with little to no warning, which makes it hard for doctors to give you any real prognosis.  

Translation: Syringomelia puts fluid-filled holes in the core of your spinal cord and can’t nobody tell you it's gonna be OK. And it can seriously eff you right up.

We are blessed to be situated relatively close to Johns Hopkins, where Miracle Man consulted with top neurological specialists – who have been on the Discovery Health Channel, y’all. That’s how you know they’re good. The downside to having access to all these specialists is that it takes FOR-EVAH to get an appointment with each one. Let me take this moment to say that if you have never had the pleasure of navigating the complex inner workings of the medical industry, I encourage you to drop to your knees and give fervent thanks and praise to the god of your understanding for sparing you that particular nightmare. Seriously! 

After bouncing from specialist to specialist over several months, Miracle Man finally landed in the office of the man who was billed to us as the foremost expert on syringomelia in the world. I call him Dr. Smartypants. Dr. Smartypants was near the end of his surgical career when we met him. A very personable man, he was largely responsible for building the neurosciences department at Johns Hopkins into what it is today. After reviewing Miracle Man’s case, he decided not to take any action.

Do what now?

Let me explain something: by this time, Miracle Man had lost most of the feeling and strength in his arms and hands. His legs were weak. He passed out frequently (like several times a day). He had developed serious respiratory issues. He could no longer take care of himself, let alone go to work or help care for the children. He could not even hold our infant daughter without assistance. So when Dr. Smartypants said he would not operate, we reacted with surprise and disappointment. Dr. Smartypants then explained that the surgery to drain a syrinx involves making a small cut into the spinal cord. Miracle Man’s syrinx was right at the point in his cervical spine where Christopher Reeves severed his spinal cord, and we all know how that ended for him. "Too risky," Dr. Smartypants said. Miracle Man would have to adjust to his new way of life.

We went home from that appointment dejected. We had been hoping all along that one of these specialists would operate and restore Miracle Man to normal, just like the first surgeon had all those years ago. Our lives were completely upside down. Although the disorder resided in Miracle Man’s body, our entire family was sick. His parents took care of him during the day. My parents took care of our kids while I worked. Miracle Man was no longer working, and his short-term disability from work had run out. We had medical bills out the wazoo. It was only through the intervention of generous relatives that we did not end up on the street while our house, which we could no longer afford, languished on the weakened market.

At all times, I felt pulled equally in three directions: toward Miracle Man, toward the kids, and toward work. I had run out of leave at work, and could not afford to take unpaid leave. Since I was the sole breadwinner at that point, I felt the pressure of supporting my young and struggling family very heavily upon my shoulders. And yet I had a husband who needed full-time care, and two little kids who needed full-time care. No matter where I was at any given time, I felt like I was in the wrong place. 

As time marched on, Miracle Man developed congestive heart failure. He was in and out of the hospital, where I learned that most doctors have not heard of Arnold-Chiari or syringomelia. Since Miracle Man seemed to be on the fast track to the afterlife, Dr. Smartypants decided it was finally time to operate. In my estimation, it was about damn time. 

In October 2007, the day before our 10th anniversary, Miracle Man went under the knife. While poking around inside Miracle Man's neck, Dr. Smartypants discovered that there was a significant amount of scar tissue around Miracle Man's brain stem. Let that sink in for a minute. Yes, I said brain stem

The brain stem is the part of your body that controls all of your basic life-sustaining functions, like breathing and having a heartbeat. Miracle Man's brain stem was being choked out by scar tissue. So Dr. Smartypants cleaned up the brain stem, saw that the CSF was flowing again, and opted not to drain the Syrinx of Doom at that time. It was too risky, and no longer seemed necessary. 

I wish I could tell you that everything went hunky dory, and say that this is the happy ending. But oh, my dear friends, this was only the beginning. Thanks to some complications, Miracle Man had two subsequent emergency surgeries around the brain stem over the next 12 days. Having had his brain and spine exposed to the open air that much, he developed spinal meningitis. Having been in the hospital awhile, he developed intestinal MRSA. And since two life-threatening infections didn't seem like enough, he went ahead and developed a third: septicemia. 

Miracle Man spent the next three months at Hopkins fighting for his life. He would turn a corner and seem like he was getting better, then BOOM! Code Blue. I distinctly remember one night when the nurse and I stood in his room watching the pulse-ox numbers dip below the threshold for staying off a respirator and shouting to the barely conscious Miracle Man, "Breathe, Mike! Goooood joooooob!" He was put into a couple of medically induced comas, and his chances for survival looked grim at best.  

This time in Miracle Man's recovery was almost like a little dance: Oh look, he's doing better! Yay! Uh-oh, he crashed again! Shit! No, wait, he's better again! Yay! Annd, he's down again. Shit! He was in and out of the Neurological Critial Care Unit on a weekly basis. When he got a little bit stronger, he was back and forth between Hopkins and the rehab facility. He got to come home a couple of times, only to be rushed back to the hospital within hours. One step forward, two steps back. Spin your partner, do-si-do.

I wish that I could find it within myself to adequately describe the hell we all lived through during this time. In all honesty, it's hard to let myself get too close to the memories. Hurts too much. Suffice it to say I was flying by the seat of my pants, keeping my head bent against the wind, just trying to keep moving so that I wouldn't curl into the fetal position and let the world fade away. My kids needed at least one functioning parent, and it looked like I was it.

Throughout this horrific time, I learned that when life brings you to your knees, God will prop you up and power you through the motions as long as you let Him. We had a vast network of prayer warriors who called out to God on our behalf, and I learned to just let Him take the reigns and hope for the best. If not for my faith during those months, I doubt I would have survived.

Not long after the holidays, at this very time of year, Miracle Man came home to stay. He brought with him a walker and an IV pole, and a schedule full of visits to various specialists: neurologist, infectious disease specialists, physical therapists, etc. In the beginning, he was so weak he could barely walk across the room. Little by little, he kept taking steps. Eventually he could make it to the front door without his walker. Then the mailbox. Then the house next door. When he was cleared to drive again, he started going to the gym and walking on the treadmill for 5 minutes at a time. He kept at it, and he kept getting stronger. 

Nowadays, Miracle Man is a stay-at-home Dad who is blissfully free from the symptoms that plagued him before his surgery, right down to the gravelly voice. He appears strong and healthy. However, the Syrinx of Doom lingers in the full length of Miracle Man's cervical spine. And now it has a friend that stretches from  the middle of Miracle Man's thoracic spine all the way to the bottom of his lumbar spine. One neurologist looked at a recent MRI, gave Miracle Man a puzzled look, and said, "I honestly don't understand how you are not a quadriplegic." So although he is symptom free at the moment, we don't know how long the reprieve will last. 

In the spirit of embracing the miracle of his survival and recovery and not living in a constant state of dread, I am grateful that Miracle Man is healthy today. And I pray that he will be healthy tomorrow. And for lots of tomorrows after that. 

Miracle Man - Present Day



Monday, December 5, 2011

Sculpting Sassyfats

For the last several weeks, I've been working out with a trainer at the gym named Holloway. Holloway has made it his life's mission to kill me taken me under his wing to show me the best way to maximize my workouts and nourish my body for optimum health and fitness. He approached me in the gym one day after I had finished a relatively gruelling workout and told me all about some of his past clients and what he could do for me. I confided in him that, to be blunt, I ain't got no money, so he is giving me a steeply discounted rate. As people see him kicking my considerable behind up and down the gym, and they see my considerable behind shrinking in the process, they join his roster of clients. In a way, I have become both a marketing tool and an inspiration. Go me.

But Sassyfats, you ask, how does your renewed journey of weight loss gel with your Health at Every Size philosophy? Have you left it behind? Or are you just a hypocrite?

Well, my friends, the answer is - I dunno. Here is my rationalization reasoning: My ultimate goal is improved health and fitness. Holloway’s program promotes both. I am not counting calories and starving myself. I am changing my eating habits based on nutritional science, and allowing myself occasional indulgences without guilt.

By the same token, my workouts are intense but not punishing. Holloway always takes my abilities into account. If I say, "Ow," he says "Stop." If I say, "wheeze-wheeze-wheeze-hunnnnnnh!!" he says, "OK, rest until you catch your breath." His training style is friendly but firm, and we actually have a lot of fun during our workouts. And while following the program is challenging, the program itself makes sense to me. I am not hanging on until some predefined end date – I’m taking this little journey a day at a time and learning the difference between real limits and the I-don’t-wanna-you-can’t-make-mes. So I’ll say it again: Go me.

Yeah, Baby!

Since I have plenty of flubber to spare, a natural side-effect of my adherence to this program is bodily shrinkage. I have to admit, this side-effect has me both giddy and terrified. Giddy because as a lifelong, card-carrying fat chick, I am programmed to love, love, LOVE the idea of not weighing in at Aw, Hell No!! proportions. Terrified because I know my history – work really hard at a program that seems to make sense at the time, make plans to buy an all-new wardrobe when I’m finally skinny and deserve to be happy, hit a "screw-it" moment, and end up 30 pounds heavier than where I started. Sound familiar?

To be honest, weighing in every week has me fighting against some serious triggers. Health at Every Size has taught me that the dieting cycle is a real phenomenon that only leads to more fat and less self-esteem. My life experience resonates with this assertion. So why step on the scale week after week?

First of all, Holloway’s scale is special. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill bathroom scale that you step on and cuss at. This scale is a $3,500 body composition scale that measures fat, muscle, and water. It gives you a cute little print-out with your stats, then Holloway gives you high-fives, encouragement, and tips for continued success before filing the printout away with its predecessors. Second of all, I see these weigh-ins as the real cost of my training. I’m not sure he realizes this, but what he’s not demanding in dollars, he’s demanding in chutzpah. As long as he’s taking the time to teach me a better way to nourish and work my body, I can manage stepping on the scale.

I can say this with the utmost of confidence: This time, it’s different. This time, weight loss is not my primary goal. As stated above, the weight loss is a side effect. Both the nutritional and fitness components of this program leave me energetic and satisfied – not hungry, tired, stressed out, or generally grumpy. Unlike every other "lifestyle change" I’ve tried (and trust me, there have been many), I do not feel deprived. When I exercise, instead cursing my body for being so out of shape and demanding that it change, I’m thanking it for its strength and endurance. I have noticed a change in the way I carry myself, and how much easier everyday tasks have gotten. And I can actually feel my muscles if I squish the flubber out of the way.

I do not know what tomorrow will bring. But I do know what today brought – an intense, predawn workout that left me exhilarated and ready to face my day, three flavorful meals that left me full and satisfied, and at least a teensy bit more confidence than I had yesterday. And that, my friends, is worth all the effort.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Journey to Dubstep

I've always had eclectic taste in music. As far back as I can remember I've liked hard rock, dance music, the blues, and country. I've even been known to listen to Enya at times. (Don't judge me. Sometimes you just need a good chill-the-eff-out song.) I studied classical piano in high school, and then went to the premier jazz school in the world. Although there are certainly some songs and artists that make me want to poke my eardrums out, there are few genres that I'm willing to write off as inherently suckish.

In my formative years, the years when most of us tie our very identities into the music we like, I gravitated toward 80s hair bands - Poison, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, etc. I enjoyed this good time music with its wailing guitars and driving beats. To this day I still love to screech my heart out along with Sebastian Bach to "I Remember You." And hearing Bret Michaels demand that I talk dirty to him always makes me smile.

I forgive you for Rock of Love.
At the same time during my misspent youth, back in the olden days when MTV played actual music videos and the average sound system was waist-high, I would also enjoy listening to Madonna, Salt N' Peppa, and Tone-Loc. (I challenge you to listen to this song and not wanna get down witchya bad self.) I would do my homework to the soundtrack to Amadeus. I would even listen to the occasional bluegrass song if my friends weren't within earshot.

My openness to various music genres and my unhealthy obsession with Ghost Adventures recently joined forces and led me to something my ears are very happy about: Dubstep. I had heard the word bandied about before, but never really checked out what it was. Then one day I dutifully followed a link tweeted by host Zak Bagans, and oh my eargasm, it. was. awesome. Not long after that, EVP analyst Billy Tolley (aka DJInferno on the Las Vegas club scene when he's not ghost adventuring) released a dubstep mix on his podcast. (Seriously, if you need some good workout music check it out. And no, nobody is paying me for all this advertising.) That did it. I was hooked.

Now I can't get through a busy day at work without hearing the likes of Skrillex, Bassnectar,  and Deadmou5. (That second syllable is pronounced "mouse," for those of you following along at home.) The cool thing about dubstep is that it takes a bunch of genres (dance, rock, rap), ties them together with a heavy bass line, then kicks it up a notch with electronic sound effects that sound not unlike grinding metal and chainsaws. I don't really know why, but that particular mixture greatly appeals to me.

Not only does dubstep help me think straight while playing editor at work (No really, it gives the easily distracted part of my brain something to do while the rest of my brain stays focused.), but it also gave me an increasingly elusive bonding moment with my 15-year-old nephew. On a recent Sunday my local sibs and I, plus spouses and offspring of course, converged on our old family home and made our parents feed us. I heard the familiar strains of Skrillex coming from the room where all the chi'drens were hanging out and got excited enough to dislodge my behind from my comfy chair and go in there.

Me: You kids listening to Skrillex??

My nephew's eyes grew wide with concern. He's the oldest cousin in the family, and he probably figured I was about to tell him to turn off that damn noise before it corrupted my sweet little angels. Or something like that.

Nephew: Yeah. Is that OK?
Me: OK??? It's freaking awesome!! I LOVE this song!!

His eyes grew even wider, only now with wonder. Kinda the way I'd have looked at my Gramma if she'd busted out with Funky Cold Medina back in the day.

Nephew: Aunt Sassyfats, YOU like dubstep?
Me: Hellz yeah!! D-d-d-d-drop the bass!!!

A slow smile spread across his face, as if he were a research scientist who had just discovered a new species of super adorable puppy and realized he could charge a million bucks per litter. I smiled back. I knew that I, a grown-up, had just won major cool points.

Either that or I totally ruined dubstep for him. Since I didn't see anything on his Facebook page telling all the other young'uns, "Dubstep is dead!!! Even the elderly like it now!!!" I'm gonna stick with cool points.

Update: How could I have been so silly not to have mentioned Baltimore's own LAZERbitch? Sweet DLake dubstep remix of their song "I Loved You." And I'm not just sayin' that because I've known LAZERLibby since she was my little sister's horseback riding partner when they were like my Daughter1's age...     

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Remedial Economics

There is nothing more gratifying than getting your biweekly direct deposit from Corporate America, paying all your bills on time, and still having enough money to live on for two weeks. I know how gratifying this experience is because I have done it - once or twice.

More often than not, payday in the Sassyfats household looks more like this: check the bank balance every five minutes until the direct deposit hits, do a happy dance for 3.7 seconds, go online to pay everyone who sent you a turn-off notice this pay cycle, then slap yourself on the forehead when you realize you're out of money and the cupboards are still bare. (Did you know that chid'rens demand to be fed several times a day? Each and every day? True story.)

Against my better judgement, I will go on record to say that we make a decent living. On paper, our financial situation is quite lovely. We have reached a point where we make more than we owe (on paper), and our living expenses are fairly stable (on paper). Ergo, I attribute 90% of our financial woes to user error. Which really makes no sense, because Miracle Man and I were each pretty good financial managers - before we entered our marital union. We each paid our bills on time and there was always enough left over for little luxuries here and there. But when we joined forces, our approach to financial management rapidly turned into this:

Checkbook Balancing Time at the Sassyfats Home
Granted, life did throw us a few curve balls we did not see coming.  Like how friggin' expensive it is to bear and then raise chid'rens. And how friggin' expensive it is to go through a life-threatening medical crisis that leaves you permanently disabled - not only do you lose your income, but you also get slapped with multi-thousand dollar medical bills on a routine basis. Those things are enough to put any family behind. But when you're already behind, those things are enough to drive you into the ground.

We are no strangers to receiving turn-off notices, car repo notices, and even the dreaded home foreclosure notices. We have bounced so many checks over the years that we have been banned from writing them in most retail establishments. When one of our cars starts making a funny noise, we both get a tight clenching in our guts because we know anything more than an oil change is going to mean we will have to decide which bill won't get paid that pay cycle. 

After 14 years of wedded bliss, fiscal tomfoolery, and life-changing events, Miracle Man and I have learned a lot of hard lessons, and have gotten pretty good about making tough choices. Thanks to time healing wounds, generous relatives plucking us out of the drain we seem to enjoy swirling around, and newly acquired skills to negotiate with creditors, we are *this close* to living completely within our means. We have streamlined our spending by Draconian measures, and we have learned to budget and plan what gets paid on each pay cycle. It's almost like we're grown-ups or something. However, we still have no effing money most of the effing time. On paper we're doing great. In every day life, we're still squeezed so hard it hurts.

Fried chicken is for rich people.
Our basic living expenses have increased way faster than our income since the economy tanked, and we still have a few monthly bills that we have to pay a little extra on as we catch all the way up. One good thing about the recession - it made being broke trendy. Who cares if we were ahead of the trend, now at least we know we're in good company. If you talk to anyone about money long enough you're bound to hear at least one horror story. But deep down I know full well that overspending during our boom times are the biggest contributor to our broke times. And it's downright amazing how long it can take to claw your way out of that damn hole.

Stupid well, with its slippery walls and
demonic child spirits and whatnot

Looking back, I can clearly see where we made our biggest mistakes. I want to go back in time, confront the younger us, and be all like, "Drop the credit cards and step awayyyyyy from the merchandise!!!!" I might even slap us around a little bit, just for funzies.

Anybody know a good Plutonium dealer?

Now my challenge is to make wise decisions now so that 48-year-old me is not stuck trying to figure out how 38-year-old me could have been so stupid. I mean, how many dumbass badges does one person really need?

Wish me luck, my friends. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Hate You, Philip Morris

I started my life as a closet smoker about five years ago. I had just come through a decidedly nasty bout of postpartum depression, and Miracle Man's health was in rapid decline from neurological issues. I had a preschooler, a newborn, an increasingly debilitated spouse, and a full-time job. I felt pulled in at least three directions at all times, and I guess I needed a substance to abuse to get through the waking nightmare. Nicotine is legal and easily accessible, so it won. (Actually, it tied with high fructose corn syrup, but that's a whole nother story.)

Regardless of my reasons for taking that first drag, the bottom line is that I was the idiot who started smoking in my 30s, when all my peers were trying to quit. And yes, I realize this life choice qualifies me for a dumbass badge. At the time, I figured one little cigarette a day wouldn't kill me. Then I figured two a day wouldn't kill me. I continued the rationalizations until I was up to half a pack a day, and extraordinarily unhappy about it.

I tried to hide my dirty little secret from most of the world. I would have clandestine smoke breaks in my car and in my garage. Of course Miracle Man knew, and eventually the chid'rens knew. They outed me to my parents and siblings. And when I realized how hooked I was, I even started 'fessing up to my doctors. The message I got from everyone was clear - are you NUTS?? Why did you start smoking? And why haven't you stopped???

The reason is simple: Nicotine is addictive as hell. When a nic fits hits I get all ragey and homicidal, like this:
Dangerous, Yet Still Adorable
Then I become steadfast in my belief that a cigarette is the only thing that will make me feel like this again:
Ah Yes. Much Better.
But the rational side of my brain knows that in the long run, I'm really just making myself like this:
Me In 10 Years
So I recently made my billionth attempt to quit. For two glorious weeks I celebrated not being a slave to the nicotine. No nic fits, no inconvenient yet all-important smoke breaks, no guilty conscience. My car started to smell less like an ashtray and more like Orbit Bubblemint gum. I was rather proud of me.

Then it happened. Life got hectic. My day job got crazy busy, my family's schedule got crazy busy, and I had failed to refill my Paxil before it ran out. (Is it possible to earn two dumbass badges?) My anxiety level was through the roof. Not quite off the charts, but getting there.

One fateful night, I ran up to Walmart to pick up a few things and somehow ended up with a pack of smokes. When I got in the car, I somehow found myself with an open pack of smokes. And wouldn't ya know it, I suddenly found myself with a lit cigarette in my hand. I honestly don't know how I ended up with this evil little flaming stick, but my theory centers around alien abduction and cosmic worm holes. Fo' realz.

So now the addiction is back in full swing. Hello, nic fits. Hello, inconvenient smoke breaks. Hello guilt. I have not missed you. And I want you gone again. The question is, how do I get far enough away from you to make you a permanent thing of my past?

I know the only way to get there is to keep on trying. Sooner or later I'll be able to hand in my dumbass badge and call myself a successful quitter. That may sound like an oxymoron, but I'd rather be an oxymoron (wait for it)... than the regular kind.

Get it? See what I did there? Ha! Ahem. Alrighty then... 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fat and Happy (No, Really!)

As you may have surmised by the blog name Sweet Sassyfats, I'm not what you would call a "slender" woman. I'm not what you would call an "average" woman. Heck, I'm not even what you'd call a "heavyset" woman. To give you a clear picture of where I fit on the body-size continuum, I must refer you to Gabriel Iglesias' six levels of fat: Big, Healthy, Husky, Fluffy, Damn!!, and Aw, Hell No!!!

Let's just say I've been hangin' out on the corner of "Damn" and "Aw, Hell No" for most of my adult life. But since I grew up on the corner of "Healthy" and "Husky," I've always struggled to fit in to this anti-fat society by doing things that "normal" people do, like having friends, going out in public, holding down a job, and walking up a flight of stairs without clutching my chest and calling out for Elizabeth.

In the past, my periodic commitments to fitness were tied to a weight-loss goal. Anyone who's taken a few turns around the dieting cycle knows the pattern:

Day 1: I'm gonna run a mile every day and eat nothing but vegetables for the rest of my life!! Then I'll get skinny and life will be so perfect! Squee!
Day 2: Yay, running!!! Yay, vegetables!!! I can't wait until I'm skinny and my life is all rainbows and unicorns. Squee!
Day 3: I'm on a roll!! But I think I'll just walk that mile today. And I'll try some of those new vegetable recipes I found online yesterday. Just to keep things interesting, you know? But I am sooo committed to my new healthy lifestyle! All the hard work and sacrifice will pay off some day when I am skinny!!! Squee! 
Day 4: God I'm tired! Maybe I should just listen to my body and do a 10-minute walk instead of running a mile today. That should be OK, right? Sigh. Oh goody. Veggies for dinner. Again. This had better be working. I'm doing it all for you, skinny-ness. Some day, you will be mine.
Day 5 - Weigh In: Is that all I lost? Are you fucking KIDDING me?!?!?!?!?!? You know what? Just... screw it!!! Where's my cheesecake?? Where's my remote?? I gotta go lie down!!!

Or something like that. Well my friends, about a year ago I stumbled upon Health At Every Size, which advocates ditching the scale - and the related self-loathing - and engaging in healthy behaviors, just cuz. Fed up with hating myself for being fat, and armed with my new found knowledge of HAES, I decided stop letting the scale dictate my self worth and my behavior. I decided to engage in healthy behaviors for the sake of making my body, well, healthier. And I've discovered something wonderful: when I eat right (most of the time) and work out at the gym regularly, it makes me feel happy.

Yes, you read that right. Eating healthy foods and exercising four to five times a week makes this fat-bottomed girl feel happy. Not deprived. Not punished. Not longing for the day that I can end the stupid diet and eat like a normal person again. Happy.

As a side-effect of these healthy habits, which truly have become habits now, my body shape has changed. When you've been as fat as I have for as long as I have, people tend to notice when you start shape shifting. Wanting to be all positive and encouraging, people keep telling me I look fantastic, and asking me how much weight I've lost. You should see the looks on their faces when I say, "I don't know. I don't track it. The scale makes me crazy." Surprise. Confusion. Disappointment, even.
What?? How can a shrinking fat woman ignore the almighty scale when she's obviously working so hard? Doesn't she want to measure her progress?? How will she know if she's working hard enough??

Well my friends, it's easy. I've learned that the scale can cause way more harm to my fragile psyche than good. When the numbers on the scale do not move down as far as I've decided they should, I feel like I've somehow failed. That my efforts aren't worthwhile. That I should just give up. I lose sight of what my real goal is: improved health and fitness, and that's just not good. So now I measure my progress in new and exciting ways: overall energy level, strength, stamina, and flexibility. As long as I'm doing OK in those areas, I'm a happy camper.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I also measure my progress by the blood work I get every three months. Thanks to my genetic makeup and a lifetime of screwing with my metabolism through calorie restriction, I have the OMGDEATHFAT co-morbities of Type II Diabetes and Hypertension. I gots me them badges during an insanely difficult time in my life, when I was "managing" my astronomical stress levels with coffee, cigarettes, high fructose corn syrup, and lots of cussing. Turns out not to have been the best course of action for stress reduction. Shocking.    

As poor as some of my health-related choices have been over the last 38 years, most of the ones I've made in the last 2 years or so have been pretty darn good. My overall energy level, strength, stamina, flexibility, and empirical lab results have all significantly improved, and I feel healthy and fit on most days. Will I ever be skinny? Aw, hell no. Will I always be OMGDEATHFAT? I dunno. But as long as I keep my eyes on the prize - true health and fitness - I'll be OK.     

Saturday, October 22, 2011

And That's Why I'll Never Be a Kindergarten Teacher

Once upon a time I thought I wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher. I was in a transitional state, having just left Berklee College of Music and my dreams of rock stardom behind, and not sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I got a part-time job at the local mall and enrolled in community college because, according to my Dad, I was going to finish school one way or another. Goddammit.

While working at the mall, I met a lot of freshly-minted teachers who were trying to pick up some extra cash in their spare time. The teachers I met there seemed to love their day jobs and I started to think that I'd like to hang out with little kids all day, too. So I signed up for a bunch of early childhood education classes and forged ahead with my newly-formed plan... until I dropped out of community college halfway through the semester so I'd have more time for working at the mall and reading Stephen King novels. Priorities, yo.

My parents need to chill. I got my life all figured out!

But more on my misspent youth later. I've told you the partial tale of my educational shenanigans so I could lead you to a recent Monday, when I chaperoned Daughter2's Kindergarten class to the pumpkin patch.

It was a beautiful fall day in Southern Maryland, full of sunshine, cool breezes, and ragweed. A perfect day to load up on Claritin and visit a local farm. I've been at this parenting gig for nine whole years now, but this was my first class trip and I was excited. I envisioned a day of fun, learning, and memory-making with Daughter2 and her little friends.

There were enough adults on the trip that I only had to keep track of two kids: Daughter2 and a sweet little girl who could not sit still to save her life. Yes, 5-year-olds are typically wiggly little creatures, but this one did the wiggling of at least three or four kids all at once. Must be why she was my only other charge.

Anyhoo, we did the standard pumpkin patch stuff - going on a hayride, picking out a pumpkin, and trying not to get stung by ginormous bees who did not appreciate our visit. Before we knew it, it was time for the one part of the trip I actually dreaded: the corn maze. And this wasn't just any old corn maze - it was a 9-acre corn maze full of twists, turns, and little nubby things poking up out of the ground that make you trip. 

Before the tour guide let us into the corn maze, she told us there were two paths to the end: the short way to the left, and the long way to the right. Among the grown-ups, you could hear murmurs of, "Short way, go left." Among the kids, you could hear exuberant cries of, "Long way!! Long way!!! Mom, is this my right?" There was one energetic Mom among us who took pity on the kids and offered to take anyone who wanted to go the long way to the right. She counted heads, memorized faces, took names, and led the charge.

It was late in the day, we'd been in the sun for a few hours, and my blood sugar was starting to tank. I knew deep down that traipsing through a 9-acre corn maze was NOT a great idea. Did you know that low blood sugar can cloud your thinking and completely eff up your judgement? Yep, that's how I ended up following the herd on the long route and hoping for the best.

Since I could hear the kids' enthusiastic shouts and Energetic Mom's periodic head-counting, I let myself slow down. Right about the time a handful of adults said, "Screw this," and led their disappointed kids out of the corn field and onto the farmer's driveway, I decided to start taking left turns so I could meet Daughter2, Little Friend, Energetic Mom, and all the others at the end of the path.

Shortly after I started taking left turns, I found myself alone. And lost. In the middle of a 9-acre corn maze. Seized by Mommy guilt for letting Daughter2 and Little Friend out of my sight, and kicking myself for not stocking up on enough emergency Skittles, I just kept turning left until I finally made it back to the start of the maze. Defeated, I walked to the side of the corn field (quickest way to the finish line!) and waited with all the other parents who had bailed. 

I found a shady spot to sit, scarfed down a granola bar, and wondered how Daughter2's little legs were holding up. I imagined her tired and scared, crying because her Mommy had abandoned her. (Mommy guilt is a strong emotion.) Just about when I decided that I was the worst field trip chaperone in the history of the world, Energetic Mom emerged from the maze with all the kids who had gone with her.

See what corn mazes can do to you?
I know it's too late to say, "Long story short," but all I remember about the bus ride back to school was telling Little Friend to sit down and keep her hands to herself approximately eleventy bajillion times. As I heard peals of laughter from all around the bus as the kids told each other fart jokes, I felt immensely relieved that I don't have to spend every day with a classroom full of children.

I believe that children are our future. I also believe there's a special place in Heaven for people who voluntarily spend oodles of time with multiple pieces of our future every single day. Because if it were me, I would totally look like this at the end of each day:



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Darken My World. Please.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have an unhealthy obsession with the Travel Channel show Ghost Adventures. Not like a dangerous stalker-type obsession that ends in bloodshed and jail time (honest!), but more like that of a harmless paranerd who can envisiualize herself attending a Ghost Adventures Convention, dressed in full costume of course, and then asking Zak, Nick, and Aaron about the minutest details in episodes they’d forgotten had even aired.

I wonder if this one comes in my size...

And if that opportunity ever actually presented itself, I’d have a panic attack at the thought of even thinking about considering the remote possibility of kinda sorta maybe seizing it, and then I'd spend the rest of my life regretting the missed opportunity. Cuz that’s how I roll, Dawg.

In late September, Zak Bagans published his first book, Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of The Ghost Adventures Crew. Since I follow all the Ghost Adventure Crew members on Twitter, as well as oft-mentioned members of their production posse, I’d read Zak’s hype-filled tweets leading up to the book’s release. I’d seen the TwitPics of the final cover design before the book went to print and of Zak holding his personal advance copy when he picked it up from the publisher. I’d read all about his book signing at this year's Scarefest. I’d gone to Amazon and read the sneak previews when directed by Zak’s tweets. What I read in the sneak preview confirmed what I already knew: I had to read this book

I started to preorder the book on Amazon months in advance at Zak’s Twitterfied urging. Then I looked at my bank balance, sighed in resignation, and decided to wait. As the publication date drew near, I again visited Amazon to preorder the book. Again I looked at my bank balance, sighed in resignation, and decided to wait. Finally the publication date was upon me, and I decided to visit my friendly neighborhood Barns & Noble to get the hard copy in my hands ASAP. I looked at my bank balance, let out the most colorful string of expletives I could on such short notice, and decided to wait.

For the first several days after the book came out, my Twitter feed was littered with Zak’s retweeted pictures of fans holding their newly-purchased copies of Dark World. There were online reviews praising the book, which I'm sure existed solely to rub in my face the fact that I was not engaged in the act of reading the book right that second.

Bastards! But that's OK. I am a patient paranerd, and eagerly anticipated my next payday so I could finally lay my hands on this book.

Payday came. Payday went. Bills got paid. Groceries got bought. Cars got filled with gas. (Don't get me wrong, these are all good things.) My planned book purchase? Yeah right. The elusiveness of this one small purchase began to make me feel agitated. Like I had a teeny-tiny pebble in my shoe that I could neither locate nor shake out. I knew that book was out there, and I knew I had to read it, and I knew it would continue to elude me.

Then I remembered something: There is a place where even broke-ass book lovers can take home as many books as their chubby little arms can carry without forking over any cash: THE LIBRARY!!! (You have to say it in a deep echoey voice and follow it with the superhero ditty, "Dun da DAAAA!") I went to the library's Website, ran an author search for Zak Bagans, and there it was: an entry for the book I so desperately needed to read. But my celebration was halted in mid-happy dance when my eyes rested upon the word, "Unavailable." Someone had checked it out as soon as it had arrived at the library. Bastard!!! Oh well, to the waitlist I went.

I know it's too late to say "to make a long story short," but fast-forward to yesterday. I'd finally bubbled up to the top of the list. Miracle Man picked it up for me when he took Daughter1 and Daughter2 to the library after school. I spent the rest of the day in sweet anticipation, knowing that my wait was almost over. I got home from work, saw the book on the kitchen counter, and smiled knowing that after the chi’drens were asleep, that book’s ass was mine.

You lookin' at me?
You know how when you have any type of plans for after your chi’drens go to sleep, they somehow sense that it’s a good night for them to demand your attention for each and every tiny little thought that crosses their brains until they finally drop from sheer exhaustion? Yeah, me too. By the time they were done with all the whining and shenanigans, I was too tired to even go downstairs to retrieve the book, let alone start reading it.

Dark World has been in my posession for for more than 24 hours, and it remains unopened on my kitchen counter. I can hear it calling my name, but I know if I crack it open now I'm in for a lonnnnnng night of reading. Then tomorrow I'll be in for a lonnnnnng day of trying to stay awake at my desk. And if I fail at that I could be in for a lonnnnnng stretch of being unemployed. Which would totally eff up my plans to not be perpetually broke any more. Le sigh.

So for now, I must delay gratification for a more suitable time. This Friday I will watch the newest Ghost Adventures episode. Then, finally, after what seems like eons of waiting, I will sit down start reading this book. And I will be a happy paranerd.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Innaugural Blog Post

I've been thinking about starting a blog for a long time now. The process of finding a blog name that wasn't already taken and setting up my profile was overwhelming enough to make me wonder if I'm clever enough to keep a humor blog. I suppose time will tell.

Soon enough, I will be littering cyberspace with my brain droppings on parenthood, the fat-fit lifestyle, and my unhealthy obsession with Ghost Adventures. In the meantime, I had to put SOMETHING out here.

If you're reading this, welcome! And if you're not, that's OK too. Won't be the first time I've sat here talking to myself...