Is out and available on Amazon! This is a relaunched, rewritten, and renewed version from its earlier incarnation. I hope you enjoy and I'm open to hearing feedback or ideas on anything else you think should be included. I will be updating it periodically.
I recently got to travel to Amsterdam with The Boy and his soccer club. I realize this seems to redefine the term "soccer mom" and is stretching the limits of the idea of a "traveling team." We like to stretch limits around here. But seriously speaking, The Boy just happens to play for a Dutch team plopped down in the middle of the Midwest of America. So the club thought it would be nice to take the U17 team on a trip to play some games and tournaments in the homeland.
I couldn't resist the temptation to go too of course. And as it happens, I have an old friend from college who lives in Amsterdam with his wife. So while The Boy was off with the team for the week, I was busy cycling around Amsterdam and working from the Starbucks in Rembrandtplein. It was rough, I gotta tell you.
Cycling is amazing in this city! I know that comes as no surprise but they really are serious about it here. I cycled at a minimum of 6 miles per day, usually much more, as my friends live on the outer edges of the city.
I would cycle to Sloterdijk, the nearest station, park the bike and ride into Central Station, or sometimes just ride all the way into town and leave the bike there. As you'll see from the photo above, parking's a bear! You literally have to create a thought palace in your head just to anchor in your memory where the hell you left your bike. And sometimes retrieving it from the melee of parked/locked bikes once you find it, is another challenge altogether.
I also could not resist coming along on this trip because I have always wanted to explore Amsterdam more. And with the help of Scott's Cheap Flights, I found us roundtrip tickets on British Airways for $425 each, saving considerably from booking with the soccer club travel agent and flying with the team. And this was in April -- height of tulip season in the Netherlands, so awesome deal.
I enjoyed a lot of fresh seafood while I was there. I mean really fresh - like raw. The Dutch like their raw food. And it's not even trendy. I had raw herring with onions. I figure if I can eat sushi I can try raw herring. It really was quite good. I also tried a raw organic sausage, which I was not quite as fond of. Something about the texture is just too foreign to my American palate. I'll take my red meat cooked, thank you.
The Dutch are such lovely people, even if they eat of lot of raw things. Super friendly, everywhere I went. Plus absolutely everyone speaks English, so not knowing a word of Dutch was not even an issue. I am the kind of traveler who always tries to at least learn how to say a few words, such as the most important ones: please, thank you, where is the bathroom? etc. in the language of the country I'm visiting. But here there was no need, and no guilt or attitude about not speaking Dutch. I think I could live here!
The Boy really enjoyed his matches, against mostly Dutch, some Belgian, teams as well. This country is definitely on my list for repeat visiting.
I have just passed the three week mark in my 30-Day Alcohol Free Experiment. Still going strong. As in, staying alcohol free and craving sugar just as badly as the first week. The ice cream thing has frankly gotten a little out of hand. Since my last post I’ve made fast friends with Skinny Cow’s Salty Caramel Pretzel ice cream bars and just as quickly kicked her skinny ass out of my house when she seemed to be threatening to take over all sane judgment I’m currently left in possession of. It’s not much, but I have to hold onto what thread of dignity I have left. It was not a pretty picture, me ending each evening with chocolate at the corners of my mouth.
To that end, this week I have decided to up the ante in testing my mettle. That means I’m going ‘white-free’ this last week. As in no ice cream of any kind, full fat or skinny variety, no rice, potatoes, white bread, or any bread if I can help it. I need to divest myself of all sugar to see what it actually feels like to not depend on it. I’m beginning to think sugar might be the worst scourge of all here. Screw it - bring back the red wine! Let’s toast resveratrol and all its glorious antioxidant abilities!
But seriously, dear reader, I have been trying to realistically assess where I’m at with this non-drinking thing. How much do I really miss it? As summer kicks in I really do missing sitting out on the deck, waiting for the grill to heat up, while watching the sun glint off that chilled and sweating glass of French Rose. But weighed against my glorious sleep of late, the fantasy and romanticism of the act of drinking, though it is very social, may wane by comparison. Plus, it really is nice to have energy to actually do things like writing in the evenings. I feel much more productive than I was before, even if it’s sometimes just re-organizing my office and attacking that stack of old bills and receipts that have needed filing for about 11 months.
I’ll never forget, a few years ago while I was the Assistant Director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, I heard Donald Pollack, who wrote the acclaimed collection of gritty short stories about growing up in Appalachia, Knockemstiff, give the keynote speech at that summer’s conference. He was humble, mild mannered, with a drop dead dry sense of humor. He talked about the many years he’d spent working in the meatpacking industry -- up until his 40’s -- when he decided it was about time he quit drinking. He said, “All of a sudden, I had time on my hands.” At which point, he decided to try doing some writing, with all this new-found time. One thing led to another, and he ended up in the MFA writing program at Ohio State where he graduated with his masters at a fairly advanced age, and Knockemstiff was his thesis book. It just goes to show what you can accomplish with a little alcohol free time on your hands.
Of course, the list is long of famous writers who drank copiously, including Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway (that didn’t end so well), Jack Kerouac, and Dylan Thomas (come to think of it, none of them did!). But here are a few who weren’t alcoholics: Willa Cather, Saul Bellow, Mark Twain, and Tom Wolfe. List courtesy of a great essay on writing and drinking by Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn.
All this is to say, while I’m looking forward to having a summery glass of wine again in about a week’s time, I really, most definitely, do not want to go back to being a two-glasses a night kind of gal. So I’m hoping this re-set works. If for some reason I’m tempted to slide back, at least I know I can en-act another embargo -- a permanent one if necessary.
It’s been seven days and going (somewhat) strong. I have been craving sugar. I mean bad. If the ice cream truck drove by my house every day I’d be chasing after it and mugging the driver for every scoop of ice cream he was worth. I’m not even an ice cream junkie. Until now. This is dangerous territory. Whatever loss in calorie intake I was going to gain by not drinking, is precariously close to being lost to nightly bowls of ice cream. I do not need to be a blimp by the end of this project. That would not define success for me. It would simply be replacing one treat with another.
I did some research and sure enough, this is a real thing. Zillions of pages of the Internet are devoted to the perils of replacing alcohol with copious sugar consumption. “Research suggests there may be a biological connection between having a sweet tooth and an alcohol abuse problem. For example, a study of more than 300 children found that those with a heightened preference for sugary foods and beverages were more likely to have a family history of alcoholism.” I don’t have any immediate family who were alcoholics but I do have an uncle and some cousins who have struggled with it. They say it’s in the genes. I’m not sure if this can be proven 100%, I would think it would be part behavioral, part genetic. But then I’m no expert on the subject.
Nevertheless, the cravings should come as no surprise to me. There is a lot of sugar in alcohol (.75g in one glass of Cabernet - it could be worse!) and sugar releases dopamine into brain, whether it takes the form of a glass of red wine or a chocolate brownie. Dopamine is of course Pleasure Central and makes you feel all nice, warm and wobbly. Serotonin levels increase too when you drink, which also is a mood enhancer.
The sleep is still going well I’m happy to report. I haven’t noticed many other changes physically other than this cloying yen for sugar. But I’m putting methods in place to combat its scourge, I hope. I broke down and bought Skinny Cow lowfat ice cream bars (I am in theory against anything that claims to be ‘low fat’ because I think it’s usually filled with other junk worse than sugar). But in this case, I’ll make an exception because at 150 calories a pop it’s better than 300+ calories for a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s.
I am about to go and work with my trainer. I figure the amount of money I’m saving on bottles of wine can easily be funneled towards healthier pursuits. One of those being getting back into some badass shape. Time to go work on my deadlifts!
I first started this blog 5 years ago to chronicle the travels of my son (aka The Boy) and I through Europe. He was 10 years old at the time and over three years we lived, for varying amounts of time, in Berlin, Northern Italy, and Surrey, southwest of London, England. For the past two years we have called my hometown in the Midwest our stomping ground, attempting to cultivate a life of staying put for a while.
But I always meant for this blog to be about the spirit of journeys, in whatever form they take. So it is with this justification that I introduce a journey of another kind for the moment. Not one that involves red eyes to exotic destinations (hopefully no red eyes at all!), language mishaps, and shocking currency conversion rates, but an inner journey to see what mettle I'm really made of.
Four days ago I decided to give up alcohol completely for 30 days, or longer, if I feel like it. But definitely not less than 30 days. This came about after my boyfriend gently suggested my fondness for nightly rituals of red wine consumption might be making my chronic insomnia worse. And -- let's be frank -- he said he thought that just maybe, possibly, I was drinking too much lately and was self-sabotaging my otherwise healthy lifestyle. I love to exercise and weight train and I eat a whole foods diet.
So I ventured into the world of online alcohol abuse self assessments on sites that seemed to earnestly care about my drinking habits. My score in answer to numerous questions showed "Cause for concern" about my drinking. Time for action.
Of course, I do not think of myself as an alcoholic. It's not necessary these days when so many other options are readily available -- try ‘Alcohol Use Disorder’ -- that’s an available diagnosis. When I told my doctor I quit for 30 days and what my drinking habits had been like the past few months, she politely explained I had an “Alcohol Abuse Episode” and wrote it down in my file.
It was true, after a particularly stressful few months I had found myself staring down 3-4 glasses of Pinot a night in order to fall into a fitful sleep. I work full time and sole parent a teenager so what’s a few glasses of wine a night when it could be so much worse? Or so I always told myself.
Besides, I wasn’t performing badly at work or in my relationships, although I don’t think it had the greatest effect on my parenting, when The Boy (now 15) more than once commented, “Wine again, mom?” I would evenly reply, “It just helps me fall asleep.”
I have been battling chronic insomnia for the past ten years but I knew I’d fallen into a really bad pattern when I would have the wine, even when I didn’t feel like it, because I was so afraid of facing down the Cyclops of insomnia, in my case, not being able to fall asleep for hours, sometimes never.
Of course, the battle against insomnia is an unwinnable war when alcohol is involved. What lulls you to sleep wakes you up at 5am, blinking at the clock like a soul-less zombie, not a trace of drowsiness in sight until 7am, just when there is no option but to get up. So I had to pick my poison. I’d rather get to sleep and wake up, then the other way around.
When I had tried no alcohol for a couple of weeks several months ago during a particularly bad insomnia episode, it made no difference without it. I still couldn’t sleep. So I decided I might as well enjoy myself if I was going to be tired!
Except for the past few months, I have sometimes not drank during the week and saved it for the weekend. But then usually it seemed I would still have too much. Stopping after 2 glasses has never been my strong point. After 4 or 5, yes. But you see, as I have always told people, I lived in England for 8 years of my life where they’re practically born with a wine bottle tucked up next to them in the bassinet. It was de rigueur at every kids birthday party we went to (my son was born there and spent his early childhood growing up British), that 'party treats' for parents involved what amounted to an open bar.
So in England, I always felt like a very light drinker. This is all true. However, comparing yourself to others is never a very good barometer of your own mental health.
So it is Day 4 and I am happy to report that I have been getting to sleep without a problem and really enjoying my sleep while I’m at it. It’s been a long week though, with the usual stresses, then add the stress of quitting alcohol, and it would so be nice to have a glass of red wine tonight to wind down from it all. But the fact that I can’t even remember the last time I spent a weekend without alcohol involved in some way, means it was probably when I was pregnant with The Boy.
It seems like mid-life is a time when you decide to run a marathon, give something up or just give up the ghost completely. So I think it is a really good time to hit reset on my body and mind, and figure out how to make it to a nice, ripe and healthy old age..
Stay tuned as I blog about the effects of ridding myself of alcohol for 30 days and what the results are. My doctor says it takes six weeks to get alcohol out of your system. But 30 days is such a nice even number -- so I'm going with that.
Let it be said, even though it has been before, that there is a liberating power in saying no. Especially, quite frankly, for women. We are cultured from birth to say yes, to keep everyone happy, multi-task, overextend to meet everyone’s needs.
An argument can also be made for the power of yes. I love the movie The Boys Are Back with Clive Owen when his wife suddenly dies and he becomes a single father to two boys. He decides his parenting technique is to just say yes to everything, with interesting results. New experiences, relationships, circumstances that result from saying yes are amazing things, a blog post in itself. But when you say no, you put yourself first in a way that can only be described as feeling pretty damn good.
Very recently, I have been learning how to say no. I have said no to a job that would have offered me more money than I’ve ever made before because there was no passion in it for me. I just couldn’t picture signing over 40 precious hours of my life per week to something I couldn’t even begin to get excited about. Not to mention the additional logistical commuting hurdles and costs. I also said no because it doesn’t take me closer to the mountain as Neil Gaiman so sagely puts it in his now famous commencement address, "Make Good Art." The mountain for me being life as a creative professional - a writer, filmmaker and entrepreneur.
I said no to sleeping with someone I wasn’t in love with because I didn’t want to wake up in the morning with that deeply sad feeling of wanting something that wasn’t there. “There ain’t no fucking chocolate, lady!” as the punch-line line to the classic joke goes. I’ve nothing in the least against sex just for sex, but the carnal won’t do when what you really want is 70% dark chocolate with sea salt and you have to settle for a Hershey’s Kiss.
I said no to spending time with friends I like in order to be alone and walk in the woods. Just simply to be, to refuel, to prepare for our transition back to America.
I said no to selling my furniture and TV for a fraction of the price I paid in order to assuage money worries. I decided I’d rather give them away to a furniture reuse store as a charity donation than take fire sale prices for them. It feels cleaner somehow. And I have learned that the more I worry about money, miraculously the more there are money worries. When I trust that everything is going to work out OK and I have plenty. There usually is. Funny that.
These are my thoughts on saying no for the week. What about you? Have there been times that saying no has been absolutely, unequivocally the right thing to do even when it didn’t make others happy?
Let me know what you think!
As the boy and I prepare to cross the Pond back to America, this time to put down some roots for a while, it is amazing to be able to come back to a place where we lived. Over the past two years, we spent nearly a year in Italy and a year in England. Returning to a place you once called home, even for a while, is a chance to measure where you've come from, not necessarily how far, or to suggest that all our journeys are linear. Far from it. My life seems like one big serpentine-like circle, constantly revolving in on itself.
It's just that to see a place you had come to know with fresh eyes again is a great experience. The things you took for granted or made you crazy, are now seen through the lens of 'isn't that quaint?' Or 'Isn't the gruff, never-smiling owner of the cafe where I used to write a lot so charming?'
The boy was always annoyed by the staring eyes of the local Vicentini (Italians aren't shy about staring). This time it didn't bother him. Either he blended in more, after having lived outside of America for so long, or his self-conscious teenage sensibilities are parked in neutral at the moment. He even went so far to declare he loved all things Italian, which just goes to show, visiting a place is never ever the same as living there.
We came back here for a few days to visit dear friends before heading Stateside for a decidedly longer stint this time. The boy has declared he wants to go back to a real school (no more homeschooling for now) with his friends of long standing. So he'll start 8th grade in the Fall on home turf and Have Son, Will Travel will be relegated to mostly summers. It seems like a fair deal and he has been an amazing traveler and adventurous sport these last few years. But now it's time to go home, grow a garden, get a dog, and unpack the suitcases -- for a while anyway!
I'm very please to re-launch my Down & Dirty Survival Guide for Newly Single Parents with a fantastic new cover from the very talented graphic designer, Toro!, whom I found through, of all places, Elance. For now, it is just available on Amazon Kindle but other out
I've recently become obsessed with lifting really heavy weights. I've always enjoyed working out, swimming is usually my thing, and have from time to time lifted weights, knowing it's good for the metabolism and bone density, blah, blah, blah. But entering the world of lifting heavy weights is something akin to breaking down the doors of the boys' club, while not really wanting to be one of the boys. I love walking into the free weight section and not being intimidated by the heaving and grunting of the guys there, then taking down an 18 kilo barbell to doing a set of one-armed rows. Lifting heavier weights also offers the chance to measure your progress and see virtually immediate results – something that hours spent hours wasted on cardio will never give back in the same way.
Plus, it's really good for your inner BADASS.
I caught the bug while back in the Midwest last year for several months. I started working out with a trainer who had his own gym. I mean, a real he-man gym full of barbells, kettlebells, all manner of resistance straps, boxing area. You get the idea. I went in for half hour sessions twice a week and left his studio crawling on hands on knees – ass completely whooped. It was great. I loved it and the results were starting to be impressive.
I was eating very Paleo at the time, having become a big fan of Marks Daily Apple. However, I've since discovered that for me, working out to that degree requires me to eat more than I was allowing myself then, so I don't think I was seeing the muscle building that I would have liked to. It's the same for women as it is for men -- you have to eat at least as much energy as you expend, if not more, to build muscle. Simple as that.
Now back across the pond I sadly don't have access to my butt-kicking trainer, nor can I afford one here. So I've had to find ways to keep challenging myself, which is definitely hard to do. No one can really push you just beyond the limits you need to go like a trainer. But you work with what you've got.
A friend introduced me to the Power of Ten, the benefits of lifting heavy weights very slowly. I also started reading GoKaleo and Lift Like a Girl for inspiration on how to be 'anti-fragile' and strong rather than skinny. It feels good to let go of a dieting mentality and embrace building muscle as opposed to constantly trying to lose fat.
Ladies, fear not, you will not start bulking up and looking like Brigita Brezovac anytime soon. To look like this, you would need to start piling on the steroid enhancements. Luckily, lifting heavy weights is really the key to nice curves that hours on the elliptical machine will definitely not get you!
Besides, there's nothing quite as liberating as feeling like a bit of a badass in the gym. I do mainly compound muscle building using machines like the leg press, seated row, lat pulldown, as well as pull-ups, dead lifts and squats with an assisted barbell. I load on as much weight as I can move to muscle fatigue (complete failure) somewhere between 6 to 10 reps. For example, for me that is now about 140 kilos (308 lbs) on the leg press and 50 kilos (110 lbs) on the lat pulldown. And that's it. Move on to the next exercise. It amounts to no more than a half hour in the gym, including some abdominal mat work, and you are seriously good to go.
For women who want to turn fat into muscle, or anyone for that matter, this approach to lifting falls under what's called Body Recomposition. It's a great thing to focus on when you're already at a reasonable weight for your height, even if it's more than you would like, because in the long run, with some dedication and consistency, the results will be well worth it. Take a look at Amber Rogers' different body compositions at the same weight if you have any doubts.
Sadly, I think the conventional wisdom that women shouldn't lift heavy weights and should focus on higher reps of lighter weights, still prevails. I see it every time I go to my small, local gym. I have to say I'm pretty amazed that I am literally the only woman I've seen there lifting heavy weights! Just what is everyone so afraid of? All I can say, is I definitely enjoy having a guy finish his set on the assisted squat machine and having to load on more weight than he was using. Who me, competitive?
I have a confession to make. I'm a writer and live in a home filled with books, yet the Boy hates to read. I mean really hates to read. It's always been this way. His daily assigned 20 minutes of reading is only achieved through the extraction of blood, sweat, and tears. By the end, I wonder if I've really won. Is it worth it I'm starting to ask?
He never picked up reading quickly like kids are made to feel like they're supposed to. By the tender age of 2nd grade he was already being trotted off to the 'Reading Center' in school with the other 'slow' readers, where I think more of what went on was the slow inculcation of not being good enough, rather than fostering any love of reading.
If you're a parent with a kid who doesn't particularly like to read, you're probably familiar with the following oft spoken words:
It's just a matter of him finding the right book, and he'll take off!
He'll come to it in his own time.
And maybe even:
Reading is the gateway to all knowledge.
Is it really? Don't get me wrong. I'm about as voracious a reader as you'll find. I often have two or three books going at the same time, a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I've always been this way and I read from an early age. And the Boy has been read to since he was in the womb (maybe too much of a good thing?) So it is not for lack of exposure in his life, that he hasn't particularly taken to books. Of course, it is also well known that boys often don't like to read nearly as much as girls and come to an appreciation of it later – if ever.
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, general renegade and rabblerouser.